New political party in Surrey wants to ditch TransLink's services

Oct 15 2018, 5:33 pm

A new political party in Surrey has renewed an idea to have the municipality split from TransLink and create its own public transit authority.

Proudly Surrey claims the municipality has not received its fair share of public transit services in exchange for the taxes its residents and businesses have paid to TransLink.

“Surrey residents who work in Vancouver pay the most in transit fare while getting worse service than the residents of Burnaby, Vancouver, New West and other cities where inter-urban fares are lower,” reads the party’s platform.

It also says the regional public transit authority has made “poor decisions” and consistently faces interference from the provincial government.

If elected, Proudly Surrey would create a new public transit jurisdiction within the South of Fraser that would be separate from TransLink.

However, the new separate jurisdiction’s services would still be operated by TransLink, similar to how the District of West Vancouver has its own public transit system – the West Vancouver Blue Bus.

The Blue Bus is directly funded and owned by West Vancouver, and uses TransLink’s fare system to allow cost efficiencies through economies of scale.

When it comes to rapid transit priorities, the party supports the Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT project, but it wants SkyTrain for the Fraser Highway corridor from King George Station to Langley Centre and a revival of the old interurban corridor with streetcar service.

“We will immediately begin negotiations and prepare a legal case for the BC Supreme Court to pull Surrey out of TransLink and create a local transit system in partnership with TransLink and adjacent cities, one that maintains fare transferability, rapid transit building and maintenance and interurban service,” continues the platform.

While TransLink is commonly misconstrued as a privately-operated company, it’s a public agency created by legislation enacted by the provincial government. It was created in 1999 to take over BC Transit’s responsibilities and mandate over operating and planning public transit services in Metro Vancouver.

Proudly Surrey has nine candidates vying for various positions, including Pauline Greaves for mayor.

Analysis

Population density is one of the largest factors for supporting a viable, frequent public transit service, and this is lacking in the South of Fraser, despite its rapidly growing population.

Density within a walkable area from transit stops and stations, essentially a catchment area for transit, are a major source of ridership.

While higher transit service levels in the North of Fraser – especially in the city of Vancouver – are often perceived by municipal leaders in the South of Fraser as unfair, the communities in the North are generally far denser than the South.

For instance, the City of Vancouver has a density of about 5,500 residents per sq. km, whereas the City of Surrey has a density of approximately 1,600 residents per sq. km. This does not include the draw created by major regional employment centres, which Vancouver of course has significantly more of, and the UBC campus on the westernmost end of the Vancouver peninsula.

According to TransLink’s 2017 performance data, bus routes serving the South of Fraser are some of the most taxpayer-subsidized routes in the region, as farebox revenues from lower ridership are only able to cover a small proportion of a route’s operating costs.

However, there has been an upward trend in ridership within the South of Fraser in recent years, with the number of annual bus boardings rising from 33.3 million in 2013 to 43.3 million in 2017. Between 2016 and 2017, bus ridership increased by 8%.

With that said, the South of Fraser’s bus ridership is less than a third of the Vancouver/UBC service area; there were 140.6 million bus boardings in 2017, up from 132 million in 2013. Bus ridership went up by 3% from 2016 to 2017.

Over the period between 2013 and 2017, annual bus service hours in the South of Fraser rose from 901,000 hours to 982,000 hours (an increase of 9%), while Vancouver/UBC went up from 1.858 million hours to 1.938 million hours (an increase of 4%).

The most significant change to the South of Fraser was the 2013 launch of the 96 B-Line on the Newton-Guildford corridor as the precursor to LRT. Ridership has grown from about 8,970 boardings per weekday in 2013 to 15,050 boardings per weekday in 2017, with annual service hours hovering at around 58,000 hours per year each year.

However, the 96 B-Line’s average peak load was just 53% in 2017, which means the 60-ft-long articulated buses are running at just half full.

Billions of dollars in transportation improvements are already planned for the South of Fraser, including the controversial street-level LRT projects on the Newton-Guildford and Fraser Highway corridors, an interim Fraser Highway B-Line in 2019 until rail rapid transit is ready, and potentially two more B-Lines in the early-2020s, including a route on 120 Street from Scott Road Station to White Rock. This does not include other service improvements to local bus routes.

TransLink anticipates the 96 B-Line’s LRT replacement will see a boarding ridership of 42,000 to 46,000 per day upon opening in 2024, rising to 51,000 to 55,000 per day in 2030.

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