Stephen Rees's blog

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

Cell phone levy among TransLink tax ideas

with 11 comments

Jeff Nagel in the Surrey Leader has a substantial article and a video on line of the Translink’s Board’s discussion on new revenue sources. (Of course this is not the “professional” board – this is the Mayors who get stuck with the unpopular stuff)

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie called it a “long list” that looks “mostly unacceptable.”

Of course it will be the province that decides – and the Board also recognises that – and is already saying that Mr Falcon must tell them which ones the can come forward with. Though of course they would much prefer that somebody else pay – which includes the idea from Diane Watts (who I used to think was an improvement on Doug McCallum but now I am not so sure) who suggested putting the tolls back on the Coquihalla! Indeed the idea that the rest of the province should pay for Vancouver  seems to be common around that table.

Both congestion charges and pay as you drive insurance are in there – but I would not expect either to get the necessary provincial approval at present. And as Malcolm J commented recently, there is no way any of the ideas that would have the effect of reducing driving will actually work until there is a better transit system – much better than the one they are currently trying to find ways to pay for. The system as it presently is configured simply does not have the peak hour capacity to absorb more demand. UPass did reduce car use at SFU and UBC – but it also created a passup problem that is far from resolved.

Metro mayors would have final say next summer on approval of the new taxes and the expansion package they would finance.

If they said no to the tax measures and the expansion, TransLink’s board would proceed with a “base case” to run the system with existing resources.

That would mean deep cuts to transit service – taking it back to 1974 levels, according to one internal estimate – as well as the scrapping of major rapid transit expansions like the Evergreen Line.

TransLink is already starting to outspend its finances as it takes on higher operating costs of new projects like the Canada Line and adds more buses to its fleet.

A $103 million budget shortfall next year is to be drawn from TransLink’s reserves, which will be depleted by 2011.

Not quite, Jeff. The Minister of Transportation and the Premier will have the final say. The good news is that may not necessarily be the present incumbents of those posts. Not that the NDP have been any keener to raise taxes to pay for a decent transit system either.  It was now Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh – then temporary NDP premier who killed the vehicle levy, don’t forget.

The only possible solution is to come up with the money for a lot of new transit that can be implemented very quickly – before the new tax kicks in. Abandoning other transportation programs in this region would also have to be part of how that is managed.

UPDATE Jeff has another piece now (5:25pm Dec11) “Falcon won’t duck Translnik tax debate”

except for the toll on the twinned Port Mann he won’t raise new regional taxes to pay for his favourtite road projects either

Written by Stephen Rees

December 11, 2008 at 8:29 am

11 Responses

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  1. If we see public transit as a component of our climate change actions, then it is easy to see investment in transit as the infrastructure necessary to the cause. The provincial government should view the expansion of transit service and implementation of light rail as real climate change initiatives. We have heard the Premier say that he wants to reduce green house gas – although his actions have defied that declaration over and over again – and he has said infrastructure investment is imperative in the current economic climate. In public transit, we have the perfect answer to both issues. We can begin to incrementally and consistently expand our investment now, in light rail and more buses and bus routes. It requires adequate funding to Translink, and the other urban areas that need public transit investment like greater Victoria. A new approach to road pricing – tolls – is one step in the right direction. If we invested tolls back into the transit system, instead of allowing that money to go into private shareholders pockets under a privatization scheme, we would have a dedicated source of revenue. If we price carbon effectively in BC – instead of implementing an ineffective gas tax – we could invest some of those revenues back into transit.
    We all know we must reduce our automobile dependency but so far, the only thing I see the Provincial investing in in any serious way is highway expansion. Wrong priorities for the times for sure.
    And the current sacrifice of agricultural land to black top is something so backward and stupid it defies the imagination. Yet again, we have seen government priorities that are completely out of touch with the wishes of the people and common sense. Once more, food security and preservation of farmland has fallen victim to the interests of big business. Absolutely irresponsible and shameful.

    Maurine Karagianis

    December 11, 2008 at 9:01 am

  2. I’m sure we’ll see a fare increase in this as well. If the system can’t cope with current demand and has no money to expand, another fare increase will be seen as a logical choice to quell demand to more manageable levels and provide more funds to expand. The unfortunate part of this is that the poor who rely on transit the most would be most adversely affected. They have no choice and suffer with the higher cost and you end up losing your choice riders who are the ones you really want in the battle for modal share to get cars off the road. The Province won’t see it in those terms however.

    I do think a fare increase for U-Pass is in order. There is no rhyme or reason why a University student should pay less than a high school student to use transit. The U Pass should cost the same as a monthly Concession pass (already a great deal in and of itself). University students are not a group that deserve a bigger break than any other segment of society. Yes, the kick with U Pass is that it is not optional for students in the universities that are part of the program. I still think if you look at the numbers, we’re still subsidizing UPass riders to a higher level than any other group of riders in the system. That flaw must be fixed. And yes, I am aware of the disabled and low income seniors with their yearly passes. The Province subsidizes those passes however. The user pays $40 a year, the Province pays TransLink for the equivalent of 12 months of Concession bus passes for each annual pass they give out.

    With the dramatic drop in gas prices, perhaps this would be as good a time as any to increase the gas tax by as much as a dime per litre. Its an imperfect form of road pricing, but the only measure of “pay for use” of the road system that is available to us.

    I guess the real question is whether the Province will give TransLink any new ways to gain revenue or stick with the same old revenue levers we’ve had for far too long? Its certainly high time that some new revenue measures were implemented. Given the current “economic climate” however, I doubt the Province will authorize anything innovative other than some mix of the usual three suspects, fare increase, property tax increase and gas tax increase. You’d be lucky to squeeze enough out of those increases to pay for current operations, let alone any serious expansion. Of course, the Province can then blame TransLink for not holding up their end in paying for the Provincial Transit Plan and then scrap their commitments to it (not that the Provincial Transit Plan is anything to get excited over). That is how the current Machiavellian structure of TransLink is designed to work. As always of course, there will be plenty of money for freeway expansion. There is never any worry of where to find the money for Gateway.


    December 11, 2008 at 10:57 am

  3. Look – I really like our transit system, and if you take responsibility for where you choose to live in Metro – the system works great. I live on Commercial Drive and work downtown. I don’t even own a car and use transit 6 or 7 days a week.

    But, how did TransLink get away with spending all that money on unneeded technology like the GPS, talking buses (which are unintelligible by the way), 98B-line fancy bus shelters, “next bus” texting etc.

    This is one public agency that got just as drunk as Wall Street during the good times. They spent so much money on technology that could have been spent on providing actual transportation services.

    I don’t care if my bus reads out the stops to me – I’ve been doing without it for 20 years. And, if the bus service was good enough, I wouldn’t need to txt to find out when the next one is coming. There are also FAR too many ticket vending machines at some of the train stations and they just get vandalized over and over again. How much was each of these and how much are they to maintain? Take some out of service and that will drive people to buy pre-paid instead.


    December 11, 2008 at 11:36 am

  4. By today’s news reports, the province is going on a SkyTrain building spree. Watch out for massive tax increases!

    Just as a reminder, U-Pass was conceived to put “bums on empty seats” on dedicated bus services to the U of W. in Seattle. It worked, but in Vancouver, there were no empty seats!

    Malcolm J.

    December 11, 2008 at 11:47 am

  5. Malcolm, there is no firm indication the UBC line will be SkyTrain. They have been careful not to call the UBC line a SkyTrain EXTENSION or EXPANSION like they are with the Surrey portion.

    This money seems to allocated to completely redo previous studies on technology/routing for the UBC Line.

    But, my money is on them extending the Millennium line from VCC station to UBC. That’s what I’d prefer too – and I’m willing to pay more taxes for it. I’d much rather ride the SkyTrain for 12 kms than LRT and I’m sure consultation with the Broadway shopkeepers will confirm a SkyTrain preference too – as long as it is bored tunnel.

    I believe the last study supported bored tunnel under 10th Avenue due to the slope allowing people to walk almost horizontally into the station instead of going deep underground.


    December 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm

  6. Today’s announcement was just more studies “of all options” – in other words nothing is going to happen in rapid transit while they are rushing to get the Gateway roads built.

    Stephen Rees

    December 11, 2008 at 2:02 pm

  7. The item that I find most interesting is who is going to do the study? $10 million is a lot of money and will buy many friends.

    On the Radio today, Falcon said a SkyTrain subway to UBC – a Freudian slip maybe?

    An acquaintance of mine, who works in the mining/tunneling industry, is rubbing his hands with glee, because the cost of a SkyTrain subway to UBC will exceed $4 billion, lots of money to fling around.

    The shopkeepers on Broadway maybe enticed to support LRT if they understand business increases about 10% along the line (the Portland experience), while a subway brings no business.

    Malcolm J.

    December 11, 2008 at 4:13 pm

  8. This is copied of another website, I though it was a pretty idea to make up most of the shortfall.

    “Translink could make up some of the money need w/o upsetting too many people. Increase the hotel tax an extra $5-10 night and provide free daypasses for guests. Increase the airport improvement fee by $5 bucks and give free rides on date of flight. A $5/day fee per convention attendees surcharge and free transit passes for them. Do the same thing with Ticketmaster, maybe lower it to $3/ticket and free transit the day of the event.

    It will piss off a few people but overall it wouldn’t be too bad, you could sell the whole thing as a green tax, and all those items would make up a good portion of Translinks shortfall.”

    Joe just Joe

    December 11, 2008 at 4:58 pm

  9. I wonder how towns the size of Vancouver, or even smaller, manage to keep improving and expanding their transit system while TransLink keep talking of reducing the service? and it’s not like these towns have a huge budget either! By a fluke (Googling a wrong question) I found out that the LRT built in the town of Bordeaux (France)between 2000-2003 for the 1st stage then expanded 2005-08, cost 2 billions Euros: 1.2 billions for 43 km of lines (including the trams, repair shops etc) and 0.8 billions to redo the streets used by the lines (some of these streets lost most of their car lanes. As a result the real estate there went up a lot!). Yet the town has a yearly budget around 370 millions Euros only?! I would LOVE to find out the transit budget of, say, a dozen towns around the world but it looks like a tedious job. I did find out that some transit companies, like Paris’RATP, make money by building transit systems in other countries. As for so-called fancy expensive gadgets like stops announcements (either vocal or visual or both) this has been done for many years elsewhere and some places even offer bilingual announcements (Catalan and Castilian in Barcelona, English and Spanish in Portland, Japanese and English in Japan etc.) Joe just Joe has a good suggestion. I know that when I travel, although I tie my pennies together, I don’t mind spending a tad more on a hotel room, especially If I knew this would go towards improving their transit system, as I use transit systems a lot when travelling(I can’t wait for Seattle LRT to open).

    Red frog

    December 12, 2008 at 1:33 am

  10. Canada is the only country in OECD that does not have a national program to support public transport.

    I am not especially up to date with the position in France, but nationally funded programs support public transport development and operations at both the municipal and regional levels. In major cities, employers had to pay a levy which helped pay for public transport. The EU also supports regional economic development projects and has been a significant supporter of rapid transit improvements in areas that qualify for this support (which might include Bordeaux).

    The French have always spent much more than Anglophone countries on their railways and regard them as an important public service, not just a burden on the taxpayer.

    Stephen Rees

    December 12, 2008 at 10:02 am

  11. One reason that Bordeaux’s LRT costs are quite high, is that they are using the experimental ground level switched contact system, known in France as the APS system, short for Alimentation par Sol. In short, a ‘third’ rail power system that can be used on-street, without danger to pedestrians. The cost of APS powered sections were 3 or 4 times more than standard overhead electrical pick up.

    In Europe there are EEC, National, regional, and local subsidies for building transit systems.

    Malcolm J.

    December 12, 2008 at 3:39 pm

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