A transportation truth: most politicians don’t care about transit riders

The Straight

By Charlie Smith
Last night, I went to a dinner attended by two former politicians who were strong supporters of the Canada Line.

I’m guessing that neither of them takes the bus very often, if at all. In fairness, I could be wrong, which is why I’m not going to identify them. I know that most politicians do not take the bus regularly.

I’m guessing that many politicians probably have no idea that it costs $3.75 to take a SeaBus from Lonsdale Quay to downtown Vancouver during weekdays.

It’s shocking that it takes $10 to ride the transit system from Surrey to Vancouver and back during weekdays. That adds up to 1.25 hours of labour for a minimum-wage worker.

The politicians and bureaucrats who make decisions about our transit system live in a different world. They usually own their homes. They have assets in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. And they can often get around the city in air-conditioned comfort in their automobiles.

TransLink is now proposing to impose more fees on gasoline and parking, and has suggested a new vehicle tax to raise more money to fund regional transportation.

Otherwise, there will be devastating cuts to bus service.

Now, about that Canada Line. Why do politicians support rapid-transit projects where there isn’t sufficient density to justify them? And why do they opt for a SkyTrain system when no other major city in North America has chosen this as the backbone of its transit system because it’s too expensive?

Here’s the answer. Most of our idiotic politicians don’t care about transit riders and never have. If they did, they wouldn’t have built a $1.2-billion Millennium Line where practically nobody lives.

The U-Pass was created in part to lure more SFU students onto the Millennium Line to avoid the embarrassment of having to report rotten ridership numbers.

The U-Pass isn’t available to students at VCC, mainly because there are already enough transit riders jammed onto those 99-B buses whizzing along Broadway.

If politicians really cared about transit riders, they wouldn’t impose a SkyTrain-style system down Cambie Street and into Richmond when the densities in these areas can only support a rapid-bus system, at best. They know that the ridership is really going along Broadway.

Anyone who has spent a half an hour analyzing transit research knows that building the Canada Line is a colossal waste of money–$2 billion and counting, so far, to give existing transit users a better ride. Diverting this much money to one route will only cannibalize the bus system.

If politicians cared about transit riders, they wouldn’t choose a $1.4-billion SkyTrain-style system through Port Moody to Coquitlam because this too will cannibalize the bus system.

There won’t be sufficient ridership to justify the expense. Hence, we’ll see more cuts to bus service, inevitably accompanied by higher fares.

The modal split–which is a fancy term for the ratio of transit users to people going to and from work in cars–won’t change after billions have been spent.

Politicians and bureaucrats should be choosing transit systems based on current and future densities, and not based on political lobbying from people who merely want to spur land development.

Politicians shouldn’t cave into  pressure from a federal government that wants to subsidize Montreal-based transit and engineering companies that make whopping profits every time we choose the wrong transit technology.

All of this will inevitably lead to even higher transit fares. That’s because property and vehicle owners will throw politicians out of power if they impose too many new taxes.

Here’s the reality: TransLink wants to dip into everyone’s pockets, including those of senior levels of government, because it supported rotten rapid-transit choices in areas that could barely justify a rapid-bus service.

The politicians who supported these schemes were fools. We’re only beginning to see the results. And don’t believe them the next time they bleat about how much they care about transit riders because most of them haven’t seen the inside of a public bus in years.

There are war-crimes tribunals for politicians who launch illegal attacks on other countries.

Maybe it’s time we created a transit-crimes tribunal to hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable for pushing our regional transportation and transit systems to the brink of bankruptcy.

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