Kelly Sinoski’s got some news on Translink’s plans to try to raise more money.  The idea is to put tolls on bridges and to charge LowerMainland drivers a vehicle levy of, on average, $122 a year.

To make this happen, Translink’s got to get it approved by the province and the regional mayors’ council.  But two mayors are already griping about it.  Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan complains that it’s just a way for the province to push costs onto the cities.  Which is to say he’s a politician complaining that he’s going to have show some political courage, instead of having other governments do that for him.  Boo hoo.

But Surrey mayor Dianne Watts has a trickier concern:

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said road pricing could work as long as it’s done with a policy in place and plans to build up the transit system. Right now, there aren’t enough buses to support Surrey residents, she said, let alone another million people moving into the region by 2040.

“The vehicle levy, is for me, unsupportable,” she said. “There’s no way I can go out to our residents and say, ‘You’re not going to get anything, but pay an additional property tax and a vehicle levy. You might get a bus or two.'”

[Translink bossman Ken] Prendergast acknowledges transit service is lacking south of the Fraser. TransLink is working with municipalities to add new routes and increase population density along transportation corridors, but needs money to do so.

So Watts wants some assurance that Surrey’s going to get something in return for the money its residents will be sending to Translink.  And she’s worried because transit in Surrey is crappy.

But there’s a reason Transit in Surrey is crappy.  It’s intrinsically hard and expensive to provide mass transit in low-density sprawl.  Of course, a lot of Surrey isn’t low-density sprawl, but let’s be honest here, a lot of it is.  (Compare Surrey’s 1,244 people per square kilometer to Vancouver’s 5,335.  Surrey’s not even a quarter as dense as Vancouver.)  How many people are going to take a bus when they have to walk for 15 minutes to get it, as opposed to walking for five minutes?  When the walk isn’t going down to the end of your tree-lined block, but winding your way out of a cul-de-sac and then marching along the side of a highway for half a kilometer?  You can keep adding more and more buses on more and more routes, but if you do that, fewer of your routes carry enough people to break even.  That gets expensive.

Surrey has crappy transit in part because it’s zoned for crappy transit.  Change that–and give Translink the resources to put more buses on the road–and Surrey’s transit will improve soon enough.

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