Cote aims to ex­pand tran­sit sys­tem

The Georgia Straight - - Feature - Photo by Stephen Hui

Wby Char­lie Smith

hen New West­min­ster mayor Jonathan Cote was re­cently elected chair of the Translink May­ors’ Coun­cil, the me­dia fo­cus was on ex­pan­sion of rapid tran­sit in Sur­rey. Specif­i­cally, jour­nal­ists won­dered whether the re­gional trans­porta­tion au­thor­ity would ac­com­mo­date Sur­rey mayor Doug Mc­cal­lum’s de­mand to sub­sti­tute Sky­train for an ap­proved and fully funded $1.65-bil­lion light-rail line con­nect­ing Guild­ford and New­ton with Sur­rey Cen­tre.

In a phone in­ter­view with the Ge­or­gia Straight, Cote said that it ap­pears as though the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment wants the may­ors’ coun­cil to take the lead in that dis­cus­sion, which he wel­comes.

“There is a recog­ni­tion that the re­gion has been able to se­cure $1.6 bil­lion to in­vest in rapid tran­sit south of the Fraser River,” he said. “In my opin­ion, that in­vest­ment is best placed to stay south of the Fraser River, given that that part of our re­gion is see­ing sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in pop­u­la­tion and does need to have bet­ter ac­cess to the tran­sit sys­tem.”

How­ever, Cote em­pha­sized that a great deal of work needs to be com­pleted to un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of can­celling the light-rail project and switch­ing to build­ing Sky­train from King Ge­orge Sta­tion down the Fraser High­way, as Mc­cal­lum de­sires. Ac­cord­ing to Cote, this will in­clude ex­am­in­ing the im­pli­ca­tions for air qual­ity, land use, and tran­sit-rid­er­ship num­bers.

At the same time, he’s feel­ing ex­cited about be­com­ing chair in an era of ex­pan­sion.

“The may­ors’ coun­cil and Translink are in a re­ally good po­si­tion right now,” the New West­min­ster mayor stated. “We are see­ing record pub­lic-tran­sit rid­er­ship in our re­gion. And we also have very sup­port­ive pro­vin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments that have put for­ward a lot of new fund­ing for in­vest­ments in pub­lic tran­sit in the re­gion.”

How­ever, his en­thu­si­asm is tem­pered some­what by a re­al­iza­tion that the re­gional trans­porta­tion au­thor­ity could face fu­ture fund­ing prob­lems. In 2017, Translink fore­cast that 21 per­cent of its rev­enues—$384.56 mil­lion— would come from fuel taxes (be­fore any gain or loss on dis­pos­ables). This money is gen­er­ated through a 17-cent-per-litre levy.

Cote ac­knowl­edged that this may not be a “re­li­able and stable” source of fund­ing as more mo­torists switch to elec­tric ve­hi­cles, which would mean they would buy far less gaso­line.

“It’s not go­ing to be one of our eas­ier con­ver­sa­tions,” he said. “But it’s one we can’t shy away from be­cause if…we start to see a dip in those rev­enue sources five or 10 years in the fu­ture, that’s when we re­ally end up in a fund­ing cri­sis for trans­porta­tion in the re­gion.”

Ear­lier this year, an in­de­pen­dent task force re­leased the Metro Van­cou­ver Mo­bil­ity Pric­ing Study, which con­cluded that “re­gional con­ges­tion point charges” could gen­er­ate $1 bil­lion to $1.5 bil­lion an­nu­ally. These fees would also re­duce traf­fic con­ges­tion by 25 per­cent, thereby im­prov­ing the econ­omy. But they would come at a hefty cost to the av­er­age pay­ing house­hold: $5 to $8 per day.

“Out of that work, we rec­og­nized the re­gion isn’t quite ready to jump in head­first into mo­bil­ity pric­ing,” Cote con­ceded, “but I think we need to con­tinue to have that dis­cus­sion. As other rev­enue sources—mainly the gas-tax rev­enue—be­come less re­li­able and po­ten­tially de­cline into the fu­ture, we’ve got to ask our­selves: what are the ap­pro­pri­ate other mech­a­nisms?”

The may­ors’ coun­cil is fo­cused on com­plet­ing Phase 2 of Translink’s 10-year trans­porta­tion strat­egy, which in­cludes a sharp in­crease in bus-ser­vice hours. But Cote, who has an SFU mas­ter’s de­gree in ur­ban stud­ies, is also ea­gerly look­ing for­ward to shap­ing what might come af­ter that work is done.

“Trans­porta­tion isn’t go­ing to re­main static,” he said. “The elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of ve­hi­cles to ride­hail­ing to even the ad­vance­ment of au­tonomousve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy—these are all un­knowns but very trans­for­ma­tive in terms of how peo­ple get around in the fu­ture. I would like to see our re­gion start putting some thought be­hind those and po­ten­tially be­ing lead­ers about how these new in­no­va­tions in trans­porta­tion can fit into our Liv­able Re­gion Strat­egy and our vi­sion for the fu­ture of Metro Van­cou­ver.”

An­other one of his goals is to have more non­mar­ket and af­ford­able hous­ing lo­cated in ar­eas that are well served by pub­lic tran­sit.

“I think those are two crit­i­cal is­sues fac­ing the Metro Van­cou­ver re­gion but they’re of­ten dis­cussed and dealt with sep­a­rately,” Cote noted. “To me, those two mat­ters ac­tu­ally need to be com­bined into the same con­ver­sa­tion.”

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