Metro mayors

Metro mayors

Rapid bus in Maple Ridge is years away

‘No’ vote in referendum would delay projects 5-10 years.

Maple Ridge council Monday didn’t pull any punches as it pounded out questions to a trio of transit types promoting a yes vote in this spring’s transit referendum.

When will Maple Ridge actually see a B-line or rapid bus link to Coquitlam Central Station?

Is there really enough track time to allow expansion of West Coast Express commuter rail? And why isn’t there a bus to Mission?

A major worry was how long it would take to get a B-line/rapid bus service linking downtown Maple Ridge to the new SkyTrain line in Coquitlam.

“The target now is to get the rapid bus within three to five years. Two to three years is a long time for people, but it takes a long time to build buses,” said Mike Buda, executive-director of the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation.

“We could possibly have those services up and running within three years of having a vote,” said TransLink vice-president Bob Paddon.

“The problem is, that we don’t have the vehicles.”

Council heard that without a yes vote, all the transportation projects planned for Metro Vancouver will be delayed by another five or 10 years. If another referendum is held five years from now, it will take another five years to implement whatever’s approved.

Meanwhile, the region’s population will grow yearly by the equivalent of Port Coquitlam’s population.

Coun. Gordy Robson said TransLink has been talking about rapid bus service to Coquitlam from Maple Ridge for a decade.

“Why can’t we make that [rapid] bus next week?”

Robson pointed out that council had been given three different time frames Monday for when rapid bus would get to Maple Ridge; either within two years, two- to three-years or three to five years.

“You’re saying if we vote yes, there won’t be a rapid bus for three to five years?”

According to the Mayors’ Council, the arrival of rapid bus to Maple Ridge has yet another timeline.

The list of improvements set out in the Regional Transportation Investments, says Maple Ridge won’t get a rapid bus link to Coquitlam Evergreen SkyTrain line until between six and 10 years.

However, in a statement two weeks ago, the Mayor’s Council reduced that period to two years.

Implementing a rapid bus system in Maple Ridge would cost about $8 million, Paddon said. “That would be on the street within three years.”

Tamim Raad, TransLink planning director, said it takes time to order the buses, create the right of way and take delivery of the buses.

He said the service, which will follow Lougheed Highway into Coquitlam Central Station, will use a mix of separate lanes, dedicated roadways, and signal priority using SkyTrain type stations to bring people from Maple Ridge to Coquitlam SkyTrain.

TransLink and the Mayor’s Council were trying to persuade council to back the yes side in this spring’s mail-in transit plebiscite.

Voters in Metro Vancouver will be asked between March 16 and May 29 to mail in ballots saying whether they say yes or to hiking the provincial sales tax to 7.5 per cent.

That will raise about $250 million a year to pay for a list of new transit services, including everything from more West Coast Express service, SkyTrain line extension to Arbutus Street and light rail in Surrey and Langley.

Coun. Corisa Bell worried that the wait time for a rapid bus could coincide with a provincial election, which could upset the whole process.

“Is there a guarantee from TransLink that it will happen absolutely?” And has West Coast Express worked out a deal for leasing more track time from CP Rail to allow the extra train?

Negotiations with CP Rail are underway, said Paddon.

However, if a yes vote is successful, the mayors council will require that TransLink follow the plan.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read wants to wait until she sees an implementation plan, which the Mayors’ Council is to write in the next few weeks, before reconsidering her opposition to the vote.

Read opposed the Mayor’s Council decision to seek permission for hike in the PST because it was downloading provincial responsibility, without giving authority, on to the mayors. She’s also said she’ll vote no in the referendum.

“There’s a clear challenge with respect to [public] trust,” said Read.

What is TransLink doing to improve its reputation, she asked.

Paddon said that TransLink has found $200 million worth of savings in the past three years, achieved by trimming administration, freezing salaries, and cutting some services. The last increase in funding for the agency was in 2009.

One of the transportation priorities includes adding, within five years, an extra rush-hour train, morning and evenings, to the five West Coast Express trains that run from Mission to Vancouver.

“West Coast today is one of the best performing commuter rail systems in North America,” Paddon said. Very few systems can rival its low operating costs.

But the trains are starting to fill up and some stops finds people having to wait for the next train.

Bell said people wanted a mid-day train, but there’s not enough demand for that, council heard.

Coun. Craig Speirs also objected to municipalities taking the heat for raising taxes, which are provincial jurisdiction.

That’s been an ongoing debate at the Mayor’s Council, said Buda.

But mayors have decided they can either oppose it or get on with the process that’s being dictated to them by the senior government.

“This is the province’s choice. Until there’s a change in thinking or a change in government, there is no other choice.”

Council heard earlier that the mayors were able to come up with a regional transportation plan in a few months, while Toronto and Montreal have never been able to agree on a regional transit approach.

Buda said a yes vote would be historic and empower cities.

“A yes vote – changes the world,” he said.

“For the first time in Canadian history, a local government will have made a compelling case,”  for raising taxes for a specific purpose, giving more power to that level of government.

Raising the PST from 7.0 to 7.5 per cent in Metro is estimated to cost the average household an extra $125 per year, while low-income households would pay about $50 more, beginning in early 2016.

While a skeptical Maple Ridge council heard the presentation, Surrey, Vancouver and other mayors kicked off their campaign for a yes vote at Vancouver’s Waterfront station.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson pitched the tax as a minimal cost – 35 cents a day per household – to deliver key upgrades ranging from a light rail network in Surrey, to a subway along Broadway, more SeaBus service and 11 new B-line/rapid bus express routes.