Editorial: Get Surrey back on the right transit track

The new Surrey is in danger of finding itself on a return trip to the old Surrey when it comes to intermunicipal transportation.

And that’s bad for business prospects in B.C.’s fastest-growing urban area. It’s not much help in other areas of Metro Vancouver either.

One of Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum’s first initiatives has been to follow through on his promise to shunt already approved light-rail transit (LRT) to a siding in favour of pursuing SkyTrain technology. Up-front costs for the McCallum transportation move: an additional $1.3 billion.

Reasons: proponents argue that SkyTrain would provide more efficient people movement than its LRT counterpart, and its automated operation would eliminate the need for human drivers and their wages and replace that with the artificial intelligence that drives the Canada Line and other SkyTrain links. So: no drivers, no humans, no problems.

But the McCallum SkyTrain option’s infrastructure price tag will not sit well with other Metro Vancouver municipalities, especially considering LRT’s decade-long journey from proposal to endorsement from the region’s 23-member Mayors’ Council. Stalling that momentum is a rug yanked from under commuters in Surrey now and any considering moving there.

More important, however, is the impact rapid transit will have on Surrey’s development.

LRT would help cultivate commercial and community development all along its right-of-way. But SkyTrain promotes concentrated development around commuter station locations, and that is not a community cultivation proposition. It is a developer’s opportunity.

The LRT option offers a chance to build more than a transit line out of the Fraser Valley to connect with the rest of the region. It provides a rapid transit avenue to develop closer community and business connections within Surrey. In short, it is a generational opportunity to expand and develop a vital urban centre in the southwest region that is distinct from Vancouver.