Stephen Rees's blog

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

Victoria sought to delay TransLink fees debate

with 3 comments

[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

3 Responses

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  1. I was always against the transit levy, simply because TransLink would treat it as free money and squander it on useless projects. The trouble with our transit system is that it is dated, user-unfriendly, and not an attractive alternative to the car. It is not a competitive product, rather it is a social service and transit systems run as a social service fail badly.

    In South Delta, where I live, the Community Shuttle buses run empty all day long, this is not good transit. We have the U-Pass, designed to put ‘bums’ on empty bus seats, making the Broadway buses intolerable at peak times.

    It’s time to grow up and realize a public transit system can’t be all things to all people, and get down to the job of moving people economically and efficiently, definitely what is not happening here. A $100 transit levy would just give the powers that be more money trying to put ‘square’ pegs in ’round’ holes.

    500 additional new buses would mean at least 1,500 new employees to subsidize and here lies the problem, no one in control – Falcon or the TransLink Board – has a clue about modern public transport.

    I think in 2011, when the hype and hoopla of the RAV/Canada Line settles down and the metro is only carrying 50,000 to 60,000 passengers a day, will anyone really stand up and question how our public transit is planned and operated.

    Sadly my predictions are coming true and more and higher car and gas (lest I say carbon tax) taxes will not change how the ‘Ship of Fools’ provides transit. What is needed is an honest and frank public discussion about public transit and why we must wisely invest in good public transport.

    As it stands, we are just throwing good money after bad, increasing taxes in hope of something better, maybe, is the cowards way out.

    Malcolm J.

    October 25, 2008 at 3:04 pm

  2. The Surrey Leader picked up a facet of the story that seems unmentioned in the other articles. Their story is at

    One proposal that TransLink apparently came up with and has the Minister’s approval is a hare brained scheme to give everyone who pays their $100 vehicle levy a free annual transit pass. Looks like nothing has been learned from the U-Pass fiasco.

    One could start poking so many holes in that strategy, that is laughable. Such a move would set the system up for eternal dissatisfaction….not to mention nuking fare revenues.

    I appreciate the carrot approach….but how about a book of three zone Fare Saver tickets when you pay your vehicle levy….not an annual pass. The fact the idea was considered by TransLink and that Falcon actually thinks its a good idea shows the fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of public transit and the problems the current system faces.

    Region wide road pricing is the clear cut way to go. Traveling by auto or transit has a cost. The further you go, the more you should pay as you are requiring more in the way of infrastructure to get you where you want to go. Pricing transport in such a way is the only way that truly sustainable communities will ever be created en masse and suburban communities are forced to grow up into real livable cities. Pedestrians and cyclists are the only ones who deserve a free ride.


    October 25, 2008 at 10:43 pm

  3. I would like to see for the first time a detailed economic evaluation of car dependency compared to transit + other sustainable tranportation oientations (e.g. the walkable city).

    My guess is that the price of car + oil dependency is so high it’s barely understandable (sounds like the credit crunch!), and we’ll start to have a true picture of just how few crumbs are left for everything else.


    October 29, 2008 at 12:39 pm

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