Rapid Transit on Broadway—Decision Coming Soon

In February, two key developments occurred that have relevance to rapid transit in the Broadway corridor: the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure wrote an important public letter to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, and the Mayors’ Council agreed  to develop a detailed transportation vision for Metro Vancouver (Mayors’ Council letter, Media Release). There now appears to be a clear route to a decision on rapid transit on Broadway—as well as many other potential transit and transportation projects—and a short timeframe for the decision to be made.

The Minister’s letter confirmed and expanded upon the provincial government’s conditions for obtaining new revenue sources for TransLink in the near term:

  • Any new taxes or fees must be approved in a referendum to be held no later than June 30, 2015.
  • The Mayors’ Council must, by June 30, 2014, develop a detailed, fully costed, 10-year regional transportation vision, with specific priorities and project phasing.
  • New funding must be generated within the Metro Vancouver region.

If the required transportation vision is not ready by the June 30, 2014 deadline, the provincial government will not permit a referendum to be held until October 2018 (the date of the next local government elections, if the bill to extend the term of local government officials to four years is enacted during the present legislative session).

The Mayors’ Council has commenced the development of the required 10-year investment plan. This plan will be instead of the 15-year implementation plan that TransLink was developing for its Regional Transportation Strategy.

The task of developing the plan has been assigned to a newly established subcommittee
of the Mayors’ Council, the Investment Plan Subcommittee.This subcommittee consists of eight mayors representing the North Shore, the Northeast Sector, the South of the Fraser Sector, the Central Sector, Vancouver and Surrey.

The subcommittee faces a difficult task. It must sift through the multitude of investment projects that have been proposed  and determine which projects, or categories of projects, should be included in the plan. TransLink planning staff are working closely with the subcommittee as it makes these determinations.

Assuming that rapid transit in the Broadway corridor is an element of the plan, the subcommittee will have to recommend the form this should take: a mainly underground SkyTrain, surface light rail, or a combination of the two. A further decision is whether the full line from the Commercial Drive area to UBC should be built or just the eastern portion (with the western portion possibly included in the plan for the following 10 years).

A further matter for the subcommittee is the amount of annual revenue to be raised from new sources, in order to fund proposed investments and the additional operating costs of an expanded transit system. The more revenue that is sought, the greater the risk that a referendum to approve new revenue sources will fail. On the other hand, a modest revenue target will significantly constrain the extent of investment that can occur. The subcommittee will have to find the right balance.

A related aspect of the subcommittee’s mandate is to determine which new revenue sources to recommend and at what rates. The sources previously proposed by the Mayors’ Council are: a vehicle levy; a regional sales tax of up to 0.5%; a regional carbon tax; land value capture; and road pricing (some form of pay-by-use charge for roads).

The Investment Plan Subcommittee is to report back to the Mayors’ Council in April. The Mayors’ Council will then decide whether to endorse the proposed 10-year investment plan or revise it. There will be little time for revision, given the Minister’s deadline of June 30. It is not yet known how much public consultation, if any, will occur before the plan is finalized.

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