TransLink set to receive $300M from B.C. for more buses, extra service

Improved transit service is being promised after the B.C. government announced $300 million for TransLink. But as Monika Gul reports, local leaders are wondering where the feds are when it comes to transit funding.

After the federal budget came down with minimal funding for transit earlier this week, the B.C. government announced Wednesday it is investing $300 million into transit in the Lower Mainland.

The province explained the money will go toward buying more buses and expanding service frequency on 60 routes in the region.


“This means, that for people using the SeaBus, bus, and SkyTrain service throughout the region on any given day, we will be able to announce significant service improvements starting this fall in September,” Minister Rob Fleming said Wednesday.

“We will have better and longer hours of service so people aren’t bypassed on full buses.”

B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming speaks outside the SeaBus Terminal
B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming speaks outside the SeaBus Terminal in North Vancouver on Wednesday April 17, 2024. (CityNews Image)

The new capital funding will help TransLink complete its 2024 Investment plan, Fleming explained. In turn, TransLink will be increasing services immediately using the remaining funds from the $479 million the province gave the transit provider in 2023.

“The province is working with TransLink to solve the region’s most pressing transportation challenges in response to the unprecedented regional growth. Funding public transit means people can choose cleaner and more affordable ways to travel in the region now and for years to come,” Fleming said.

The B.C. government explained HandyDART services will also see improved late-evening availability.

The funding comes after the TransLink Mayors’ Council sounded the alarm repeatedly over the last year, with claims of underfunding and under-resourcing as the region sees massive population growth.

The council chair, Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, shared in February that he was disappointed to see a lack of new transit projects outlined for Metro Vancouver in the province’s 2024 budget.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West speaks outside the SeaBus Terminal
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West speaks outside the SeaBus Terminal in North Vancouver on Wednesday April 17, 2024. (CityNews Image)

West said at that time that if TransLink didn’t get more funding soon, it would have to look at service cuts starting in 2026.

Fleming shared Wednesday that the $300 million in funding will not just stabilize TransLink’s services, it will expand on the frequency.

However, the funding will not change the 2.3 per cent increase in fares that are slated to come into effect July 1.

“We do have big financial challenges; I don’t want to shy away from that,” Fleming said. “The fact is, through provincial funding, and through things like fare increases that we’re doing, we are able to keep service levels where we are at right now through the end of 2025.

“But following that, we do need to have a serious conversation … We have funding challenges that we need to solve.”

Where are the feds?

The additional funding was welcome news to TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn, who said the B.C. government “has long been partners in capital investments for our investment plans.”

However, there was some focus Wednesday on who wasn’t at the announcement: someone with the federal government.

“Despite repeated efforts by our region’s mayors, I’m disappointed the federal government continues to be absent from our region’s needs,” West said at the announcement.

While the federal government has contributed money to major projects like the Broadway Subway and the Surrey Langley SkyTrain, local leaders say more funding is needed.

“I am disappointed that the federal budget really doesn’t have the funds we know this region needs, given the growth,” Quinn said.

Fleming agreed that the federal government was needed, noting, “their absence over the last couple of years has been noticed.”

“They cannot wash their hands of the decisions they’re making in Ottawa in respects to population growth and expect it to fall on the backs of local taxpayers in this region,” added West.

In a statement to CityNews, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance said this year’s federal budget laid out the federal government’s “plan to achieve generational fairness, by building more homes, faster, making life more affordable, and creating more good jobs and economic growth.”

“That is why we are investing $6 billion to support municipalities and provinces build housing-related infrastructure. This is on-top of the $3 billion, per year, permanent transit fund and the $11 billion the Canada Infrastructure Bank has mobilized to address critical infrastructure gaps, including public transit,” Katherine Cuplinskas with the office explained.

The office says by the 2033-34 fiscal year, B.C. will receive $10.4 billion through the Canada Community-Building Fund and Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.

Federal permanent transit fund anticipated, but delayed

David Cooper, a national transit planning consultant with Leading Mobility, says transit agencies across Canada have been pushing for the federal government to fast-track its permanent public transit fund, which is currently slated to begin in 2026 or 2027.

Once up and running, the fund will invest $3 billion per year into transit.

But Cooper says 2026 is turning out to be simply too far away to address the economic growth of places like Metro Vancouver.

“There’s a lot of needs across the region,” he said. “Surrey and Langley is having an explosion of transit ridership. TransLink can’t move buses around to that region anymore without really hindering its ability to serve other parts of the region. So the ability to optimize is pretty limited now. “

By not moving up the start of its permanent transit fund, Cooper says the federal government is hindering TransLink’s ability to move forward with these expansions.

“We can’t build housing with proper transit if there’s no transit service, and that’s a huge missed opportunity from the federal budget and something that TransLink has been really pushing forward as a conversation with Ottawa,” he said.

Particularly, Cooper says it’s very difficult to densify housing without having sufficient transit service in place.

“If we want to move forward on housing units on transit, you need to have the service, you need to have the funding, you need to be able to expand that service with the fleet,” he said. “And right now, with the delay in the permanent transit fund, that actually makes it very challenging.”

Metro Vancouver isn’t alone in this struggle. Cooper says similar issues are cropping up in Ontario and Alberta, like the age of buses or having enough trains to extend lines.

“This is something that is also a big problem elsewhere,” he said.

Overall, Cooper says he’s optimistic about the action the province is taking in lieu of the feds’ anticipated permanent transit fund.

“At the end of the day, I think the province does understand that in order for us to accommodate additional housing, additional residents, more economic development, TransLink services are very integral to Metro Vancouver,” he said.

With files from Srushti Gangdev

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