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

Archive for June 2nd, 2009

TransLink wants to hear about service priorities

with 2 comments

Vancouver Sun

Does it really? Not surprisingly the comments that follow the on line version are (so far) universally negative. What Translink is trying to do with its latest exercise is to avoid the fate of the vehicle levy. Ever since it was created the regional transportation authority has not had adequate resources to do the job it was assigned. Previously the Vancouver Regional Transit Commission took the (quite reasonable) view that gas tax only collected in the region was “regional revenue” and therefore counted as the local contribution. The province took the view that since they collected the gas tax it was a provincial contribution. The VRTC simply banked the money until the argument could be resolved to their liking. The creation of the GVTA was in response to regional pressure – and the gas tax was raised but also split. So now 6c a litre  is raised regionally and a further 6c comes from the province’s gas tax: at the same time the region also has responsibility for downloaded roads and bridges. To get the City of Vancouver on board (since they did not have provincial roads to be downloaded) some municipal arterials were added to the Major Road Network. The City – being mostly unable to expand any of its roads – wanted to spend most of its allocation on other things – which did not go down too well with the other engineers who control these things, but it did not matter much as the Board itself got almost but not quite eliminated when it showed dangerous signs of independence over the Canada Line. So the reformed SoCoBriCTA now has a “professional” board (i.e. one that does as it’s told) and the Mayors only get lumbered with the unpopular bit – raising fares and taxes.

The consultation process is unsubtle. Either you allow a package of fare and tax increases or services get cut. There is no other alternative and none of the questions are exactly open ended. The idea is, I think, that the only people who can oppose a tax increase have to consent to the service cut.  You can already see that the Sun readers who like to comment feel that cost cutting need not necessarily affect service – or that they have no service anyway so are unfazed by the prospect of cuts. The timing is crucial. Translink has already spent a great deal on capital projects like the Canada Line and the Golden Ears Bridge. So those things will not be part of this process – and indeed were never seriously subjected to any kind of objective public process. But in order to pay for what has already been committed, Translink only offers cuts to transit service as an alternative to more taxation.

To some extent this does reflect the present reality. The Province is in control of major capital projects like freeways and new rapid transit lines. It – and not Translink – decides what gets built and when. Which is why even though there is still no progress on the Evergreen Line we are here debating yet another subway for Vancouver. That comment thread has got very long – not surprisingly – but the real issue (“how would you like to pay for that”) will be after this post. I will be interested to see if there is the same level of interest for this one.

I also wonder if the “consultation” meetings will actually get much notice. My bet would be that there will be a fare increase and a property tax hike – because that can be “blamed” on the Mayors – but no new revenue source because that would require provincial action. And now is not the time for tax increases: actually it never is. I can already find the provincial speaking points – they were using them during the recent election. “We have been spending more on transportation then ever before. Major transit expansion under way. $14bn transit plan” yadda yadda. Nothing about operating funds of course – all capital funding. Most of it supposedly free money from P3s (hah!) Very much the same as has been happening to the south of us. Every day my Google news search of “transit” has another agency raising fares and cutting service in the face of increasing demand, with the only new money being available for “shovel ready” capital projects. Meanwhile maintenance is neglected and a “state of good repair” remains an unreachable goal for most systems.

Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is a workable definition of madness. Yet look what is happening here. Do you expect it to be different this time?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 2, 2009 at 6:22 am

Posted in politics, transit