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Opinion: ‘Time to move forward with transit’ by Anne McMullin

June 6, 2016

Last week, Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development and Minister Responsible for TransLink, announced $246 million of provincial funding for the Mayors’ Council Transportation and Transit Plan. This follows the federal government announcement early this year to provide $370 million to transit improvements and pay up to 50 per cent of transit projects.

The Urban Development Institute (UDI) wants to congratulate the provincial and federal governments on their commitment to fund the first phase of the 10-year $7.8 billion Mayors’ Plan. The cost of the regional share of transit costs has been substantially reduced from one-third of capital costs to 17 per cent of them. The mayors have proposed several funding mechanisms, including:

  • two-per-cent transit fare increase in 2018
  • selling surplus TransLink land assets
  • an average $3 increase in property taxes
  • development levies

We are pleased that the mayors have identified several sources of revenue to close the gap on the regional share of funding their Transit and Transportation Plan. It is now time to finalize this work, so we can move forward with these needed investments.

Some have commented that the funding is only for the first phase of the Mayor’s Plan. Yes, this is true, but this first phase will deliver immediate and noticeable improvements for riders and commuters. While the first phase is being implemented, we can resolve the funding issues for the other parts of the plan.

We need to move forward with the first phase as soon as possible. Other regions across the country have transit plan investments as well, and are vying for federal funding. Toronto, alone, has a $50 billion 25-year transportation plan. We do not want to see Metro Vancouver tax dollars flowing to transit systems in other regions, while there are no upgrades to our already overstretched transportation network.

TransLink has done an excellent job with the resources it has. However, If we do not make improvements, commutes will take longer and hundreds of millions dollars to our economy will be lost each year as we fall behind in meeting our infrastructure needs. Metro Vancouver is, after all, one of the fastest growing regions in Canada — with over a million people and 600,000 more jobs coming to the area by 2040.

The development industry is also prepared to pay for its share of the costs. The mayors and the provincial government are actively considering leveraging and capturing the increased land value along transit lines. This is another way of saying that they will charge a fee on new development ($15 million to $20 million per year). UDI supports this and would like to work with the mayors and the province to find ways to leverage some of the land value from transit infrastructure to fund further TransLink.

However, perhaps the most important step is for the province, TransLink, Metro Vancouver and municipalities to work together to facilitate the supply of new housing and job spaces where transportation infrastructure is being planned if this region is to remain livable.

Issues related to housing affordability, managing growth, and encouraging transit have emerged as key priorities elsewhere in North America. Both the Ontario and California governments are taking steps to ensure that more housing is allowed near transit in their jurisdictions.  Investing in transit is particularly important in our region — as there is high growth and a limited land supply. Three-quarters of our growth will have to occur in already developed areas. With these constraints, building more homes and job spaces near transit more than makes sense; it’s necessary.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to maintain and improve this region.  Let’s not squander it. Let’s instead invest in our transit system with senior governments and then fully leverage that infrastructure to grow our economy sustainably and improve our livability and affordability.

Anne McMullin is president of the Urban Development Institute


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