Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley
The report was released last week. I missed the press release – and, so far as I am aware, it got little coverage. A Google News search just found one piece in the Chilliwack Times. That’s probably because it has no surprises, and says nothing very much of any significance. Except that we cannot apparently afford transit – and especially not rail transit. We can afford lots more roads, of course. The BC Ministry of Roads, Highways and Urban Sprawl can always find more to keep on doing what it has always done.
This should not be read as an attack on John Steiner – the consultant who wrote the report. He has done a good job but also been very careful to fit his findings to suit the desires of his clients. That’s what consultants do if they want to stay in business. Even so, there are some pretty damning findings.
Although not a definitive indicator of attractive transit, the Fraser Valley receives less than 0.5 service hours per capita. All other communities that have higher transit mode shares have two to five times the service hours per capita, indicating a possible link between transit capacity and the propensity of people to take transit.
Fraser Valley residents spend anywhere from $4 to $14 annually per capita on transit in the form of a property tax. This amount is less than levels of other mid-size communities in BC, and is significantly below levels of other large municipalities in Canada where provincial funding is not provided and property taxes.
The politicians of the Valley share a value system that likes what they have and wishes to protect it – indeed that is what is meant by “conservative”. It does not means that they are opposed to change – it just means that they want to see things continue they way they are. In this mind set they are not doing anything wrong. Not spending on transit keeps property taxes low, which is a popular thing to do. The report does clearly suggest that this approach needs to change, but not by very much. It is “made in Fraser Valley” strategy, which means anyone who suggests that an alternate approach needs to be examined is an outsider. Other than continued economic and population growth there is no sense that the world around the Fraser Valley is changing.
managing this growth and fostering the sustainability of these communities is essential particularly in the area of reducing automobile dependence and increasing travel options.
The FVRD’s Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) demonstrates a commitment to ‘Increase Transportation Choice and Efficiency,’ which includes reducing dependency on single-occupant vehicle travel and enhancing commitments toward the provision of attractive bicycle and pedestrian facilities, as well as a broader range of transit services. The Provincial Climate Action Plan and Provincial Transit Plan recognize the need for creating attractive transit services in growth areas in order to support more sustainable land use patterns, to provide attractive transportation alternatives and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Except that these commitments are just camouflage. The province’s commitment to greenhouse gas reduction includes the huge expansion of oil and gas exploration, the growth of coal exports, the widening of the freeways and the building of new ones. There is a small carbon tax – but even that may well be sacrificed in the name of competitiveness, depending on who the BC Liberals choose for their next leader. Not that it has had the slightest impact on carbon output.
The freeway widening is all within Metro – so the Valley can, apparently ignore that. Except that it does extend right up to their boundary and is going to induce a great deal more car traffic. And will also encourage a lot more car dependent development.
The failure of this strategy – and of this government – is the firm commitment to business as usual. It is part and parcel of the mindset that sees the economy as the only indicator that matters – and especially the ability of the large corporations to increase their profitability. These corporations have funded the raft of right wing “think tanks” that espouse free markets, and cast doubt on any other approach – or set of values. The idea that we can actually take charge of our communities, and design them to produce a better quality of life and a truly sustainable future for ourselves and our descendants is always readily dismissed as pinko fulminations.
The intentions of the government were never in doubt. It is sad to see that so much energy and effort has gone into squashing all thought of a change of direction. A few small token gestures can now be expected, but the mode share of transit at 1% is not likely to change by very much any time soon. And that suits most of the electorate, and the people they elected. It will not of course bring about any of the outcomes that this report identifies as necessary. And you can bet that when this becomes apparent there will be lots of finger pointing and blaming others. The province will say that property taxes had to be raised but local politicians were unwilling to step up to the plate – just as they are in Metro, where the figures are different but the policy the same. The land use will continue to be low density, fringe additions – with lots of free parking. That may not be what the regional strategy or the OCPs appear to say, but that is what will happen when municipal decisions are made.
And the railway tracks, where the public right to operate passenger train service persists, will continue to see increasingly rare way freights for most of their length. The freeway will quickly plug up once again with induced traffic and people sitting in the smog will wonder once again why doing the same thing over and over again does not produce a different outcome.
You can also read Rail for the Valley’s first thoughts