Public transit has the potential to play a critical role in shaping the future of Richmond and creating public spaces. That's the opinion of transportation expert Stephen Rees and Poverty Response Committee chair De Whalen.
"There are a lot of things that connect with transportation," says Whalen. "We can make our streets alive instead of being these dead spaces. Then the more you've got people using the space...the safer the city's going to be."
Both agree Richmond has a long way to go when it comes to delivering transit.
And with 80,000 more people expected to fill the city's already congested streets in the next 30 years, that delivery has to be sooner than later.
Out of the countless bus routes, only the 410 meets TransLink's definition of frequent service, according to Rees, a former planner for B.C. Transit, TransLink's predecessor.
"When I came to Richmond years ago, that was one of the worst performing routes in the region," he says. "We worked hard to redesign it."
If the 410 was under-performing today, it would be cut, not improved, according to TransLink's new cost-saving strategy.
After a recent performance review of Metro Vancouver's bus routes, those underused in places like Delta were removed and their resources re-allocated to busier routes.
"One of the things we're now stuck with is a system that's overloaded in some parts, so instead of trying to redesign poorly operating routes, you just transfer routes to places that are doing well," says Rees.
"You keep reinforcing what you've got rather than doing better elsewhere."
Whalen points to places like East Richmond, particularly Hamilton, as "transit deserts." She also says the lack of east/west bus routes mean more transfers. Most of the major routes move along a north/south line.
Rees and Whalen underscore the continuous debate as to whether transportation should be shaping a community - create an effective system and people will use it, they believe - or if it should be serving one by reacting to where the demand is.
"We are expecting TransLink to scrutinize low ridership routes," says Victor Wei, the city's director of transportation, in anticipation of a review in early 2014.
"Our approach will be to encourage TransLink to not just look at current demographics and employment distribution, but to look at a few years down the road."
Wei looks at the Fraser Port area, as well as the Richmond Hospital and the Olympic oval as places that will experience increasing demand for transit in coming years.
"Let's have it so that the transit routes will already be well used by the time residents move in," he says, adding the city is looking to create a centralized bus exchange in Steveston.
Stations should be town centres It's part of the city's 2041 Official Community Plan (OCP) to better utilize public space. Effective transportation can work to efficiently move people and get them out into the community, rather than travelling in their own personal cars.
The result would be to create smaller neighbourhood hubs where a person has access to a variety of amenities with adequate transit to move people throughout.
But most suggested improvements in the OCP are "subject to public acceptance."
"We need a city that will actually take this stuff seriously," says Rees.
"People are going to complain about changes, they'll say how it's the end of the world as we know it. Then it turns out, you know what, we can actually cope with the odd bike lane or prioritizing transit. It actually makes for a safer neighbourhood." TransLink recently announced it would turn to SkyTrain stations to create commercial hubs and generate retail revenue. "Of course, of course," says Rees, lauding the idea. "Stations should be the centres of towns, not a desert.
"They should be the places where everything happens. When you get off the train, you should think of doing all the things you would do in the town centre. That's where the daycare and retail should be.
"What you should do is move the parking way out."
TransLink did not respond by deadline.