tangled politics of the Richmond-Airport- Vancouver rapid transit line
Public debate is beginning to rage across the
lower mainland over the
intense politics around the controversial proposed $1.5 billion
Richmond-Airport-Vancouver Skytrain line, the cost of having it run by
Corporation and the
BC Liberal government’s efforts to push the
project through without the standard public review process, according
Months of increasing debate among public
officials exploded into the
public realm after a marathon four-hour directors’ meeting of the Greater
Vancouver Regional District on May 28, which voted by a narrow margin
at least $1.5 billion for the new line.
Many were fuming over the bitter tangle of
motions and counter motions.
Others were trying to unravel exactly what happened. Since then, the
has threatened to split Vancouver’s left-leaning COPE council, and has
labour, environmental, consumer and community groups against a
government intent on pushing what many fear is the privatization of the
Former Greater Vancouver Transit boss Ken Dobbell, now Deputy Minister
Premier Gordon Campbell, and former Vancouver city manager and
Campbell confidant, spearheads the project. His January 2001 report
an underground Skytrain from the Airport to downtown Vancouver, ready
2010 Olympics, and run as a “P3”--public-private-partnership--where a
corporation designs, builds and operates RAV for a profit.
RAV project director Jane Bird included Dobbell’s P3 angle in her
report to Vancouver City Council. She proposed a RAV line under Cambie
surfacing at 49th Ave. and running to the airport and Richmond. Local
Main, Cambie, Oak and Granville St. buses would be cutback as new
divert passengers to five new stations on Cambie.
Bird said the RAV would carry 5200 passengers an hour from downtown to
airport in 25 minutes, with ridership peaking at 100,000 a day by 2010.
According to independent transit analyst Phil LeGood, only Skytrain
can meet those expectations.
The cost of RAV would be funded by $300 million each from the
government, the Airport Authority and Translink, and $450 million from
The rest would come from a 35-year contract with a P3 partner.
During three nights of heated public debate at Vancouver City Hall in
RAV critics noted that only 38,000 daily commuters now take transit
three Fraser River crossings the Arthur Laing, Oak and Knight St
well as on the Granville, Oak, Cambie and Main St. bus corridors.
Councillor David Cadman noted that If RAV doesn’t hit the
mark, Translink will have to subsidize the P3 operator out of tax
“Our concern in the RAV project is that the
projections show there will
be just a marginal impact on greenhouse gas emissions,” said SPEC
Whistler. “Another concern we have on the financing is that there’s
going to be
some reduction to local bus service to pay for this. Bus service is the
backbone of public transit.”
Jim Houlihan, of the Canadian Autoworkers Union Local 111, the drivers
maintenance workers on the transit system, told Council “RAV will make
ferries look like a good investment.” Even Vancouver chief engineer
Rudberg admitted he was worried about the P3 and urged Council to
carefully.” Big business, developers and the Olympic lobby supported
in the end, it didn’t matter what decision Vancouver’s elected
While public debate raged in Vancouver on the night of May 14,
Pat Jacobsen was conferring with Dobbell. They were finalizing details
64, an amendment to the Greater Vancouver Transportation Act that would
through Translink and the GVRD. Bill 64 revoked section of the act that
requiring public consultation. Bill 64 also cut the time in which the
approve RAV from 120 to 3 days. If the GVRD takes longer than three
decide, then Victoria would consider that a yes vote.
Surrey Mayor and current GVRD Chair Doug
McCallum supports the project
in its entirety. But Vancouver Council and the GVRD Board would be a
Knowing he needed at least token public input, McCallum hastily
public meeting on RAV with one-day notice for Tuesday, May 20,
Victoria Day holiday weekend. Translink directors then approved the RAV
May 23 meeting, with Vancouver directors Cadman and Fred Bass, New
Mayor Wayne Wright and Port Coquitlam Mayor Scott Young voting no.
Burnaby mayor and GVRD director Derek Corrigan had just passed a motion
council for a review of the P3. Corrigan and other mayors in Coquitlam,
Coquitlam and Port Moody were angry that the existing transportation
calling for rapid transit in their region was being dumped for a
All of Vancouver’s GVRD directors, except Mayor Larry Campbell, sided
Corrigan and New Westminster’s Wright in voting against RAV and the P3.
Richmond, Delta and Langley solidly backed RAV. In the end RAV was
Within days of the GVRD vote, Bird announced that the giant Bombardier
Corporation, which developed the Skytrain technology, topped a list of
multi-national giants bidding on a P3 RAV.
Meanwhile, Bill 64 is being challenged in BC Supreme Court by the
Union of Public Employees, who service and operate the Skytrain system.
President Barry O’Neill, a veteran of the 2001 battle to stop GVRD’s
million P3 water filtration plant, launched the challenge, arguing that
Translink failed to consult with the public as required by the GVTA
If a BC Supreme Court judge agrees with CUPE, then both Translink and
GVRD’s votes could be thrown out, and RAV would be back at square one.
according to O’Neill, a successful CUPE challenge would not necessarily
Victoria from ramming the project through without public input.
As one long-time legal expert described the Victoria and the RAV
machinations, “it may be neither fair, just nor democratic, but it is