Jonathan Cote and Peter Ladner: It’s time to make transportation a federal election issue [Vancouver Sun]

Published in the Vancouver Sun, July 11, 2019

Reducing traffic congestion and improving public transit are usually issues that dominate municipal and provincial elections.

But they don’t usually make headlines during a federal election campaign, where transportation often takes a back seat to national issues like climate change, the economy, trade and immigration.

Unfortunately, most voters don’t fully realize that the federal government plays a critically important role in funding transportation. Without its contributions, we would not have most of our SkyTrain system.

That’s why it is time to make transportation in Metro Vancouver a big issue in the 2019 federal election.

Transit and transportation are subjects much on the minds of Metro residents. A recent survey by Léger for the Canadian Urban Transit Association found that 75 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents believe road congestion is a problem, and nine in 10 agree public transit helps reduce congestion.

The ability to move people and goods where they need to go efficiently and affordably is an important key to our quality of life. Better transit gives people more choices for where they live and work and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

With demand for public transit growing at a record pace — and another million people arriving in Metro Vancouver over the next 20 years — the pressures on our transportation network will only increase.

That means this federal election is our opportunity to secure the commitments we need from the next federal government to continue making critical investments that will keep our communities moving.

We have seen the benefits of game-changing investments from successive federal governments that have helped make it possible to build rapid transit projects like the Canada Line and Evergreen Line. Improved transit has provided better access to affordable housing options and given people a way to leave their cars at home.

Now, with the 10-Year vision of the Mayors’ Council on regional transportation underway, thanks to investments from all three levels of government, TransLink is making historic increases to bus, SeaBus and SkyTrain service.

The public has responded to these new services, with ridership growing more than 17 per cent since the beginning of 2016 — more than anywhere else in North America. But this new ridership is swamping TransLink’s most optimistic projections. Completing the 10-Year vision is the next critical step that will help us to keep up with demand.

In this election, the Mayors’ Council and stakeholders, including the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, are calling on all federal parties to commit to a permanent congestion relief fund that would maintain the current level of federal investment beyond existing commitments, and would help us plan and build new infrastructure when needed, thereby lowering costs and reducing service gaps.

At the same time as we increase capacity, we need to ensure transit remains affordable. Having a predictable source of federal funding would enable TransLink to limit future fare hikes. It would also avoid Metro Vancouver having to jockey for priority in competition with other major cities.

With so much on the line for our region, it’s clear that transportation should be a federal election issue. The fact is, decision-makers in Ottawa have to keep investing or we will face chronic overcrowding on transit, worsening traffic congestion, more air pollution and longer delays moving the goods our economy depends on.

Federal parties and candidates need to hear from voters. The Mayors’ Council’s Cure Congestion campaign is making it easy to send a message to MPs, candidates and party leaders by entering your postal code at CureCongestion.ca.

Together we can make a difference. Contact your federal candidates and help us cure Metro Vancouver congestion.

Jonathan Cote is mayor of New Westminster and chair of the Mayors’ Council; Peter Ladner is chair of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition.