NDP leader John Horgan was in Surrey on Thursday (Oct. 27) to sell the idea that a change in the provincial government would be good news for commuters who rely on public transit.
A crowd of several dozen people, many of them TransLink workers and members of Unifor Locals 111 and 2200, gathered outside the Surrey Central Bus Exchange to hear Horgan summarize his party’s plan to improve transit options in the city and throughout the Lower Mainland.
“Surrey is the fastest growing city in Metro, it is the fastest growing city in the province, it has 20 per cent of the Metro Vancouver population but has only seven per cent of its transit service,’ said Horgan. “Transit is suffering because Christy Clark is not taking action, aggressive action, to meet the growing demands of this spectacular city. If a BC NDP government is elected next May, it will invest 40 per cent into the Mayors Council 10-year Transit Plan, it will get LRT going here in Surrey, it will get more B-lines going here in Surrey, more frequency of the bus service here in Surrey so Surrey families can spend more time at home with their loved ones and less time in traffic.”
The BC NDP is promising to break the gridlock over Metro Vancouver transit expansion if it wins next spring’s provincial election by boosting the province’s traditional one-third share of capital funding for new projects to 40 per cent. A 40 per cent provincial share, coupled with the federal government’s commitment to contribute half of major transit capital projects, would significantly reduce the required regional contribution to just 10 per cent of capital, plus operating costs.
“What we want to do is make sure the city the resources it deserves to meet the growing demands of an exploding population and get people out of their cars and into public transit to get them moving again.”
Liberal Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Peter Fassbender promptly issued a press release in response to Horgan’s claims.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Fassbender. “John Horgan and the NDP have opposed infrastructure and transportation projects across British Columbia at every opportunity… The NDP opposed the Evergreen Line, they opposed the Golden Ears Bridge, they opposed BC on the Move, they opposed the George Massey Tunnel Replacement, they opposed the Sea to Sky Highway Improvement, they opposed the Port Mann Bridge, they opposed the South Fraser Perimeter Road, and countless other projects.”
Gavin McGarrigle, B.C. area director for Unifor, said the inaction on new transit projects is a source of frustration for members.
“This is a government that hasn’t done a lot for workers, for most people who are living in poverty and they’ve been playing games with the mayors for the past number of years,” said McGarrigle. “When I served as the labour co-chair for the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, we tried to win the referendum that was really set up to fail from the beginning and so at the end of the day we’ve seen exactly what we predicted with nothing happening for the past year, year-and-a-half with transit and now the BC NDP are finding a way to break the log jam. The federal government stepped up with more money, it is time for the provincial government to step up with more money as well.”
Metro Vancouver mayors have pressed the BC Liberal government to also commit to a higher provincial share, but the BC Liberal government has not yet agreed, nor has it gotten rid of its legislated requirement for a new referendum on any new transit funding source in the region. Anticipating a 17 per cent regional share, they 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.
The funding gap for TransLink has recently narrowed further since SkyTrain faregates closed. Officials say fare evasion is down and fare revenue is up by at least $25 million a year.
The NDP also reiterated past promises to put area mayors back fully in charge of TransLink, which is currently overseen by an appointed professional board of directors that includes the chair and vice-chair of the Mayors’ Council.
Horgan was joined for the announcement by local NDP MLAs Sue Hammell and Harry Bains but not the scheduled Bruce Ralston, who was delayed at the airport for reasons reportedly unrelated to public transportation.
The next provincial election is May 9, 2017.
– with files from Jeff Nagel