Stephen Rees's blog

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

B.C.’s transit plan faces funding shortfall

with 8 comments


Kevin Falcon was on the Radio 1 morning show today (no, I didn’t listen) so I suppose that is the genesis of this story today. The shortfall on Translink’s funding is not news – that has been around for some time. And it does not help that as increasingly happens there is clearly some confusion – certainly in this story – and probably elsewhere too – between Translink and BC Transit (the crown corporation) and BC transit (i.e provision of transit service in places outside of “Metro Vancouver”).

The famous $14bn figure was never a provincial commitment. It was the sum of what was expected to be contributed by all three levels of government – and came as a complete surprise to two of them, since the province had not bothered to consult either of them before it made its announcement.

After 2012, TransLink is projecting a deficit and plans to reduce service levels, slowing projected growth to just 1.5 per cent each year.

That is because they have taken on board too many major capital projects – many of then nothing to do with transit at all – and the only prospect of additional funds comes from real estate. Which, in the current state of the market, looks like a decidedly iffy proposition. Rather like the much vaunted P3s that were supposed to both assume risk and somehow cost less, even though their financing costs are higher than government issued bonds.

“If you do not set a goal, you’ll never reach it. Can we fail? Of course we can fail. but for goodness sakes, if we care about climate change and we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gases, let’s set an ambitious target and do our very best to try and reach that,” said Falcon.

OK Kevin I will help out here. If you care about climate change and are serious about reducing ghg – here’s how to cut them. Cancel the Gateway. Easy. Do not build the South Fraser Perimeter Road, which will allow Burns Bog to continue to suck up carbon from the air. Something peat bogs do very efficiently. It will also allow agriculture to continue in Delta – though the extent to which that is carbon neutral is debatable,  it at least cuts our need to import stuff from California. Do not widen Highway 1 or twin the Port Mann. That means road traffic levels will stay about the same as they are today. You can then switch the funds you were going to use to improve transit south of the Fraser, giving people who live and work there a real alternative for the first time. All those things you say you will do in ten or twenty years time can then be done sooner – before the expected population increases, which means they may have a chance to increase transit mode share. You can also start reducing the amount of road space that can be used by single occupant vehicles by turning existing lanes into exclusive transit lanes. This has two immediate effects. It reduces the attractiveness of driving and improves the service quality of transit (which become both faster and more reliable). In just the same way as traffic expands to fill the space available, it also contracts when capacity is reduced. And when current expectations of very much higher gasoline prices are realised, your current forecasts based on 80c/litre gas are going to look even dafter than they do now.

Stop the construction of the Port expansion at Roberts Bank. It is not needed anyway, and will be a great relief to a stressed ecosystem. We may even continue to see sandpipers and sand cranes migrate through the region. Not much money in that for developers of course, but you can’t have everything. Not pouring all that concrete onto farmland has got to be a good idea, just from eliminating the construction ghg alone. The continuing ability to get small potatoes and green beans from fields close to home helps too.

You could also cancel the construction of the Broadway tube tunnel. For that price you could buy streetcar service for all of Vancouver, but since they have electric trolleybuses already, there’s not as much to gain there in the way of ghg. BUT if you built surface level LRT and used existing railway rights of way you could greatly extend the coverage of of high quality, zero emission electric trains to the whole region – and beyond. You would also have some money left over to start on the serious business of building a high speed rail line to Seattle – or at least to the Douglas border crossing. Cutting SOV car trips on Hwy 99/I5 has to be good news for ghg, don’t you think? Especially if, as has happened in Europe you also get a cut in the short distance jet plane travel betwen Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. (Jet planes produce more ghg than any other mode.)  It seems likely, given the drop in demand for air travel that the third runway at YVR will also be dropped and if another airline goes but it seems probable that Abbotsford airport could be closed too.

We are of course stuck with the Golden Ears and the new Pitt River bridges and the suburban sprawl that will engulf Pitt Meadows and Maple ridge, so getting on with LRT for these areas assumes a very significant priority. The good news is that all you need to do is allow Translink to actually operate a bus over the Port Mann – something they have been trying to do but you stopped – by utlising the northbound hard shoulder as an exclusive bus queue jumper. That cuts a lot of the need for people to drive from North Surrey to Coquitlam every morning. And of course a pilot project for a train on the old BCE Interurban can start almost immediately, using the funds that were going to pay for that completely redundant study you promised for after the election.

The big deal really is looking at that $14bn “plan” and turning it into reality. Mostly that is about priorities – and the more of that the province provides the more likely it is to happen. You could try funding it from the increasing carbon tax – though that might strike at the “revenue neutral” aspect. Or use some of the money the province has been scooping up from drilling rights. The less you have to depend on banksters the better, and anyway until this ABP mess is sorted they will be too busy fighting off fraud charges and related civil suits for misrepresentation. Don’t wait for the feds or the munis – the feds really don’t give a stuff about ghg anymore and the prospects for a Conservative majority in Ottawa could set all progressive ideas back for another five years. Municipalities simply don’t have $500m, as you well know, as they have already have had to hit up property taxes for all that decayed infrastructure you have been steadily dumping on them for the last few years.

Even better all this info is provided free of charge as a public service and I will not charge you a consulting fee. Don’t bother to thank me – just get on with it!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 22, 2008 at 3:56 pm

8 Responses

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  1. More spin,more liberal con—The Evergreen construction will not start until well after the 2010 money pit games and who knows it will never happen.

    This is also the starting spin for the 300.00 translink car levy that is going to foisted upon everyone, the problem with that car levy is construction is so far off that no doubt the money will get diverted to roads and bridges, paticularly to the putella toll bridge twinning,or as I should call it,competition for the port mann tolls.

    There is no way LIAR CAMPBELL was going to have a toll free option to cross the river,which is what the puttella was supposed to be!—I don`t want to dwell on that,I personally think the evergreen line will NEVER HAPPEN UNDER THE GORDON CAMPBELL REGIME!

    Grant g

    September 22, 2008 at 4:15 pm

  2. Thought you might find this interesting…

    “Why should a man who scorns most environmentalists have to argue that locally grown produce and wind power are the way of the future? Why should a lifelong Republican need to be the one to point out that his party’s new mantra – “Drill, baby, drill!” – won’t really fix anything and that his party’s presidential candidate is clueless about energy? That the spike in oil prices earlier this year wasn’t a temporary market anomaly and the recent retreat in prices is just a misleading calm before a calamitous storm? That we’re headed toward $500-a-barrel oil?”

    “Here comes $500 oil”


    September 22, 2008 at 7:22 pm

  3. I don’t think the Evergreen Line will be built at all as there isn’t the ridership to justify a SkyTrain metro. TransLink believes its own ‘spin’ that SkyTrain alone will attract more customers than light rail, yet reality must return to transit planning and at over $100 million/km. for LRT and more for metro, makes the Evergreen Line not viable at all, for any mode.

    TransLink is too entrenched with metro (a.k.a. SkyTrain and RAV) to contemplate planning with light rail and with the impending embarrassment with RAV’s ridership, they will avoid rail at all costs!

    I have a gut feeling that if Campbell & Co. is elected for a third term, they will off-load TransLink into sham P-3’s with several agencies operating transit (trolleybus, bus, SeaBus, SkyTrain, and RAV) to hide the accumulated failures.

    Malcolm J.

    September 22, 2008 at 8:28 pm

  4. Or maybe just maybe, they will build the evergreen line just like it’s being designed. I am positive we will get a new environmental tax added onto something to pay for Translink upcoming shortfall, wether it’s a vechile levy,a new parking tax or more gas taxes who knows.

    Joe Just Joe

    September 23, 2008 at 2:15 pm

  5. I think you may be right Joe. Falcon was on the CBC News at 6 last night and seemed to be saying just that.

    Stephen Rees

    September 23, 2008 at 2:33 pm

  6. Carbon tax = TransLink tax, as I predicted!

    Malcolm J.

    September 23, 2008 at 3:25 pm

  7. Falcon stated today on cknw news that the evergreen line will be completed sometime in 2014—6 plus years from now—What a phoney time line.

    Matters not what the time line is,Campbell and Falcon will be private citizens by june of 2009

    Anyone who doesn`t think there will be outright revolt with a car levy,especially if you don`t live in that area is surely mistaken!

    Grant g

    September 23, 2008 at 4:07 pm

  8. Chrysler has announced it will sell electric cars by 2010:

    …Vice Chairman Tom LaSorda said Tuesday that Chrysler is further ahead on developing electric vehicles than many had thought, though it kept the cars secret until recently.

    “We believe in the saying, ‘Actions speak louder than words,”‘ LaSorda said.

    Ron C.

    September 24, 2008 at 11:28 am

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