From the editor
// Sarah Vitet

Shorter line-ups, reduced wait times, more affordable fares: anyone who uses TransLink in the Lower Mainland could easily give you a long list of ways it could be improved. The current transit system is far from tempting as a viable alternative to driving a car, though for youth, the elderly, persons with disabilities, people with lower incomes, and many others who cannot drive, it is the only option for getting around. As a result, TransLink sees nearly a million passengers using their various services every day.

Students in particular have a vested interest in the transit system, with the mandatory U-Pass included in your tuition, encouraging higher usage rates than ever before. As the civic election season gets heated up, many of the candidates have been offering their ideas about how to improve transit; however, similar campaign promises were made during the last election, with few actually implemented.

In 2000, a one-zone adult transit pass cost $1.50. Over the course of eight years, the price rose by 25¢ four times, resulting in the current $2.50 fare, with a full three-zone pass now costing $5 for only one and a half hours of travel time (hardly the length of time it takes to travel through three zones).

In the 2008 election, the COPE party promised to eliminate zone fares, with Gregor Robertson and the Vision Vancouver party express- ing similar views. Robertson was actually targeted by the NPA party for an outstanding transit ticket that he had received as a result of a zone infraction (he traveled two-zones on a one-zone fare). When questioned why he hadn’t paid his $173 fine, he said that he was waiting for his court date: "I wanted to use the hearing to question the fairness of the fine and encourage improvement. Driving infractions that risk human lives have lesser penalties,” Robertson said in a 2008 interview with the Province. Nevertheless, although no other city in Canada has such a system, transit zones have stayed in place.

For this election, all parties have gone mum on the issue of zones, instead making promises about specific routes they would like to see improved. NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton looked at Vancouver’s transit system and decided that her main priority would be to re-establish the historic Downtown Streetcar network. Yet out of every neighbourhood in the city, downtown Vancouver is by far the most accessible by transit, with 20 out of 36 bus routes passing through it. Although many other areas have major issues regarding transit accessibility and efficiency, Anton has decided that connecting popular tourist locations such as Granville Island and Chinatown with down- town’s Waterfront station and the Olympic Village/Science World area is of more pressing concern.

On top of all the current bus routes that serve those areas already, there are also two Skytrain lines that connect those locations to the downtown core, with the Canada Line’s Olympic Village stop and the Expo line’s Science World and Chinatown stops – and both lines have Waterfront as their root station. Even with the high levels of transit interconnectedness in these areas, the fact that Anton has still made it her transit priority is not very reassuring, considering most Vancouver neighbourhoods have only one bus to connect them to the rest of the city, many of which have irregular timetables and infrequent or no night bus service.

“The Downtown Streetcar represents an important connection between our city’s past and Vancouver’s future prosperity,” says Anton in a media release on the NPA website. “In addition to connecting the newest and oldest neighbourhoods of Vancouver, the Downtown Streetcar is likely to pay for itself within a decade of operation.” In other words, it will be both expensive to build and expensive to ride. If the NPA really wanted to improve transit’s self-sustainability, they might re-examine the 2008 closed-door pay raises the Greater Vancouver transit authority voted in for themselves, which included a $100,000 annual salary for Chairperson Dale Parker (more than twice the salary of his predecessor), and $1,200 for each meeting the directors attend, as reported by CBC.

Both Vision and COPE are focusing their efforts on creating more frequent and rapid service along the Broadway corridor. Although there are two buses that serve this route already, it is one of the main transit options for getting to UBC and could certainly benefit from the parties’ suggested improvements, as the buses tend to be over- crowded. COPE plans to bring traffic light and transit coordination to the Broadway route, a system that is currently being used in the downtown core and on Granville Street. When a bus approaches an intersection, the light is frozen green until the bus is through, thus improving transit efficiency and travel times. As well as traffic lights, COPE wants to look into the feasibility of 200-passenger capacity buses (current B-Lines have a capacity of 120), and are promising to pressure TransLink to freeze bus fares. As the minority voice in the Vision-COPE coalition, though, it is hard to know whether these ideas will hold any weight.

Beyond following through on their promise to give equal transit opportunities for all post-secondary students when they helped implement the U-Pass BC, COPE and Vision did very little else in their three-year term to help improve transit accessibility and efficiency. Only now that transit usage is at its highest rate ever, nearly surpassing Olympic levels, are the Metro Vancouver mayors deciding to take action. With an equally expanding population, weak areas of the transit system (such as sparse service in Langley and Surrey) are becoming increasingly necessary to fix. One of the more pressing needs is the completion of the Evergreen SkyTrain Line which would connect the Tri-Cities to Vancouver via Burnaby. By implementing a 2¢ per litre gas tax, the mayors hope to generate an additional $70 million per year for TranLink, who currently have no budgeted funds for expansions or upgrades.

As students, we see the results of a clogged transit system every day. Outrageous line-ups during the day and irregular service in the evenings, the frustrations of North Vancouver transit affect all of us who make use of our U-Pass. Many of Capilano’s attendees also com- mute by transit from locations all around the Lower Mainland, which adds in long travel times and waiting for transfers. With the municipal election candidates using transit improvements to help garner votes, it’s important to stay critical, as their suggestions affect you directly. An essential service funded with tax payer money, TransLink should be kept in check to ensure they maintain an affordable, reliable, efficient means of transportation for the millions of people who rely on it every day.

// Sarah Vitet, Editor-In-Chief

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