For a party that’s fighting for the hearts and minds of urban voters in British Columbia, one would think the provincial NDP would be trading off of its strong legacy of endorsing — and expanding — SkyTrain across the Lower Mainland.
After all, it was former NDP premier Glen Clark who brought Vancouver the Millennium Line, which has enjoyed steady increases in ridership since its completion in 2002.
Another former New Democrat premier, Mike Harcourt, is one of the most vocal advocates of building light-metro for our growing region. In his 2007 book, City Making in Paradise, Harcourt cites SkyTrain as one of the legacies from Expo 86 that saved Vancouver’s livability.
Even current party leader Carole James has called for more SkyTrain cars to help undo the current transit crunch.
So I was surprised earlier this month to hear NDP candidate Mel Lehan — running in the riding of Vancouver-Point Grey in the upcoming provincial election — sounding the alarm over the plan to extend SkyTrain west to UBC.
He recently organized a town hall meeting in Kitsilano to raise concerns in the community. And his effort has paid off.
Since then, a coalition of activists has been trashing the light-metro system, citing everything from cost to construction to crime.
They instead advocate for alternatives such as a European-style tram. How quaint.
But while there is a place for slower, surface-level light rail in our city, it shouldn’t be along one of the most heavily trafficked urban corridors in Western Canada.
It makes one wonder: Do any of these critics actually use public transit? Have they witnessed the brutal lineups for the 99 B-Line service at Broadway Station — or the crush of riders on the buses themselves?
One anti-SkyTrain theory goes so far as to blame it for encouraging commuters to live further distances from where they work — as opposed to just around the block.
How laughable. This implies that the average worker could afford the sky-high price tag for a condo in Kits or a bungalow in Point Grey.
Ironically, the folks who stand to lose the most from a derailed SkyTrain expansion are students, seniors and working stiffs. The same people who, presumably, are being courted by the provincial NDP.
SkyTrain is expensive, yes. But given its speed, durability and role in encouraging urban density, it is the economically and environmentally responsible choice for Metro Vancouver.