Fighting climate change on the scale Premier Gordon Campbell envisions will require at least a doubling of TransLink’s current transit service over the next 13 years – at a cost in the tens of billions of dollars.
That’s the projection from TransLink officials, who say it will take a massive shift of motorists out of their cars and onto public transit to cut greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in line with a new provincial target.
Victoria has committed to decrease emissions by 33% from current levels by 2020.
Even with a trend toward more fuel-efficient cars, hitting the target will require increasing the 11.5% of trips in the region now made by transit to between 25 and 30% in 2020, says TransLink strategic planning and policy director Clive Rock.
He said that would be a “phenomenal” increase to a level rivalling the transit usage rates of European cities like Amsterdam.
It would mean increasing ridership from a present 173 million transit trips per year to about 400 million.
“It’s a very, very significant challenge,” Rock told TransLink directors at their board meeting Monday.
He said it will require “providing real choices” across the region.
It would have to happen along with other measures, including road pricing or regional tolling.
And he said much more effort will also be needed to densify the region’s housing and concentrate its jobs in areas more easily served by transit.
Right now an estimated 5.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases are released each year due to passenger transportation in Greater Vancouver. That’s already enough to fill B.C. Place stadium every eight hours.
But at current growth rates, Rock says local vehicle emissions will climb to 6.5 million tonnes by 2020 instead of falling to a target of less than four million tonnes per year.
Rock said talks with environment ministry officials lead to the “inescapable conclusion” that emissions cuts on the scale planned must include aggressive action to get lone motorists out of their cars and reduce the gas they burn.
TransLink chair Malcolm Brodie confirmed the costs of providing for a doubling of transit service would have to run into the tens of billions of dollars, far beyond the current rate of transit expansion.
“It will be very, very expensive,” he said.
Several TransLink directors said climate change will have to be the top priority moving forward.
“Everything we do needs to be focused around it,” said Vancouver Coun. Suzanne Anton.
But she noted it’s hard to ask more motorists to take transit to fight global warming when TransLink is already struggling to provide adequate service on congested bus and SkyTrain lines.
“We have the riders,” she said. “We need the vehicles.”
The report was tabled on the eve of an expected unveiling of the province’s plans to remake TransLink.
Asked what message TransLink is trying to send, Brodie said: “It highlights the fact that we need funding of a permanent nature in order to carry out the expansion.”
Major bus fleet expansion, the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam, a Broadway rapid transit extension and replacement of the Pattullo Bridge are just a small part of what is needed, he said.
The growing risk of flooding due to rising sea levels is one of the local justifications TransLink cites for working to counter climate change.
OUT THE TAIL PIPE
Greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles in Greater Vancouver are now estimated at 5.5 million tonnes per year. That accounts for about 35% of all emissions generated in the region. It’s the equivalent of:
• Filling B.C. Place stadium three to four times a day, or 1,100 times a year.
• Filling one million two-litre pop bottles – enough to line up end to end from Vancouver to Olympia, Washington.
• Creating a layer of carbon dioxide four metres deep across the entire region every year.
• On an individual basis, it’s about four tonnes of carbon dioxide per year per car. In other words, based on local fuel consumption, the typical vehicle generates more than its weight in carbon dioxide each year.