A lot is happening on British Columbia’s transit front. The Mayors’ Council and TransLink Board of Directors recently approved a plan for $2 billion in transit and road improvements to be implemented as Phase One of the 10-Year Vision for Metro Vancouver Transit and Transportation. This approval is just the first step towards a new, improved transportation sector in the coming years.
While it’s good news for commuters and the province, the person most pleased with these upcoming introductions is Peter Fassbender, Minister of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development and Minister Responsible for TransLink. The TransLink Minister, who has managed to revive BC’s transportation network through his work, believes that the approval will get a number of key things moving ahead.
He has also brought in many developments as the Member of Legislative Assembly in his riding Surrey-Fleetwood and is all set to contest for the region in the 2017 provincial general election. In an exclusive interview with DARPAN, he shares his thoughts on the Phase One Plan, upcoming transit projects for Surrey, and the election.
A huge funding was recently announced and approved to start the Phase One Plan. How will this plan change BC’s transit sector?
I was thrilled when the Mayors decided to go ahead with their portion of Phase One. The federal government put $370 million on the table, the province put $246 million, and the region has come up with their share on the remaining 17 per cent. Now we can move ahead on Phase One, and included in that will be 10 per cent more bus hours throughout the region; a new SeaBus on the North Shore; new SkyTrain cars to replace some of the old ones; upgrades of stations like Surrey Central to accept longer trains so that we have more capacity to move people around; and more investment in bike lanes in communities throughout the region.
And now we are working with our partners on Phase Two. As part of Phase Two, there is the Millennium Line Broadway extension, the L line (Light Rail Transit) in Surrey, and the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge. Until we get the detailed business plans done, we don’t even know what those final costs will be. And based on that and what the federal government does, then we as the province have to look at our fiscal platform and what we are going to do. We have said that the 1/3rd share that we have traditionally had in the past is what we are prepared to look at in our fiscal plan but we need to know what the final business case numbers are.
As TransLink Minister, what developments do you wish to see in Metro Vancouver?
Surrey is one of the fastest growing municipalities in the region, so there is lot of pressure on us to provide more services. What I want to see is us focusing on that and making sure our transit system meets the growth that we have. Along with that, we want to increase density along the transit corridors so that we have more housing supply. This will help the affordability issue and also provide options for young people to get a home but not necessarily to need a car to get around – as a lot of young people today are not as concerned of having a car as they are about being able to get around. Also, the expansion of the system both in Surrey and eventually the extension down Fraser Highway out to Langley is a development I wish to see.
What plans do you have for Surrey’s transit system?
More bus services and options, expanding the existing system like the Expo Line, improving the stations to have longer trains so that we can get more people on in any given train – those are priorities. Building the L line along 104th down to King George and then out to Newton is one of the priorities that the City has. Also, planning the extension out to Langley and back so that people can move throughout the region. There are a number of things that we have to do.
Part of Phase One will be doing the engineering work for the L Line, the actual construction will be Phase Two. We need to figure out the engineering because without that we really don’t know what the ultimate cost is. The City of Surrey has done a lot of work in researching what people are looking for. Also, they have a great vision for the downtown core of Surrey. They have clearly articulated that the L line is an important element in building that urban form in the city. So there’s been a lot of work done to suggest that it is the right decision to make.
What impact will investment in public transit have on housing prices?
It will lower the prices. Supply and demand balance each other out – we have got lots of demand, we just don’t have the supply. If we have more supply, it should help to moderate the prices, and create more jobs in construction which is important for our economy and community. So increasing the density around transit corridors will actually help to moderate prices and also give people the option to be able to move around without having to have a car.
There are talks about a possible future of Uber in BC. What decision has been taken regarding this initiative?
The Premier asked me to work with BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone to consult with existing industry and other stakeholders, and local governments. We finished the consultations; we put out a report of what was heard and we have asked for additional feedback.
What we have heard from consumers is that they want more choice and more convenience, but they also want to make sure they are protected. When they get into the vehicle, they want to know the driver has had a criminal record check, that he/she has the appropriate license, and is appropriately insured so that if there is an unfortunate situation, the people in the vehicle are covered.
When I talked to people in the taxi industry, they said make sure it is a level playing field, that you treat us as much as you can equally. The reason we have the ability here is because we control the insurance system in the province and so we are able to make sure through the insurance system that it is an equal playing field.
Technology is changing everybody’s life. I think the taxi industry needs to up their game by having appropriate apps, perhaps a province-wide dispatch system. We believe in free enterprise but we also think that it is government that created the original taxi regime so we have a responsibility to make sure we make it fair.
You are the BC Liberal candidate in Surrey-Fleetwood for the 2017 provincial election. What plans do you have in mind for the region if re-elected?
I’m going to continue to do what I do now – work hard, represent the community, make sure that I keep in touch with the community to ensure that I know what the needs are. I live in this area and I understand what’s going on in Surrey, Langley, south of the Fraser. Education is critical, healthcare is a huge issue for us, transportation is going to be something that I am going to continue to advocate for, and social services for people, who for whatever reasons, are more challenged in their lives. I’m going to continue to work hard for everybody.
I made a commitment to the people of Surrey-Fleetwood three and a half years ago and I’m going to live up to the commitment and that’s why I’m running in the same riding and I’m going to stand on my record. I’m going to say to the people, “Look at what I have done in the time I have been there and look at what my opponent did when he was in office and you make the decision on who has accomplished the most for you as your representative in Victoria.”
I think we are very fortunate to live in a diverse community like this and I’m looking forward to the campaign. My campaign office is open; I was one of the first to open my office and I did that because I want people to know that I am taking my job seriously, that I am here to win the next election.
What changes will the Liberals bring if they win the election?
We are going to continue to build our economy; we are going to take care of people’s tax dollars – make sure we invest them wisely. We are going to continue to do what is best for the people... issues like education, healthcare, social services, transportation, those have been the focus. We are going to focus on making life better for as many people as we possibly can and the best way we can do that is to make sure there are enough jobs for people to have and we do that by building the economy.
We will continue to lead the country in economic growth, and will be announcing our fifth balanced budget in February. When I talk about a balanced budget, we want to be sure that we have policies and programs in place that ensure we have enough revenue that can be invested and we don’t go into debt.
We will have our operational debt paid off in the next four to five years and that’s huge. It saves the taxpayers millions of dollars in taxes because we will not have to be paying huge interest costs. That’s a big deal for the people in BC; it means we have more to spend in a number of other areas. If we look at where we are as compared to the rest of the country, we have worked hard to move ahead in a positive way.