Work to help us get to work

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows residents deserve some rapid transit like the rest of Lower Mainland

So it’s another column on TransLink and the West Coast Express and it’s another self-serving one, as the editor points out, but that’s never stopped me before.

I’m tired of having to get up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus in Abbotsford to take me to the Mission West Coast Express station so I can throw my bicycle on the 7:30 a.m. train into Maple Ridge, so I can pedal home on one of the most beautiful cycling commutes, the Lougheed Highway.

I’m tired of that and want a more convenient schedule – say perhaps an 8 a.m. departure so I can arrive in Maple Ridge at 8:30 a.m., for a more leisurely start.

Self-serving, you bet. But thousands feel the same way – we need to expand the West Coast Express from the ridiculous schedule now, when the train makes only five rush-hour runs into Vancouver and five at night, weekdays only, so we can give our cars and wallets a break, just like the folks in Richmond or Surrey.

We need two more trains in the morning, for my convenience, one at mid-day, and one more at night. On the weekends, we need at least one westbound in the morning and one eastbound at night.

It should be pointed out that in 2012, in the region that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, there still is no bus service between Mission and Maple Ridge. Ever.

If you don’t have a car and you don’t catch the morning train, you walk the 30 kilometres or hitchhike, or hitch up old Bessie to the wagon.

The cheapest and best way to bridge this gap to expand the train service, which operates at almost no cost to taxpayers.

West Coast Express ridership has grown to the point that ticket revenue pays 85 per cent of the costs of running the service. It’s what they call a free lunch for taxpayers. It’s the most cost-effective commuter rail service in North America, says Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin.

So when TransLink, in charge of roads as well, is having its budget cut to the bone, the cheapest way of moving people is through mass transit rather than new roads.

Work though on expanding West Coast Express is underway, sort of. A feasibility study on expansion is expected soon. Maybe.

But what has to happen is the mayors from those cities, Coquitlam to Mission, have to keep pushing TransLink to keep this on the agenda. It’s their job to fight for the people who voted them in, to fight for such a project that would make such a difference. Otherwise, the more entitled folks from Vancouver will get a subway to UBC. With the Evergreen SkyTrain line completing in a few years, expanding the West Coast Express will be even easier.

As Daykin  points out, the train doesn’t have to go into Vancouver, just to Coquitlam, so people can then jump on the Evergreen or Millennium Line and feed those lines.

This is what they call a no-brainer.

West Coast Express expansion, though, will require somebody to push it along, until it gets done. It will take some aggressiveness and persistence. Some hard work. And some in-your-face lobbying to ensure it happens and this region isn’t again forgotten. Somebody has to pick this up.

And if our current mayors are too shy for the task, maybe some former or soon-to-former politicians. Maybe some past members of council? Or what about Conservative MP Randy Kamp and Liberal MLA Marc Dalton?

Given the shifting political winds, there’s no guarantee either will be re-elected. Maybe this could be their legacy. The spin could be, with both possibly facing defeat in the next elections, Dalton and Kamp selflessly gave their service, never gave up and won a proper commuter rail service for the people of Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission.

We could even call it the Dalton-Kamp Line. The old red Tories would love that.

– Phil Melnychuk is a reporter with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.