Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is seizing on the soaring use of transit during the Olympics to lay down a marker for securing more funding once the Games are over.
Among the projects deserving of support, Mr. Robertson said, is the Canada streetcar line between the Olympic Village station and Granville Island. He said yesterday he wants the provincial government and TransLink, the regional transit agency, to support and sustain the current line and its expansion.
"It's critical that we keep the transit issue on the table. When we have had such a big success, we need to place that marker and say, 'With a provincial budget coming, with TransLink looking at its medium term, we're got to consider significant investments in the transit system,'" Mr. Robertson said in an interview.
"This is the best validation possible for making more investments."
His comments added shading to a statement issued earlier yesterday. In that release, the mayor touted the Olympic transportation plan to move tens of thousands during the Games as "a clear winner for Vancouver," and said it has created "long-term sustainable transportation legacies."
On the Canada Line, for example, the peak increase in usage is three times higher than pre-Games levels, and the two-station Olympic Line streetcar system is busier than networks in Portland and Seattle.
"Vancouver residents and businesses want to be greener and lead more sustainable lives. We've shown that if you build it, they will come," the mayor said.
Two days after the Games end, the B.C. government is set to bring in a tough provincial budget as it struggles to deal with a $2.8-billion deficit - a reversal from a Liberal commitment during last spring's provincial election to a deficit of no more than $495-million.
Olympic organizers contributed $17-million to provide enhanced transit service, but those funds will be gone with the Games. That will leave the regional transit provider, TransLink, to figure out how to proceed after failing in a bid to win provincial support for system and service expansion funded by fees on carbon emission or road use.
Mr. Robertson acknowledged challenges on the money front.
"TransLink funding is a huge concern going forward. The provincial government, which controls TransLink, needs to step up and deliver on funding that enables them to grow transit across the region," Mr. Robertson said.
"The increased service gets rolled back due to funding shortages, but that doesn't prevent people from using transit. There's no question the existing system can carry more passengers, and hopefully the positive experiences of many people riding transit for the first time during the Games is continued."
On the streetcar system, he said the city needs the province and TransLink to build a network in Vancouver. "As it exists, it's not viable for the city to run. It needs to be part of the larger transit system and funded by TransLink and ultimately the province." he said.
TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie forecast a compelling debate once the Olympic flame is dimmed. "The experience we have had sets up a really interesting and productive discussion that's going to take place after the Games are over," he said. There's no way to sustain Olympic levels of service but lessons from the experience will be "really useful" in transit planning.
Gordon Price, a former city councillor now director of the city program at Simon Fraser University, said among the key issues are whether it is possible to galvanize support for a new TransLink funding model, and how to pay for an ongoing streetcar system.
Suzanne Anton, of the minority Non-Partisan Association on council, estimated an ongoing streetcar system would require $90-million in capital costs. "It would take real determination by the mayor to make that happen," she said. "It is a slam-dunk except that it takes money."
Transport Minister Shirley Bond issued a statement last night, but did not respond to call for more funding.
"As a user of public transit before and during the Games, I can speak firsthand to how effectively the transportation plan worked," she said.
"The success of the transportation plan also demonstrates how all of our provincial funding is paying dividends. The province has committed more than $700-million to transit in Metro Vancouver since announcing our Provincial Transportation Plan two years ago. ... These investments will continue to benefit transit users for decades, just like the original Expo line continues to serve as a legacy of Expo 86."