Stephanie Ryan: Surrey should hold referendum on light rail transit in 2011 | Vancouver, Canada |

Stephanie Ryan: Surrey should hold referendum on light rail transit in 2011

By Stephanie Ryan, November 5, 2010

Surrey residents were invited to ai???be part of the planai??? as TransLink held public consultation sessions on various technology options for future rapid-transit service.

The four technology options proposed at the meetings were rapid rail (SkyTrain), light rail, rapid bus transit, and what TransLink calls ai???best busai??? service, where all dollars are funnelled into expanding bus service to a much higher capacity, without any capital investment in rapid-transit infrastructure.

At this point in the planning process there is no plan for where the dollars for these transit service expansions will come from.

But what was most obvious at the meetings was the omission of an option that has been advocated for some time south of the Fraserai??i??reviving light-rail transit along the Interurban corridor.

Once upon a time, before the time of the automobile, the Fraser Valley was served by convenient streetcar service. From Chilliwack to Surrey, residents, farmers, and businesspeople alike, could hop on the Interurban streetcar in the valley and ride it all the way into Vancouver.

For many years now, residents in Surrey and the Fraser Valley, and numerous stakeholder groups, have been advocating for a revival of such a service, along this same corridor, which continues to be publicly owned. There have been public campaigns involving letter-writing, social media, meetings, and other events to rally support for such an option. Even Surreyai??i??s mayor and council have acknowledged the merits of such an option.

At-grade, light-rail transit is far less expensive in terms of capital costs, per kilometre, than an elevated option like SkyTrain, and the public already owns the rights to use the rail along the Interurban corridor.

Such a service could connect residents from Langley, Cloverdale, Sullivan, Newton, and Kennedy and link up with SkyTrain at Scott Road. A spur line could also link the Newton Station with SkyTrain in Whalley, one of the light-rail options TransLink is already looking at. Eventually, the line could be extended as far east as Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

While no one is suggesting that such a line would be the panacea to solve all of Surreyai??i??s many transit woes, many feel that running light-rail service along this corridor could immediately relieve congestion on Fraser Highway for those bus riders currently riding the 395 or 502 from Cloverdale to Whalley, and that it would also provide better connectivity between some town centres.

Residents in Surrey realize the potential value of such an option. There is widespread grassroots support for studying such an option in Surrey, yet light rail on the Interurban corridor was not of the four technology options considered by TransLink. This indicates a pretty significant disconnect.

The lack of an Interurban option in TransLinkai??i??s shortlist is worrisome because it speaks to a lack of consultation about public transit.

Surrey has never received its fair share of dollars for public transit, and regardless of which rapid-transit options are chosen for the future, bus service in the city must be dramatically expanded immediately.

We continue to play catch-up when it comes to transit, and this is while we continue to be among the fastest-growing cities in Metro Vancouver. Service is absolutely dismal, with infrequent bus service, a lack of bus shelters, unsafe SkyTrain stations, insufficient bus routes, and high rates of pass-ups on the most popular routes, like Fraser Highway.

And while TransLink should focus on improving service, it also must ensure that its consultation process responds to public feedback.

There is plenty of support for the Interurban option, but it probably wonai??i??t be heard within the current framework.

Mayor Dianne Watts has encouraged voters to attend these meetings to voice their opinion. But she should go a step further. She should call a referendum, to coincide with the 2011 civic election, and ask the public whether or not they favour light-rail service on the Interurban corridor as one of the options for future transit service in Surrey.

I predict Surrey would support this option and could send a strong message to TransLink, and to all levels of government.

Surrey residents deserve better transit now and should have a voice in planning future improvements.

An inch of democracy could provide miles of light-rail transit.

Stephanie Ryan is the president of the Surrey Civic Coalition.

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