Stephen Rees's blog

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

TransLink parking lot rolls over Marpole residents

with 5 comments

The Vancouver Courier does its best to seem concerned about the impact of an expanded employee parking lot at the new operating centre – except it fails to make clear what exactly they are objecting to.

The operating centre is located on the site of a former lumber mill on the north bank of the north arm. The land is zoned industrial – because that it what it has been since European settlement started. Of course that was waterside industry because it needed the river – that is still how log booms are moved from the forest to the mills. In those days much of the product would have moved out in barges too. These days barges are still mainly used for woodchips, and a steady shuttle service of pulp and packaged lumber to and from Vancouver Island.

There are not many places you can put a transit  operating centre (other places use words like garage or depot).  Most people want more bus service but no-one wants to live next to the place where buses are stored overnight and maintained. There is, of course, a lot of traffic, and buses start leaving in the early hours of the morning, before many people are awake, in order to get the early shift workers to their place of employment on time. It is the same thing in reverse late at night.

Some people think that the river banks should be solely for expensive housing – waterfront property always commands a premium. Others think that public access is important – a place for parks and public paths for walking and cycling. And much of the former industrial lands along the water have been redeveloped that way. The whole of the frontage of the former BC Packers plant in Steveston for example – or much of False Creek in Vancouver. There are even people like Terry Slack who think we should do more to restore the river to its natural state in an attempt to protect the ecosystem.

Terry Slack, a retired commercial fisherman and volunteer with the Fraser River Coalition, launched into a crowd-pleasing tirade that strained the boardroom sound system. “This project does nothing for the river. It actually erodes it,” he thundered. “This project respects absolutely nothing!”

He might have pleased the crowd in Marpole, but his views are not at all popular with those who actually make decisions about the river. As long as there is money to be made or freeways that can be built he is ignored – along with the rest of the environmental movement. In BC they used to be influential – now they are regarded as  an annoying fringe group standing in the way of “progress”.

Because this part of Marpole is still largely industrial, the City had no plans to transform the area. The vision that the Marpole waterfront could “be better than False Creek” is not incorporated into any official plan – so not surprisingly the development board allowed the parking lot to proceed.

“Why aren’t more of your staff taking buses?”asked city planner Brent Toderian

Well that’s the interesting question. It actually needs to be addressed not just to the operating centre at Marpole but to all the institutions charged with looking after planning and transportation. For example, City of  Vancouver staff, who get free parking across the street from City Hall.

Translink employees get a free pass – actually two each – one for a family member  (not just a spouse). But many still drive or car pool. I did my very best to commute by transit from Richmond. First to Gateway in Surrey, and later to Metrotown. The simple fact was that this was slow and very inconvenient. And for official business I was expected to use one of the pool cars – since time out of the office being unproductive sitting waiting for a bus was not considered a good use of my time. In fact from Metrotown to my home in Richmond at the end of the day it was quicker to ride my bike. Downhill most of the way, it took 90 minutes. Something the transit system could not achieve then. For years I asked why there was no direct service between Richmond Centre and Metrotown – and one did emerge after I left.

But for operational staff there is a very important constraint. If you are the operator of the first bus in the morning, there is no service to get you to work. Nor is there service for the people who bring in the last buses after they have parked. Indeed outside of the peak periods, which is when all bus service personnel have to travel, the service is scarce. And pay rates for operators may be good, but even so it is not possible to live close to work for many. And staff get moved around between operating centres. Only those with sufficient seniority get to  pick when and where they work.

A better solution would something like  having a few drivers come in early and take out some of the community  shuttles to pick up the rest of the first-shift drivers  which would allow for not building such a large lot. In the days before widespread car ownership that is exactly what happened. Well, I don’t know about here but when I was a bus conductor in Nottingham in the late sixties and had to be on early turns I went and got the “paddy bus” – a circular service through the suburbs to the  depot just to pick up (and drop off) crew. Not available to the public and operated by the maintenance department who had buses to road test. (And actually in those times too we only got a free ride on the bus when in uniform and going to and from shifts.)

The operating times mean that there are only a few hours in the very early morning when no buses run at all. It would not be too difficult to actually schedule a “commuter coach” type service – since it is known where staff live and what times they need to be at work. In fact I advanced just such a service to the airport authority when they were facing a similar shortage of staff parking spaces. The airport starts work before the transit system is up and running, so regular transit does not work for a lot the people who work there. But there are companies who need to bring coaches into Vancouver every day from their garages in places like Delta. Any revenue for what is currently a “dead head” run would be welcome, I would have thought. The idea died when YVR discovered that if they abandoned federal parking standards and used commercial ones, capacity of the exiting  employee lots could be doubled.

As usual, our system suffers because of the absence of “joined up thinking” and a slew of institutional arrangements which separate out responsibilities. There is also the ” we ‘ve always done it this way” argument which seems to win most times. All sorts of creative possibilities – about the journey to work and many other issues – have been around for a long time but very few stand up to the current mind set. Since we mostly own cars and like their convenience – and since many of the most senior people get both a company car and a preferential parking spot – parking at work is a very delicate issue indeed. I speak as one who once suggested that very senior civil servants should not have the privilege of parking on Horse Guards’ Parade. A career limiting suggestion I must confess – but one that was also adopted after I left.

And yes when I go to work – graveyard shifts at weekends in very out of the way places – I drive too.

(Thanks to Rick Green for the idea and some thought on this item)

Written by Stephen Rees

February 4, 2009 at 10:02 am

Posted in parking, transit

5 Responses

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  1. Other facts the article fails to mention:

    Part of the overall vacant lot is already used for parking.

    More than half of the expansion is to accommodate the 34 articulated trolley buses on order (actually diesel buses will be parked there, but they are being moved off the main site to make room for the trolley buses).


    February 4, 2009 at 10:30 am

  2. Yes, it would be a shame to see the loss of the industrial land base along the river.
    Hopefully the transit-oriented development planned for the Marine Drive Station doesn’t expand too far from that node (while it signifies a willingness of the City of Vancouver to densify near a station, it follows the unfortunate pattern of rezoning (unsightly) industrial to (friendly) residential/commercial).

    Ron C.

    February 4, 2009 at 3:53 pm

  3. […] [The Globe and Mail] Vancouver sees lowest home sales since early 1980s [Chinese in Vancouver] TransLink parking lot rolls over Marpole residents [Stephen Rees’s blog] CANADA We’re still playing catch-up on public transit [Toronto Sun] […]

    re:place Magazine

    February 5, 2009 at 8:15 am

  4. Nitpicky aside – CoV staff parking is extremely limited and won’t be free much longer (a few months). Which is good, because you’re right, all institutions related to planning and transportation should be leading by example, not operating under outdated suburban models.


    February 5, 2009 at 4:36 pm

  5. I STRONGLY feel Translink is using a lot of smoke & mirrors to convince Marpole Resident’s there ideas are the right thing.

    Richard VonHoltum

    February 23, 2009 at 2:03 pm

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