Fare hike in, Evergreen Line out: Report

The Province

By Susan Lazaruk, Jack Keating and Ian Austin

Transportation commissioner will likely approve fare increase of three to 3 1/2 per cent

TransLink should forget about a deluxe proposal to dramatically expand rapid transit all over Metro Vancouver — including the long-awaited northeast Evergreen Line.

But it might get permission to hike fares by as much as 3.5 per cent next year.

Those were among Thursday’s rulings by regional transportation commissioner Martin Crilly in his review of TransLink’s 10-year plan for its Metro Vancouver operations. The plan contains four service and funding options, each with a different set of offerings and costs.

Crilly ruled against the “Cadillac” option for massive expansion — including Evergreen — because it calls for almost $500 million a year in revenue, $175 million of which TransLink has so far failed to find a source for, he said. TransLink also failed to provide enough detail for Crilly to determine if it could work, he said.

Coquitlam residents were angry that Crilly’s position might see the line delayed.

“I’m very disappointed that it could be postponed again,” said Gail Tabor, who has lived in the city for 20 years. “We would love to have the Evergreen Line. It would be a convenience for us.

“And buses out here are not that great. Occasionally, you’ll get [a bus] in 15 minutes, but that’s rare. Most of them are a half-hour or even an hour in between, and that’s very inconvenient. A SkyTrain line would be a much better situation.”

Manou Salimi said he was “disappointed” by yet another broken promise by the B.C. Liberals.

“The government in the first place promised to build the Evergreen Line, and then now they’ve put a stop or a hold on it,” Salimi said. “People are expecting the plan to go ahead. ”

Salimi said the Evergreen Line would have cut his commute time to work by 30 minutes.

“I think people should gather together from all the communities in different areas and go to City Hall to get some answers,” he said.

Carol Stewart agreed.

“They’re a bunch of liars, they’ve been lying all along,” said Stewart, who was waiting Thursday at the Coquitlam Station bus loop. “They should never have built the other line to Richmond before they built this one. This line was promised first.”

Mayors from across Metro have until the end of October to choose one of four funding options contained in the plan.

Provincial Transportation Minister Shirley Bond has ordered the comptroller general to review TransLink’s financial position and report in by Sept. 30.

Crilly said he would likely approve TransLink’s proposed fare hike of between three and 3.5 per cent a year — instead of the two per cent permitted by law — in 2010, as the agency requested.

As for service options, Crilly said:

• TransLink’s cheapest version, which would require no new funding over the present budget but would require drastic cuts to service, was “clearly unpalatable.”

• A second option calling for $130 million in new funding would minimize cuts to service and “buy time for further planning and funding.”

• A third option to “maintain and upgrade,” in part through an vehicle levy of up to $165 a year, would strengthen existing services but not expand rapid transit.

Crilly wants the second and third options to be considered, and agreed with TransLink’s push to upgrade present service before working on the Evergreen Line.

His report said that rather than improve supply by building more transit, TransLink should improve its “demand management” — in plain English, using tolls or a congestion tax to discourage drivers and make transit a cheaper, more attractive option.

Crilly’s position on Evergreen came as no surprise to Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, who has based denser development in his city on the promise the line would be built.

Trasolini said Crilly’s report strengthens the demand by area mayors that Victoria and Ottawa help with TransLink’s annual operating costs — and not just pledge capital funds for mega-projects. Victoria has to invest in transit if it wants to talk a big, environmentally friendly game, he added.

“They want the results but they don’t want to make any of the investments,” Trasolini said.

For her part, Bond noted that the provincial and federal governments have committed $827 million to build the Evergreen Line and that Victoria was “committed” to seeing it built.

Bond said she’s optimistic about ridership on the Evergreen Line — when it’s eventually built —in light of the above-expected ridership numbers on the new Canada Line.

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