Stephen Rees's blog

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

Transit and Property Speculation

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In today’s Sun there is an editorial and an opinion piece by Miro Certenig

And as the editorial notes, this is not Hong Kong and SoCoBriTCA is not the MTR. Nor is it the CPR. And the less said about John Les at this stage the better.

The CPR was encouraged to build its line across the country by a straightforward strategy. The Government of Canada gave it land grants along its right of way. Even so, the CPR was not an easy enterprise to fund. And, just like the UP/Central Pacific across the US, had to be rebuilt soon after completion as a number of cost saving construction measures had to be corrected once the revenue stream started to flow and some of that land could be sold. And that is not a model we can emulate either –  nor should we.

We have needed TOD here for a very long time. And apart from exceptions like Joyce Station have not seen a lot of it yet – although there are stirrings in the undergrowth. But development funded transit is also not the only model. Just the one that seems easiest to finance. And that is what seems to appeal to our leaders these days.

It does not necessarily produce the optimum decision. For instance, when GVTA lost its expected revenue stream from the vehicle levy, its priorities changed. And all of a sudden a replacement for the Albion Ferry leapt to the top of the agenda. And the only reason it did so was that it could be funded by user tolls, and thus built by a P3. Whether or not it was a Good Idea or consistent with a plan to try and restrain car dependent sprawl in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were questions that were never even asked, let alone answered.

Left to its own devices, the market produces some very poor outcomes. That is because the market is unconcerned with social or environmental objectives. Not that that prevents the market from having profound social and environmental impacts – which is why we used to have legislation to control it. As we now know to our cost in BC we have given up trying to protect our environment except where the protests get really significant. Though quite why they listened at Pitt Lake and not Eagleridge Bluffs I cannot determine.

Once upon a time, we decided collectively that we needed an activity called “planning” to try and control some of the worst excesses of developer’s greed. Not that it always worked – or very well  when it did. But people do still come to Vancouver from elsewhere in North America and they think we did better in some ways than they did. I do not trust the present provincial government – or its appointees. The real estate development model may get us more transit and more TOD. But I would not be at all surprised if in another twenty years we are still stuck in traffic with an 11% mode share – and a very profitable agency that used to be public but will have become a “publicly traded corporation.” Which will no doubt please the “man whose last job was with The Fraser Institute” who writes the editorials at the Sun.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2008 at 10:33 am

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

One Response

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  1. Based on the very nature of what Translink will be trying to accomplish – high-density development to increase their ridership & real estate revenues – I wouldn’t think there’s much concern about negative environmental impacts. Nor do I see any particular link between high-density and negative social impacts. So, I think we’re safe there.

    Also, it would be odd to have significantly more transit and TOD, yet not a growing mode share. If that were the case, I’d think it’d be the municipalities at fault for encouraging more sprawl, not Translink’s doing. Having municipalities compete for Translink’s services via granting favourable zoning for TOD is a market-oriented approach to controlling sprawl, which should nicely supplement any regional framework.

    Finally, I don’t think it’s desirable for Translink to become a private corporation either. They must stick to a mandate of increasing ridership, and property development should just be one of their tools. I’m not sure how MTR works as a private corporation, but if they eventually end up generating more money from business opportunities other than transit development (i.e. farming or something), wouldn’t they lose their transit focus? Where would that leave Hong Kong’s transit? From Wikipedia,, I see they’re also looking at international opportunities…


    March 29, 2008 at 2:47 pm

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