Metro column: Time to address public transit

24 November 2008 03:23

Gregor Robertson, the newly minted mayor of Vancouver, has a clear mandate from voters to solve the problem of rising homelessness, and to be a steward of the city’s finances and reputation in the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

But voters will expect follow-through from the organic juice entrepreneur and former MLA in another crucial area as well: Public transit.

During the thick of the mayoral race earlier this month, Robertson made public his support for the More Buses Now campaign, which called on the provincial government to add 500 more buses to Metro Vancouver.

Launched by the union representing local bus drivers, the lobbying effort didn’t get the attention it deserved in the wake of the headline-generating Olym­pic Village loan story.

Even when the spotlight was turned on the issue of transit earlier, it was more about Robertson’s unpaid SkyTrain fine than the more substantive story of a lack of transit capacity across the Lower Mainland.

But with buses packed like sardine cans during rush hour, and some riders being passed up or delayed on a regular basis, it’s high time the focus returns to the local bus crunch.

There’s not a more depressing scene than a mother with children or an elderly person being deserted in the rain by the bus service they need because of overcrowding. Almost as sad, and certainly more degrading, is the sight of an irate passenger delivering the middle-finger salute to an undeserving driver because the bus they’re trying to get on is full.

What’s especially pathetic about all of this is that metro Vancouver has a demand for public transit that other cities in North America would kill for.

But Transport 2000, the Ottawa-based transit advocacy group, points out that with gas prices falling, many bus riders now have the choice of sticking with transit or going back to their own vehicle.

Whether they junk their bus pass in favour of car keys depends on the quality of their transit experience — an experience that can range from ordinary to underwhelming to downright infuriating.

An exodus from transit is the last thing our city leaders should want.

So, the time for Robertson to address this public transit predicament — and demand action from TransLink and the provincial government — is now. Especially while he has momentum from his impressive election win, and the political capital that goes with it.

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Filed under 2010 Winter Olympics, Commuting, Transportation

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