Jonathan Coté said municipalities should have «skin in the game» when major transit projects are built in their area, so the situation in Surrey is not repeated.
The chair of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation says TransLink will likely require municipalities to make “firm commitments” to major transit projects being constructed in their communities in the future.
The change comes on the heels of the City of Surrey’s decision to halt work on a long-planned light-rail project and embark on a SkyTrain to Langley, based on a campaign promise made by Mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition.
“Whether we’re talking about new B-Lines into different areas or we’re talking about exploring the gondola up to SFU, we’re going to need firm commitments from the host municipalities that really puts some skin in the game,” said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté. “To say that they’re going to work with the project and ultimately not lead us to the process where we’re having to change gears or make significant changes very late into a planning process, which is really not good governance.”
When TransLink, the regional transit authority, undertakes a major project in a community, both parties sign supportive policy, city contribution and master municipal agreements.
However, none of those deal with what happens when a government changes its mind about a project and wants to amend or cancel it.
“I think there is a growing recognition that, yes, this can happen in one-off situations, but if this becomes the norm in how transportation investment happens in the region, it’s actually going to set us back and we need to make sure that we’re addressing that,” Coté said. “This has actually not been something that’s happened in the past.”
The conversations about changing processes and seeking stronger commitments from municipalities have been informal, said Coté, but they will be more formal as TransLink moves forward with its regional transportation strategy update and implementing the next phase of the 10-year transit plan.
“Right now, it’s open for discussion what that could look like,” Coté said. “For it to be effective it does have to have some teeth and ultimately make sure that host municipalities to these types of projects have skin in the game and … they understand there are other implications they have to consider.”
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, who wants to see the Evergreen Line extended from Coquitlam into his community, said having cities more invested in the projects being planned for their communities is an interesting concept.
“I think it’s a reasonable position to take if the rest of the region’s taxpayers are going to invest a significant amount of money into your city that you have to be clear on what it is that you want and be clear in your support of the project,” he said.
“I would be more than happy to sign something that says if you’re going to bring SkyTrain to Port Coquitlam we’re not going to change our mind.”
West said the onus would be on the municipality to make sure they have support from residents when they bring projects forward.
Steven Minns, a lecturer in the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business strategy and business economics division, said including an option to terminate is “very, very common” in business agreements.
“It’s quite sensible because it means that’s all been agreed up front,” he said.
Before any agreements are signed, Minns said it’s crucial that projects are backed up with a good financial analysis to ensure that they are economically viable.