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Opinion

Traffic Congestion: A Key Voters Issue this Election

Six steps to better transportation in Metro Vancouver. Drive them home to your candidates.

By Elizabeth Model, Gavin McGarrigle, Peter Ladner and Timothy David 5 May 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Elizabeth Model is Chair of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition and CEO, Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association.

Gavin McGarrigle is BC Area Director of UNIFOR.

Peter Ladner is a Director of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition and Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Timothy David is a Director of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition and Vice-President for External of the BCIT Students Association.

Metro Vancouver traffic congestion. It totally disrupts our lives. It drives up our blood pressure and damages our health.

It costs both workers and employers millions of dollars in wasted time. It erodes our economic competitiveness. Improving mobility is one of the two largest issues facing people in Metro Vancouver, after all of the challenges and complexities of housing affordability.

And vehicle exhaust emissions are the largest carbon footprint in our region. They clog up our lungs with deadly pollutants while damaging our air quality.

Yet in this election we’re not hearing enough from our political candidates about how they plan on addressing this issue.

And this is a cause of great concern for The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition.

The road traveled

The Coalition came together in 2014 to support the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation 10-year plan for improving transportation in the Metro Vancouver area. We formed the largest coalition of diverse interests in the history of B.C., with over 140 members representing more than 450,000 people, including members from business, labour, environmental, students, seniors, health, social, and other organizations.

We supported the Yes side in the transit plebiscite in 2015 that would have funded the Mayor’s Council plan because we all benefit from more in savings, travel time, less traffic congestion, personal health and a cleaner environment. We won’t revisit the plebiscite, but we did learn several lessons, and traffic congestion and air pollution have only become worse since then.

We remained optimistic, and so did the Mayors’ Council, as they kept calm and carried on, trying to find the funding for their 10-year plan.

And they were successful this past year in encouraging the federal and provincial governments to pay for significant capital projects, moving from the normal 33 per cent contribution each to 40 per cent each – a very positive step in the right direction.

This still leaves municipal governments on the hook for 20 per cent – which the mayors are now seeking creative innovative ways to find.

On May 2, we co-sponsored a forum titled “A Voters Guide to Transit and Transportation in the 2017 BC Election”, with Simon Fraser University. We made a number of observations and recommendations, as did the participants attending the session personally and online.

These are the conclusions we walked away with – issues that all levels of government – and all of us need to deal with:

1. The Mayors’ Council 10-Year Plan provides the most efficient, equitable, healthiest, most environmentally responsible solution to our current and future traffic congestion challenges.

All levels of government recognize this, as do all members of our Coalition.

The challenge is how to fund it – and how to encourage the federal and provincial governments to help with that funding in the long term.

Clearly, the public need to know the real health, economic and social consequences of not addressing the current situation in the long-term.

2. With about a million more people moving into the region over the next 25 years, the cost of doing nothing is immense – imagine one million more vehicles in Metro Vancouver!

Billions of dollars in congestion, increasing health problems, less family time, decreased economic competitiveness, fewer jobs.

3. We need all levels of government to increase their level of financial commitment over the longer term – for the full three phases of the Mayors’ Council 10-Year Plan.

They need to view this as an economic investment which will improve our region’s economic health, significantly reduce our carbon footprint, give us a better environment, give families a better quality of life, and more jobs.

We need to have sustainable funding, based on transit and transportation use.

Funding the management and operations needs to be user-based – and fair. It should not be based on irrational, short-term election promises.

4. The public MUST be a significant part of implementing the solutions laid out in the Mayors’ Council 10-Year Plan.

Civic engagement in how the plan is implemented and paid for must come from the grassroots. (TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond was an interested attendee at our forum, and spoke clearly about the pressing need for more civic engagement.)

5. The Mayors’ Council needs to continue its outreach to the public, as does TransLink.

The public need to know how their system serves them, and how they can make their views known to the Mayors’ Council and TransLink.

Both organizations need to continue to be visible, transparent and accessible to the public – and need to include the public in all aspects of transit and transportation improvements.

6. All political candidates and parties in this provincial election must be reminded of these points and should commit to seeing them addressed on a priority basis after the new government is formed.

Forum participants were encouraged to meet personally with their candidates to discuss how they will do this.

Now is time to enlist support of candidates

It’s clear that we are on the right track to improve our transit and transportation in Metro Vancouver. We appreciate the path that the Mayors’ Council and TransLink are travelling.

And we appreciate the investments all levels of government are committing to the first and second phases of the Mayors 10-Year Plan.

But much more needs to be done to provide long-range funding for capital projects, and more needs to be done to ensure there is sustainable funding for the operations and management of our regional transit and transportation.

Please do your part to enlist the support of the political candidates in your riding today. There’s not much time. Drop by their offices before May 9 – send an email – tell them you are voting for better transit and transportation – so we can all get moving!  [Tyee]

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