SURREY – Upcoming municipal elections will determine Surrey’s direction during next three years, or in next election period, through decisions which will be made by re-elected or elected Councillors and Mayor of City of Surrey and that’s a perfect reason for public to examine several important issue and question candidates on it. Citizens Transportation Initiative (CiTI) invited all candidates for Surrey City Council to sit down and discuss issues regarding transportation in the City, relations with public transportation company Translink, biking and governance of Translink. Six candidates, including three incumbent councillors, got a chance to sit down and discuss all issues in beautiful Newton Library in front of 30 or so attendees. Surrey First (SF) Coalition was represented by incumbent councillors Linda Hepner and Marvin Hunt, their biggest opponents Surrey Civic Coalition (SCC) by incumbent councillor Bob Bose and challenger Stephanie Ryan, and at the end independent challengers were represented by Judy Higgenbotham and Bernadette Keenan as a Green Party Candidate.

On this debate CiTI asked candidates to answer on following questions:

1. What are the top 3 initiatives you will push for to alleviate congestion on 88th Avenue?

2. Are you for or against a container levy and why?

3. If elected what would you do to promote cycling as a viable mode of transportation in Surrey?

4. Do you think the current Translink governance structure is flawled;

if so what changes would you push for and how?

Candidates at Newton Library debate on Transportation in Surrey (Photo: E. Milavic)

Congestion on 88th Avenue

Everyone who lives in Surrey knows that congestion on 88th Avenue is one of the most congested and probably one of the most dangerous streets in Metro Vancouver area, it wouldn’t be wrong if this description goes even further as the most congested and dangerous in Lower Mainland and BC. Resolution for this problem is not easy and it’s not new political problem which will be resolved over next few days, or months it will probably take a few years until 88th Avenue problem will be put away, anyways it is positive move when elected officials or challengers are ready to discuss it. Former Mayor and current Council member, Bob Bose (SCC), as the first speaker at this issue pointed out that 88th Ave congestion is currently one of the hardest, most dangerous and the most difficult problems in Surrey, adding also explanation how this problem is currently on hold while it waits on several other developments to bring new light on it and prove new direction.

His colleague and one of the Surrey’s representative on Metro bodies, Marvin Hunt (SF), in his opening statements clearly pointed out area between 72nd and 96th Ave as a space which needs to be resolved in soon future, which of course includes resolution of 88th Avenue problems. Hunts stand is that Surrey need more discussion on this problem, which could be resolved by additional paths and corridors which are mainly blocked by environmental issues or requests from interested public groups. On the other side his coalition and Council colleague, Linda Hepner, expressed her wish to see more buses, light rail and traffic cameras on the streets as a part of anti-congestion fight. In her opinion, which it seems is shared by other debaters, Surrey should more think about needs of local citizens and their commute interests rather than thinking about needs of travelers whom are just passing through Surrey on the road to other local or Canadian destinations.

Youngest candidates which participate on Saturday’s debate, SCC’s candidate Stephanie Ryan, who’s also everyday public transit user said in this case she wants more buses on the roads. “It takes me 4 times more time to reach a City Hall from King George Boulevard, where I live, by bus than it would take me to that by the car”, said Ryan, adding comment on previous Hunt statement [Hunt said: I never ever drove behind an bus on 88th ave], “you don’t find yourself in situation to drive behind a bus because there’s no buses on 88th Ave”.

Closing discussion on a question of 88th Avenue, Cllr. Bose, said final resolution shouldn’t be find anywhere nearby option of increasing a number of lines on 88th Ave. “I clearly want to say this: I don’t want to see freeway on East-West corridor”, said Bose.

Container levy as possible help to fund Translink:

When it comes to possible levy on containers transported through Surrey to facilities and businesses all over the province or Canada candidates have split opinions and ways how to implement that idea in reality. Some of the candidates are totally pro-levy with hopes that this way of getting additional funds will be implemented very soon, with others very cautious before they got in hands very detailed and comprehensive analysis of proposed action plan.

Two Surrey First candidates stayed neutral on this issue both acknowledging lack of actual information on levy models and propositions, staying opened for discussion and probable implementation upon reviewing comprehensive analysis on all elements and possible issues created through introduction of this tax. Cllr. Hunt, as very experienced politician when it comes to issues of transportation, warned everyone that levy couldn’t be introduced on containers which are distributed to final destination via rail or provincial roads.

Linda Hepner, Marvin Hunt, Stephanie Ryan (Photo: E. Milavic)

On the other side Bernadette Keenan sees levy as possibility to keep local jobs here and force local companies to use more products and produces bought from local suppliers replacing costly import from other parts of the world. In her opinion government actions like this will force for example companies like WalMart to finally start renting or leasing warehouse space in BC instead of bringing loads of new containers every day and distribute them to the stores.

Both SCC candidates are pro-levy wishing to see more taxation which would help Translink to do more and be able to provide better services to all users in Surrey. When it comes to current funding situation Ryan said: “We need to be honest and say is current Translink system more equitable or laughable?”

Overall agreement is that current funding system needs reforms and needs to be updated in effort to fulfill all needs and inquiries put in front of Translink by communities and commuters.

Bike lanes, biking and routes:

In area big as Surrey is, complete territory is combined territory of cities of Vancouver-Richmong-Langley, it is really hard to organize bike lanes or their place on the roads in proper way. After today’s debate future of bike lanes in Surrey looks promising, all candidates express willingness to work and contribute to resolution of this issue as soon as possible.

When it comes to ideas how to do that on one side is Cllr. Hepner who calls to introduction ideas developed by the City of Richmond, while Cllr. Bose praised Vancouver’s innovative approach to bike lanes and rights of bicyclists calling on Surrey to look into them and start implementing them. According to majority of present debaters over the years Surrey developed two different sorts of bikers: recreational and serious commuters, issuing call to bodies responsible for bike lanes to look in this issue based on needs of bikers so everyone would be satisfied.

During this part of the debate candidates offer different out of Canada models as the best possible options for Surrey, Keenan wants local government to look into several US cities pointing at San Francisco as one of the best, on the other side Cllr. Hepner is in favor of international standards and regulations for bike lanes and trails to be introduced to Surrey streets. In line with their wishes for more people on the bikes in Surrey Ryan express her wish to see more youngsters on the roads, safe and sound, on the fight against obesity, diabetes and other diseases through healthier way of life and spending more time outside.

Translink governance:

Fourth part of the debate was once more concentrated directly on public transportation company and governance system which currently runs this really important part of the transportation system in Surrey and the province. Everyone not only candidates on this debate is convinced in clear and totally unbiased fact that current governing system for Translink in which provincial government has a right to overrule or totally ignore board decision is wrong and doesn’t work on behalf of commuters and communities which are using Translink services. Second the most important problem in Translink functioning is a wishes of everyone to have a better service but they’re are not ready to pay for them, according to Cllr. Hunt if you combine that with interferences from the provincial governments as it was in times of Dosanjh and Campbell disastrous situation is only reasonable option to be expected.

Judy Higgenbotham, former Cllr., said on Saturday that the biggest problem for Translink functioning is in lack of communication between Metro Vancouver and Translink board, but if we go back to Hunt’s explanation how whole system works, better communication is needed between Clark’s team in Victoria and local officials who posses the best knowledge on needs and problems.

Four candidates coming from the strongest coalitions today agreed in dedication to force provincial government to come to the table and talk to them regarding all problems from financing to increase of services or infrastructure development. Tax money distribution on equal portions for all regions represented on Translink board and covered by services was also on of the presented ideas on Newton debate, remaining question is what reaction on this will come from other municipalities and their leaders following November elections.

NEXT TWO DEBATES:

– November 8th, 2011 – Compass Inn Hotel, Surrey (7 – 9 PM), all Mayoral and Council Candidates. This debate is organized by Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association

– November 9th, 2011 – Kwantlen Polytechnic University (5-7 PM), Mayoral and Council Candidates, organized by Kwantlen Political Science Society

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