Last Thursday, a group of students from the Beedie School of Business organized a public talk on the issues of public transit and sustainability in this province. The event was held from 4:30–6:30pm in the Mezzanine level at SFU Surrey.
As part of “Business 486 Leadership,” taught by Professor Dianne Cyr, groups of students picked a not-for-profit organization and implemented their leadership skills. Students Ben Jan, Joyce Mai, Jerry You, Robin Dong, and Jason Yang decided to work with Sustainable SFU to support the GetOnBoard campaign.
The event featured Gordon Price, director of the city Program at SFU (and former city councillor of Vancouver and Translink), as well as Surrey city councilor and transportation chair Tom Gill.
Price led most of the talk, and encouraged the audience’s participation. He discussed how the U-Pass system came
into being in Metro Vancouver, and the way it has transformed how young people think of transit and sustainability. “It was a shock to find out how many students were prepared to take transit,” Price said, citing other factors such as the high cost of parking at SFU and UBC.
Price pulled a transit stub from his pocket. He held it up, and said it cost him $5.10 for a three-zone trip to Surrey. He then asked a student from the audience how much a car trip costs him. After some calculations, the student figured that an average roundtrip to school with gas and a toll fee costs $15. Price followed by asking what a trip on transit costs the student, to which he replied, “it was free.” His next question was what the marginal cost of the U-Pass is, which to students appears free.
“What the U-Pass does for transit is what this society does for the car,” Price said. He said most people do not work out the cost of a car trip, instead trips “appear free.”
“We associate transportation with freedom,” Price explained.
Price asked the audience what we want as a society, the illusion of a free car, or the illusion of free public transit. The audience commented that they would want transit over roads if it could be delivered with more frequency. “When you are asking for frequency you are asking for government to take on an expensive proposition,” Price countered.
According to Price the province can either invest in the new Massey Tunnel, or transit expansion in Surrey. The audience commented that the tunnel would most likely come first. The reason according to Price, is that cabinet members are in a “transportation bubble,” citing that they live in Victoria, have drivers, and have free trips around the province. According to Price, if you are asking a cabinet member “to build a multi-million dollar investment in Translink, it’s hard to relate to and is not their life experience.” However for a generation of university students, the UPass has opened a new world of transportation in the form of public transit, where many students say they could see themselves never buying a car. “U-Pass has been your key to a lifestyle that up until recently, not many people could understand,” Price said. “You know the metro region in a way a driver could not know possible.” Price commented that senior government is building transportation of the 20th century, making driving the only option, which he said the Massey Tunnel project reflects. “If congestion builds up . . . they build a new one.”
Price concludes that Metro Vancouver should design the region for “mix use,” with high transit and all amenities within walking distance of transit. “The U-Pass is the key. It changed your lives.”
City councillor Tom Gill, spoke about transit development within the City of Surrey. “We need to change the car culture,” said Gill. “When I reflect on . . . the last 18 years, not much has happened when it comes to transit infrastructure,” despite a population now over 500,000 with 1,000 new residents moving in each month.
“We need to look at a strategy to reduce cost of transit so we can increase demand,” Gill said.
The talk ended with an open floor for audience questions and answers. A student asked how people can be convinced to join the transit culture. Gill replied, “Your generation has a different philosophy than ours. This generation is doing something great and phenomenal,” while Price said, “My generation doesn’t believe that your generation would rather use transit than the car.”
Nick Smith from Sustainable SFU commented on this question, urging students to convince other people to use transit for environmental and health reasons, and to “concrete that compelling story.”
Another question from the audience was in regards to affordability of the three-pass system and whether it could be made more equitable. Price replied, “Do not make transit a social service,” stating that transit will get reduced funding if it becomes a social service.