There is much heat over the plebiscite question, now before voters, which calls for the approval or rejection of a 0.5-per-cent sales tax increase to fund specific transit projects.
However, a statement made by a candidate in the upcoming federal election (which has almost nothing to do with local transit, other than federal participation in transit capital projects), is very succinct in summarizing the current transit situation in Surrey.
“It’s just past the horse and buggy era,” says Green party candidate Scott Anderson, who is running in the new Cloverdale-Langley City riding.
An analysis of what Surrey has had in the past, what has been promised, and what has actually materialized, shows he is close to being 100-per-cent accurate.
In the horse and buggy era more than 100 years ago, Surrey had an electric interurban line which crossed the municipality from northwest to southeast. It went through South Westminster, edged into North Delta, then went to Kennedy, Newton, Sullivan and Cloverdale.
Trains ran a minimum of three times a day – each way. The scattered rural residents of Surrey could get to New Westminster, the major shopping destination in those days, in short order. They were also able to ship and sell their farm produce, get mail and express packages quickly, and in many cases, they even had access to electricity because of the power lines that were needed to supply electricity for the electric trains.
In 1915, Surrey had a population of fewer than 10,000.
The interurban lasted until 1950. By that time, roads were better (although many were still gravel), most people had a car or access to a ride, and the interurban cars and power system were getting old and in need of replacement.
Few foresaw that there would one day be a need for rapid, rail-based transit. For the small number of people who did not own cars, there was still bus service – albeit no more frequent that the trams had been. Pacific Stage Lines continued to offer a modicum of public transportation in Surrey until there NDP government of Dave Barrett announced an expansion of the Metro Vancouver transit system into Delta, Surrey, White Rock and Langley. That service began in 1973.
Over the years, the bus service has slowly improved, although many routes have been added and then cut back or deleted.
When SkyTrain was first announced in 1980 by Surrey MLA Bill Vander Zalm, who was minister of municipal affairs and transit, the projections were that it would go from downtown Vancouver to New Westminster in the first phase, which opened in 1986. It would then be extended to Whalley, with another possible line from Vancouver to Richmond. Vander Zalm later said there was a possibility of an extension from Whalley to Newton.
That was 35 years ago. The extensions to Scott Road, and then to what is now called Surrey City Centre, came in 1990 and 1994 respectively.
Since that last extension was completed 21 years ago, there have been a number of promises made. There have been promises of LRT, suggestions that rail service on the interurban rail corridor (still in use and completely intact) be revived and even a promise of SkyTrain to Langley along Fraser Highway, made by then-premier Gordon Campbell about seven years ago.
So we do have bus service in Surrey, albeit limited; we do have SkyTrain into the far northwest corner of the city; and we have had an awful lot of promises.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.