BC budget sets stage for Translink showdown; U-Pass pledge disappears

There may be more transit investment news in what is missing from today’s provincial budget than from what is stated.

As expected, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure budget plan spells out Victoria’s commitment to build the Evergreen Line to connect Coquitlam and Burnaby via Port Moody with new Skytrain service.

The estimated cost of the project is $1.4 billion, with construction slated to begin in 2011 and end four years later. Victoria is kicking in $410 million and Ottawa has pledged $417 million, leaving a hefty $600 million bill for Translink to pick  up starting next year.

The ministry plan helpfully sets out the combined federal and Translink capital contribution requirement on page 30: $568 million by 2013. The problem is, Translink will need a new funding source — or impose major fare, property and gas increases — to meet the goal. (This reality may provide a clue to the meaning of the Throne Speech pledge to “fix Translink.”)

The Evergreen Line is expected to carry only 70,000 riders a day by 2021, six years after opening. The $2 billion Canada Line, by contrast, was expected to achieve twice that number by 2013, three years after opening. It hit that number within 90 days and has surged up to nearly 300,000 a day during the Olympics.

How will Victoria force Metro Vancouver municipalities to fill the funding gap? Time will tell, but today’s budget sets the terms for the debate to come.

Post-secondary students, meanwhile, will search in vain for evidence that the government will deliver on the Premier’s election pledge of a universal transit pass. It’s vanished without a trace.

On the cycling front, advocate Richard Campbell, an expert in these matters, estimates that the Bike BC Budget has been hammered, cut to $3 million from $10 million. That’s before the $10 million cyclists will pay in HST.