In an escalating effort to make the case for rapid transit on Broadway sooner than later, Vancouver’s mayor and the president of UBC say a line is key to spurring the city’s tech economy – and that economy will help the whole province.
Mayor Gregor Robertson also warned that Vancouver is in danger of falling behind other cities because of the poor transit connection between its Broadway corridor – home to the region’s major medical research facilities and 25 per cent of its high-tech companies – and its major research university at the western edge.
“Without a major upgrade in our transit system, we risk losing out to research hubs from our global competitors, like Toronto, New York and London – all cities who have their jobs corridor linked with their academic institutions by rapid transit,” Mr. Robertson said as he and University of British Columbia president Stephen Toope laid out the argument for investment in the $2.8-million subway line.
Vancouver and UBC split the cost of a $100,000 KPMG report that marshalled arguments about the need for transit to make Vancouver competitive. It was presented at a joint news conference on Thursday.
The mayor also emphasized that provincial leaders need to consider creating employment in other places besides the resource sector and what kind of support those other jobs would take. “There’s been a ton of attention on the resource-based economy. We need to ensure the innovation economy is on the table.”
Mr. Toope said the report was necessary to keep a strong conversation going about the importance of a rapid-transit line.
“If we do a better job in connectivity [in Vancouver], we’re going to be able to drive the economic and social health of the province.”
The KPMG report compiled economic and transportation data from previous city and TransLink reports and included new information about how the Vancouver-UBC hub compares to Tech City in London, San Diego’s CONNECT tech-incubator district, Cornell University’s NYCTech campus in New York, and the MaRS technology incubator district in Toronto.
The report noted that Vancouver has many of the conditions to make its technology sector competitive. It has a university with global standing, well-trained graduates, and an attractive lifestyle.
But the report said the city is weak in four key areas: transit infrastructure, access to affordable office and lab space, affordable housing, and collaboration among the groups that should be working together to develop a strong tech sector.
The city’s efforts to lobby for a Broadway corridor have stepped up in the past six months, as TransLink comes close to completing studies on transit needs in Vancouver and Surrey.
Surrey mayor Dianne Watts wants light-rail lines built between key hubs in her city, connecting to the SkyTrain line.
But whatever the TransLink reports say, the biggest problem is how to pay. The $1-billion TransLink system has maxed out its current sources – primarily property taxes, fares, gas taxes and a parking tax.
Regional mayors and the province are at a stand-off.
The province, after allowing a gas-tax increase two years ago to help finance the Millennium Line extension, has insisted the solution is for TransLink to be more efficient or cities to raise more through property taxes.
The mayors say they need new revenue sources, which only the province can authorize. Premier Christy Clark has said no to a vehicle levy and been non-committal about a regional carbon tax, a sales tax, or any other mechanism suggested.
Mr. Robertson said it is important to bring up the issue now.
“There’s a provincial election ahead and big decisions ahead.”