Peter Ladner: Time to make a decision [Vancouver Sun]

Published in the Vancouver Sun, January 28, 2018

Will Metro Vancouver’s new transit and transportation plan to reduce traffic gridlock itself end up in governmental gridlock?

That’s the fear of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition. A credible transportation solution – a far-reaching plan to improve our region’s movability, environment, economy, health and quality of life – seems to be stalled between three levels of government.

Three years ago, the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition (BTTC), comprised of more than 140 organizations from labour, business, environmental NGOs, public health, anti-poverty groups, student associations, professional groups and more, rallied to support the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council 10-year plan to improve transit and transportation.

Our member groups saw the urgency of replacing the Pattullo Bridge, extending the Broadway SkyTrain subway line, building light rapid transit in Surrey and Langley and dramatically expanding bus services while improving cycling and pedestrian safety throughout the region. If this plan is fully-implemented, 60 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents will have access to frequent transit service – meaning service every 15 minutes or less, within walking distance.

Unfortunately that vote failed, but the pressing need for the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year plan grew.

There is no status quo with traffic gridlock — it will only get worse if it is not addressed. The region is at a turning point. This need to proceed with the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year plan requires the full cooperation and commitment of all levels of government.

For decades we’ve negotiated and pleaded for federal and provincial money. Now it’s there, waiting for us to make a simple decision on how to close a very small funding gap for the next phase – about $80 million a year.

Even with our limited capacity, the number of workers taking transit to work in Metro Vancouver jumped by 43 per cent over the last decade – the biggest increase in Canada. And our per capita annual transit trips are the fourth highest of any city on the continent, behind only New York, Montreal and Toronto.

But if government gridlock doesn’t end very soon – within weeks – our opportunity to reduce traffic congestion by 20 per cent while improving air quality could pass us by.

Momentum matters. We’ve still got agreement on the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year plan. Amazingly, this plan has been approved by the federal government, the provincial government, an overwhelming majority of the local mayors, the TransLink board and staff, tens of thousands of stakeholders, and the biggest non-partisan coalition in B.C.’s history.

Ironically, failing to come to a regional agreement on funding because of angst about the Broadway subway line could melt down the 10-year plan, opening the door for the federal government to pick the Broadway line as their favourite — and endangering indefinitely all the other vitally needed improvements throughout the region.

We need leadership here – at all levels:

  • from the region’s mayors – in danger of coming unglued by calls to go slow, rethink priorities and double-guess the city of Vancouver’s contribution to a regional subway;
  • from the Premier, who ultimately has control over this decision;
  • from anti-tax lobbyists who reject all funding possibilities with no suggestions on an alternate feasible, affordable and fair way forward;
  • from motorists stuck in traffic, angered by delays, forced to spew noxious carbon emissions;
  • from seniors and low-income people without cars, stranded in neighbourhoods where there is no transit;
  • and from the thousands of bus riders paying increased fares while they stand in the rain watching full buses splash by.

While it’s critical to pay attention to costs, taxes, fees and tolls, visionary leaders also focus on the benefits of delivering this plan:

  • increased affordability through immense savings for commuters and delivery vehicles not festering in traffic jams, and for people who can switch from cars to transit;
  • workers having access to a wider range of jobs;
  • employers having access to a wider range of employees;
  • cleaner air, fewer traffic deaths and injuries, and major improvements in public health.

The objective of the BTTC is to ensure that the Mayors’ 10-year plan becomes a reality, and that traffic congestion be dramatically reduced and that funding for this is sustainable, and fair. We welcome anyone to join us to help make this happen.

The time is now.