Opinion

COLUMN: Dianne Watts slams TransLink

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Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts came out swinging on two crucial issues at her annual State of the City Address on Tuesday.

She said that TransLink must get its act together and offer more than marginal improvements to the bus system in Surrey, the region’s second-largest city. She also called for an end to inequitable tolling, which will see the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges as the only user-pay bridges in the province, when the new Port Mann opens in about a year’s time.

She will get significant support from Surrey residents on both fronts. The patent unfairness in transportation funding and services becomes more obvious each year in Surrey. The city keeps growing; the buses are more crowded; yet TransLink does little but fiddle a bit with a few routes. The agency pleads poverty, yet continues to take a higher amount of taxes out of our pockets each year. As of April 1, Surrey drivers will pay an extra two cents in gas tax whenever they fill up – yet most of that money will go towards TransLink’s share of funding the Evergreen Line in Coquitlam.

This is not a knock at that project. It is obvious that some sort of transit expansion is needed there as well. Coquitlam and Port Moody are also fast-growing areas.

But the continued unwillingness or inability of TransLink to recognize the serious transportation inequities south of the Fraser astounds. The agency gives this area lip service, but when it comes to actual service improvements, they are spotty at best.

Watts noted that TransLink collects $160 million from Surrey each year. It is highly unlikely that Surrey gets that much back in service.

She was unequivocal about what Surrey needs.

“Just more buses? No thank you. Just rapid buses? No thank you. SkyTrain to Langley? No thank you.”

The mayor wants feedback from residents on this issue, and the more the better. She asks people to contact the city’s website at www.surrey.ca/Rapid

TransitNow.

Watts also called for tolling of bridges and roads throughout the region, including the Sea-to-Sky Highway. This has already been rejected by Premier Christy Clark and is likely to be a crucial election issue in next year’s provincial election. B.C. Liberal candidates may find the premier’s stubbornness on tolls is a millstone around their necks.

Watts also cited other challenges of growth. One-third of Surrey’s population is under 19, meaning they need classroom space in both the K-12 system and post-secondary institutions. Almost all educational facilities in Surrey are overcrowded, and in some areas, classroom space is sadly lacking.

The mayor touched on Surrey’s many positives, including its supply of residential and industrial land, the two border crossings which process $15 billion in trade annually, the Fraser Surrey Docks port facilities and Surrey’s growing and dynamic population. The city is well-positioned for the future.

What it needs is  help and co-operation from regional agencies like TransLink and Metro Vancouver and particular recognition from the provincial government. As Surrey goes, so goes B.C. Ignoring the needs of a dynamic area like this one make no sense, either politically or economically.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

newsroom@langleytimes.com

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