British Columbia

Doug McCallum wants to stop LRT in Surrey, but it may not be possible

The future of Surrey's mass transit system is turning into an important election debate.

Mayoral candidate wants to redirect money into SkyTrain to Langley, while TransLink says it's not so simple

TransLink will begin construction of LRT lines in 2020 to Guildford and Newton. (TransLink )

The future of Surrey's mass transit system is turning into an important election debate.

Former mayor Doug McCallum, who announced his candidacy this week, said that if elected he would try to scrap the planned light rapid transit [LRT] lines to the Newton and Guildford neighbourhoods, replacing them with extra buses on the route.

"We wouldn't do light rail in Surrey at all. We're just going to do the Expo Line out to [Langley]," said McCallum, who was Surrey's mayor from 1996 to 2005, but lost in 2008 and 2014.  

A planned extension of the SkyTrain system to Langley along the Fraser Highway is among TransLink's long-term priorities. 

But funding agreements have already been reached for LRT, at a cost of $1.65 billion to build 11 stops between Newton Exchange, Surrey Central and Guilford Exchange. No agreements have been made to build a SkyTrain line to Langley, at an estimated cost of $2.9 billion. 

McCallum, though, has a plan. 

"We'll try and stop [the LRT lines], and get the money transferred over to do the SkyTrain along Fraser Highway," he said, arguing that his time as chair of TransLink from 2002 to 2005 gave him the expertise needed to negotiate such a change. 

"I've got the experience, I know the knowledge, I know the cost involved. The most important thing in transportation is ridership. We need to have the ridership. The light rail doesn't have the ridership."

Surrey First pro-LRT

McCallum's stance stands in marked contrast to Tom Gill, the mayoral candidate for Surrey First, which is looking to continue its 13-year run at the helm of city hall. 

"We're talking about a long-term plan to ensure this community is well-serviced," said Gill, who supported the plan for light rail to Newton and Guildford along with the rest of city council. 

He said that while LRT is slower than SkyTrain, it can be scaled out for the entire city in a way that SkyTrain could not. 

"The economics don't work if you're looking at SkyTrain. When you look at Surrey, we are bigger than Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby combined, so we have unique challenges," he said. 

"It does have challenges, there's no question, but when you're looking at the availability of provincial funds and federal funds … I would hate to see, given the context of the concerns out there, that we lose those moneys."

Easier said than done, says TransLink

In a statement, TransLink said that LRT for the Surrey-Newton-Guildford was "based on almost a decade of study," and that McCallum's proposals, even if endorsed by Surrey council and the Mayors' Council if elected, were not necessarily possible.

"Senior governments have committed funding for LRT. A change like this to the plan would mean re-starting the funding and approval process at the beginning, delaying new services and increasing costs," it wrote.

"While Phase Two contains funding for further design and engineering for the Surrey-Langley project, funding for construction has not been secured … we have secured $1.65-billion to fully construct the [LRT], none of which could be considered automatically available for another project."

Surrey city staff will be presenting to council its "long-range rapid transit vision" on Monday, which includes 150 kilometres of light rail lines.