B.C. systematically underfunding transit: report

Province is far shot of investment it promised in 2008, needs to find solution fast to tap federal transit grants

The B.C. government has fallen far short of commitments to invest in public transit laid out in its 2008 provincial transit plan while powering ahead with billions of dollars in spending on road and bridge megaprojects, according to a report by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Foundation CEO Peter Robinson accused the province of “systematic underfunding of transit” and thereby exacerbating congestion in dense areas of Metro Vancouver.

The provincial plan of 2008 promised $4.75 billion in provincial funding for transit over 12 years as part of $11.1 billion in total projects, but the Suzuki report says only $1.1 billion has so far flowed from the B.C. government.

Metro Vancouver projects have been largely frozen in the wake of Premier Christy Clark’s 2013 decision new funding sources would have to go to a referendum, which was defeated in 2015.

The foundation is among the transit advocates urging a solution to generate more funding quickly in order to ensure Metro Vancouver isn’t beaten by cities like Toronto and Montreal in getting their share of billions of dollars that the federal government is offering to expand transit.

“B.C. has spent a decade pondering a solution, and the current window of opportunity is time-bound and critical to the economic, social and environmental future of the province,” the report said.

Metro Vancouver mayors have proposed enabling TransLink to raise an extra one per cent every year from property tax payers, a $50 million new funding source enabled by the province, as well as a new system of regional development cost charges and another transit fare increase.

So far the province has suggested it would fund one third of the mayors’ $7.5-billion plan.

But the province has only committed to match the initial first phase of funding from the federal government, not the subsequent second phase that would be required to actually build new rapid transit lines in Surrey and Vancouver.

Minister for TransLink Peter Fassbender said the province remains committed to funding those new lines even though it can’t yet formalize that ahead of a federal decision on the second phase grants.

“The mayors can raise funding from existing sources for phase 1,” he said Monday. “I believe they’re going to do that. We’re going to work together with the federal government.

“I don’t buy the concept we have not seen any movement. We have seen significant movement.”

Fassbender insisted the B.C. government has made major transportation improvements since 2008, highlighting the opening of the Canada Line, the Evergreen Line under construction now and the replacement of the Port Mann Bridge, which brought new express bus service across the Fraser River.

The minister also said the government is hearing concerns about housing affordability “every day” and said better transportation and more housing supply – which could come with redevelopment along rapid transit corridors – is part of the solution.

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