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Concerns about transit for new Metro Vancouver communities

METRO VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – If you rely on your car to get to work or school from a brand new community, such as Burke Mountain in Coquitlam, it might be because transit isn’t an option.

“One of the challenges we face right now in the northeast is we have no bus service up on Burke Mountain and that’s making it hard for people to look for alternative forms of transportation,” Coquitlam City Councillor and Burke Mountain resident Craig Hodge tells News1130.

“The West Coast Express is very popular, but you have to have good feeder routes to the SkyTrain Line. One of the challenges is we’re in the process is building a city the size of Port Moody — about 25,000 people when it’s totally built out up on Burke Mountain — and we just don’t have service to our doors to get people to the transit system.”

It’s mostly young families that are buying properties in new neighbourhoods. Hodge is concerned they will get into the habit of driving to work if they aren’t quickly connected to the transit grid.

“We need to change people’s behaviour because when people move to Burke Mountain, they end up having to buy two cars,” he says.

“So, putting their bus service off for five years makes it harder for them to switch over to use transit. What we’re saying is if we want to create a good transit system to Burke Mountain, we should get it in there now so that people start to use it and make those choices now when they’re buying their homes rather than trying to get them to switch over later on.”

It’s not just people in Burke Mountain who want to see increased bus service; it’s a problem that’s occurring in new neighbourhoods that are popping up all over the Lower Mainland in cities like Surrey and Langley.

TransLink‘s struggles to come up with new funding sources have been well-publicized and a referendum on the best way to pay for new projects won’t be held until November of next year. Lawrence Frank with UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning says part of the problem is people have unrealistic expectations about what kind of transit service they should be getting.

“It’s true, we don’t have enough resources to invest in the transit system for capital and operating costs,” says Frank.

“Both of those are underfunded, but at the same time even with more resources, TransLink couldn’t possibly serve low-density development. People want the ability to drive places easily on uncongested roads as well as, should they want to, hop on a bus or train and get anywhere they want. It’s not feasible. You can’t run a transit system in low-density development. It just doesn’t work. If you want to enjoy good transit service, you have to be willing to live in regions where transit can work.”

Frank says an idea that has worked well in other cities is to get developers to foot the bill for building properties that are outside of high-density areas.

“Cities say this is where infrastructure, transit service, sewer, and water are provided and basically it’s a service area. People who build within the line, they are putting their growth where the public is investing in infrastructure. But when they start to allow development to happen away from where transit service is provided, it causes all kinds of problems. It really shouldn’t be happening. You can approach it through regulation, or you can say, ‘Here is where we’re providing the infrastructure to support growth and development. If you want to go outside that line, go ahead. But you pay for all of the sewers and extra roads and other infrastructure.’ That’s what I think we should be doing.”

In Burke Mountain, transit is part of the growth strategy and council has attempted to lobby TransLink for bus service in the past.

“TransLink is looking to spend their money where they think they can get the most bang for their buck,” says Hodge.

“I think we have a great future ahead of us with SkyTrain coming in and I think that what we have to explain to people is that we will have transit people. I think we also need to get TransLink and other levels of government to understand that this project is not going to be successful if you can’t get people to the transit station. The last thing I want to see is people in their cars, driving past those transit stations. Transit doesn’t work if it isn’t convenient.”