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Victoria’s transit plan offers positive prospects, but funding and privatization uncertainty could cause delays transit unions say

Yesterday’s announcement by the Campbell government of major investments in public transit offers some positive prospects for urgently needed improvements and expansion of transit services, say unions representing B.C. transit workers.

But they say that questions about how the massive blueprint for more buses, expanded rapid transit and new rapid bus lines will be funded along with the threat of expanded transit privatization could cause uncertainty and delay the 12-year plan even longer.

“Front-line transit workers, the public and the NDP opposition have been clamouring for a substantial expansion of transit services for some time,” says B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair. “So it’s positive that these are reflected in Victoria’s plan.”

While Premier Campbell’s plan may look good on paper, Sinclair says the Liberals have only committed a fraction of the money needed to make it a reality.

“The fact that the funding is not fully committed, especially by Ottawa, could cause significant delays,” Sinclair warns. “We only have to look at the years of wrangling and broken promises around the Evergreen line as concrete proof of what happens when various levels of government can’t reach an agreement on funding.

“We would have liked Victoria to pay a larger share of the costs,” says Sinclair.

Andy Ross, president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 378, says Victoria faces some significant challenges to implement key elements of the plan quickly to solve a transportation crisis in the Lower Mainland. He says the Metro Vancouver region faces an immediate shortage of 400-500 buses, while SkyTrain runs above peak capacity levels during rush hours.

“Unfortunately in the short term, this plan may not be able to offer anything to the workers, students, and commuters who are left standing on Broadway or the Fraser Highway as bus after bus passes them by,” says Ross.

At yesterday’s announcement Premier Campbell dodged questions about privatization, and that worries Barry O’Neill, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in B.C.

O’Neill warns that the Campbell government plans to relinquish control over key elements of the transit plan through so-called public private partnerships (P3s), like the Canada Line project that has been a disaster for businesses and neighbourhoods along the Cambie St. Corridor.

“The surrender of public control and forfeit of government oversight via public private partnerships is directly responsible for the Cambie Street calamity, and yet Victoria seems prepared to let P3s tear apart Broadway, Port Moody, and Guildford with equal disregard for the impacts on those communities,” says O’Neill.

The above is a joint press release issued from the BC Federation of Labour, Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 378.

For more information contact:

Jessie Uppal, BC Federation of Labour, 604-430-1421
Diane Kalen, Canadian Union of Public Employees, 778-229-0258
Mike Bruce, Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 378, 604-812-9049