First, the good news: Surrey’s long promised King George B-Line will soon be in service, according to TransLink’s new 2013 Base Plan. The route, originally planned to travel from Guildford, through City Centre, to White Rock, will now end at Newton, whose bus exchange will be upgraded. The B-Line will provide service every 7.5 minutes along this busy transit corridor. Surrey residents will also appreciate upgrades to Surrey Central SkyTrain station, which will add a third entrance to the station and improve the bus exchange, and the Hwy 1 Rapid Bus, with highway coaches every 10 minutes during morning and evening rush hours between Langley and Braid station.
The Base Plan is being funded through additional service optimization, transit “right-sizing”, reduced weekend frequencies for SkyTrain, and new or increased rates at all Park and Rides. The South Surrey Park and Ride, already facing a lack of capacity, will benefit from the new $2 minimum daily rate, which should relieve some pressure on the site.
While the majority of services will not be cut or reduced, and some new improvements are being funded, this plan does not meet the region’s long term needs and eliminates 306,000 bus hours that had been planned, while also failing to restore full funding to roads and cycling. No money is provided for the construction of rapid transit along Broadway or in Surrey.
A significant portion of funding under this three year plan is coming from TransLink’s financial reserves, a fund introduced to help ensure the stability of the organization through periods of revenue instability. It is also based on $30 million from a time-limited property tax, previously approved by the Mayor’s Council, but contingent on a funding alternative that has been denied by the Province – the Mayors have previously stated that they would like to revoke the tax increase, which would necessitate a new plan and service cuts.
Of even more concern is the volatility and declining revenues from the fuel tax. The 17 cent gas tax is TransLink’s second largest source of revenue and is expected to bring in $144 million less over the next three years than previously anticipated. This decrease is attributed to less people driving, more efficient vehicles, and people filling up outside Metro Vancouver.
The plan is a reasonable compromise in the immediate. With vocal pressure from politicians and the public to find “efficiencies” within the organization, TransLink has remained steadfast in appeasing to such demands and produced a plan that fits the bill. Fortunately, in large part to drawing down the reserve fund, they will be able to fund long promised bus services to the South Fraser and make much needed capacity upgrades to some of the busiest SkyTrain stations.
However, this is not the end of TransLink’s funding woes. With the decline in fuel tax, and the reduction in reserve funding, a new, more stable revenue source will be needed just to keep existing services a float. Additional funding will also be required to build the multi-billion dollar rapid transit expansions in Vancouver and Surrey. Meanwhile, the provincial government refuses to even begin a conversation around funding sources, leaving the region poised to face increasing congestion and our transport network on life-support.