Wednesday, July 16, 2008

NDP in favour of commuter rail to the Westshore

There is an article in the Goldstream News Gazette this week about the NDP supporting the development of commuter rail from the Westshore to downtown.

Here is my prediction, the NDP will come out against the idea when they figure out how fundamentally expensive it will be operate this line. The cost per year to operate a simple barebones system will cost a fortune per rider.

Realistically it is going to cost hundreds of millions to make the E and N line even possibly functional for use from Langford to downtown. As I have said before, the high capital costs involved are a problem, but not the main one that concerns me.

The big problem is the ongoing operating costs - I fail to see how it could be operated for less than $6 000 000 per year. This to move a total of only about 500 000 passenger trips in a year - though I suspect that would not be reached as the line does not actually go to where people work - the terminus at the Johnson street bridge is too far away from where the offices are downtown to attract riders.

Rail operations for the most basic service would take in 8% of BC Transit's local budget but only bring in about 2% of the revenue if you can achieve the 500 000 passenger trips (which I think is high). BC Transit would have to find four to five million from the existing system to run the trains. Either the province gives more money or buses get cut.

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NDP calls for renewed push on rail

By Amy Dove - Goldstream News Gazette

Published: July 15, 2008 1:00 PM

With new taxes on fuel now is the time to push for light rail on the south Island, says B.C. NDP leader Carole James.

The carbon tax, which saw fuel jump 2.4 cents a litre July 1, punishes individuals while doing nothing to combat large-scale emitters of greenhouse gases, James says. All carbon tax revenue will be returned to people in the form of reductions to income and business taxes. More directly, however, the tax impacts people filling their tanks and putting food on the table, she says.

Also doled out this month, the $100 climate action dividend cheque was an insult to many and provided little for those looking for alternative transportation, she says. People are looking for a way to get out of their cars and light rail transit is the most viable option, she says.

“The public was doing their part for climate change way before Gordon Campbell came to this,” she says. “The public is ready. The missing partner is the government.”

A fraction of the money doled out for the provincial government’s climate action dividend program could have paid for the necessary improvements to the E&N rail bed, notes John Horgan, MLA Malahat-Juan De Fuca. As it stands, a feasibility report commissioned by Communities For Commuter Rail (C4CR) stated the rail line could be brought up to working condition for $16 million and cost less than $2 million to operate.

C4CR is comprised of local politicians from View Royal, Langford, Colwood, Esquimalt, Victoria and Sooke. There are also representatives from BC Transit, Capital Regional District, Island Corridor Foundations and Southern Railway of Vancouver Island Limited.

The Ministry of Transportation didn’t take that report as adequate proof that the project should be funded however. The ministry won’t consider funding such a project without a proper business case, says spokesperson Jeff Knight.

“It has to be a full business case … that was not a full business case,” Knight says.

Local politicians aren’t giving up however. With municipal elections coming up it’s up to those running for office and residents hoping for rail transit to push the issue, James says.

Rail transit is an integral part of sustainable transit for the Island, Horgan adds, noting the provincial government doesn’t even seem to know the possibility is there.

reporter@goldstreamgazette.com
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