Transit is a Jewish issue
For most Jewish-related services – cultural events, organizational meetings, day schools, high school, camps, Jewish social services – travel is required. (photo by Arnold C via commons.wikimedia.org)
Although there are multiple levels of government in Canada, it is often said, there is only one taxpayer. So it is frustrating to see necessary public policy delayed by intergovernmental squabbling.
This is what’s happening right now with plans for the future of transportation in Metro Vancouver. A year ago, area voters rejected a referendum proposal that would have seen increased taxes to fund better transit. Stagnation has been the status of transit policy since then.
In the budget tabled in March, the federal government ponied up $370 million for transit in the region.
Last week, the provincial government announced $246 million over a three-year period to improve bus and SeaBus service, purchase more SkyTrain cars and launch “initial work towards new major rapid transit in Vancouver and Surrey.”
The provincial minister in charge of TransLink, Peter Fassbender, said he expects Metro Vancouver municipalities to raise $124 million more, for a total of $740 million over three years.
Mayors of Metro municipalities have a grander scheme – to the tune of $7.5 billion over 10 years, which they would see funded through transit fare and property tax hikes, the sale of some TransLink property and more tolls on bridges and roads.
In this space, we are more accustomed to taking on manageable issues like Middle East peace rather than the seemingly intractable difficulties of moving residents of Metro Vancouver from one part of the region to another. But the issue of transportation is having serious ramification for Metro Vancouverites and things will only get worse if something nearly revolutionary doesn’t happen soon.
This has already had and will continue to have specific implications for ethnocultural communities, including the Jewish community. Real estate realities have driven successive generations of Jewish community members out of the erstwhile “Jewish neighborhood” of Oakridge, the heydays of which will be recalled in an upcoming exhibit of the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia.
Reflecting trends that transcend cultural boundaries, home buyers have moved in concentric circles in recent decades, outward from the city proper, first across the bridges to Richmond and the North Shore, then further east and south. Nearly half – 46% – of Metro Vancouver’s Jews now live outside the city limits, with recent years having seen notable increases in the Jewish populations of Surrey/White Rock, the Tri-Cities and the areas of Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Langley. While there are nodes of Jewish life in each of these locations, there is no doubt that, for most Jewish-related services – cultural events, organizational meetings, day schools, high school, camps, Jewish social services – travel is required.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver has long recognized the particular challenges of providing services to and maintaining cohesion among a community spread across a large geographic space. A recent effort, Connect Me In, is surveying Jewish British Columbians who live outside Vancouver and asking how the communal umbrella agency can serve their needs.
Federation is trying to provide services to people where they live so that it is less necessary to come “into the city.” Yet even the best laid plans well executed cannot erase the barriers of time and space between, say, Squamish and 41st and Oak. Moreover, the delivery of services where Jewish people live will still require some movement … from the core outward.
Maintaining cohesion within our community in such a situation depends both on the ability of our community agencies to respond to the needs, as well as the desire of suburbanites to maintain connection to the Jewish community. It also depends, in ways we should not underestimate, on the simple ability to move from Point A to Point B in the Lower Mainland. Transit is a Jewish issue.