West reports in on living car free

Post by Brad West in

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Brad West is a councillor in the city of Port Coquitlam, BC and he recently participated in CityCaucus.com's first car free challenge

As I sat down to write about my car free week observations, I couldn’t help but think that, in many ways, I could title this report: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

When our public transit system works, it can work very well. Direct routes and quick transfers make for an efficient way to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately, when our transit system doesn’t work, it can get ugly. And the further you are from Vancouver, the uglier it gets.

For the most part, once I was able to reach a Skytrain station, it was relatively smooth sailing. Therein lies the rub. For transit users in places like Port Coquitlam and the Tri-Cities, getting to a Skytrain station is a challenge. Let me explain:

One day during the week, my fiancée and I ventured to Metrotown by transit. I’ll admit that she has considerable more transit experience then me, but as part of our experiment, we followed the exact route prescribed by Tranlink’s online trip planner. We marked our watches and started from Dominion Ave in north Port Coquitlam. Our trip included 3 bus transfers and a Skytrain ride, with a fair amount of walking to reach a bus stop to begin with. In the end, we clocked in at just less than 1 hr and 45 mins. So we didn’t exactly set a new world record and were considerably longer then a car trip would have taken.

The extra-long trip to Metrotown allowed for lots of interaction with transit users from the Tri-Cities and the message from them was loud and clear: we are sick of getting the short end of the stick. Our region needs transit that is reliable, quick, efficient and direct.

Since the car free week has ended, much has been reported about the tenuous position of the Evergreen line. It would appear that its future is very much in limbo. For the Tri-Cities, it is unwelcome news. The Provincial Government and Translink have repeatedly stated their intention to see the project built (particularly during the election) and our community has taken their commitment in good faith, working hard to plan for construction and build ridership. The collapse of the Evergreen line would extinguish any remaining creditability they have in the Tri-Cities. Our residents have been waiting too long, paying too much and receiving too little in return. Port Coquitlam taxpayers have contributed to every transportation project in Metro Vancouver and continue to see more and more of their dollars go to Translink. It’s time to deliver results.

A few other observations based on discussions with Tri-City transit users (which was my favourite part of the car-free challenge):

  • Safety, or perceived lack of safety, particularly on the Skytrain. I repeatedly heard safety concerns from transit users and non-transit users. Many non-users, particularly those with you children, expressed that they avoided Skytrain because they didn’t feel secure. This doesn’t always seem to be a top-of-mind issue when discussing transit, but based on my conversations with folks, it represents a real barrier to more participation in the transit system. I heard from transit users that too often Skytrain stations are seen as a hub for drug dealers and that not enough is done to address these issues. Many said that they won’t use transit after dark.
  • Some of my most enjoyable trips around Port Coquitlam were on my bike. Obviously it may not be an option for far trips or grocery trips, but for quick trips around town, it’s hard to beat. During rush hour, it was the quickest way to get from one side of Port Coquitlam to the other, not to mention the personal health benefits. That’s why it makes no sense to see the Provincial Government pursue a 12% harmonized sales taxes on bicycles (and a lot of other things too). We need to encourage their use, not discourage it.

I appreciate the opportunity to have participated in the car free challenge. I found it to be a fantastic learning experience and I’m looking forward to contributing to the discussions about transportation issues that lie ahead.

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