Surrey Elections 2014: Letter to Candidates

Sent to: all candidates for Surrey City Councillor or Mayorship, for the 2014 civic elections

Dear Candidates,

I would like to congratulate you on the hard work you’ve performed preparing to run an election campaign. The responsibility that you will be given to shape the future of this city, should you be elected, will be enormous.

You may be familiar with me for my work in raising transportation issues in this city, which included the successful advocacy for a Surrey bus stop on the route #555 Port Mann Express. As we enter the election period and start to focus on city issues, I am working to raise a major transportation issue that desperately needs to be discussed now.

You are hopefully aware that the Mayors’ Council’s transportation vision approved a Light Rail Transit (LRT) rapid transit system in Surrey, as has been specified in the city’s vision. This is not a proposal that will give a net benefit to Surrey citizens, and it brings with it problems that have not been discussed with stakeholders.

It’s alarming that a recent City of Surrey survey – mentioned a few times during TV news reports and Council minutes – reported a 90% support rate for Surrey’s LRT proposal from stakeholders. Coming from a city that wants its stakeholders (residents) to support LRT and has probably only ever told stakeholders things that will make them want to support LRT, I find this to be a tragedy. How do we know that the surveyed were even told the truth and the entire truth about the Light Rail proposal? The details of the survey itself – and its effect on the city’s policy – have never been revealed for public viewing.

I’ve been raising the issue of a faulty Light Rail proposal for the past several years. In fact, TransLink should have completed the work for me when their Surrey Rapid Transit Study found a negative business case for the popular LRT proposal. The persistence of LRT as Surrey’s vision has alarmed me as a long-time Guildford resident, in the path of the proposal.

When outgoing Mayor Watts declared Light Rail over SkyTrain 3 years ago, she accompanied this announcement with a video of the proposal – featuring the 104th Ave corridor – which hid from us that the Light Rail wouldn’t actually make transit on that corridor faster. It will, in fact, reduce options for Guildford/104 Ave riders by cutting non-stop express bus services and forcing inbound riders to transfer to a system that won’t save them any time.

Absolutely no one has raised these issues, nor has anyone made any mention of the devastating impacts that Guildford-area residents will face for several years during the line’s construction, as the closure of 104 Ave’s two centre lanes will disrupt 96 B-Line services and triple travel times to Surrey City Centre.

Issues like this, especially those specific to the way the city is building LRT, have not been raised. One major potential issue is that, unlike many LRT systems, the entirety of the Surrey’s proposed system will be built in the centre of streets. The lines will pass through some of the city’s most dangerous intersections – and there’s a serious issue of service reliability and safety that hasn’t been raised. Of the hundreds of accidents at these prone intersections all year, each one of them stands to become a service disruption on the city’s LRT network if the tracks are in any way blocked – an issue not faced by B-Lines and rapid buses, which can detour around accidents, or SkyTrain.

In my discussions with city staff, I was given excuses that I still feel were poorly thought about and hastily thrown at me in an attempt to mislead me into silence about the proposal. While many studies have pointed to the fact that attracting transit-oriented development has more to do with market conditions and government support than type of transit technology (bus or rail), city staff and Council remain mislead into believing that shaping the kind of growth that’s “wanted” in Surrey is only doable with rail. This is simply not true and to the contrary, there are many successful, multi-modal developments in Metro Vancouver that did not grow within close proximity of our SkyTrain lines. Rapid buses can be an important part of the Surrey rapid transit vision, especially as they can be more flexible than Light Rail.

The problem with the single-minded, pro-Light Rail mentality that has existed in City Council and staff for the past 3 years is that shortfalls and their details are skewered or even hidden from stakeholders. In the promotion of “shaping communities”, the city has downplayed the consideration of other benefits and aspects – especially travel times and modal shift from car to transit.

The $2.44 billion vision eats both significant capital funds, as well as significant operating funds every year – while generating less ridership and fare revenue than visions that involve a SkyTrain extension. This hurts the entire city, because it starves our city-wide bus system from receiving the funds it will need to expand in frequency and extent. To put it shortly, if we don’t stop this Light Rail vision, it might just stop us from receiving any more transit improvements.

A few months ago, I finished work on what I consider to be the centrepiece of my campaign: a rapid transit vision. As a token of my confidence in the success of this vision should it be laid out, I gave it the title “Vibrant communities, productive citizens”, and what it does is it combines an expansion of SkyTrain – a popular, effective and successful transit choice – with investments in enhanced bus rapid transit, to service Surrey in the most responsibly built, effective way. It leaves room for further transit improvements beyond rapid transit and even helps generate the funding to do so – with the best business case, the best ridership, the best revenue, and the most benefits for Surrey residents.

This SkyTrain vision is a better buy than Light Rail. It lays the foundation to significantly increase transit use and curb expensive roadway expansion in the South-of-Fraser, as has been done very successfully in the North-of-Fraser. I had the city’s transportation and infrastructure committee review this vision last month, but I have yet to receive a reply with their comments.

I need your help to not just promote this vision, but to raise important issues in the current Light Rail proposal – especially those that haven’t been raised. Every new voice on Council will count for our communities. You heard the Mayors – despite a faulty business case and issues in the proposal, LRT in Surrey has been approved as part of the regional transportation vision. We need to act now, more than ever, to prevent the occurrence of this planning disaster.

Thanks for your attention.

Sincerely,

Daryl Dela Cruz
Campaign Manager – Better Surrey Rapid Transit
Campaign website: skytrainforsurrey.org
More info: LRT RealityOur Vision

Letters to candidates:

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