Stephen Rees's blog

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

COPE talks about Transit, Bikes and UPass

with 5 comments

COPE Talking on Transportation meeting at Our Town Cafe 12 February 2008

Last night I went to a COPE meeting in Vancouver that was to dicuss transportation. The meeting was held in the Our Town cafe which makes good cappuccino, and has a nice atmosphere but was not ideal for this kind of format. There were three presenters on the panel, and a short Q&A session. There was no amplification, and the cafe remained open. So conversations, milk frothing, and guitar tuning all continued throughout, making hearing what was being said a challenge. The meeting was also recorded on video, and I will be inserting links to that when it becomes available.

Councillor David Cadman

This region has a history of accommodating cars. We could have had light rail because we have plenty of existing track to use. Basically all we needed to do was buy rolling stock and put in some double track here and there. Bill VanderZlam wanted an unmanned system, mainly because of his fight with the transit operators union. Then Glen Clark overrode the professional recommendation for light rail on Broadway and went for SkyTrain for the Millennium Line. It was much less than was needed and therefore underperforms. Essentially bus riders subsidized the rapid transit system, although after 22 years the Expo Line is probably breaking even on operating costs. We are 800 buses behind where we need to be and that is without UPass for all students.

There are only three ways Translink can raise money: property tax, gas tax and fares. Gas tax increases underperform because people can find ways to reduce their gas consumption and also buy gas outside the region. Increasing fares does not pay because it drives down ridership.

In terms of goods movement we have been told to expect a four fold increase in the number of containers in the next five years, by which time emissions from ships will surpass that of cars. The great push from the port for more road space is simply because they work in the daytime only. We could have a very good system if trucks only moved at night.

He also referred to the recent scandal of the new Translink board pay scales.

The regional strategy says that we should plan for more walking, cycling and transit use in that order, cars coming a distant fourth but we don’t have the capital for these three modes. The expansion of the the airport is a massive investment in infrastructure that we had not anticipated.

We need a long term plan for transit and also distance based car insurance. It will be a hard process to get there – and we need the share of the gas tax that currently goes to Ottawa and Victoria. We need to do what Zurich has done. However the new Translink board is not pedestrian or bike oriented. We also need to be aware that to achieve the financial result required for the p3 contract, we will need 100,000 passengers to pay for the Canada Line. Diversion from existing bus services will only produce 43,000 – and no-one knows where the rest will come from.


Dr Fred Bass

“I was removed from the TransLink Board because I would not support the RAV line. I want to talk about cycling.” He then conducted an impromptu survey of the meeting’s bike use which showed that COPE is much more bike intensive than the rest of the region. “I sold my car in 2003and that has saved money, I use my wife’s car and a car co-op, bus and taxi. I have gained hard cash – $3,000 to $4,000 a year and I lost 15lbs – cycling is good exercise.”

While the priorities of the regions transportation plan are pedestrians, bikes, transit and cars in that order, the expense tell a different story. Transit riders pay over 50% of cost of their ride. There are 1.2m cars in the region but they do not pay their share of their costs. In 1996 the GVRD estimated that each car was subsidized by $2,800 a year (Todd Littman estimates it at $3,700 now.)

Bikes bring the community together, there is less air pollution, but the risk of injury is ten times that of a car driver, based on UK statistics. There should be compensation for using a bike. One city in the US uses a lottery to reward someone who has recycled properly. This idea could also apply to cyclists. He the went through a long list of cities that have higher rates for cycling than we do and concluded that we are not world class. “We need more bike routes and to get to a critical mass. I want to see the Burrard Bridge full of bikes.”

tiffany-kalanj.jpgTiffany Kalanj: Student Union of Vancouver Community College

Tiffany is a full time staff member of the Union and is determined to get UPass for VCC. The cost of transit at VCC is significant and there are students there, she said, who have to choose food or fares.

In 1990 the students started negotiations for UPass and in 1994 got FastTrax as the second prize. The decal gets a student a 3 zone ride for a 1 zone fare, but gives no discount to those who only ride within one zone. There is a large discrepancy compared with what UBC students now pay for their pass. In 2002 after UPass was successful in Ontario, Victoria and the University of Washington in Seattle, Translink returned to the negotiating table. Only SFU and UBC were accepted a part of the pilot program. In its first year UPass saw a 39% increase in transit ridership at SFU and 53% at UBC. A Translink report in 2005/6 proposed to expand UPass to nine community colleges but all nine had to agree. At the 2005 municipal election Sam Sullivan said, “I will make sure you get UPass even if Translink does not want to give it you.” Since then he does not return phone calls. The revenue neutral policy has not worked.

Buses are really overloaded. Under the proposed “all or nothing” deal the cost could have been $34 per month, but if it was VCC only it would be double UBC price. (Note that UBC does make a contribution towards the cost reflecting its savings on parking provison.) Some colleges are not interested, which makes the deal hard to complete.

VCC has 11,000 students and a high percentage are single parents. 33% are also working full time. There are a lot of low to moderate income single moms upgrading their qualifications in the hope of better employment.

The basic issue for the students is access to education. The ghg figures produced by the province and Translink don’t add up. A policy change is needed. It should no longer be revenue neutral and we need to get all colleges in the region on board.


Andrew Eisenberg said he liked the ideas he had heard but asked “how will you fund it?”

Fred Bass said that there are 1.2m cars in the region. They cost their owners $9,000 a year. That works out to around $11bn a year out of drivers pockets plus $5bn in subsidies. If you could redirect 10% of that to transit we could have a good system. He also pointed out that money spent on cars goes out of this region.

Tiffany Kalanj said that there is currently a $300m surplus at Translink, but they raise the fares and they increase their own pay. What about the poor? It is not that difficult: it is just a political decision.

Dale Laird noted that at present CN intermodal ships containers from the port to their Thornton rail yard by truck. He also noted that the only way that the Canada Line has stayed within its budget is by a reduced scope. Two train sets have been cancelled and the provision of storage for spare or damaged trains at the ends of the tracks have been eliminated. Lavalin has therefore also required the removal of its performance guarantee, as these measures make it impossible for them to meet their targets.

David Cadman concluded that transit should be a wedge issue in next election. We need to get the ped/bike/transit coalition as organised as the truckers. Cope is opposed to Gateway. He also noted that Sam Sullivan had promised to roll back the previous fare increase. While on the Translink Board he did nothing to bring this about

We must stop expansion of roads to absorb traffic from the freeway expansion but Bill 43 means TransLink can overide city council and insist on local road widenings to distribute increased traffic from the widened freeway.

Fred Bass said simply “We have been screwed on transportation. It has been a robbery of our democratic rights.”



Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2008 at 7:48 am

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Wow – I think that this post makes it perfectly clear why provincial government took over transit planning from the villages (pardon me “cities”) and decided to go with the experts running the boards. I would call this shocking.

    Dejan K

    February 12, 2008 at 8:39 am

  2. I bike to Langara College, and the bike lane on 49th Ave eastbound approaching Cambie is all I need to tell me that Vancouver is not anywhere close to world class when it comes to bikes. Rather than continue right up to the intersection and become a bike box (or anything that says BIKE HERE!) the bike lane simply turns into dotted lines and disappears in the right-turn car lane about 20 metres before the intersection. Do they expect me to disappear as well?

    It’s obvious to me that the whole “Vancouver is world class” thing is a complete myth any way you look at it. Yet we have politicians trying to tell us every day that it’s “The Best Place on Earth”, a fallacy that lets them sit back and do nothing while those who know nothing and have never been anywhere else happily agree and drive everywhere, and meanwhile anyone else who doesn’t agree is left out in the cold.

    This city/region needs a fundamental shift in its way of thinking. I’m worried that the catalyst for that shift is going to be a nasty event, brought on by oil shortages or economic failure, by which time it will be too late to make a difference in the transit infrastructure we need. A quote by Andres Duany comes to mind and I think it sums up Vancouver’s mentality nicely:

    “It’s the weirdest thing in the world that a city like Vancouver, which is half single family houses is somehow thinking that it’s going to remain into the 21st century single family houses. I ask you, what planet are you from?”

    Change single family houses to car use and half to about ninety percent, and this quote can be easily applied to transportation as well, being as cars are the accepted infrastructure that goes along with a city of single family houses. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with sf houses, just that Vancouver needs to reassess a lot of things right now, among them the dominant form of transportation infrastructure we need to build, and the land use that goes along with it. Although I think the planners are probably well on their way in some areas towards a reassessment, probably the majority of people need to realize that business as usual needs to change, and quick.


    February 12, 2008 at 8:49 am

  3. Ok, so this is totally not transportation related, but having had recently the Vancouver Bloggers Meetup at Our Town Cafe, I totally can relate. It’s a great coffee shop if you want to read a book (very relaxing) but not good for meetings.


    February 12, 2008 at 10:44 am

  4. The single family / car / transportation regime is closely tied to affluence and social and economic status. Just look at the condo ads anywhere in Vancouver – it’s all about lifestyle, pampering and excess. You won’t see any reference to transit in Vancouver condo advertising (except maybe Collingwood Village – Vancouver’s only transit-oriented village (CityGate is really an extension of downtown)) – you have to go out to the suburbs to see a Skytrain featured prominently in a condo advertisement.

    Ron C

    February 12, 2008 at 7:34 pm

  5. Many very pertinent comments above — kudos!

    Andrew’s observation regarding the car subsidy addresses one of the most relevent but least analyzed topics in modern history. Five billion dollars a year just in the Lower Mainland … this is a leading indication how wealthy (and hoodwinked) our society is when this fact remains buried completely under the surface while the wild-eyed anti-tax critics pop up and denounce every transit intitiative of significance as “unaffordable.”


    February 13, 2008 at 11:23 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: