Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Campbell’s vision collides with Falcon’s freeway plans

with 4 comments

Ian Bruce
Special to the Sun

Premier Gordon Campbell’s bold move to legislate British Columbia’s greenhouse-gas targets is a solid step in reducing our contribution to global warming.

His leadership stands in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s endorsement of President George W. Bush’s meaningless “aspirational” and voluntary emissions target approach. However, Campbell’s goals could be derailed by his transportation minister.

TransLink estimates that to achieve the premier’s emissions target, the percentage of trips now made by transit would have to grow from 11.5 per cent today to 25 to 30 per cent by 2020, at least doubling transit service in Metro Vancouver.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon’s plans to expand freeways preceded the premier’s new vision, and are based primarily on moving people in cars. The two plans are inconsistent and are on a collision course.

We know that people will get out of their cars when good alternatives are made available: In 1997, 34 per cent of UBC students drove to campus, while only 18 per cent took transit. By 2005, after the introduction of the B-Line and the U-Pass for students, almost 42 per cent of students took transit, while fewer than 20 per cent drove.

Unfortunately, plans to build more freeways, including twinning the Port Mann Bridge, are inconsistent with plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The focus on expanding highways throughout Metro Vancouver will lock our communities into a car-dependent design, encouraging more vehicles and congestion, and increasing commuting distances. The B.C. government’s own reports show carbon emissions will rise, not fall, because of the project.

Spending more on roads will actually discourage people from using transit: A recent TransLink report concluded that the Highway 1/Port Mann project would lead to ridership declines on the Expo SkyTrain line of up to 500 trips during the morning rush hour, and as much as five per cent in total on the Millennium Line.

Then there’s the Falcon-appointed TransLink governance review panel, which completed the current proposal for transportation funding several weeks before the premier’s announcement of new climate-change policies.

Falcon’s panel proposed a funding structure based on the assumption that fuel-tax revenues will grow at one per cent per year — the current rate of current fuel (gas and diesel) consumption. In fact, if the B.C. government plans to achieve the premier’s carbon-emissions target, transportation fuel consumption in B.C. will need to decrease by a third by 2020. Instead of moving us to the forefront of the low-carbon economy, the outdated approach of Falcon’s panel will result in an increase in harmful emissions and a significant decrease in TransLink’s transit funding.

The contradiction between Falcon’s proposals and the goals set out by the premier are clear.

Falcon’s plans are out of date, but the premier’s truly impressive vision is weakened by Falcon’s short-sighted strategy. We can only hope that the premier’s announcement Friday to unveil within weeks a plan to make “B.C. a global leader in public transit” will be a signal for Falcon to overhaul his transportation plans for the 21st century.

Campbell has a huge opportunity to steer B.C. in a new direction. To accomplish this, we suggest that he:

– Provide long-term funding for affordable, clean, and efficient public transportation system by annually allocating a fixed portion of B.C.’s transportation budget to transit and biking and walking infrastructure. This can be achieved by re-allocating spending from urban highways to transit.

– Contribute a substantial portion of provincial gas-tax revenue to transit. It’s only fair that those who are creating the problem by burning fossil fuels help pay for the solution.

– Support the regional government and provide TransLink with the legal tools to use regional tolling to ease congestion and pay for transit and maintenance. It’s only fair that road users pay user fees the same as transit riders.

– Facilitate better land-use planning to concentrate jobs in areas well-served by transit.

Ian Bruce is a climate change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


It may be risky just cutting and pasting an entire op ed piece from a newspaper. But Ian writes it so well, I could not add anything. Except perhaps this link to, of all people, columnist Pete McMartin. Who, in the same paper on the same day has a column I cannot say I like but comes to this, for him, surprising conclusion

This is why Premier Gordon Campbell should override his transportation minister and redefine what Gateway and the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge is about, and what it should do. (And there are hints he may be doing that soon.)

What our government should be doing is giving suburban commuters transit alternatives other than another bridge for more cars, and then forcing us out of those cars.

We’ve shown we won’t do it ourselves.

More Saturday. or 604-605-2905


Written by Stephen Rees

October 4, 2007 at 9:13 am

4 Responses

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  1. Support the regional government and provide TransLink with the legal tools to use regional tolling to ease congestion and pay for transit and maintenance. It’s only fair that road users pay user fees the same as transit riders.

    I think this is key. Once you are paying for the car, its insurance, and have the tank filled with gas the perceived marginal cost of using it is basically zero. All of the externalities (smog, traffic congestion, green-house gas emissions, etc) are easily ignored. Collecting a user fee for driving your private automobile and using the funds to help address these things through funding viable public transit makes sense. It really is time for the free ride to end.

    Without any kind of fee you end up with moral hazard:

    Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution in a transaction does not bear the full consequences of its actions, and therefore has a tendency or incentive to act less carefully than would otherwise be the case, leaving another party in the transaction to bear some responsibility for the consequences of those actions.


    October 4, 2007 at 10:30 am

  2. Currently provincial policy does not allow for tolls except to pay for new infrastructure. What we need are charges that encourage responsible behaviour. That reflect the externalities car use imposes on all of us and the environment. Such charges need to be variable by time of day, day of the week, traffic conditions and the size of the vehicle. Insurance by distance would help too. Anything that helps reduce the perceived need to own/lease a vehicle helps too, so not just more transit but more car co-ops, more taxis, more shared ride services and so on. And, of course, secure bike parking everywhere.

    Stephen Rees

    October 4, 2007 at 12:26 pm

  3. “n 1997, 34 per cent of UBC students drove to campus, while only 18 per cent took transit. By 2005, after the introduction of the B-Line and the U-Pass for students, almost 42 per cent of students took transit, while fewer than 20 per cent drove.”

    I question the conclusion. Parking was vastly reduced, and cost increased for the remainder spots. Upasses are very cheap. The subsidy to upasses from any hydro users or gas users is vast. Thus one has huge externalities.

    Speaking of externalities. Roads are there for all users. The roads are paved (in part) so as to prevent muck and dust. Sure vehicle users get some benefit from paved roads but not nearly as great as pedestrians, cyclists, businesses or residential ppty owners. I have no doubt that the gas taxes plus other direct and indirect taxes related to purchase and upkeep more than pay for any air pollution caused.

    I am curious about this extra mileage tax. Are you trying to prevent commerce?


    October 7, 2007 at 3:55 pm

  4. Parking at UBC was formerly underpriced – the cost was fixed to be equal to a one zone transit fare. Just for land use reasons alone – let alone the traffic impacts – parking should become more expensive. And should not be allowed at all on publicly funded roadways when they are congested.

    Externalities from road use are far more than just road dust and air pollution. The huge toll in human health from collisions is just the start. But the biggest economic cost is that people with time to waste impose huge delay costs on all other road users since the congestion impact of the last few marginal vehicles that push an intersection over capacity is huge compared to the tiny personal benefit of that trip.

    I would argue for a shift from other taxes. I think that property tax and hydro levies are stupid ways to raise money for transportation. But there is no doubt at all that we must spend more on decent alternatives for driving first especially in the suburbs where transit is currently next to useless. Over time we need to move towards user pay for all modes of transportation simply to ensure that the right market signals are being sent. Right now, user perceptions of road use costs are completely unrealistic.

    Commerce will survive since it simply passes on costs to its customers. Just as there is only one taxpayer there is only one customer too.

    Stephen Rees

    October 7, 2007 at 4:08 pm

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