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The Globe and Mail

Park-and-ride overhaul adds to commuter headaches

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts in her office in Surrey, B.C., November 4, 2010.


TransLink is quietly preparing to roll out major changes to the park-and-ride system aimed at pushing drivers on to connecting buses, just as suburban frustration boils over with the transit authority's aggressive policing of lots.

Jason Martin, TransLink communications manager, said the system, with 19 lots and thousands of parking stalls near rapid-transit stations and bus lines, is being studied for ways to make it work more efficiently.

"We're trying to develop an equitable strategy across the whole network," Mr. Martin said, adding that prices could rise to dampen demand. That will mean starting to charge fees at some lots that are currently free, reducing spaces in some places where there are good transit options and possibly increasing spaces in others.

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That plan – which several mayors said they were not aware was in the works – is sure to set off a storm of debate in suburban municipalities, where commuters and politicians are already concerned about TransLink's park-and-ride policies. Mr. Martin noted that TransLink will consult with municipalities before proceeding.

An announcement Friday that TransLink would start towing cars from the crowded South Surrey park-and-ride lot prompted many angry responses over the weekend from transit users, who complained they are being penalized for wanting to use transit.

They got a sympathetic ear from Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts. "TransLink wants to increase ridership but there's no capacity for these people to park and get on the bus or SkyTrain," Ms. Watts said after a flood of e-mails and tweets the past few days.

While she agrees it's a problem if drivers are blocking in others or clogging emergency access routes when they park, she said that Surrey park-and-ride lot has been overflowing for five years and TransLink has done little to improve its capacity.

The agency did repaint lines on the existing lot recently to increase the number of spaces from 425 to 481.

Surrey is not the only suburban municipality struggling over the park-and-ride dilemma.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said his community is in negotiations with TransLink over the number of stalls that will be provided at three new park-and-rides on the about-to-be-built Evergreen Line, which will extend the current Millennium Line from Lougheed Centre through Port Moody and on to Douglas College in north Coquitlam "Part of our problem is the philosophy at TransLink that people should use the bus to get to SkyTrain," he said. "We make the point, repeatedly, that right now a great many people need to drive to transit because the bus service isn't good enough."

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Mr. Stewart said that some bus routes run only every 30 minutes and suburbs like his are seeing more cuts all the time as Translink, in a drive to save money because of financial pressures it has experienced in recent years, keeps moving buses to the busier, revenue-generating routes in the central city.

"I would prefer people to use regular bus service but, if we're going to plan SkyTrain, we have to make it work for the communities the way they are now," the mayor said.

Mr. Martin said TransLink planners have been doing an intensive study of the park-and-ride system over the past year to figure out where its users live and what other travel options they have.

The major revamp, due to be announced some time in the next few months, will likely allocate more park-and-ride stalls in places with poor transit, and reduce or charge higher fees for places where commuters could easily take transit to get to a SkyTrain station but are choosing not to.

"There's a time and place when park-and-ride makes sense and others where it doesn't," Mr. Martin said.

It costs TransLink about $3,000 to create a stall and another $200 a year to maintain it.

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"Right now," he said, "we're subsidizing many drivers."

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