COLUMN: Time to break from TransLink

South-of-the-Fraser cities should consider setting up their own regional transit system.

Once again, south-of-the-Fraser transit users are being shafted by TransLink.

The transportation agency, not well-loved in Surrey or Delta, announced Tuesday that it is scrapping a number of pass and discount programs, claiming this makes the system “more equitable.” Among the programs cut are FareSaver tickets, the books of 10 tickets which have been well-utilized by many transit users from this area.

TransLink says the discount programs will be replaced by discounts that will be available with the new Compass Card system, to be introduced later this year.

The current discount programs end on Jan. 1, 2014. FareSaver ticket users have been getting a 21-per-cent discount in the past year, as the cost of fares rose while the FareSaver prices stayed the same. That discount will drop to 14 per cent with Compass Cards.

It sounds fair on the surface. But it doesn’t add up when the impact of the three-zone fare system is added to the mix.

Transit riders who get on the system in Surrey, Delta or Langley must pay for three-zone travel to get to Vancouver. This applies even if they get on SkyTrain at Scott Road Station, just across the Fraser from New Westminster.

The only other area of the region where three-zone fares apply is in the Tri-City and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows areas. It is not coincidental that all areas subject to three-zone fares have the worst transit service.

TransLink collects an inordinate amount of fare money per passenger in Surrey, Delta and other three-zone communities. Yet at the same time, it provides a level of service that is far below what is offered in Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby or Richmond.

The difference between a one-zone and three-zone fare is substantial. To ride the bus or SkyTrain within Vancouver, where service is most frequent, it costs a transit rider (without any discounts for student, senior or child) $2.75. The same rider in Surrey, travelling to the edge of Vancouver at Joyce or Renfrew stations on SkyTrain, pays $5.50.

Despite steady growth and a higher density in urban areas than Burnaby’s, transit service in Surrey is not being expanded.

There is still no express bus service for Surrey riders across the Port Mann Bridge, as promised as a condition of the Port Mann Bridge becoming a toll bridge.

And many bus users in Surrey frequently get passed by when waiting for a bus, and often wait up to half an hour to get on a bus at all.

This level of service and blatant discrimination against Surrey and Delta residents is completely unacceptable. People in this area are already contributing disproportionately to TransLink, through the higher fares, and being forced to buy more gas (and thus pay more gas tax). TransLink property taxes in this area are not discounted in any way, despite a lower level of service.

While a referendum on new sources of funding for TransLink is scheduled for some time early in 2014, Surrey, Delta and White Rock residents need to ask themselves if they want to continue paying disproportionately.

While few politicians even want to talk about it, we likely would be better off with our own regional transit system south of the Fraser, as long as it retains good links with the rest of the system.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

Editor’s note: A spokesperson from TransLink responded to this column by pointing out that in December 2012, “TransLink launched the 555 Express Bus that runs between the Carvolth Transit Exchange on 202nd Street in Langley and Braid SkyTrain Station in New Westminster. This express bus was specifically designed to ride over the Port Mann Bridge.”

However, the bus does not stop in Surrey, despite an expensive 156 Street exit built to accommodate it, and therefore provides no express service to riders in Surrey.

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