April of this year marks nine years since welfare rates – still frozen at $610 a month for a single person – have gone up. Although the provincial government plans to increase disability rates by $77 a month in September, they also plan to begin charging people who receive the disability pension $669 a year for a bus pass that they now get for $45 a year. This means giving with one hand and taking with the other, and the decision has enraged the many people trying to get by on meagre benefits across this province.
Transit prices are unaffordable for an increasing number of people in British Columbia. But they’re especially costly for recipients of social assistance, who today receive only $375 for housing and $235 for “everything else,” including groceries, bus fare, clothing, emergencies, and otherwise. The expectation is for recipients to budget (somehow) for transit costs, despite their low income. For those receiving welfare, a $2.75 bus ticket is a big deal. I’d like to put this in perspective.
Recently, we the people were granted the privilege of witnessing TransLink’s Board of Directors in action. After eight years of meeting behind closed doors, on September 25 the public was allowed to observe the first two hours of what are normally six to seven-hour quarterly meetings. Future meetings will also be partly open to the public. Barry Forbes, the new chair of the Board, explained things like this: “What’s changed is the board has recognized it’s the people’s transportation system.”
This spring, the provincial government will be asking Metro Vancouver residents if they approve of a new TransLink funding proposal. The social democrats are coming out of the woodwork to throw their weight behind the ‘Yes’ side in the referendum, as though it were some kind of grand cause. In reality, neither a ‘yes’ vote nor a ‘no’ vote will have an impact on the political direction of transit in our region: privatization, criminalization of the poor, racial profiling, and ‘service’ geared to corporate profits rather than people’s needs.
This week the Provincial government and Metro Vancouver mayors said they’re out of ideas on how to expand the transit system. That’s a huge problem because the biggest thing that we can do locally to fight climate change is switch from private cars to public transit.
The best way to cause that shift is to put a transit pass in everyone’s hand, and make it affordable. But recent moves toward fare increases and fare gates mean that we’re actually increasing emissions.
Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Metro Vancouver. Of the just over 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gases that we emitted into the atmosphere in 2010, a majority (53% or 5.5 million tonnes) was caused by vehicles. 
In turn, almost all vehicular emissions were caused by passenger cars and other personal vehicles (about 4 million tonnes) or commercial vehicles (over 1 million tonnes).
TransLink estimates that switching from car to transit will reduce a person’s CO2 emissions over four-fold (from 224 grams of greenhouse gases per km travelled to only 50 grams). Indeed the reduction may be even more significant. Although 16% of commuters take public transit, they contribute only about 1% of vehicular emissions (0.07 out of the 5.5 million tonnes).
Few feel that the construction of the Canada Line was a positive experience for local residents, merchants and taxpayers, but Vancouver’s current developer friendly City Council feels that it deserves to be replicated on the Broadway corridor between Clark Drive and UBC.
According to the Metro’s summary of the report that Council warmly received, it will cost $2.8 billion to provide Broadway corridor rapid transit. The line will simply have to run through a tunnel. Whereas to run at-grade transit or elevated rapid transit, “it would remove 90 percent of parking, restrict turning at 90 percent of intersections, narrow sidewalks and chop trees.” In the City transportation director’s own words, “[i]n fact, the entire corridor would have to be rebuilt from building face to building face.”
Translink has announced that in the new year it will raise fares by 10% to 12.5%. But these fare increases are not fair, and the rationale is not rational at all.
With the cost-of-living rising faster than wages, many working people don’t have money left over for transit. The fare hikes will only push the working poor deeper into debt. Even worse, for those living in the suburbs and commuting to work in Vancouver, the increase in the 3-zone fare to $11 per round-trip is atrocious. It means that for those working at minimum wage, their commute will cost them more than an hour’s wage everyday. Further, this $11 roundtrip fare is one of the highest costing work commutes in North America.