Local concerns voiced to New West Mayor Jonathan Cote
By Mercedes Deutscher, Staff Writer
On February 11, the New Westminster Environmental Partners (NWEP) held a meeting to discuss ideas and implications of the upcoming Transit and Transportation Referendum. New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote was in attendance to represent the Mayors’ Council.
NWEP organizational spokesperson Virginia Ayers explained that transportation is one of the most important environmental issues within New Westminster—along with waste, energy, and food—so spreading information about the referendum is considered critical.
“I see this as a wonderful opportunity,” Ayers said. “It created so much active citizenship in the last two months that we have an opportunity to meet more people who care about transportation. We’ve heard more ideas.”
Earlier that day, TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis reportedly resigned from his position and would be replaced by interim CEO Doug Allen.
Members of NWEP expressed that in addition to a new CEO, they wished for further accountability of TransLink. While some were relieved that money raised by the potential Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax would be going directly to the Mayors’ Council, there were also concerns regarding how audits would be performed.
Other NWEP members hope that the referendum will result in less traffic congestion in New Westminster, particularly in areas close to the Patullo and Alex Fraser bridges. Some fear that the potential of adding a toll to Patullo bridge will result in fewer people using it, which in turn will add to traffic congestion in the Queensborough area. As well, Queensborough residents voiced concerns that the addition of a new bus depot along the border of New Westminster and Richmond will result in sharp increases to bus traffic in the area, which is considered to be filled to capacity during peak hours.
While many of the members say that they plan to vote “Yes” in the referendum, others have decided to vote “No,” with some remaining undecided.
Dylan Jones describes himself as undecided, but says that he is feels that he may vote “No”.
“I find it is a very uninspired plan for the financing,” Jones explained. Jones used examples of transportation systems in Toronto and in Gothenberg, Sweden, and how they used green bonds—a bond that develops areas with low levels of industrial pollution—to save money.
Jones also mentioned that TransLink is the best-funded transportation agency in Canada, and how cutting down on excessive operating costs may save the money that the project needs.
“I believe at best, they’re [TransLink] incompetent, and at worst, they’re corrupt,” said Jones.
Mayor Cote explained that 52 per cent of New Westminster residents placed transportation as the top development priority in the city. Cote stated that residency south of the Fraser River continues to grow, and that many people will commute through New Westminster to reach their jobs in Vancouver.
Cote assured that TransLink will be regularly audited by an independent party to help ensure that tax funding will be going towards the right projects. He urged voters to not view this tax as a TransLink tax, but instead as a transportation development tax.
“If our region doesn’t invest in a functioning transportation system, Metro Vancouver will come to be known as a region where you cannot get from point-A to point-B, and businesses … will choose to locate outside of Vancouver.”
Cote also stated that the City of New Westminster is in the process of planning a town hall meeting to further hear residents’ concerns and to help improve voter accessibility, and encourages students and those living in low-income households to vote.