Fraseropolis weighs in with analysis.  Here’s an abridged version: 


Three vaguely cheerful thoughts on Metro Vancouver’s transit vote


As the Vancouver Board of Trade (among others) has recognized, there are good economic, environmental and quality-of-life reasons for continuing to develop a regional public transit system. However, the political path forward is not clear. Among the possible scenarios we find:

The Treading Water Solution: We decide, without deciding, that our transit problems are too big and too difficult to solve. We drift along and cope with what comes up. In the near term, available money will be bunched into the improvement of arterial bus lines while community shuttle services are scrapped. Overall, per-capita spending on transit services will subside.

The Canadian Solution: Political leaders gather in a room. Nobody needs to know. They chop the master plan into manageable bits, agree on some creative ways to share the pain — hey, maybe property developers in transit corridors could pay more — and the glory, and the announcements begin to roll. There’s a distinct risk that sexy, high-profile projects will dominate the agenda, at the expense of more modest and cost-effective improvements; but there would at least be some excitement generated around transit benefits. (We have approached this blissful state in the recent past, but due to certain developments, the opportunity was lost.)

The Geronimo Solution: Gordon Price, Nathan Pachal and the coalition choir take on the world and score a convincing win for transit funding in a 2018 plebiscite. This is slightly plausible, given that some North American regions (Greater Phoenix, even) have voted in the past to fund transit. However, remember the following:

Large tracts of suburban Metro Vancouver will never get frequent transit. Never never never never never. Many residents in these areas will continue to feel disengaged from transit. Sure, they benefit from transit – through a healthier economy and so on – but the thrill just isn’t there.
Outlying municipalities of Metro Vancouver, even the urban village parts, will never see the frequent transit that is taken for granted closer into the big city.


There is no way to “fix” TransLink in a way that will satisfy the vocal critics. In the griping about TransLink accountability, nobody has put forward a public sector model for the transportation authority to copy, because every public agency, federal, provincial or regional, has a host of detractors. The discussion tends to come back to costs, and public employees making too much; and yes, you could slash administrative salaries at TransLink to half the public sector standard, and everyone would quit. Or you could organize transit along strict business lines, and cut the highest-cost services, and the biggest complainers — the people in the outer suburbs — would have no service at all.


The Contracting-Out Solution: Awarding some services to private contractors might reduce wages, but at a political cost. The 2003-04 contracting out of food and cleaning services in B.C. hospitals might be doing us good in a bean-counter’s notebook, but a public racket was raised around those services that continues to this day. By the way, HandyDART, the bus service for the disabled, is already a contracted-out service. Has anyone noticed? HandyDART is the service that is most likely to be cut back in a financial squeeze.

The Amalgamation Solution: For supposed efficiency, we collapse the 21 towns and cities in Metro Vancouver into a mega-city, as has happened in Toronto in Montreal. It would likely make transit decision-making easier. But as I wrote in one of my earliest blogs, it’s not more efficient.

The Partition Solution: A fantasy: British Columbia agrees to divide Metro Vancouver into east and west, with a Fraser region centred on Surrey to the east, and a Vancouver region to the west taking in the Tricities, the North Shore and Richmond. Spoiler alert: there are no functional benefits, but the partition might manage down the petty jealousies that contribute to our transit headaches.

The Magic Solution: This was occasionally raised in the “no” camp during the plebiscite process. “It doesn’t matter if we refuse the funding: they’ll find a way to pay for all the program improvements all the same.” Fire a few planners, and, poof! Billions of dollars will fall from the sky.

My preference, I suppose, would be a version of the Opt In/Opt Out Solution, where municipalities with acute transit cobble together their own political and financial transit packages. Mayor Linda Heppner of Surrey started down this path during the plebiscite process, undermining the council of mayors’ 10-year proposal by saying, “Yes or No, Surrey will implement rapid transit.” If she can win over allies from neighbouring cities, great. Considering the stakes for ordinary people, and the uninformed nature of much of the public conversation, local elected leaders have a choice: either take a tough, self-reliant stand, or watch your transit services dwindle away.

After the vote results were announced, two established polling firms, Angus Reid and Insights West, released snapshots of voter attitudes. The Reid organization reports that among those who took part, 51 per cent of survey respondents thought the plebiscite was “a bad idea”.


  1. “Or you could organize transit along strict business lines, and cut the highest-cost services, and the biggest complainers — the people in the outer suburbs — would have no service at all.”

    That’s such a capitalist response that you might be able to get the Fraser Institute to endorse it. At first glance it appears fair too, but I think the end result would be a bad one for everyone.

    I think we’d see a boom in highway building, pollution, suburban malls and office “parks” and the paving over of what little viable farmland we have left. Many businesses would close because low to moderate wage earners would no longer be able to access the core and few suburban locations offer sufficient population density to justify existence.

    All the people moving away to find work would probably reduce suburban housing prices though.

    1. David, these effects have been happening for decades. I think the demographics of empty nesters and youth moving to the city, along with (eventually) higher fuels prices will put a dent in it. Governments that impose referenda on transit while building said freeways and ignoring climate change are living in the last century and are not doing adequate research on what this new century will bring.

  2. The ideas brought up on Fraseropolis and David’s comments beg the question, Just how will suburbs attain better transit?

    I believe there is a great possibility that the suburbs will be willing to negotiate moderate increases in density on specific corridors for a marked improvement in transit service. Focussing on specific corridors while dangling tangible rewards rather than diffuse and high per rider cost bus routes could help frame the question away from all-or-nothing votes on regional issues and toward local consultation.

    The focus so far, starting with the Livable Strategic Plan, has been concentrated on the seven Metro town centres and regional rapid transit. Perhaps it’s time to go to a finer level and look at corridors like the Fraser Highway through Maple Ridge and bring in a very good BRT service to Coquitlam Centre and across the Golden Ears Bridge to Langley City and on to Surrey Centre. I suggest fleets of highway buses with better quality seating and sound attenuation should be used. Small stations should be built instead of stops. Universal accessibility would not be questioned. Signal and lane priority would be important at key points in the routes. The negotiated deal would require Maple Ridge to change their zoning and road configuration along Lougheed and in downtown to incrementally accommodate low and mid-rise development and build a population base that would have multiple benefits, among them sustainable transit ridership that could justify upgrading to a full LRT service in future. American urban designer Peter Calthorpe refers to the corridor approach as the creation of “transit boulevards.”

    Projects like this would have several advantages. It brings incremental change where the first steps are quite limited and palatable to car-owning suburbanites who are uncomfortable with the larger urban issues bantered about in the recent vote. It’s affordable. It will generate significant economic benefits over time while building up the housing and retail-commercial floor space supply that cover a range of price levels by design. It could help increase the pedestrian public realm with plazas or town squares oriented toward stations. It gives much credence to local input and therein be responsive to strengthening a city’s identity and accommodate local demographic changes (e.g. age in place). And there are distinct trade-offs that create a symbiotic relationship between a regional transit service and local planning that better address future challenges where fossil fuels and land availability decrease.

    There is hope, but we need better leadership at all levels.

    1. Better leadership at all levels.

      Linda Hepner didn’t miss a beat and seems to be leading the way with the promise of LRT in Surrey. I don’t know her but that seems to be leadership rather than Gregor fessing-up that yes, there was a plan B – after all but he didn’t want to say so.

      Why on earth did Gregor become the primary spokesman for the referendum? Have someone do a poll on the popularity of Gregor east of Boundary Road and south of the Fraser and then tell me that was a good idea.

      1. This is not the first time you’ve held up Hepner as an example of leadership or as a good example. I find that very curious.

        This is the same leader who decided post election to tell residents about a $100 ‘culture tax’ that was being imposed without any discussion.

        I can only imagine how that would have gone if Gregor dropped a surprise tax on everyone immediately after the election!

        This is also the same leader who, as you mention promised light rail in 2018. I can tell you, it’s logistically impossible for her to meet that promise. Even if funding magically appeared tomorrow, you just can’t get a lrt line up and running in that short of a time frame.

        It’s funny how you hold some ‘leaders’ up as good examples and others as bad when, funny enough, they do the same thing. It’s almost like you have an axe to grind or something.

        1. Some commentators are calling leadership in the face of defeat. Gregor folded his cards early in the campaign and has now retreated to think. Hepner forges ahead, leading with her positive attitude and commitment to building rail transit.

          People are calling on Victoria to lead and build, instead of calling for a referendum. Hepner is leading, again, with a culture initiative. Elected to govern she’s governing.

          I suppose it’s easy to criticize anything a politician does or fails to do. Hepner seems to be doing just what many on the losing No side wish Gregor was doing.

          1. Eric,

            Can you honestly sit here and tell me had Gregor stated unilaterally, weeks after the election he was enacting a $100 ‘culture tax’ you would be on this blog saying that’s leadership? That’s leading with a culture initiative? Really??

            As to your first sentence, last paragraph…that’s certainly true.

      2. I believe LRT will not work. It is not fast enough and does not have enough capacity to get a return on the investment. I would suggest either a bus or Skytrain extension. If she was a real leader she would push that, rather than succumbing to populist wishes of the LRT.

  3. Don; Many commentators have written that the referendum was an abrogation of leadership, some calling for leadership at all levels. Gregor said there is no plan B and, on July 2, called to Victoria for answers. I’m not surprised.

    Culture is an integral component of society. Good for her.

    Linda Hepner has only recently been elected. It’s too early to say what are her ambitions. Therefore the populace is giving her some breathing room after a mild post-election tax statement. Gregor has upset a few groups during his time in office. The open mike was a clanger but he generally got away with it. Commercial & Broadway massive towers and Marpole rezoning were others, along with instant bike routes, where Gregor rubbed people the wrong way.

    Your question is a hypothetical and there are too many variables that have gone before to answer honestly. I do have powerful sympathies towards cultural facilities developments so I would need to see the full proposal before commenting. Sadly, I am cautioned in my complete enthusiasm by remembering what Dorothy Parker said on the subject of culture.

    1. So you can, I’m honestly surprised at that level of dishonesty.

      I’m also surprised, at your apparent love for honest government, to be so ok with an elected government mere weeks after being elected dropping a surprise tax on everyone. There’s so much hypocrisy in your statements it’s remarkable.

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