LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Interurban is just a piece of history

Interurban car 1225 rests at Marpole Station on the old Steveston Interurban
Interurban car 1225 rests at Marpole Station on the old Steveston Interurban in this old-time picture posted on Vancouver Is Awesome

I sent the blog post I created on the Interurban being “dead” as a newsletter to the Surrey Leader, responding to this column about it by Frank Bucholtz. Looks like it was published today on their website, and is likely going to be on tomorrow’s paper issue.

As I have a feeling that this is going to spark some further controversy regarding my comments and my stance on transit, I’d like to offer some additional comments as to why I have set my foot on this position.

The Fraser Valley interurban right-of-way has long been a target for transit advocates here in the South of Fraser (take note: Rail for the Valley initiative, South Fraser on Trax, other groups and individuals), largely on what seems to be a established bases of:

  1. Having been a previously-used transit service
  2. Being a public-owned right-of-way, therefore:
  3. Being “ready-to-build” for a relatively inexpensive Fraser Valley rail transit service.
A map of the Fraser Valley interurban right of way, and the Trans-Canada Highway.
A map of the Fraser Valley interurban right of way, and the Trans-Canada Highway.

Between these advocates and official transportation planning and funding authorities like TransLink, BC Transit and the Province in general, there has been a lot of argument. Conflicting studies suggesting different capital costs per km have been thrown around here and there and claims of bias have been called by some of these advocates, pitting one study over another and citing differing reasons as to why.

Yet, at the same time, it seems that many of these advocates haven’t answered certain questions important in determining what investments are useful and what are not; in particular, the first question I note in my newsletter: “What is the current demand, and how will it change”. How many people are even travelling between Abbotsford and Chiliwack, and between those two points and Metro Vancouver. It’s reasonable to want a constantly-running alternative to driving, but in a province mired with billions in debt, I would think that the alternative has to be very well justified.

It also doesn’t seem that any of them have bothered to look at other alternatives to providing quality transit to the Fraser Valley from Metro Vancouver. An official proposal by B.C. Transit, albeit it is without funding and without a (detailed) implementation timeline, suggests a 10-minute peak rapid bus service extending from the new Carvolth Exchange in Langley Township to Abbotsford via the Trans-Canada Highway, and a 15-minute peak service to Chiliwack. I like this idea. I think that this is a very responsible and reasonable alternative, because it does provide a quality service, and only costs enough to warrant debate if demand warrants more buses or an upgrade to trains.

What the future of Fraser Valley transit could look like, according to an official proposal.
What the future of Fraser Valley transit could look like, according to an official proposal.

I’m not an anti-history person. On the Interurban cars and service, I believe they are a truly fascinating subject on how our region has grown and how people used to get around. Last week during the Salmon Festival in Steveston, I decided to check out Interurban car #1220 (as the admission was free for the day) and found myself fascinated by the ability to switch the seat backs from forward-facing to rear-facing (driver cabs are on both sides, so the seats can be re-oriented when the train reversed), something not done even on our current SkyTrain system. I must remind myself to soon check out that actual running interurban car – no thanks to the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society – in Cloverdale right now, which lets people relive the past transportation experience in addition to just being around it.

While it’s great to see that a part of our history is back to be celebrated for being a part of what has created today, I sent this letter and wrote what I did because I believe it’s important that people know why history is deemed history, and that looking at doing better for the now and for the future isn’t a simple matter of looking at the past and making a suggestion that is vague, somewhat unsupported, and sole among other potentially good alternatives.

Next up on this blog: an examination of why the Interurban has been largely rejected, and an examination of reasonable alternatives that haven’t been suggested by advocates.

Until then, I have put a snippet of the letter below, and you can read the rest of it on the Surrey Leader website:

Interurban just a piece of history – Surrey Leader

Great transit is like the SkyTrain, or maybe it’s like the new 555 rapid bus: It’s reliable, frequent, runs several times daily, and is filled with choice riders – riders who justify transit over driving, largely because the services they choose are of high quality.

In one survey of riders on the new Canada Line SkyTrain, trip speed is the favourite aspect.

The old Fraser Valley interurban, which was recently described in a Frank Bucholtz column (“Surrey had great transit… 100 years ago”) as “great transit”, ran only thrice daily.

When the service started in 1910, not many could actually afford the recently invented car. It’s easy to see why ridership declined after the 1940s as the car became more affordable and routes became straighter. For many, the new options won over a three-times-daily service that cannot be missed.

I agree that it was inexcusably short-sighted that the recently partly restored interurban was ended in 1955 without a reasonable alternative, but the old interurban was not great transit. It was just… transit.

READ MORE ON THE SURREY LEADER – [CLICK HERE]

Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.

It’s been more than one year now since that day when we stood there protesting Bill 22, outside and in the rain and snow, probably close to some 20000 strong students all belonging to a generation that researchers of this society have labelled with the letter “Y”.

We weren’t just a random group of high school kids who wanted to skip school just to take the opportunity to join a bunch of other people doing it. Granted, there were probably some of us who were out of school for that purpose, but in spite of that, there were a lot of us had real concerns about our education – and we showed it in rallies and protests that, for that one day, attracted attention across the province. We were everywhere. The average joe who kept up would have seen us in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Penticton, Squamish….. and even in a small town somewhere north of Prince George.

And then, after that, we had to go back to school.

The reality of being young and needy in British Columbia

It’s hard enough for a young person in BC to show their concerns about their society and their environment; the majority of us, under 18, don’t have a vote in any elections. However, facing school and pressures that take up our daily lives, we really don’t have the time to commit to involvement in protecting our own futures and prosperity. Less yet do we have time to be skipping school and making a big show of it like we did that one time on March 2nd, just to show people that we’re concerned about what’s going on. We don’t have time to launch mega-massive protests like the ones Montreal students did at about the same time over rising tuition fees.

Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012
Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012

So, what we don’t have an ability to do in this society is properly represent ourselves. We rely on the 85 important and older people who go to Victoria with the hope that they will make decisions that do accomodate us, and steer us towards the prosperity that other generations of past got so that they could become great and successful people, in much the same way we want to be. We have to rely on you, and we can’t rely on ourselves – and that, I believe, is becoming one of the most critical mistakes in modern-day politics in every democratically-run sovereignty.

In May 2012, a few months after the March student walkout and after months of job action, teachers across the province were forced to give up. They accepted a horrible legislation that was called Bill 22, a legislation that has brought to B.C. the worst student-educator ratio in Canada and the associated effects to students and to our society in the indirect ways.

Our say, in addition to their say, just simply wasn’t enough.

Young vs old in BC polls

Yesterday, when thousands of British Columbians took to the polls to get in their vote in the 2013 elections, elementary and high school students across the province participated in Student Vote: a parallel election program coinciding with the British Columbia provincial election. They elected a majority NDP government. But, when the actual elections came, they were then out-voted by the rest of the population.

When British Columbians in a surprise flip elected back the same government that brought us the horrid Bill 22, young people under 18 in British Columbia didn’t have a say in it at all.

We won’t have a say in facing another 4 years of the B.C. Liberal government that has brought us inferior education compared to other provinces in Canada (including the worst student-educator ratio in the country). We won’t have a say in the cutbacks in skills training programs that will affect us as we graduate from high school and look for these programs to get us the skills we will need to start benefiting from (and contributing to) the economy in the future. We won’t have a say in any of this.

On top of that, we also have to face the fact that well over 70% of people in this province simply didn’t think about us when they made their vote. That 70% being: the 52% of people who didn’t show up to the polls at all (only 48% of voters voted in the May 2013 provincial election, a record low), in addition to the voters around the province who brought back the party that has largely governed without our interests in mind for the past 12 years.

There is a growing disconnect between the young population of British Columbia and everyone else.

I think that, starting today and proceeding as more and more of the issues young people face in their society get worse and worse as little is done to effectively solve them, young people in this province are going to lose hope in our modern system of democracy. They’re going to lose hope in their ability to be accommodated in a society that really doesn’t care about young people, has given them a much more difficult situation than was faced years ago by the generations that are now voting their concerns out, and doesn’t have a way to allow them to properly represent themselves in modern politics. (see video above, titled “What Is Generation Squeeze?“)

They’re going to start favouring something much more convoluted and scary in nature: something else.

In my view, this will create a tendency in British Columbians’ generation Y and (as they grow) generation Z: a tendency for us to be generally dissatisfied, unhappy, rebellious, and perhaps violently rebellious in our futures, as a result of the inconveniences we faced as a result of an incompetent government surrounding us at our young age. It will have dire consequences on the stability, economy and strength of this entire province.

That, I believe, is going to become this province’s single biggest future issue.

That, or the fact that based on the elections results there are probably few – if any – educated people in British Columbia who will ever take my concerns about the growing disconnect between young people and their society seriously.