Thursday, April 25, 2013

BC NDP and Liberals on transit funding

Both the BC NDP and BC Liberals have now released their election platforms, so I thought it would be a good time to see what each of them has to say about transit funding in Metro Vancouver. As you may be aware, TransLink needs more revenue to build and operate a much needed, expanded transit system in the region which would include rapid transit in the South of Fraser and along the UBC corridor. An expanded transit system would cost billions of dollars to build and a hundred million dollars or so annually to operate. To pay for expanding transit service, new local funding sources will need to be approved by the province, as well as higher user fees, and a commitment from the provincial and federal government to pay their fair share of transit costs.

The BC Liberals in their platform state that they would “work with the Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council and TransLink to identify possible sources of funding for transit improvements. Any new revenue sources would then be subject to a referendum to be held at the same time as the municipal elections in November 2014.” Now depending on if you believe Premier Christy Clark, who says that there will be a status quo option on the referendum which would essential kill transit expansion in the region, or Transportation Minister Mary Polak, who indicated that a status quo option would not be on the referendum (the question would be about which new funding source to pick), we will either have a full funding transit system that can grow to meet the needs of our region, or we may have a transit system that can’t keep up with demand and will results in a poorer quality of living and lower economic potential for people who live in Metro Vancouver. I do find it a bit odd that the BC Liberals want to hold a referendum on transit funding, but not on highway funding which is also in their platform. It seems to be a double standard, and possibly a way to abdicate responsible for transit in Metro Vancouver.

The BC NDP in their platform state that they would “invest a portion of carbon tax revenues to enhance and expand transit service and options, build and rehabilitate green infrastructure, and support climate solutions in communities across BC.” The BC NDP would spend $30 million in 2013/14, $40 million in 2014/15, and $50 million in 2015/16 to pay for transit, and green projects and retrofits above what is currently in the provincial budget from carbon tax revenue. It is good news that the BC NDP will invest more on fighting climate change, but the funding level is nowhere near what is needed to expand transit in Metro Vancouver, let alone all of British Columbia. While it looks like the BC NDP are willing to pay for the province’s share of transit expansion, they have been silent on if they will allow the region to choose a funding source to pay for its share of transit costs. Carbon tax alone will not allow the expansion of transit services in Metro Vancouver.

At the end of the day, it is good to see that both major provincial parties are talking about transit funding. I hope that this decade will be the decade when we will finally have a fully funded transit system that can meet the needs of the whole region, and it will be interesting to see what happens after the election.

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