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Fly on the wall gets an earful about B.C. transit

This week Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and UBC president Stephen Toope made the business case for expanding rapid transit through the Broadway Corridor to UBC. What follows is the conversation that may have taken place some time after the news conference.

Gregor Robertson: Hey Stephen! How's it goin'? I thought that went well. You?

Stephen Toope: Yeah, yeah. Good. I thought so too. Nice work. You looked great. We made a pretty good business case, I think. And I liked the way you pulled out that $2.8-billion number. Where did you get that?

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Robertson: Oh that. Yeah. The number comes from the Provincial Transit Plan in 2008. Meggs dug it out for me. I don't know if you remember. Kevin Falcon said the province was going to spend $14-billion on transit by 2020? As if, eh? $2.8-billion is what they said a Rapid Transit Line to UBC was gonna cost. I love that Meggs remembers all of that stuff. So have you heard anything back from the province yet?

Toope: Not a peep. You?

Robertson: Nada.

Toope: You think they would have jumped at the numbers. I mean, 150,000 more people living or working in the Broadway Corridor in the next 30 years. That's a lot of jobs. These guys are supposed to be all about the jobs, aren't they? I guess, though, to be fair, they've had a pretty brutal week.

Robertson: I'll say. Do you think it's anything to do with the kinds of jobs?

Toope: I thought about that. You mean like tech, and life-sciences, and stuff? I know, you're right. It's not exactly the sort of thing they're pushing these days. I don't know, maybe they put that stuff in the same category as the movie business. I'll tell you, if there was any chance of finding shale gas while digging a subway tunnel you know they'd be all over this.

Robertson: (Long pause) Could there be?

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Toope: Be what?

Robertson: Shale gas down there – under Broadway? I mean, I'm no geologist or anything but the stuff is everywhere. Isn't it just a matter of pumping enough water and sand and chemicals deep enough into the ground and boom, Bob's your uncle – the gas comes out?

Toope: Uh, I think it might be a little more complicated than that.

Robertson: No, stay with me here, Steve. What if we made this the LNG-LRT? We're talking about a 12-kilometre-long tunnel here. We sink a well every few hundred metres, use the tunnel to transport the gas…

Toope: …and what? Perhaps build a liquefaction plant out on Wreck Beach?

Robertson: Exactly!

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Toope: Can we actually do this? I mean, what about the environment? You know, tap water lighting on fire, that kind of thing. Not to mention earthquakes and the Wreck Beach Preservation Society. We'd have to dredge.

Robertson: Of course we're not going to actually do it! We just say we're going to do it to get the province to buy in. We pitch it as the first of its kind in the world. A combined LRT/LNG facility, "The Energy To Move People" or the "FRAC-Line" or something like that.

Toope: I like where you're headed with this.

Robertson: We'll say "Clean Energy," though. Sounds better. Is there a way we can actually power the trains with this stuff? Maybe make up some kind of neighbourhood utility?

Toope: I'll get my people to look at that. Here's the best part, though – $2.8-billion is chump change to Sinopec or Shell or Gazprom. They'll easily finance half of it if we call it exploration.

Robertson: I'm excited. I'm feeling this. Wow.

Toope: Me too.

Robertson: I say we start with the graphics. Draw up a glossy brochure. I'll get staff to drop what they're doing and work on this.

Toope: I'll get my guys to work up some spreadsheets. This isn't going to look desperate or crazy, is it?

Robertson: Are you kidding?

Toope: Okay. Talk soon, Gregor.

Robertson: Namaste, Steve.

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