March 10 I attended an open house meeting with Mayor Gregor Robertson and councillor Geoff Meggs. The meeting was filled to capacity and there were some great people in the audience. NDP politician Mike Harcourt was there as was Constance Barnes.
Before passing any opinion on this matter, I would like to say thank you to all the citizens who gave up a few hours on their Sunday to come down and express their opinions. This is indeed how democracy needs to work and it is great to see so many exercising their rights. I appreciated hearing from the people for and the people against the plans.
The presentation went very well and I thought Councilor Meggs made a very eloquent and data driven presentation that would have lead anyone to the logical conclusion that the SkyTrain is needed and the best option is to tunnel under Broadway, primarily to reduce the devastation of the cut and cover techniques used on Cambie. Based on the congestion alone, it appears we need to invest into the future. I myself have been passed up on the 99B or very near the last person allowed on a totally packed bus. I was surprised to find a very sizeable opposition to the project in the hall and listened to hear their concerns.
NIMBY – the Not In My Back Yard opposition is very typical and for those living right next to the projects, is justifiable. During the construction of the Cambie street line (Canada Line), the local residents had major problems, several businesses failed and more. I noticed some patterns of activity that I will elaborate on later. A second set of concerns concluded that along with Skytrain we will get a lot of big box retailers displacing the local businesses. A tangent on this is the worry that with the prosperity promised from Skytrain, the local real estate prices will continue to soar, something that does worry a lot of people in this riding.
By far the the most compelling reason against is the cost. When asked directly, Mayor Robertson told the audience that the cost is $2.8 billion for a tunnel approach. I took the liberty of checking the official Translink website ( I am a data geek) and found that the projected cost is actually $3.2 billion. There are conflicting bits of information on this. For example, this page ( http://www.translink.ca/en/Plans-and-Projects/Rapid-Transit-Projects/UBC-Line-Rapid-Transit-Study.aspx ) states the cost is $3.0 billion for the RRT version. This page paints it at $2.8 billion ( http://ubcskytrain.wordpress.com/22points/) while the Globe and Mail pegs it at #2 billion. I also had seen another number of $3.2 billion which seems to have since been removed from the Translink website but the Vancouver Sun, of which I would believe the reporters did proper homework, reported the $3.2 billion number too at http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=4ae63f6a-c784-46da-a772-ce15cd4d8f01. This really doesn’t matter as much as the fact that BC is now at record levels of debt. Still, asking how we will pay for this is a very just question and one that needs to be answered honestly. We are broke and in debt. You cannot borrow your way out of debt.
I am running for office and one of the things I will promise you is that if elected, I will never take what I am told for granted and will do my homework. I find it worrying that the raw data of the budget is not public and that there is a $400 million discrepancy.
So where do I stand? This is a complex issue and here is what I would like to see.
1. Some research to understand the real cost and also the track records of those who are doing the estimates. I would welcome an understanding of whether of not the estimates are provided by people and processes that have proven accurate or inaccurate. If these people have been wrong in the past, we, the people , have a right to know. One of the core policies of the BC Conservative Party is that we believe government must be transparent and accountable to the people. We are all expected to balance our budgets in a given fiscal cycle. Is this too much to ask of our elected officials?
2. I would like to understand the tendering process (the process by which we award the contract and understand how many BC jobs are involved. Are we sole sourcing it? If we are, why and are we locking out local companies?
3. I would like to understand the options for private funding and operation to see if they are acceptable. Maybe private enterprise can help cushion the costs? This needs a lot of work before it could be proposed but it does seem to be a valid question.
4. We, the BC Conservative Party, actually listen to people when they speak and share concerns about the potential to disrupt the character of the neighbourhood. In particular however, the re-zoning and number of re-development applications is a separate issue. Saying yes to SkyTrain does not equate directly to allowing big box stores to take over small family run businesses. I also want to see a contingency fund in place to help any businesses hurt by the process. I also want to understand why there seems to have been an acceleration in development along the corridor prior to the SkyTrain being formally approved? On the few blocks around my house I have seen many new development signs going on and it does make me a little uneasy.
5. I would like to understand the full environmental impact. Many people complain about the fact that our government is no where near meeting its’ 2020 GHG obligations and the SkyTrain project may actually have the capacity to help meet that target. The Canada line, for example, carried 38 million passengers last year which is a lot less car trips.
In general, despite the high cost, it is a project I think can be beneficial to the entire corridor but there are some conditions that need to be met. Politicians must listen to their constituents and I applaud every politician who took time to attend and listen. I believe we have learned from Cambie and the Canada Line experience and can mitigate many of the concerns.
I remain in favor of the SkyTrain, contingent upon the concerns of residents being satisfied. We need to reduce GHG emissions, the existing system is at capacity and the future needs to be planned for now. For anyone who does not believe the system is at capacity, please experience boarding a 99B bus between 8-11:00 AM or 3-7 PM.
I am doing some more research on this and will post it on this blog as it becomes available.