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Future scenarios after transit plebiscite failure

1Where will Surrey and Metro Vancouver go after the failure of the public-transit tax plebiscite? Negative cuts to transit services or positive city-specific expansions are among 8 possible solutions explored by Fraseropolis blogger Thomas Ian McLeod.

Fast-growing Surrey is prominent in scenarios, including one where Metro Vancouver is cut in half with Surrey becoming the center of the eastern portion.

His latest article also highlights 3 vaguely cheerful thoughts on Metro Vancouver’s transit vote:
1. End of shilly-shallying made region’s 10-year public-transit plan.
2. Margin of defeat not as bad as early indicators.
3. Broad pro-transit coalition emerged.

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The informative article is part of ongoing Fraseropolis posts about “Land use, transportation and civic culture in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland and can give Surrey residents a fair sense of how our access to transit might be affected in the future.

List of 8 scenarios

(Excerpt from Fraseropolis)

The Treading Water Solution: We decide, without deciding, that our transit problems are too big and too difficult to solve. We drift along and cope with what comes up. In the near term, available money will be bunched into the improvement of arterial bus lines while community shuttle services are scrapped. Overall, per-capita spending on transit services will subside.

The Canadian Solution: Political leaders gather in a room. Nobody needs to know. They chop the master plan into manageable bits, agree on some creative ways to share the pain — hey, maybe property developers in transit corridors could pay more — and the glory, and the announcements begin to roll. There’s a distinct risk that sexy, high-profile projects will dominate the agenda, at the expense of more modest and cost-effective improvements; but there would at least be some excitement generated around transit benefits. (We have approached this blissful state in the recent past, but due to certain developments, the opportunity was lost.)

The Geronimo Solution: Gordon Price, Nathan Pachal and the coalition choir take on the world and score a convincing win for transit funding in a 2018 plebiscite. This is slightly plausible, given that some North American regions (Greater Phoenix, even) have voted in the past to fund transit. However, remember the following:

  • Large tracts of suburban Metro Vancouver will never get frequent transit. Never never never never never. Many residents in these areas will continue to feel disengaged from transit. Sure, they benefit from transit – through a healthier economy and so on – but the thrill just isn’t there.
  • Outlying municipalities of Metro Vancouver, even the urban village parts, will never see the frequent transit that is taken for granted closer into the big city.
  • There is no way to “fix” TransLink in a way that will satisfy the vocal critics. In the griping about TransLink accountability, nobody has put forward a public sector model for the transportation authority to copy, because every public agency, federal, provincial or regional, has a host of detractors. The discussion tends to come back to costs, and public employees making too much; and yes, you could slash administrative salaries at TransLink to half the public sector standard, and everyone would quit. Or you could organize transit along strict business lines, and cut the highest-cost services, and the biggest complainers — the people in the outer suburbs — would have no service at all.

The Contracting-Out Solution: Awarding some services to private contractors might reduce wages, but at a political cost. The 2003-04 contracting out of food and cleaning services in B.C. hospitals might be doing us good in a bean-counter’s notebook, but a public racket was raised around those services that continues to this day. By the way, HandyDART, the bus service for the disabled, is already a contracted-out service. Has anyone noticed? HandyDART is the service that is most likely to be cut back in a financial squeeze.

The Amalgamation Solution: For supposed efficiency, we collapse the 21 towns and cities in Metro Vancouver into a mega-city, as has happened in Toronto in Montreal. It would likely make transit decision-making easier. But as I wrote in one of my earliest blogs, it’s not more efficient.

The Partition Solution: A Fraseropolis.com fantasy: British Columbia agrees to divide Metro Vancouver into east and west, with a Fraser region centred on Surrey to the east, and a Vancouver region to the west taking in the Tricities, the North Shore and Richmond. Spoiler alert: there are no functional benefits, but the partition might manage down the petty jealousies that contribute to our transit headaches.

The Magic Solution: This was occasionally raised in the “no” camp during the plebiscite process. “It doesn’t matter if we refuse the funding: they’ll find a way to pay for all the program improvements all the same.” Fire a few planners, and, poof! Billions of dollars will fall from the sky.

My preference, I suppose, would be a version of the Opt In/Opt Out Solution, where municipalities with acute transit cobble together their own political and financial transit packages. Mayor Linda Heppner of Surrey started down this path during the plebiscite process, undermining the council of mayors’ 10-year proposal by saying, “Yes or No, Surrey will implement rapid transit.” If she can win over allies from neighbouring cities, great. Considering the stakes for ordinary people, and the uninformed nature of much of the public conversation, local elected leaders have a choice: either take a tough, self-reliant stand, or watch your transit services dwindle away.

David Plug
Ideas that could be innovative and enhance the quality of life, economy and health for Surrey residents and businesses are examined by David Plug. David is a former online & community journalist and healthcare communicator. Born on Vancouver Island, he has worked there, across Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and also at Prince George in northern BC. His interest in Surrey enhancing its cool and useful offerings for families are motivated by the experiences of him, his wife, three kids, two siblings and mother who have resided in Surrey for 13 years. As a graduate in History from University of Victoria, he also contributes stories about Surrey’s legacy which is somewhat informed by his appointment to the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission.
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