Federal Money for Local Transit?

Vancouver Sun – December 16, 2008

One phrase:  I’ll believe it when I see it.  I think I share Mayor Joe Trasolini’s sentiment.

Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini said he’s been told since spring that the funding has been approved and will wait to see what happens. “I’m not getting encouraged and over-excited with promises any more,” he said.

I’ve written about the Evergreen Line recently.  I can only hope that the money will really come through from the federal government.  The Conservatives have really endorsed these sort of “green” and “sustainable” projects.  However, with the possibility of a non-confidence vote, they look more willing to open up their purse strings in order to satisfy some of the opposition.  Let’s not forget that John Baird was Environment Minister and put a stop to an O-Train (diesel light rail) expansion project in the Ottawa Capital Region (ref: The Tyee – January 23, 2007).

The B.C. government has already committed $410 million and TransLink $400 million to the long-awaited Evergreen Line so the federal funding is the “missing piece,” Falcon said.

The federal government, which is required to pay a third of the project, has provided $67 million so far and Falcon said he’s confident Ottawa will match Victoria’s contribution. That would leave the project $200 million short, which Falcon has previously suggested would likely be covered by a private-sector partner. The Evergreen line is expected to be completed in 2014.

Why don’t the two levels of government split the remaining $200 million anyway?  In this period of tightening credit, a private company will be hard-pressed to borrow the money to run their portion of a megaproject like the Evergreen Line.  And who is going to help pay for the operation of the new line?  TransLink is already on the verge of a huge cash crunch just to keep the current system operating.  The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) has been calling for some sort of national transit plan for a few years now.  These one-off announcements are great for capital funds to pay for the building of infrastructure.  However, it seems like no government wants to commit to paying for the running and maintenance of these systems.  The Toronto Transit Commission is a great example of neglect from higher levels of government.  Outdated and aging subway stations line the system while funds go to building new lines and fixing the highways.

And again, I’ll reiterate that the studies announced earlier are often not necessary.  Obviously, we want to get things right, but the smoke and mirrors that are often applied as a public consultation exercise is misleading.  In the case of the Evergreen Line’s consulations over the past few years, there was no obvious political meddling in support of one technology or another.  The consultations produced a recommendation for light rail technology from Lougheed Town Centre to Coquitlam Town Centre.  Now the provincial government is recommending SkyTrain over light rail.  This move has shades of Glen Clark’s decree for SkyTrain over light rail along Lougheed Highway and Broadway.  The studies have already shown that light rail is people-moving effective at a cost-effective price.

We can only see what the studies will show for Surrey and UBC extensions.  Again, I’ll believe it when I see it.  I have been wishing for a UBC extension for over 15 years.  For now, that crowded B-Line bus will have to do.

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