Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for February 2nd, 2011

Should Translink be split up?

with 12 comments

Delta Council seems to think so – and the discussion has also been picked up by Paul Hillsdon on Civic Surrey. The argument is not new, and is based on the conviction that Vancouver is at an advantage in any regional arrangement. Politicians like to compare how much is collected in their area and how is spent in the same place. In this case, they have been saying for years that Vancouver gets much more transit than the rest of the region and that less is spent in their municipalities.

Actually it is quite difficult to determine how much is spent in each municipality or even how much goes to the north or the south. Paul Hillsdon states “What we don’t know is how much the SoF communities contribute and how much service they see back for this money.” So I am a bit reluctant to enter that debate at all. It is hard to argue anything when there aren’t any reliable figures – and the ones that are being batted around look like they are carefully picked.

But Hillsdon goes on “However, there are advantages beyond simply service levels. One area that would improve is autonomy.” Now this is where the wheels definitely come off the wagon. There is indeed a lot wrong with the current arrangements. But I find it highly unlikely that a new SoF authority would be directed by their own politicians while the rest of the region would continue with the present set up. I think the argument shouldn’t be about “we want ours” – I find that argument petty. It also does not just apply to South of the Fraser. The North Shore has always felt itself left out. Do we end up with transit agencies for each municipality? Do we need separate agencies in Anmore and Belcarra? Obviously there are regional services. While there is always going to be an argument about where to draw the boundary, the functional economic region is clearly much bigger than any city – they are all interdependent. And while the discussion is limited to transit it is going to be skewed by the province’s preference for building roads rather than transit. South of Fraser is seeing huge sums spent on freeway expansion and the South Fraser Perimeter Road. The replacement of the Albion Ferry was never a very significant issue in the region, but Translink did it just because they were able to fund it from tolls. It was, I think, a very poor decision from a number of perspectives, but shows the mess we get into when we insist that user pay is the only way to assess the value of transportation projects.

Translink does need reform. The province has continued to maintain its iron grip over transit and never really relinquished it, even to the GVTA. Which looks better than what we have now but was not exactly popular at the time. The province is also dominated by concerns for “the heartland”. Rural votes always count for more than urban votes. Everything costs more to build when much greater distances have to be covered – especially when given the difficultly of much of the terrain in BC. And blacktop politics has always been a major force in BC.

We can also see what happens when transit agency boundaries do not much up to “commutersheds”. The long running hostility between  Mississauga and Toronto, for instance. It gets much nastier than just the need to pay an extra fare at the boundary.

In this blog I have often argued that we need better arrangements. We do have to look as transportation as a whole – not just transit. But we also need to be shaping growth not just serving current demands: of course, transit must serve current demand a great deal better than it does now. But we also must put priority on reducing motorized trip making  – reducing the demand for trips as well as switching modes. We must not continue to behave as though transportation and land use are separate: obviously they are not. It is a regional issue, and maybe we need to adjust the boundaries of what I still think of as Greater Vancouver to better reflect current and future realities. Maybe Abbotsford and Squamish were not supposed to become suburbs of Vancouver once – but the province has ignored that in its massive road construction program and we now have to deal with the consequences.

The future we face looks very grim indeed – and much of that is due to our dependence on personal motorised transportation. We need better arrangements that are more responsive to local needs. We need accountability. We need more not less democracy. We need greater involvement in the decision making process. It is simply not enough that we get to chose the name of a new transit smart card, but nothing of any importance. Of course Translink has to be reformed. But breaking it up into smaller fiefdoms to suit local politicians is the wrong direction to go in and spells certain disaster.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm