Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for October 25th, 2008

Slow Train Coming

with 9 comments

Vancouver Courier

And I am slow in catching up on this. I found it thanks to Transport 2000 Canada’s regular news round up. My Google alert for Vancouver +Transportation missed it.

Robert Alstead takes a journey north by rail from California and wonders if Canada’s vanished passenger trains will once again carry us from coast to coast

It is a sizeable slab of text with 6 web pages. Perhaps the best bit is the continuing story of the absence of the second train from Vancouver to  Seattle, and the apparent lack of concern from both province and the feds. Well, Gordon got his photo op last year and the siding is built.  My friend Dave Olson is quoted (in his professional capacity) and rubbishes the current “train bus” arrangement.

We really are being left behind. The rest of the world long ago realised that passenger trains will be increasingly important in a post peak oil, need to get the greenhouse gases down, there’s better ways than flying or driving world. We are stuck with this 1950s mentality. Trains are for museums. Kansas City can raise funds to restore Union Station as a “visitor experience” and a place for banquets (there seems to be a lot of demand for those still) but not seemingly for good quality public transport. Even of the current LRT proposal does get through the ballot, it will only serve the Missouri side, not the Kansas side, of the metropolis. Seattle is building one of the most expensive light rails schemes anywhere. But we cannot get a day time ride from here to there. There are no trains to Calgary – or Whistler – except the expensive tourist versions. And only three trains a week to the Rest of Canada.

For Shame

The Canadian at Pacific Central

The Canadian at Pacific Central

Written by Stephen Rees

October 25, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Railway

Tagged with

Victoria sought to delay TransLink fees debate

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[NOTE: This item was originally published on October 25. On November 3 I updated it thanks to correspondence from Jeff Nagel]

Translink not so long ago was piling up cash in its reserves. Now it is broke and needs more money. But discussion on where that money is going to come from has been put off. Jeff Nagel is a hard working reporter who has done better on the transit desk than anyone else around here.

A January 2008 staff report to TransLink’s board, obtained by Black Press under Freedom of Information, refers to TransLink’s pursuit of transportation “demand management” mechanisms —which include regional tolls and vehicle fees—to pull in more revenue while deterring car use.

It advised against seeking Victoria’s approval this year and said the transportation ministry “indicated a willingness to consider more sensitive issues such as funding and demand management later in 2009.”

Now of course Kevin Falcon is denying that this decision was his – but then he would, wouldn’t he. And the denial may even be literally true, because there are plenty of hacks and flunkies only to eager to anticipate what would best suit the Minister. And, I suspect, not all of them are order in council appointments. Eagerness to please being one of those qualities that gets promotions. People who tend to offer objective advice based on realities – and are unconcerned about spin and optics do not tend to last very long.

It is also true that Falcon has said openly that he expects residents to pay more. Of course, it will really help if that comes in the form of property tax, because that then blows back on the local politicians. The province has been downloading responsibilities without funding for many years. The history of transit in this province has been a long war of attrition between the municipalities trying to get the province to do more but refusing to use property tax to pay for it. After all, only 8% of the tax take goes to cities. All the rest goes to the province or the feds – and that is one thing both agree on. The feds should pay more.

But there is only one tax payer, and the premier has decided that he can accelerate income tax cuts to stimulate the economy. The surpluses that have been piling up have not produced more buses, or earthquake proof schools or more hospital beds. I find it very strange that both federal and provincial politicians are proud of their surpluses and refuse to consider deficits no matter how great the problem. But what they are actually saying is that either they have been taking too much tax from us for years or they have been refusing to spend money on desperately needed public investments and services.

Translink is indeed a strange case now, thanks to Mr Falcon’s interference. The Mayors will still get the stick from their voters – whatever they do – but they have next to no influence over how money is spent. And that is a real problem now – and indeed always has been. Where the money goes and on what is where the real politics should be. But that is not the case here. Everything is always “A Done Deal”. There is no input from voters or locally elected representatives, and the process of decision making is deliberately obscured – right up until the next flashy press conference.  And even then because it’s a P3 nothing of importance will be revealed because of “commercial confidentiality” which now trumps public interest and accountability.

Note also the assumption that Falcon will still be Minister after the next election. I hope not. I also hope that one of the first priorities of a new administration will be to abolish the present mess and come up with a new structure that is democratically and directly elected. That makes all its decisions in the open, at meetings where the press and public can see and hear the debate. Where all the information is freely available and value for money trumps partisan advantage. Where we really do at long last start to tackle the issue that has always been steadily ignored – Increase Transportation Choice – for all of Greater Vancouver.

But what is really interesting is the second story in the same paper

Falcon could support TransLink vehicle levy

They have already determined that the new levy would be $100 per car – not the $75 that Ujjal Dosanjh canned. (He nearly got turfed but survived and is apparently thinking he could replicate his dismal provincial performance on the national stage – after all they did elect Dion leader)

Falcon says no to congestion tolling until “there is a first-rate public transit system in place” which, of course, if he has anything to do with it will be never.

Even if the expansion plans were shelved Translink faces a $150m a year deficit after 2011 to just maintain the system.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 25, 2008 at 11:39 am