Carole James and the provincial NDP’s regional transportation platform is in stealth mode, which is not surprising, as past NDP administrations have ignored sound public transport practice and used ‘rail’ transit solely as an election tool. Glen Clark, successfully used ‘rail‘ projects as reelection tools: the West Coast Express (known at the time as the Reelection Express) and the flip-flop on the Broadway – Lougheed Rapid Transit Project, from LRT to the Millennium Line SkyTrain and changing the route to ‘show it’, billboard style, in NDP ridings.
The West Coast Express has never been a true alternative to the car, but helped in spreading sprawling population growth along the North shore of the Fraser River to Mission, by providing a highly subsidized commuter rail service, exacerbating traffic congestion and gridlock in the region. The Millennium Line flip-flop cost the NDP many supporters, who worked hard to make modern light-rail a reality in regional planning and were seen to be ‘slapped in the face’ by Glen Clark and Joy McPhail and did not vote in the 2001 election, the same election that the NDP were reduced to a rump of 2 seats.
The provincial NDP do not have a regional transportation plan and certainly have no vision for the return of the interurban to the Fraser Valley. The silence on this issue is deafening. Yet, reinstating the Vancouver to Chilliwack Interurban is a relatively easy thing to do; the tracks are there and vehicles are available, the only thing that has to be done is to negotiate with the Southern Railway of BC and the CPR/CNR over shared tracks in Langley. A basic (hourly) service could start within a year, with major track improvements happening when ridership demands new ` investment. The interurban is as ‘shovel ready’ project, as one can get!
What is needed is the political will to make this happen and certainly the Valley Interurban would grab the voters attention in May’s election, but the NDP are in silent running mode. The fear is that Carole James, like Glen Clark before, has succumbed to the ‘SkyTrain’ lobby, which always wants “one more line” to be built, this time the Evergreen Line, to make the network a success. Now, with over $6 billion invested by the taxpayer on the light-metro (those annual subsidies do add up), the best TransLink can say is that “80% of SkyTrain’s customers, first take a bus to the metro“. SkyTrain has just given bus riders a slightly faster trip while at the same time, failing to attract the all important motorist from the car. The failure of TransLink to have independently audited ridership numbers and their refusal to accurately explain how they calculate ridership, indicates they have something to hide.
This election, the NDP could signal the end of the SkyTrain and hugely expensive light-metro planning and join the rest of the world planning and building with light-rail. Supporting light-rail and the valley interurban, would go a long way to bring affordable ‘rail’ transit to the region. If that $6 billion, that has been spent on SkyTrain, had been invested in LRT instead the region would have that magic 300 km. light-rail network that would have gone a long way reducing congestion & gridlock, so much so that there would have been little need for new a 10 lane mega-bridge and the Gateway bridge and highways project. Many commentators have stated that this May’s provincial election is Carole James and the NDP’s to lose and by not supporting modern LRT and the valley interurban project, may be very well left behind on the station platform, after missing the election train!