The Prime Minister was in town yesterday, and announced that the federal government would be providing $460 million dollars under the new Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, with the Province of British Columbia providing $308 million dollars. This joint amount of $768 million dollars* is to be “combined with contributions from municipalities” to create “$900 million going toward public transit across the province”.

The Federal government is increasing its percentage of funding share from 33 per cent to 50 per cent for the Infrastructure Fund, with the Province still kicking in 33 per cent and the municipalities providing 17 per cent. Besides providing capital, the municipalities will also be responsible for the operation of the transit system once complete.

The intent of the new federal Public Transit Infrastructure Fund is to shorten commute times cut air pollution and strengthen communities. Here is the statement from the PMO (prime minister’s office).

A quick footnote for *PriceTag readers: there is a variance between the amount of funding reported by the Prime Minister’s office and that reported in the media. I am using the figures given by the Prime Minister’s office.

The bilateral agreement identifies the following projects for funding, and notes that this is the full amount the province will be getting from the federal government for Phase 1.

Metro Vancouver TransLink Phase 1:

  • The purchase of additional SkyTrain vehicles for the Expo, Millennium, and Canada Lines
  • A new West Coast Express locomotive
  • A new SeaBus
  • Upgrades to SkyTrain stations
  • Design and planning for Rapid Transit South of Fraser and the Millennium Line Extension along Broadway

BC Transit Phase 1 :

  • Investments in new bus depots, maintenance yards and operations facilities, as well as in new CNG fueling stations, in communities across the province.
  • New and more efficient buses, including cleaner burning CNG-fueled buses, and new buses for handyDART service expansion.
  • New technologies to make the fleet safer for drivers and passengers and to give BC Transit and local communities’ ridership information that will make them become even more efficient. 

The investment in new SkyTrain vehicles should be occurring quickly. Not as rapid will be the  fulfillment of the election promise made by the Mayor of Surrey to have light-rail transit to Surrey by 2018. Surrey’s intent was to have three lines from Surrey Centre serving Guildford, Newton and Langley City built at a cost of approximately $2.1 billion.

You may remember last year the Metro Vancouver mayors endorsed building the Surrey light-rail transit as well as the proposed extension of the Millennium Line from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street. The projected cost of this extension under Broadway is estimated at about $2 billion.

These projects did not go ahead when they were  rejected in a plebiscite last year calling for a 0.5-percent increase to the provincial sales tax.

Metro Vancouver was the first jurisdiction in Canada to sign a deal for the new federal funding. The  Vancouver Sun  reports that second phase of this funding “hinges on approval from the provincial government for controversial measures such as mobility pricing, which could potentially see the tolling of all the bridges and tunnels in the region within next five years“.

And here is a small backgrounder from Vancouver Sun’s Kelly Sinoski:

What is the 10-year transportation plan?

The regional mayors’ council approved a $7.5-billion comprehensive transportation plan in 2013 to expand the system after years of a funding stalemate. The plan, which was approved by all 21 mayors except Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan, calls for service upgrades across the region, including more bus and SkyTrain service and rapid transit expansions in Surrey and Vancouver.

What this funding means

Over the next two to three years, TransLink will start Phase 1 of its transportation plan, which includes adding a third SeaBus, 28 SkyTrain cars to the Expo and Millennium lines, 22 Canada Line cars and five West Coast Express cars. The transportation authority will also overhaul its older SkyTrain stations and add bicycle parking along the new Evergreen Line. An estimated $157 million will be used to begin the planning and design for light rail in Surrey and a subway line along Vancouver’s Broadway to Arbutus.

How TransLink will fund the projects

The federal and provincial governments will commit $370 million and $246 million respectively, while TransLink will contribute $125 million to the first phase. The mayors’ council is proposing to sell surplus assets to cover TransLink’s share for the initial work, while planning to raise property taxes and transit fares for the second phase. The mayors also want to charge developers fees to raise density around SkyTrain stations and, within five years, have some sort of “mobility pricing,” such as tolling all the bridges and tunnels, or charging a fee-per-distance-travelled, to generate more funds.

What comes next?

The regional mayors’ council hopes to strike a deal with the federal and provincial governments in the next few months to secure phase two funding, which will pay for 11 new B-Line express buses and increased bus service hours, expanded HandyDart service, construction of the light rail line in Surrey and subway in Vancouver and more investments in roads, bicycle and transit networks. “We have all our funding on the table, we’re ready to go,” Moore said.

When was the last expansion?

The Evergreen Line, an 11-kilometre SkyTrain slated to open early next year, was the last major project to be approved for TransLink, following the opening of the Golden Ears Bridge and Canada Line in 2009. The project, which will link Burnaby and Coquitlam, was funded by a two cent increase in the gas tax, but subsequent attempts by mayors to generate funds through a vehicle levy were rejected by the province, while the public killed a proposed sales tax in a plebiscite last spring.

It’s a new day, with new funding and renewed hope for a comprehensive approach to transit in Metro Vancouver.