BC Transit Makes Its Pitch For Rapid Transit

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(News Release) VICTORIA – On Thursday, BC Transit will be making its pitch for rapid transit to the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Victoria Business Association and the Greater Victoria Real Estate Board.

The focus of the joint Downtown Victoria Business Association and Chamber of Commerce presentation is expected to be that the proposed transit way will be a good for downtown businesses in spite of the fact that Douglas Street would also be reduced to one lane in each direction for general traffic.

“They will have to convince the business community that a capacity loss of 1,000 private vehicles per hour will not be harmful to Victoria commerce” says Jim Hindson, one of the Association’s Business Consultants.

If Douglas Street is reduced to one lane for general traffic, the message will be very clear: “Don’t travel to downtown Victoria unless you absolutely have to” says Bev Highton, Chair of the Association.

The Victoria Real Estate Board presentation, on the other hand, is expected to focus on the need for realtor’s to prepare themselves for the land and condo sales boom that allegedly would come with the transit project. According to BC Transit, developers would be expected to rush to acquire
land within 400 metres of the transit stops on Douglas Street and build condos for downtown Victoria commuters and densify Douglas Street as the result of the rapid transit project.

“Except the transit stops already exist, and the travel time savings on the Douglas portion of the route would be minimal as transit vehicles still have to stop at traffic signals and at all the transit stops. Growth only happens if there is a market for further development” says Highton.

“The repeated references to cities like Toronto, Portland and Vancouver that have Metro populations in the millions compared to Victoria’s population in the thousands is not appropriate. We need a system that is right for Victoria that recognizes our population demographics, our geography, and our ability to pay without unsustainable increases in our property taxes, gas taxes, and seeking more subsidies from the Government which, after all, is our tax money too.” ads Highton

The Association is disappointed that some have taken a strong position in support of the BC Rapid Transit proposals without endeavouring to ask diligent oversight questions. Saanich Councillor Dean Murdock asserted on a local talk radio (CFAX) show last week, that the rapid transit line would relieve congestion on Highway 1, and strongly supported the LRT option, as well as making other claims about rapid transit.

The Association previously determined, through Freedom of Information requests, that an exclusive transit way on Douglas Street would reduce daily private auto traffic by a paltry 207 auto trips per day and that the LRT option (in the BC Transit sponsored ND Lea Study of 1996) carried a price tag of $299 million in capital costs and $8 million in operating costs before depreciation. Now that the 2011 price tag has been set at $ 950 million, operating costs including depreciation can be expected to be much higher.

The soon-to-be released Rapid Transit report will likely express transit growth on Douglas Streetand Highway 1 in terms of 24 hour weekday transit trips, not trips diverted from autos in the rush hour periods – which is a different calculation. The Association has determined that the expected
number of auto trips diverted to transit would be minimal in each of the rush hours and would have virtually no impact on Highway 1 congestion.

The Association calculates that the operating costs for LRT with depreciation allowances, would more than quadruple the transit portion of property and business taxes. This would not include the $950 million up front construction cost of LRT which would also be borne by provincial and federal taxpayers. Federal and Provincial grants do not cover operating costs.

“At the end of the day, spending almost a billion taxpayer dollars, as Councillor Murdock apparently suggests, to remove a minimal number of autos from Highway 1 in the rush hour, and severely impact Victoria businesses, is going to be a non-starter. We need a new transportation governance structure and more cost-effective options and choices to improve transit accountability and reduce Highway 1 congestion”, says Highton