Suzuki Foundation: B.C. government 'underfunding' of transit to blame for traffic congestion

Kelly Sinoski

June 6 2016 - The B.C. government’s “systematic underfunding” of transit projects is contributing to Metro Vancouver’s worsening traffic congestion, a new report by the David Suzuki Foundation suggests.

The report suggests the provincial government is spending much less on transit than it promised in its 2008 provincial transit plan, while continuing to build roads and bridges without delay. The report maintains the province had pledged to provide $4.75 billion of an $11.1-billion total investment over 12 years to support transit improvements across the province, but eight years later has only provided $1.1 billion.

In Metro Vancouver, meanwhile, the province built a new Port Mann Bridge, plans to replace the George Massey Tunnel, and ordered regional mayors to hold a public plebiscite to generate money for additional buses and other transit projects. This is despite the fact transit boardings per capita in Metro outpace boardings in other regions of similar size, the report suggests, and are the fourth-highest on the continent behind New York City, Montreal and Toronto.

“These years of shortfall in investment have begun to threaten the gains won through previous decades of strong policy,” the report states. “Transit service has started to decrease as demand and populations have risen. The traffic congestion B.C. is experiencing today is a direct result of underfunding transit.”

The report comes a week after the province announced it would fund one-third of the first phase of Metro’s 10-year $7.5-billion transit plan, which the David Suzuki Foundation estimates only represents only a three per cent commitment to the entire plan. The foundation suggests that as the federal government has committed 50 per cent of funding, the province should fund 40 per cent and TransLink 10 per cent — otherwise there’s a risk Metro could lose the federal funds.

“Local governments are limited in what they can do to fund these kinds of projects,” said Ian Bruce, David Suzuki Foundation’s science and policy director. “The provincial government needs to work with the region’s mayors beyond what they’ve agreed to so far if we’re to have a hope of securing matching federal funds for these projects.”

The report suggests that if the B.C. government had committed the level of funding it proposed in 2008, the province would have already got federal infrastructure funds, and the transit plan would be underway. It also notes the provincial investment needed today is less than the province itself suggested was its fair share under the previous plan, at 40 per cent compared to 43 per cent.

“It’s mind boggling that the B.C. government is putting the federal funding at risk or seems willing to forgo the federal money,” Bruce said. “This report underscores the fact that these new federal funds represent a crucial opportunity to turn the tide on vital transit investment in B.C. But the window of opportunity will close soon and the B.C. government needs to make sure its fastest-growing region doesn’t lose out.”

Metro Vancouver is expected to grow by one million people by 2040, and roads and transit networks are already near capacity. Costs related to traffic congestion in Metro Vancouver are estimated to be as high as $1.3 billion per year. Yet data from TransLink show that the total number of service hours provided annually has not increased since 2010.