More trains on the Canada Line during peak times. A SeaBus every 15 minutes on weekends and holidays instead of the current half hour. Top-speed service on SkyTrain lines beyond the normal rush-hour times.
Those are the main improvements that TransLink is kicking off this week. They are the first additions to existing routes the agency responsible for all Lower Mainland transit has provided since 2009 and the result of a first phase of big spending on transit by the federal Liberals.
But even as mayors, advocates and TransLink managers spoke enthusiastically about the beginning of a new era for Lower Mainland transit, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson also warned that announcements on the more important, and bigger, chunk of federal money are dangerously delayed.
"Time is rolling along without a formal commitment to the major projects," said the mayor in a separate interview after the TransLink announcement Tuesday about new services. "We're feeling the time pressure."
Vancouver is the first city to benefit from the promise the Liberals made when campaigning in 2015 to fund transit.
In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed $370-million for transit in the Lower Mainland, while the province provided $264-million and mayors promised to come up with $125-million in new revenue. The mayors made good on that promise by voting in December to raise property taxes and fares to generate the money. The previous year, Lower Mainland residents had rejected a sales-tax increase to fund transit.
But now, Mr. Robertson said, the federal government's interest in fast-tracking negotiations has waned, jeopardizing the timelines for the region's three major projects: the Broadway extension to the Millennium Line, from Clark Drive to Arbutus Street; the light-rail routes in Surrey; and the new Pattullo Bridge.
There has been no word from the federal government in recent weeks on how much money it is willing to contribute toward that second, larger phase. And the province won't make any commitment until Ottawa provides details on how much it is willing to spend.
As a result, if the Trudeau government delays announcing any details about transit until late February, when the budget comes out, that may not leave enough time for the provincial Liberals to decide on their contribution before the campaign for the May election starts in British Columbia.
That could mean so many months of delay that all the major projects in the region are set back by a year or more.
"There's not many weeks to work with now. The fear is that we will miss this budget-cycle window," said Mr. Robertson, who is going to Ottawa on Friday, in part to put pressure on federal politicians to make the funding decisions as early as possible. "That holds these projects up for a year."
In an odd exchange at the TransLink news conference to announce the improved service, Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson said the federal government can't make any decisions about transit funding yet because "we're waiting for the mayors to come up with a detailed plan."
But both Mr. Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner responded, almost in unison: "That work is done." Mr. Robertson added: "I'm not sure what the minister's alluding to."
Lower Mainland mayors agreed two years ago to a detailed, 10-year plan for transit improvements, which needs between $2-billion and $3-billion from the federal government in total to work. (The variation is driven by the cost of buying land in this expensive region for new transit stations.)
TransLink staff have been refining, costing out and filling in the details for that plan ever since.
In the meantime, many were rejoicing over the smaller improvements that are being introduced this week.
The new services will add 185,000 passenger seats per week to the system. The Canada Line will have two sets of two-car trains, currently used as spares, added to its service.
The Expo and Millennium lines have no spare cars, so the most TransLink can do on those lines is to run its existing stock at the maximum for longer times around rush hour.
TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said bus service will improve, even though new buses can't be ordered until the Phase 2 funding is decided on, because some of the system's older buses will be kept in service.