Tag Archives: light rail

Saanich News: Light rail

We asked the Saanich mayor and council candidates to provide their thoughts and strategies on light-rail transit along the Douglas Street corridor.

Dean Murdock, council candidate:

The proposed light rail plan was unanimously supported by Mayor and Council because of its economic, social, and environmental benefits. I support the plan and want to see an evaluation of its design, cost, and benefits. I’m confident that we can achieve the benefits of the proposed LRT at a lower cost to taxpayers. We’ve got traffic in every direction and need to try something new on Douglas and our major corridors. LRT should be part of an upgraded public transit network that attracts more riders by getting people to where they need to go more quickly and efficiently.

First All Candidates Meeting tackles suites, LRT, and regional planning

The first of nine all-candidates meetings for Saanich council hopefuls is in the bag.

Hosted by the Victoria Real Estate Board Monday, councillor candidates had the opportunity to speak on such issues as legalizing secondary suites, light rail on Douglas Street and McKenzie Avenue and slow processing of building permits.

“Right now there’s no incentive. Those legalizing (their secondary suite) are spending more money than those cutting corners,” said candidate Harald Wolf, advocating for an expanded border for legal suites. Incumbent Leif Wergeland agreed that giving homeowners incentives to legalize would help.

Dean Murdock and Vicki Sanders stressed that legalizing suites is a safety measure. Both incumbents supported expanding the legal suite area beyond homes south of McKenzie Avenue, so long as the new areas are near amenities and transit.

Rob Wickson, a strong advocate for light-rail transit, said the cost of a system from downtown Victoria to Langford comes with a hefty price tag. But he said residents aren’t aware that much of their tax dollars are spent to improve roads used by single-occupancy vehicles.

“What is the expense of not doing (light-rail on Douglas)?” asked incumbent Vic Derman, saying if it isn’t implemented the region will likely “degenerate.”

Susan Brice and Paul Gerrard both called for a referendum once a full business case is available. That would allow Capital Region residents to decide themselves whether a billion-dollar light-rail system is their preference.

Casey Edge, director of the Canadian Homebuilders’ Association, asked candidates how they would improve the notoriously slow issuance of building permits in Saanich.

“We’re not Langford. Saanich will never be Langford. We have many more hoops for people to jump through, like environmental and transit (expectations),” said incumbent Judy Brownoff, defending a more thorough approval process.

Nichola Wade commended Saanich staff for doing what is asked by council, even if it takes more time.

“We (as councillors) set the vision, that’s our role – it’s not handling things at a staff level,” Wade said.

Candidates Ingrid Ip and Jesse McClinton were absent from the meeting.

The three mayoral candidates were not asked to take part in Monday’s debate.

There are eight more all-candidates meetings scheduled prior to the Nov. 19 election.

An independent evaluation will prove LRT benefits

We know that other cities have seen incredible economic growth as a result of rail systems in their major corridors. We know that LRT can reduce emissions significantly and can do a lot to encourage new ridership — as much as double ridership — bringing more convenience and lower car-dependence to thousands of individuals and families.

Here in our region, we need an independent review of the proposed regional LRT system to give the public and decision-makers the information we need to evaluate these extraordinary benefits and the estimated costs to build and operate the system.

For me, there are four main components that need to be evaluated before we can proceed.

The first is finding potential cost savings. Let’s have an evaluation of the selection criteria to see what was required in choosing the technology. I’m confident that a line-by-line breakdown of the costs will reveal areas where money can be saved.

The second component is evaluating the economic spinoffs. We’ve seen rail systems in cities like Vancouver, Portland, Calgary, and Montréal, generate new economic development. LRT will certainly have a positive economic impact in our region. Let’s look at the potential for economic growth to understand what we can look forward to.

The third component is an assessment of the environmental benefits. An electric rail system is more energy-efficient than diesel buses. Let’s calculate what kind of emission reductions we will see by replacing dozens of diesel buses with electric rail and by attracting new riders away from their cars and onto LRT.

The final component is ridership projections. Estimates of thousands of new commuters and doubled ridership need to be proven. Salt Lake City achieved its 10-year ridership projections on the first day of its service and the Canada Line in Vancouver has already surpassed its five-year ridership projections. Let’s look at the projections for the proposed system to see how they compare and if they’re realistic.

An independent review will ensure that we maximize the potential benefits of LRT and minimize its potential costs. It will demonstrate the true value for taxpayers and the soundness of the investment for our region.

Dean Murdock
Saanich Councillor

Regional leaders supporting LRT

Politicans join call for light rail transit in Greater Victoria
By Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist

Standing on a busy downtown sidewalk with transit buses rumbling by, politicians from three levels of government said the time has come for light rail transit in Greater Victoria.

Light rail transit “is the most cost effective form of transportation for our future in the region,” said MP Denise Savoie (NDP-Victoria).

“In public transit’s analysis — by any long shot — LRT trumps the bus rapid transit and that’s important. The economic benefits are clear: $1.4 billion in economic benefits,” she said.

The Victoria Regional Transit Commission, the Capital Regional District and the B.C. Transit Board have all endorsed plans for a $950-million light rail system between Victoria and Langford, but say they need support from senior levels of government.

Savoie said LRT cannot be funded through gas taxes or property taxes alone but senior governments have funds that could be tapped.

“The fact is, the money is there. From a federal perspective, the Building Canada fund has budgeted from 2007 to 2014 $10 billion and we know that one of the sub-funds still has 90 per cent unclaimed. So there’s $1 billion in one of the sub-funds that just hasn’t been touched.”

Savoie was flanked by Randall Garrison (NDP-Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca), New Democrat MLA Rob Fleming (Victoria-Swan Lake), Saanich councillor and CRD director Judy Brownoff, Victoria councillor and Victoria Regional Transit commissioner John Luton and Saanich councillor Dean Murdock.

The group supports the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s call for a third party review of B.C. Transit’s LRT plan. “I don’t know how many people need to be on transit every day in order for that system to be economically viable,” said Chamber CEO Bruce Carter. “I don’t know what that assumption is and what happens if we don’t make it. Those are the types of things we need to understand as well as construction risks.”

Savoie and the others say they are confident any independent analysis would validate the benefits.

“We know other jurisdictions have seen incredible economic growth as a result of rail based systems in their major corridors. We know that it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions considerably and we know it can do a lot to encourage new ridership — in fact double ridership,” said Murdock.

The chamber has endorsed the idea of holding a referendum on LRT — an idea floated by Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard for November’s municipal elections.

But the LRT backers gathered Tuesday were cool to the idea. “I think that would be premature. I don’t think there is a question,” said Fleming. “We have to have further discussions between the three levels of government and cement the partnership further and look at the financing.”

Brownoff, speaking as a CRD representative, said the Douglas Street corridor is plugging up. “Before long the commute time [from the West Shore to downtown Victoria] will be 80 minutes. That’s not sustainable or healthy for this region.”

The LRT proposal is facing opposition from the CRD Business and Residential Taxpayers’ Association. “The LRT will become a yoke around the taxpayer’s neck when costs go over budget, when ridership and revenue do not materialize, when the transit company drops bus routes and cuts service to trim costs and when infrastructure projects are delayed, becoming even more costly,” association chairman Bev Highton has said.

Pushing the provincial and federal governments for light rail transit funding

Saanich to MLAs, MPs: Show us the LRT money
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Times Colonist

Saanich council is pushing the provincial and federal governments for light rail transit funding.

Politicians voted unanimously in favour Monday night of Coun. Dean Murdock’s motion to ask senior governments to pay their shares for a transit system from Douglas Street to the West Shore.

B.C. Transit, the Capital Regional District board, the Victoria Regional Transit Commission and the B.C.

Transit Board all support light rail transit.

Saanich will also ask the Capital Regional District to lobby for funding, as well as asking the other municipalities in the region to do the same.

Council wants senior government funds for LRT

Saanich council supports recommendation to request financial support for LRT project
Andrea Boyes, CFAX 1070

Saanich Council has unanimously supported a recommendation to write to senior levels of government requesting financial support for the region’s light rail transit project.

The recommendation was brought forth by councillor Dean Murdock

“that recommendation was supported unanimously, so Mayor and Council will be writing letters to the senior governments as well as local MLAs and MPs and the councils in the region, asking for senior government financial support for the LRT project”

Murdock says they have seen examples from the lower mainland and other parts of the country where senior governments kick in two thirds of the share.

The 950 million dollar project would feature light rail extending from the Douglas Corridor, along the Island Highway out to the Westshore

Seeking our fair share

Saanich councillors asked to lobby feds and province for LRT funds
Kyle Slavin, Saanich News

A lesson learned by councillors at a federal conference earlier this year is finally getting legs in Greater Victoria as municipal governments look for ways to fund light-rail transit.

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock is expected to put forward a motion to council tonight to send a letter to the provincial and federal ministers of transportation, as well as our local MLAs and MPs, requesting financial support.

“What we need to do is express quite clearly that this is broadly supported,” Murdock said. “And I’m hopeful that we’ll see other councils put forward a similar letter of support.”

Following the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Halifax in June, Victoria Coun. John Luton said cities that secured transportation funding said getting the money can require extensive lobbying.

“The decisions about funding allocations are ultimately made by cabinet and ministers who are elected to office. So you have to lobby hard for your project,” Luton said. “We need to be pushing our local MPs to put this on their radar screens.”

Murdock said $1 billion was set aside by the province in 2008 as part of the Provincial Transit Plan (PTP) to help finance alternative forms of transportation in the Capital Region. As far as he’s aware, none of that money has been used yet.

“The fund was designed to try and create public transit infrastructure that would allow for creation of transportation alternatives,” Murdock said. “We’ve got a great project that meets all the criteria of that funding.”

Kate Trotter, a spokesperson with the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said it’s premature to discuss LRT funding until a business plan is received.

“The province will be examining the option and business case from B.C. Transit prior to making any commitments to a particular transit solution,” Trotter said in an email. “PTP funds will be dependent on the outcome of the Victoria Rapid Transit Study.”

Federally, Murdock hopes to see funding similar to what other cities received for recent upgrades to their transit infrastructure.

“I don’t see any reason why Ottawa wouldn’t be prepared to invest in our region,” he said, adding he’s spoken with Victoria MP Denise Savoie and Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison, both members of the opposition NDP party.

Infrastructure Canada also wouldn’t comment on potential funding until a specific proposal was submitted.

Both the provincial and federal ministers of transportation denied requests for interviews.

Murdock is optimistic councillors in other municipalities will also put forward recommendations to secure rail funding from senior levels of government, citing recent conversations with Luton and View Royal councillor John Rogers.

Politicians explore the power and pitfalls of social media

Social media shifting rules for local politicians
Kyle Slavin, Saanich News

Frank Leonard wants to be your friend.

The Saanich mayor – and many of his council colleagues – regularly use politically motivated tweets and Facebook wall posts to make their opinions known to their followers. The most lively issue of late? Light rail transit.

Leonard and Coun. Dean Murdock have been debating the issue with one another, along with public input, on Facebook.

Leonard recently told the News he is hesitant to openly support a $950-million plan for regional light-rail because he wants to know whether taxpayers favour the tax increase needed to foot a portion of the bill.

Murdock, a staunch supporter of public transit, commented on Facebook saying, “Mayor Leonard would prefer we had the lump of coal that is traffic congestion.”

Leonard responded with, “I see my young colleague has mocked me … It is unfortunate that to point out that a major expenditure will cost more taxes is considered politically incorrect.”

Coun. Judy Brownoff, also on Facebook, commented (without naming names): “Typical of ‘old time politicians’ … society has changed and future planning politicians know about taxes and we know how to manage projects like this! Old time politics 101 scare taxpayers before you know what the increase will be.”

Councillors Paul Gerrard, Vicki Sanders and Susan Brice are also on Facebook, along with many of their Victoria and Oak Bay counterparts.

Janni Aragon, senior instructor of political science at the University of Victoria and an active social media user, says politicians need to have a web presence on social media but must balance personal opinion with professionalism.

“We all get braver and bolder behind our keyboard, our monitor, and forget about the repercussions of the things we post or we tweet,” she said. “As their political selves … it’s a way for them to connect with people.”

Leonard says he uses Facebook tool as an alternative dialogue, though he’s quickly realizing there are downsides to having an open forum.

“It’s not a private conversation. You have to be aware of what you put on there. It’s an open conversation and it’s there forever,” he said. “You always, whether it’s at the grocery store or the coffee shop, get feedback. This is simply a virtual way of having that same conversation, but you reach a whole lot more people at once and it’s all out in the open.”

Murdock agrees. He says he’s glad this back-and-forth on light rail happened on Facebook because it allows for more public input that will ultimately lend to a more “informed debate” if it comes before council.

“The council agenda is fairly rigid. We don’t have an opportunity to open up a conversation with the public or with other councillors, so Facebook is a great way to throw something out there and get feedback,” he said.

“And we often hear from people (online) who wouldn’t necessarily come out to a council meeting or who may not come out to a community event.”

But disagreement among political colleagues on Facebook is no different than disagreement in council chambers, Murdock said.

“That’s exactly what the process is all about. It’s healthy to have these kinds of debates,” he said. “It benefits the overall discussion on a complex and controversial issue like LRT.”

Aragon says politicians who use social media as a forum for discussion – which is what is currently happening – must understand the proper way to use it to their advantage.

“You can’t think of it as new media … it’s media,” she said. “And it’s about being social media savvy.

“But (politicians) also are out in the public. They don’t have the same sort of privacy as most people. There can be repercussions for something that’s said online – there are lots of people who aren’t cognizant of that.”

Speaking up for senior government funding

Capital region councillors find light-rail inspiration at Halifax conference
Kyle Slavin, Saanich News

Municipal politicians are itching to get back to political action after spending the weekend rubbing elbows with their Canadian counterparts and, more importantly, bouncing ideas off them to see how Greater Victoria can capitalize on projects that have been done elsewhere in the country.

For Victoria Coun. John Luton, who sits on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, that was discussing transportation funding with communities like Kitchener, Ont., where light rail is currently being built to connect Kitchener and Waterloo.

“It’s a similar project, in respect to what we’re planning to do, which is connecting major trip generators and workplaces along the corridor,” he said.

Municipal councillors from all across Canada flocked to Halifax June 3-6 for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference.

Federal funding for the roughly $800 million Ontario light-rail project was secured through the Build Canada Fund, the same federal fund helping to finance the Johnson Street Bridge replacement.

Through the Capital Regional District, a funding task force is being created to identify ways of paying for light rail in Victoria.

Luton hopes that the Capital Region will be able to secure funding through Build Canada – though that hinges on money leftover from other projects across the country that don’t capitalize on their share.

“The thing (Kitchener) suggested was you’ve really got to campaign for it,” Luton said. “The decisions about funding allocations are ultimately made by cabinet and ministers who are elected to office. So you have to lobby hard for your project. We need to be pushing our local MPs to put this on their radar screens.”

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock, too, was intent on finding out from Kitchener how to best finance an LRT project, since the proposed Victoria system comes with an estimated price tag of $1 billion.

“Now I come back and talk to some of the other councillors about what we’ve taken in (from the conference) and what kind of initiatives we can move forward on through council, through committees, through the CRD,” he said.

Luton agrees, adding that he can bring his discussions to the transit commission to determine how to best go about securing funding.

“That’s our next step and a big priority,” he said. “I’ll put that bug into (Transit chair) Chris Causton’s ear: ‘we need to get that ask out to the province and to the federal government as quickly as we can – otherwise the ducks we need aren’t going to be in a row.'”

LRT recommended for CRD

Public deserves say on $1 billion light rail plan, Saanich mayor says
Erin McCracken, Victoria News

Reaction to bring B.C. Transit’s recommendation to bring a $950-million electric light-rail transit system to the region was swift – and mixed.

“The issue right now is do our taxpayers have an opportunity to comment between now and when they want a decision on May 17?” asked Saanich Mayor Frank Loenard. “That’s a pretty tight timeline on a $1-billion decision for taxpayers.”

Transit is currently paid for by fares, the province, property and fuel taxes and some advertising. For light rail, Greater Victoria residential property owners would have to pay an additional $130 to $265 in transit taxes a year, depending on how much money from senior government can be secured.

Starting May 15, they currently will already be paying $120.50 for transit in 2011. Business owners, who will pay $386 a year in transit taxes, would see that climb to between $1,300 and $2,650.

“This needs to be a partnership from all three levels of government and we need to determine what that might look like, even find out how long it would take to get an answer from the provincial and federal governments,” Leonard said. “Big picture, it’s where we need to go. But there’s some questions that need to be addressed from here to there.”

Construction on major exchanges could begin at least two years after project approval, and it would be at least four or five years before a full system is operational.

A partial build-out of the line may help, said Saanich Coun Dean Murdock, who favours it going out to the 6 Mile/Colwood interchange for $770 million.

“What’s clear here is there is no option to do nothing. There is no cheap way out of this,” he said.

“If we don’t take it all the way out to the Langford exchange at Station Avenue, we start to erode the attraction for people to get on the LRT.”

The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce is reserving judgement until it can go over the plan with a fine-tooth comb.

“It’s a complex solution. It’s a lot of money,” said chamber CEO Bruce Carter, adding that future costs of a regional sewage system must also be considered. “That strain on taxpayers is significant.”

The chosen route from downtown Victoria to Saanich, View Royal, Colwood and Langford leaves Esquimalt out of the light-rail loop.

With 6,000 CFB Esquimalt employees, most of whom live on the West Shore, it makes more sense to prioritize inter-city rail along the E&N line, said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

“The alignment they have chosen is not going to serve the region best,” she said.

Light rail is being touted as the most effective remedy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve transit ridership, reduce roadway congestion, increase property values, generate jobs and provide more cost-savings over the long run.

Also driving the project is a forecasted boom in the West Shore’s population, which is expected to climb to 122,000 by 2038.

B.C. Transit’s recommendation will go before its board of directors and the Victoria Regional Transit Commission in May, before it is submitted to the province in June.