Metro Vancouver mayors plan to hold the B.C. NDP’s feet to the fire when it comes to following through on transit-related promises made during the recent provincial election campaign.
The party’s platform included projects both large and small, from finishing a SkyTrain extension in Surrey and Langley, to coordinating schedules between different agencies.
“As we’ve experienced in the past, we know translating campaign commitments to real policies does take some work, and I think the Mayors’ Council is going to have to be very active to really advance that work there,” Jonathan Coté, chair of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council, said this week.
The biggest, and most expensive, promises are around rapid transit and affordability.
Premier John Horgan made an announcement in Langley in early October that if re-elected his government would pledge $1.5 billion to bring the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain line all the way from King George station to downtown Langley. The line is currently only funded to go four stops, into Fleetwood.
Horgan said the project would become a provincial responsibility, but the federal government and municipalities would have to contribute to the costs.
The NDP platform also talked about adding “new rail and rapid transit lines” in the two cities, a high-speed transit link for the North Shore, and a rail extension to the Fraser Valley. The province was already in the process of studying rapid transit to the North Shore prior to the election.
Pledging to offer free transit for children age 12 and under was another big-ticket item in the NDP platform, an idea that has been discussed in the region for years. TransLink has said that it would need support from the province for such an undertaking, because it would cost the transit authority millions of dollars in fare revenue each year. Currently, children over the age of five and youths up to age 18 pay a discounted rate.
“I think these were all important things that were committed in the campaign and I think we need to get to work to engaging the new provincial government in this very important work in this region, and even to pull up some of the issues that weren’t raised in this provincial election because I think certainly the platform didn’t holistically cover all of the asks and interests that are coming from the Mayors’ Council in the region,” Coté said.
TransLink vice-president of policy and planning Geoff Cross noted that the NDP promised to accelerate the move toward a “net-zero emission” bus fleet province-wide.
“One of the things we will look to do once they are ensconced is to see how quickly that program may come up,” he said.
Cross said it could help with TransLink’s low-carbon fleet strategy, which would see greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 80 per cent and only renewable energy used in all operations by 2050. The Mayors’ Council has chosen to take an aggressive approach to converting the bus fleet, which is expected to cost about $450 million.
The NDP also promised to coordinate with B.C. Transit and TransLink to better align bus and ferry scheduling, increase connections to the TransLink network for those in the Fraser Valley and Sea-to-Sky regions, and expand West Coast Express service.
Mayors’ Council executive director Mike Buda said they are working with government officials who prepare transition briefings for new cabinet ministers to make sure the information is up to date, and when the new government is sworn in they will also connect with the minister responsible for TransLink and organize briefings with all new Metro Vancouver MLAs, no matter their party affiliation.
“The commitments they made on transit are very significant and ambitious,” Buda said this week. “Certainly, what I’ve heard from officials in the NDP now is that these are important commitments that they made and that they may actually be pushing us to move quickly on these things, so I think we’ve got very much a willing partner on those items.”
No one from the party was available on Friday for an interview about the NDP’s plans for transit, however a spokesperson for the premier’s office said in a statement that they are in a transition period and work is being done to prepare for the next government.
“Decisions and announcements on implementing specific new policies or programs will only be made after a new cabinet is sworn in,” the spokesperson said.
It is expected that the final results of the election will be available by late November.