Broadway Subway and Surrey LRT will be built in $7-billion transit plan


Kenneth Chan

March 16, 2018

After much delay, much-needed major public transit expansion is finally happening – and it is the largest expansion project in Metro Vancouver history, which includes the Millennium Line extension on Broadway in Vancouver and the new light rail transit project in Surrey.

The BC NDP provincial government has approved the necessary measures that TransLink will take to fill all of its 20% share of covering the $7-billion cost of the Mayors’ Council’s phase two transit expansion plan.

“This is the foremost announcement on infrastructure that has ever been made in British Columbia,” said Mayors’ Council chair Derek Corrigan during this afternoon’s press conference. “I can tell you that we should be very proud of the region for coming together in the way it has to find a consensus in bringing forward this plan.”

“This is a huge win for transit users and drivers… In fact, this is the largest funding investment in BC history and one of the largest across this nation.”

Measures that will allow TransLink to fulfill its share include the provincial government’s approval of:

  • A parking tax increase of 15 cents per hour for an average $5 per hour parking lot rate – up to 24% from 21%.
  • A $300 to $600 per unit increase to the Development Cost Charge on new residential developments across Metro Vancouver starting in 2019. The tax increases amount to $3.00 for a home with a value of $500,000, $6.00 for a value of $1 million, and $15 for a value of $2.5 million.

Both revenue measures require new provincial legislation, which will be enacted later this year by the governing party.

The provincial government will also subsidize TransLink’s operational costs by $30 million annually over 10 years, so that the public transit authority can redirect existing revenues that would otherwise go to operational costs towards the new capital infrastructure. This is being performed in lieu of more new taxes.

And in a previous announcement, the provincial government absorbed the Pattullo Bridge replacement into its responsibilities, taking away the $1.4 billion project off TransLink’s hands so that it can focus on transit expansion.

Tunnel construction for SkyTrain’s Evergreen Extension. (Evergreen Line Project Office)

“Closing the entire gap, the region identified with the tools currently available to the mayors would have been a challenge for the region… there will be no more delays, and the region can finally put the shovels in the ground for important phase two projects,” said Selina Robinson, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and responsible for TransLink.

She also took aim at the previous BC Liberal government’s stalling and hesitation with transit investments in Metro Vancouver, which included the failed transit plebiscite and former Premier Christy Clark’s continued requirement of a public vote for any new revenue source for TransLink.

“For years, commuters like me, we’ve stood on the sidelines and watched helplessly while the old government just turned their backs on the region. They couldn’t make anything happen,” said Robinson.

“During that time, congestion got worse, and it robs people of time with their loved ones, of time with the things they want to do. And the region was left in the dark wondering if important transit projects would ever get off the ground. Well, I’m really proud to say that is not the case anymore. Today is a new day, and I’m extremely proud.”

Artistic rendering depicting the renovated interior of SkyTrain’s Surrey Central Station. (TransLink)

Other revenue TransLink will need to fill the shortfall comes from sources that do not require provincial approval, such as:

  • A $5.50 increase in property taxes per average household each year or about 46 cents a month starting in 2019.
  • Fare revenue increases of 2% over two years in 2020, amounting to a 5% to 15% increase to single-trip fares and $1 to $3 increase to monthly passes. These fare increases coupled with higher transit ridership from transit expansion will raise $1.6 billion.
  • Ancillary revenue from a variety of transit-related commercial opportunities.

“The Mayors’ Council has approved a balanced approach to increasing taxes and fees paid by transit users, drivers, property owners, and developers,” said Corrigan. “It is a modest and balanced increase that will generate the region’s remaining share of the funding needed to deliver the phase two plan.”

These measures will add to the funding commitments already approved last year by the provincial and federal governments, which will each take on a 40% share – the remaining 80%. Commitments from both senior governments total about $5.6 billion.

For years, funding challenges were the only obstacle to advancing these projects to the next stages of planning and eventually construction.

“This really does represent a major milestone in years and years of planning to get these transit projects moving – to support the region’s needs going forward,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond. “This investment sets in motion a whole suite of improvements that will benefit all of our riders and residents.”

The phase two plan includes the major transit projects of the six-km-long underground SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line under Broadway from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street and the construction of the new 27-km-long, ground-level light rail transit (LRT) network in Surrey. There is no updated figure on the construction costs of both projects at this time as the provincial government is still reviewing the business cases.

Map of the underground SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line from Broadway to Arbutus Street in Vancovuer. (TransLink)

Surrey Light Rail

Map showing the route and station locations of Surrey Light Rail, with the Surrey Newton-Guildford Line highlighted and the Surrey-Langley Line slated as a future phase. (TransLink)

With RFPs issued out to potential private contractors later this year, construction on both projects could begin in 2019 for a 2024 completion of the 11-km-long first phase Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT line and a 2025 completion of the Broadway subway.

A future yet-to-be-determined, unfunded extension of the subway beyond the 10-year-plan will extend the Millennium Line from Arbutus Street to the ultimate terminus at the University of British Columbia campus.

The current Mayors’ Council plan will also significantly expand bus service levels and improvements to some roadways, sidewalks, and cycling pathways.

Desmond says the implementation of four new B-Lines and upticks on other bus routesoutlined in the phase one plan will increase overall bus service by 18% between 2016 and 2021. And within the phase two plan, there will be a 25% increase in bus service.

A new generation Mark III SkyTrain car. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

The SkyTrain system is also seeing a major capacity increase, with 56 new Mark III cars for the Expo and Millennium lines and 24 new Hyundai Rotem cars for the Canada Line by 2020. An additional 44 cars will arrive for the Expo and Millennium lines between 2022 and 2024.

And a new SeaBus arriving in 2019 will allow the ferry service to operate every 10 minutes during peak hours.

The next steps for the phase two transit expansion is a public consultation phase from April to May, followed by the Mayors’ Council’s approval of the tweaked plan in June.


Peace River District: Resource Base and Site C Fuels Faith in Northeast

Tanya Commisso

February 1, 2018

The Peace River region punctuated by the cities of Dawson Creek and Fort St. John has seen an increase in construction employment largely due to development on the $10.7-billion Site C dam project. The success of the construction sector has cushioned the impact of modest employment declines in the region’s mining & natural gas sectors, according to Northern Development Initiative Trust’s State of the North report. Dawson Creek is home to approximately 10 multinational oil, has and energy companies contributing to the city’s economy. Major gas plant and clean energy projects from B.C. Hydro and the Cutbank Ridge Partnership are leading developments in and around the city, while Northern Lights College continue to drive Dawson Creek’s educational workforce base. Surrounded by ALR land, agriculture plays a big part of the city’s economic success. The average price of a single-family home in Fort St. John’s has increased nearly 9 per cent over 2016 to $208,879 – about $100,000 less than the average home price of North Central region city of Prince George.



Tanya Commisso

Tanya is a recent graduate of Langara College’s journalism program and spent a summer freelancing for The Burnaby NOW and The Record, following a reporting internship with the publications. She joins Western Investor as an editorial assistant. Very much a millennial, she sees the irony in writing about real estate she will likely never be able to afford.

Where to Work: Best Cities for Work in B.C. 2018

BC Business

Nick Rockel

December 18, 2017

Our annual ranking of the province’s best cities for working people turns four with an accent on quality of life. Plus: we take an insider tour of frontrunner Dawson Creek and check in with three young residents of fast-growing Campbell River.

What are British Columbia’s top places to build a career? Start by following the money, but that isn’t the whole story. In our fourth annual Best Cities for Work in B.C. ranking, compiled with research partner Environics Analytics, we measure a city’s attractiveness as a place to work by putting a two-thirds weighting on how much residents earn and where income is heading. We use the seven economic indicators from the previous survey: average household income, household income for primary earners under age 35, average household spending on recreation, average shelter costs, five-year population growth, five-year income growth and unemployment rate.

Northeast oil-and-gas powerhouses Fort St. John and Dawson Creek return to the top three, with the former taking the lead from Squamish (No. 3 this year) and the latter climbing to No. 2. Lower Mainland residents might find those communities’ staying power surprising, given the persistent slump in fossil fuel prices and last summer’s cancellation of the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas megaproject. But anyone who’s visited Dawson Creek (see page 32) knows that the city is contending with a boom fuelled by multi­billion-dollar investment in oil and gas extraction and infrastructure.

This year, to better gauge quality of life, we also take into account how many people walk or bike to work—arguably a better yardstick than the number who use public transit. “The issue with mass transit is that it’s not going to be available in all cities,” says Peter Miron, Toronto-based vice-president, demographic and economic data, with Environics Analytics. “Walking and bicycling to work are enjoyable activities,” Miron adds. “Mass transit might be cheap, but it’s not necessarily adding to your enjoyment of life.”

When it comes to walking and biking, you’d think urban centres like Vancouver would have an edge. But our three top cities—all relatively small communities—did well in that category, too. “You’ve got a very strong accessibility factor, but it’s almost picking up not necessarily urbanity as much as quaintness,” Miron notes.

He warns against fixating on unemployment rates, which have dropped in most B.C. regions as the province builds on its strong economic performance in 2016. “If you see an area with very a low unemployment rate, it could be because everyone’s got a job,” Miron says. “But it could also mean that everyone who doesn’t have a job has now been so discouraged looking for work that they’re no longer in the labour force.”

Although the ranking shows where our 36 cities placed last year, those that climbed or fell shouldn’t make too much of it—and not just because we tweaked the methodology. As Miron explains, the data sets his firm uses get updated from year to year, sometimes leading to revisions of historical numbers. In any case, “the difference between middle cities is quite slim,” he says. For those communities, a small change in, say, five-year income growth can make a big difference in ranking order.

By the same standard, where they fetch up on the list won’t be the deciding factor for anyone weighing where to move, Miron reckons. “At that point, it’s probably a choice between the attributes that we haven’t got in the study: the charm of Campbell River, and the fact that Vernon happens to be next to a beautiful ski resort,” he says. “But whether or not you want to move there is going to be based more upon personal preference. There’s no bad choice.”

Just so you know:

  • Our ranking only includes cities with more than 10,000 permanent residents.
  • Bedroom communities may be great places to live, but they have relatively small job markets. For that reason, we excluded cities like Port Moody, White Rock and  West Vancouver.
  • For Langley and North Vancouver, we combined the numbers for city/town and district governments.
  • We work with research partner Environics Analytics because we think it has the best available data, but there are limits. For example, to produce its income numbers, Environics Analytics uses Statistics Canada and Canada Revenue Agency data projected forward to 2017. The unemployment rates shown in the ranking are from Statscan’s September 2017 Labour Force Survey, a three-month moving average that only calculates numbers for the province’s seven economic regions and won’t reflect any changes for the rest of the year.

How We Crunched the Numbers

To compile the B.C.’s Best Cities for Work ranking, we considered seven economic indicators, giving them a variety of weightings. This year’s methodology also includes an eighth indicator that speaks to quality of life: the proportion of residents who walk or bike to work. We didn’t factor in people who use public transit to get to their jobs because it would give an unfair advantage to Vancouver and other cities with extensive transit systems.

Average household income (10% of total score)
This figure represents the average for 2017. To determine a score out of 10, we gave the top average income 10 points and ranked the other cities in relation to that.

Average household income under 35 (10%)
This number represents the 2017 average household income for primary income earners under the age of 35. Again, we gave the highest average 10 points and ranked other communities accordingly.

Average household spending on recreation (10%)
Boats, cable bills, concert tickets, vacations—this tally encompasses all leisure-enhancing household purchases that Statistics Canada tracks. Giving the city with the highest average household recreational spending a 10, we ranked the others in relation to it.

Average shelter (current consumption) costs (15%)
This number covers housing-related living expenses such as mortgage payments, rent and repairs for 2017. We divided average household income by current shelter costs, multiplying that total by two for a score out of 15.

Residents who walk or bike to work (10%)
To calculate this score, we divided the number of residents in each community who travel to work by the number who walk or bike, for a percentage out of 10.

Five-year population growth (10%)
This number covers the increase from 2012 to 2017. We show the percentage growth, with a floor of zero and a maximum score of 10.

Five-year average household income growth (25%)
This figure represents percentage income growth from 2012 through 2017. Giving the expansion a floor of zero, we scored it out of 25.

Unemployment rate (10%)
This number uses the unemployment rate from Statscan’s Labour Force Survey for September 2017. We multiplied each community’s unemployment rate by two and subtracted that amount from 20, giving a maximum score of 10.

Click Here to view the full list.


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Guided Bus Tours of Lower Mainland’s TOP Real Estate Markets

Surrey City Centre, BC 2018

Dates: April 28th, 2018

Time: 10:30 am – 12 pm

Location: Surrey Library – 10350 University Drive

Following the bus tour, we will serve lunch and do a short presentation followed by Q & A. Our team will be available to answer any questions.

Please RSVP:

Call: 778.888.0991

Residential Investment Spotlight: Surrey North and Central

November 9, 2017

Named the number-one city for real estate investment in the annual ranking published recently by the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN), Surrey is B.C.’s fastest-growing city and its star is rising.

Within the next decade Surrey is projected to overtake Vancouver as B.C.’s largest city. Around 10,000 residents move to Surrey each year, and the entire South Fraser region – which includes Langley and Abbotsford – is projected to absorb 70% of the entire region’s population growth over the next 25 years. REIN said in its report that the young population, and the projected population growth, were key reasons for its top spot, and that Surrey is just at the beginning of a real estate boom.

Surrey also recently came in at number two on Western Investor’s top five list of Western Canadian investment destinations. Our list highlighted the city’s sizable adolescent and millennial population – one in four Metro Vancouverites under the age of 19 live in Surrey. Editor Frank O’Brien suggests that investing in multi-family rental apartments, due to their relatively cheap per-suite value, can be extremely profitable as rental demand in the city increases along with population growth.

Development and Economy

The city has enjoyed a huge injection of infrastructure and public amenity investment over the past five or 10 years. The new City Hall and Library along with the new SFU campus have created a worthy public plaza and central district, complete with handy SkyTrain station. Around that area, a one-square-mile healthcare/technology/business hub dubbed “Innovation Boulevard” has brought tech and healthcare business to the city, many of them linked to busy Surrey Memorial Hospital. Cheaper commercial costs, lower land prices and reduced red tape compared with Vancouver all help lure businesses to the city. Companies that have recently opened offices or headquarters in the city include financial software firm Finad, Switzerland’s Temenos, Ireland’s Medtronic, California’s Skydance Media, Japanese electronic music manufacturer Roland, PwC, Coast Capital Savings, Westminster Savings and Vancity.

The economic outlook is promising. Western Investor’s sister publication Business in Vancouver reported in July: “The City of Surrey’s economic strategy for 2017-27, titled Building the Next Metropolitan Centre, lays out ambitious goals. The city hopes to create 36,200 new jobs by 2025, at an annual growth rate of 8%, through… sectors like manufacturing, clean technology, health technology, agri-innovation and the creative arts.”

Still not fully come to fruition, with a lot of development under way and some areas still to be gentrified, North and Central Surrey combine great potential with fantastic transit links – and more of the latter on the way, with the planned Surrey LRT. Add to that relatively affordable home prices, and the huge numbers of residents – including employees of all those companies – projected to arrive, and you’ve got a great bet for residential real estate investment. (South Surrey and White Rock are excluded from this article, as they represent a very different market.)

Prices Rising

North and Central Surrey’s potential has certainly started to be recognized, especially in the presale condo market, where investors have snapped up units as fast as they can, sometimes resulting in a sales-centre frenzy. But the resale market has seen rising attached-home prices too, as the graph below reveals.

Although prices for condos and other attached homes are notably higher this year compared with 2016 or 2015, they are still relatively low. The median price of a condo or other attached home across Greater Vancouver in Oct 2017 was $628K – far above the $377K seen in North and Central Surrey.

And that price includes townhomes, row homes and duplexes. Looking at condos only, the North/Central Surrey median sale price in October this year was $330,000, versus a median of $598K across Greater Vancouver.

Cash-flow Considerations

But does the rental math stack up for Surrey?

Let’s suppose your budget for an investment condo is the median price of $330K, and you pay asking price for a two-bedroom unit like this one currently listed for $329,900 in Whalley. This top-floor unit is in a smart 2009 building, a quick walk to Gateway SkyTrain station and one stop to Surrey Central and SFU. A unit like this could rent out for around $1,700 a month, if this Craigslist rental advertisement for a two-bedroom unit in the same building is anything to go by.

You’d only need a 30% down payment (although more may be required for a rental unit) of $100K to give you a mortgage of $230K and monthly payments of $1,088 (assuming 3%, 25 years). With $260 a month in strata fees, your monthly outgoings would be around $1,450, after property taxes. That makes this unit comfortably cash-flow positive with $1,700 in rent, and even more so with a higher down payment.

So the city is a great bet for a buy-and-hold investor, with rental rates likely to soar over the next five years, and vacancies to tighten. But REIN reckons the even-smarter move, for those who are looking for high returns, is the fix-and-flip approach, as its investment modelling suggests prices are going to rocket in the short term.

Whichever approach you’re comfortable with, Surrey is an outstanding investment option.



Joannah Connolly

Joannah Connolly has been editor and content manager of since May 2014. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, and has moderated and spoken on several industry panels. During this time, she also spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio 98.3FM. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 20 years of journalism experience in Vancouver and London, with a prior background in construction, architecture and business media.

Kelowna, Surrey Among 2018's Best Real Estate Investment Destinations

October 23, 2017

No. 1: Kelowna

The largest city – 127,800 residents – between Metro Vancouver and Calgary, Kelowna is the dominant trading centre for the Okanagan Valley, B.C.’s third most populous region. Together with neighbouring Vernon, West Kelowna, Peachland and Lake Country, the greater Kelowna area has a population of 256,216, up 7.4 per cent from 2011. It also has a blossoming high-tech sector, which has rocketed in the past few years into a $1.3 billion industry that involves more than 200 companies.

With one of the most temperate climates in Canada and a fertile landbase, a rich array of ski resorts, vineyards within city limits and lakeside attractions, Kelowna is a major tourism destination, as well as a beacon for new residents – many from the Vancouver area – drawn by it’s recreational amenities and relatively affordable housing.

Here is a clue to what is happening: more new homes were started in Kelowna this year than in any area outside of the Lower Mainland, including Greater Victoria, which has three times the population of Kelowna.

We carry a full report on the Kelowna residential and commercial real estate opportunities in the B section of this paper.

Investment play: Land assembly of detached lots near downtown, courtesy of a January zoning change that encourages higher density. Also retail property, particularly for developers of badly needed new retail space in the downtown zone.

No. 2: Surrey

Vancouver’s booming suburb to the southwest won’t be a suburb for much longer. Within the next decade Surrey will overtake Vancouver as B.C.’s largest city. Around 10,000 new residents move to Surrey each year, and the entire South Fraser region – which includes Langley and Abbotsford – is projected to absorb 70 per cent of the entire region’s population growth over the next 25 years.

A key point: Surrey has a higher percentage of people aged 10 to 24 than the provincial average. Surrey is also home to one in four Metro Vancouverites under the age of 19.

South Surrey-White Rock is separated by farmland from the rest of the city, and is a focus for new single-family homes and townhouse construction. Newton is the heart of Surrey’s South Asian community, while Guildford and Fleetwood are more traditionally suburban in character. Cloverdale to the west has a rural flavour on the Langley border. And then there is Surrey’s new downtown, Surrey City Centre, where the 52-storey 3 Civic Plaza hotel and condo tower completes this year, and an eight-building medical-technology office hub is under construction, along with multi-family condominium projects.

Investment play: Multi-family rental apartments and rental condominiums. Based on recent sales, the average cost per door for a Surrey rental apartment building is $171,000, at least $50,000 below the Greater Vancouver average, yet the rental vacancy rate and rental rates are similar.

No. 3: Saskatoon

Saskatchewan’s commercial capital entered 2017 plagued by a prolonged period of historically low commodity prices and slumping real estate. But that has changed fairly quickly. A Saskatoon economic report published by the Real Estate Investment Network said Saskatchewan’s largest city has managed to rebound from a market downturn thanks to a recovering energy market and burgeoning real estate activity.

The oil recession caused a slight, 1 per cent decrease in Saskatoon’s GDP during 2016, according to Royal Bank (RBC).

However, Saskatoon’s GDP is expected to increase 1.8 per cent in 2017 and 2.3 per cent in 2018, RBC forecasts.

The fundamentals of the city’s economy are strong. Saskatoon had Canada’s third-fastest growing population of any metropolitan centre, after Edmonton and Calgary, growing 12.5 per cent between 2011 and 2016. And as the headquarters of uranium giant Cameco and PotashCorp, the city is well positioned to feel the tailwinds of the next commodity supercycle.

Investment play: Retail investments near the River Landing District, where a $300 million development is underway along the South Saskatchewan River.

No. 4: Calgary

Calgary continues to feel the pain of low oil prices, but 2018 will be a turnaround year for real estate in Alberta’s biggest and most-watched city.

“There is little question that Alberta’s economy has rounded the corner and the worst recession in three decades is now squarely in the rear-view mirror,” the Alberta Treasury Branches (ATB) noted in its Alberta Economic Outlook, released in August. ATB is forecasting real GDP growth of 3.2 per cent this year, followed by a still-healthy expansion of 2.1 per cent in 2018.

Altus Group reports that total commercial real estate investments in Calgary in the second half of 2017 increased 24 per cent from a year earlier to more than $1 billion.

Calgary’s industrial vacancy rate is projected to fall from the current 7 per cent to 6.1 per cent by 2018, fuelled by demand for distribution space. The retail vacancy rate dropped to 2.9 per cent in the third quarter, with most of the recovery in suburban malls.

And the multi-family market is also tracking up. Bob Dhillon, founder and CEO of Mainstreet Equity Corp., Calgary’s biggest landlord who specializes in mid-level rentals, said rents appeared to have hit bottom.

“Every indicator is showing that things have bottomed and bounced off the bottom,” Dhillon said.

Investment play: Multi-family rentals and well-placed retail. In the first six months of this year, 16 of the 22 apartment buildings that sold went for an average of $114,600 per door, the lowest price of any major Canadian city.

In retail, look for opportunities in the southwest suburbs, where the retail vacancy rate is 1.7 per cent and no new space was added this year. Southwest lease rates are in a landlord-friendly range of $20 to $55 per square foot.

No. 5: Lethbridge

Confidence in Lethbridge’s commercial real estate market is strong, with the city recently ranked by Avison Young as Alberta’s strongest municipal economy for 2017. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ latest Top Entrepreneurial Cities Report placed Lethbridge 18th out of 121 centres.

More than 92,000 residents call Lethbridge home and the city has seen population growth of 10.8 per cent since 2011. Expansion projects are drawing new residents to the area. The City of Lethbridge has invested in the development of the Crossings, 60 acres of mixed-use land in West Lethbridge hosting large retail footprints. The city recently spent more than $41 million on construction of Phase 1 of the Crossings Leisure Complex. Phase 2 is set to be completed by 2019 and has a budget of nearly $110 million. Building permits across the city totalled nearly $1 billion over the last five years, and industrial and agricultural land in North Lethbridge is seeing a sizable piece of the action.

Investment play: While Lethbrige’s office and retail markets are currently the city’s best-performing sectors, industrial real estate may take the lead in 2018. Industrial vacancy rates rose slightly to 6.2 per cent in 2016, but the rate declined to 4.4 per cent this year and should remain relatively tight in 2018. North Lethbridge appears the best bet for both commercial and industrial investments.



Frank O’Brien

Frank O’Brien is the editor of Western Canada’s biggest commercial real estate newspaper, Western Investor, as well as a contributing editor at West Coast Condominium, real estate contributor to Business in Vancouver and a regular media commentator on real estate investment.

Tanya Commisso

Tanya is a recent graduate of Langara College’s journalism program and spent a summer freelancing for The Burnaby NOW and The Record, following a reporting internship with the publications. She joins Western Investor as an editorial assistant. Very much a millennial, she sees the irony in writing about real estate she will likely never be able to afford.