All that green

Illustration by Ed Appleby
Illustration by Ed Appleby

As demands on the transit system increase, service must improve

By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor

TransLink recently announced that it will be cutting some of its costs, phasing out a series of services that eased some Vancouverites’ budgets. They’ll be eliminating free travel on Sundays and holidays for family members of monthly pass holders, the employee pass program that offered a 15 per cent discount, the FareSaver Tickets, and the West Coast Express’ seven-day pass and 28-day passes. As the Straight indicated, TransLink made no mention of any pay cuts, although TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis made an impressive $382,954 in 2011.

These service cuts will have an impact on the Vancouverites who have benefited from them, especially the money-saving discounts and free travel. It’s easy to say people will adjust, and that the Vancouver transit system is better than most other places, but the demands on the transit system are increasing and there needs to be a corresponding improvement in service. For it to improve significantly, there needs to be more buses on the roads, and better communication in the—seemingly more frequent—event that the SkyTrain is held up.

Lofty and perhaps idealistic aims given the already high prices of transit tickets—which have been gradually getting higher, just as transit police have been tightening up on riding sans proper payment—and the apprehension about getting the necessary funding from a tax.

Still, the idealism of a better transit system doesn’t begin to broach the idealism of Vancouver’s plans to become greener, titled “Greenest City 2020: A Bright Green Future.” As the City of Vancouver’s website states, it’s “a bold initiative that will address Vancouver’s environmental challenges.” Their plans are threefold, aiming to address carbon, waste, and ecosystems. Part of this plan is dependent on an efficient transit system.

You likely see where I’m going with this criticism: a city can’t expect to improve its environmental impact when one of the systems fundamental to this change hasn’t significantly improved. Among the City of Vancouver’s manifestos is the intention to “make the majority of trips (over 50 per cent) by foot, bicycle, and public transit.”

One of the major issues with becoming greener on a personal level is that it requires commitment. Nobody likes that. It’s not fun having to stand around waiting for a bus in Vancouver’s infamous rain when it’s so much easier to sit in a toasty car. Without incentives or at least convenience, getting to a point where the majority of trips are by foot, bicycle, or public transit will remain a distant Gregor Robertson dream.

Of course Robertson’s goals have and will continue to take time and funding, but Vancouverites’ complaints have remained the same, even as he promised to address them: “working to end street homelessness, addressing housing affordability, improving public transit, [and] making Vancouver the greenest city in the world.” TransLink’s flaws in the context of Greenest City 2020 and the goal of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world, however heavy on the rhetoric, present one example of how idealistic his goals will prove to be.

I’m all for Vancouver becoming greener, but I’m concerned that such initiatives will prove fruitless. Money has been invested in the construction of new SkyTrain lines, and turnstiles have been installed to “increase efficiency… promote security and cut down on fare evasion.” These advancements will show their efficacy or inefficacy as time goes on.

Yet as I call these “advancements,” turnstiles don’t address what are more substantial concerns: buses that are infrequent and quickly reach capacity, or SkyTrains that, when there’s a hiccup or miscommunication, affect the entire SkyTrain line. If TransLink and the City of Vancouver don’t make transiting easier, those who don’t want to put in effort won’t be tempted to lessen their car-use—that’ll amount to the majority of people.

Being green isn’t impossible, and I’m wholeheartedly behind the City of Vancouver’s desire to become more environmentally friendly. Yet with TransLink proving itself to be unpredictable and inconvenient, cutting benefits that some Vancouverites need, and investing money where it won’t be most effective, it’s clear that Greenest City is extremely idealistic. It’s foolhardy to put so many eggs in one basket—particularly when that basket has so many holes.