Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 14th, 2008

That announcement

with 13 comments

I spent a very pleasant day today showing a visitor around our rapid transit system. We rode the SeaBus and the whole of the SkyTrain end to end. That meant I was in transit (literally) when the announcement was made and have been catching up since I got back.

Stephen Rees being interviewed by Fairchild tv

The link to the “plan” is

Andrew Eisenberg on the Livable Blog thinks that it should not be called a “plan” but a “vision” – and he would also like to add to it all the things that are missing.

What is important to note is that the BC government is not announcing its intention to spend $14bn on transit. It is saying that if others come up with 60% of that total, it will kick in the other 40%. Over twenty years. So that we are clear, many of the elements have already been announced more than once. For example, the Evergreen Line funding was promised when the Canada Line was announced – indeed CBC TV news this evening reran tapes of those old announcements to underline that there is much less than news in this current posturing. Because that is what this is. It is promising to spend someone else’s money sometime in the future beyond the mandate of this government. “Pie crust promises – easy to make, easy to break.”

Secondly the level of detail in the Lower Mainland plans for SkyTrain extensions and new Rapid Bus lines shows that the province has indeed taken over transit planning in the region. I imagine that the first Translink staff knew about any of this was on the news – with maybe the Mayors and some top people being given a heads up at the same time as the friendly press were being given leaks for this morning’s speculative pieces ahead of the announcement.


UPDATE January 19  : I am told that Translink staff did indeed work on this proposal. My take is that they must have been in a bit of a rush – or maybe a lot of stuff got dropped as the brochure was worked on by the spin doctors. But that may also explain why things that had not been in earlier plans – like light rail for the Valley – or things outside the Lower Mainland that BC Transit didn’t think of – like light rail for Victoria – did not show up.


And there is much less on how this is going to be paid for – except that Translink and the municipalities are going to be forced to chip in so expect your fares and property taxes to go up at the same time as the gas tax. And do not believe Ms Taylor’s current “spin” that this is all somehow “revenue neutral”. This looks to me like higher taxes all round with this region being hit the hardest. Oh and that fabulous federal funding too – that is always imminent but never actually seems to arrive. Jam tomorrow, never jam today.

I was very taken with the target for mode share for transit. 17%. There must be something magical about that figure – perhaps one of our numerologists can advise. That is where we were supposed to be by now. I seem to recall 17% was in Transport 2021 as an interim target – and it was also in the first Translink Strategic Plan for round about now too. And of course we have had this government in power for some time now – and none of what is promised is especially new or different – so how comes they did not make these announcements some time ago, and why did they, and apparently still do, think that widening highways was more important? For the highways you see are actually being built. There is real money being spent on them. And yes there were many new buses out on the streets today – but most of those were replacements for buses that had been kept in service long beyond their design or economic life. As always the devil is in the details. And what was missing was rail for the valley, no abandonment of highway expansions or turnstiles, and no idea of how we are going to pay for this if any of it actually happens.

I am sorry to be cynical but I have seen this play before. Indeed I worked on it – in Toronto, in the early 1990s, the Rapid Transit Expansion Program was going to see new subways and LRT lines built all over the metropolis. Something for everyone. None of it was built, except only the Sheppard subway – and that was only half built. A short tunnel was started on Eglinton – and then filled in again. And that was that for system expansion. In fact the TTC has been suffering since from neglect and even contemplated closing the Sheppard Line as an economy measure.

Maybe it will be different this time. And of you believe that, I have a bridge you can buy.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Posted in transit

Road scheme provides test case for sustainable transport

with one comment

This story comes from Britain where a county council has teamed up with environmentalists to do a proper study of a road scheme and real alternatives. It is constrcutive, and shows what you can do if you look at your options carefully.

It stands in stark contrast to the methodology now in use in BC. Here the “solution” is decided first, then the studies are dummied up to make the sums work out in favour of the preferred project. A huge mass of documentation is then assembled and dumped into the public domain in the hopes that people will not have the time to read all of it and notice what is wrong and what is missing. And any public servant who murmurs about this process has an early retirement party.

Unsurprisingly in this case, investments in public transport and traffic management are shown to be better investments than road building. That is often, but not invariably the case. But it also shows that there is real value in doing studies properly. For the assessment process does cost money and it is not just there as a way of making road building more difficult. It has a useful purpose, and politicians who respect the public purse will understand that. Only those who pursue other agendas, such as facilitating property development, would have a different view. And it appears that Mr Falcon has in fact put those interests in front of all others in the cases of Eagleridge Bluffs, the Sea to Sky in general, and the Gateway road projects.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in Transportation

“Turnstiles are needed to turn transit into a better environment for travel”

with 5 comments

A typically ignorant opinion from Derek Moscato of the Province

Ever since Kevin Falcon announced his desire to install turnstiles at SkyTrain stations across the Lower Mainland, the B.C. transportation minister has been on the receiving end of a predictably hot-headed response from some vocal adversaries.

The response has not been been “hot headed” at all. If anything, Falcon jumped onto a cause with very little hard information – but lots of “opinion” and “perceptions” that he thought would make him popular.

There is no evidence to support the contention that current losses due to fare evasion on SkyTrain are high enough to produce a positive rate of return on spending. And given that there are plenty of other transit projects that will have positive rates of return, they shoudl be done ahead of this ill conceived notion.

We now have armed police on SkyTrain conducting regular fare checks. This was done to increase passengers sense of security. Even though most of the incidents that papers like the Province like to associate with SkyTrain actually occur outside the system and beyond these officers’ jurisdiction, and very few have anything to do with fare evasion.

Systems with turnstiles still experience both fare evasion and threats (and worse) to passengers.  The Toronto subway has turnstiles but that did not keep out the person who decided to push a complete stranger under a moving train. The Paris metro has turnstiles, and the pickpockets still work the crowds: if you go to Paris, make sure you have secret pockets or a money belt for your valuables. You are also at risk from pick pockets on the London Undergound – also now gated throughout – which did not stop the bombers on 7/7.

Commuters who use SkyTrain at night, particularly women, the elderly and members of other vulnerable groups, would feel better using the service, knowing that lawbreakers aren’t free to enter the stations at will.

Possibly, but they will be deluded. Because lawbreakers are also economically rational, and buying a ticket in order to carry out their activities will seem to them to be small price to pay. But we will have thrown away millions on buying ourselves a false sense of security, and increased operating cost of a gated system will be borne by the taxpayers for years to come.

Hot heads, Mr Moscato, do not tend to use spreadsheets. I suggest you go ask Translink if they will let you play with theirs. Put in any assumptions you like about levels of evasion and see if you can get any positive rate of return. I never could, but then I am only a transportation economist with forty years experience.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2008 at 7:38 am

Posted in Fare evasion