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

Archive for March 2013

The Pacific Carbon Trust audit

with 7 comments

We are supposed to have a carbon neutral government in BC. The BC Liberals introduced legislation to ensure that all the various organizations reporting to it – including schools and hospitals and so on – both took steps to reduce their emissions and where that was not feasible to purchase carbon offsets.

The BC Auditor General has been trying to ensure that his report on this program reached the public before he leaves for Australia and before we head to the polls. Not only was his report issued but he also got a presentation made and put it up on youtube. You can both read the report in full or spend a quarter of an hour listening to a nice lady read a summary. The video is just basic powerpoint type presentation. The main points appear as text on the screen as the voice reads the summary. Auditors are not noted for their exciting presentation skills – but this stuff is indeed dynamite.

The government has been boasting about how well it has done. How safe we are in its hands since the Liberals are so much better at running a businesslike government. Not rash tax and spenders like the NDP – or pie in the sky flakes like the Green Party. This report shows clearly the gap between government spin and reality.

I too have been caught out by false promises of carbon off setters. I wrote about that here. I expected much better of the Climate Change Secretariat, though I am hardly surprised by the results of the audit.

One of the projects was run by a company called Encana. They were flaring gas but now managed to capture it. But it turns out that they would have been doing that anyway, without the PCT financial contribution. And it also just so happens that Encana made $647,670.00 in contributions since 2005 to the BC Liberals. Thanks to Laila Yuile for that info

UPDATE 1 But there is another side to this story as Charlie Smith explores in the Straight. I do not know if the date has any significance.

UPDATE 2 However my conclusion is very much the same as that reached by Bob Simpson MLA – his open letter to the Minister of Finance is well worth reading

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Restore elected control of TransLink

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Jeff Nagel in the Surrey Leader has produced a very good summary of the consultants’ report commissioned by the Mayors’ Council on the governance of Translink. He also provides the complete report itself (but without its appendices), and I would urge anyone interested to read the whole thing. It is only 21 pages long, “has been prepared for discussion purposes and does not make recommendations”.

I think it is useful, and will be considered when there is a new provincial government. I think that would have to happen even in the now extremely unlikely eventuality of another BC Liberal government. I think it is also somewhat unlikely to be given high priority in that event: my bet would be that their instincts are still tied more to ensuring a replacement for the Massey Tunnel than sorting out transit in this region. In part that is because the Ministry of Transportation is in fact if not name a Ministry of Highways – and the advice the Minister gets is nearly always going to be based on continuing to do what it has always done. There is never anything new or different – no matter who is in charge at the Ministry or who has the Minister’s office. The plans are the ones that they have always intended to pursue – and any set back is simply regarded as a temporary one. You can never quite kill a highway plan: it will always re-emerge.

While there may not be recommendations, it is clear that its authors have identified the need for more local accountability. They also point out that while Metro has been a good regional service deliverer, it has been less successful as a regional planning body – and has not managed to deliver on its regional strategy, or come up with an economic plan for the region.

It is perhaps not surprising given that the signatories of the report cover letter – Clark Lim and Ken Cameron – both worked for the GVRD, and both had responsibilities in that body’s transportation planning efforts. They both have first hand  experience of the grinding conflict between the province and the region – and that between the municipalities. They do not mention one of the major stumbling blocks: that the City of Vancouver regards itself as a different kind of government since it has a Charter – and is therefore different from all other municipalities in the region. The huge disparity in size and power of the various municipal governments is reflected in the cumbersome voting arrangements for decisions – since there are no direct elections at the regional level. It is supposed to be conducted at the level of consensus, but that is not always the case. The consultants were not, of course, expected to review regional governance as a whole – just the bit that looks after transportation. But they could not ignore the critical linkages between transportation and land use. They mention economy in passing and I looked in vain for some reference to the environment.

Actually, nothing about the report is surprising. The odd thing is that it is thought necessary. Kevin Falcon made a quite extraordinary decision when he set about “reforming” Translink. He had already got his way – by lying about the provincial readiness to proceed with the Evergreen Line and the Canada Line simultaneously. He did not really need to have a tame board to get his own way. And he had already wrecked the Livable Region idea by deciding to widen the freeway (Highway 1) and build the SFPR though the ALR. As long as capital spending on road expansion exceeded that of transit expansion by several orders of magnitude, the notion that transportation choice would be increased was laughable.

I have had direct experience of a similar decision. Margaret Thatcher became extremely tetchy over the ability of Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Council to demonstrate that there was indeed a viable alternative to her policies. She had actually become known as “Tina” for her frequent recitation of the formula “There Is No Alternative”. She not only abolished the the GLC but the entire level of Metropolitan government in Britain. And for good measure then got rid of property tax (“the rates”) by replacing it with a Council tax based on population (“Poll Tax”) – now widely recognized as disastrous.  At the time of its abolition I was working for the GLC producing reports on governance rather like this one. The difference is she had a secure parliamentary majority – unlike the present provincial government. In any event, it did not mater how respectable the research (we even put out reports by such well known revolutionaries as Coopers & Lybrand and the LSE)  the vote in the House was all that counted. Once Tina was gone, a new Greater London Authority with an American style executive Mayor was set up – a very remarkable innovation in British local government.

I hope that when the new BC Government considers this issue it takes the view that it is simply not enough just to restore accountability to Translink by having an indirectly elected Board again. I have made this recommendation before, and do not apologize for repeating it now. Greater Vancouver needs a directly elected regional government that has control of transportation and planning – which has to encompass not just land use but also the environment and the economy. It has to have not just a vision (like the LRSP) but also the means to deliver on it. Given that it is very unlikely that we will see transit funded by the feds any time soon, the new authority must have sufficient fiscal resources to bring about fundamental change. It is going to be a huge task but if it is not tackled with both speed and determination we will continue to flounder in business as usual, while the world collapses around us. Climate change is real – and really bad. Much worse than was predicted even on worst case scenarios. It is also now inevitable. The carbon that is causing sea level rises, temperature increases and severe weather events has already been released. What we have seen so far is mild by comparison to what we will see.

Gestures and spin will no longer suffice – not that they ever did but that is all we have had up to now. And the governance of Translink is going to look trivial by comparison to the challenges we are going to face. So lets get this out of the way, so we really can start to make a difference to our future.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Journal of Public Transportation

Vol 16, No 1, 2013

Now available for download

Complimentary subscriptions can be obtained by contacting:

Lisa Ravenscroft, Assistant to the Editor
Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) University of South Florida
Fax: (813) 974-5168
Email: jpt (at)  [I have removed the curly symbol to defeat the spambots]

Table of Contents

Factors Influencing Young Peoples’ Perceptions of Personal Safety on Public Transport
Graham Currie, Alexa Delbosc, Sarah Mahmoud …………………………………………………………….1

An Analysis of Special Needs Student Busing

Behrooz Kamali, Scott J. Mason, Edward A.Pohl…………………………………………………………….21

The Impact of Hiawatha Light Rail on Commercial and Industrial
Property Values in Minneapolis
Kate Ko, Xinyu (Jason) Cao……………………………………………………………………………………………………47

State and Federal BRT Project Development Procedures:
Managing Differences and Project Implementation Delays
Mark A. Miller …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..67

Impacts of the Cedar Avenue Driver Assist System on
Bus Shoulder Operations
Brian Pessaro……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..83

Definition and Properties of Alternative Bus Service Reliability
Measures at the Stop Level
Meead Saberi, Ali Zockaie K., Wei Feng, Ahmed El-Geneidy………………………………………..97

Maintaining Key Services While Retaining Core Values:
NYC Transit’s Environmental Justice Strategies
Ted Wang, Alex Lu, Alla Reddy…………………………………………………………………………………………..123

A Bus Rapid Transit Line Case Study: Istanbul’s Metrobüs System

M. Anıl Yazıcı, Herbert S. Levinson, Mustafa Ilıcalı, Nilgün Camkesen,
Camille Kamga………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 153

Written by Stephen Rees

March 21, 2013 at 11:29 am

Posted in transit

Climate Change, NDP economics and the Tunnel

with 4 comments


I am going to point you to two columns – both in the Vancouver Sun recently and thus behind their paywall. This breaks my undertaking not to subject you to needless expense – but I am sure that by now you have learned how to avoid that.

The first is the Pete McMartin column that deals with climate change and why it is going to be much worse than we thought and much sooner. “Global warming’s new frightening deadline” looks at an article in Nature from 2009. That story was “impenetrable” so he got it via the non-profit news agency, InsideClimate News. If you read this blog regularly – with its 350 badge – then you probably know all this already, and if you don’t its probably because you have fallen for the lies peddled by the Koch brothers. We are not going to stop at 350ppm – nor 2℃. Probably not 4℃ either and 2 would have been catastrophic.

“The carbon budget implied by the 2 C limit,” Jaccard wrote, “means that we cannot be making new investments that expand the carbon polluting infrastructure.

“This means no expansion of oilsands, no new pipelines (like Keystone and Northern Gateway) and no expansion of coal mines and coal ports.”

The second is by Vaughan Palmer and looks at a shorter term issue – and one that I have touched on here. What the NDP is going to do once elected. “B.C. NDP supporters’ dreams of good times ahead likely to be dashed” He fleshes out what Geoff Megs was telling me – we are stuck with MSP and cannot expect them to raise income tax levels beyond the small amount that was in the most recent budget. It is all about reducing expectations in the name of electability. While Palmer is right in his statements, I think the NDP leadership is wrong to take the current conventional wisdom as truth.

First of all there is the potential for not giving away our natural resources. Because of story number 1 I think we should leave the coal, oil and gas under the ground. But given that current operations are going to continue then they ought to be priced properly. I doubt that raising the carbon tax alone is enough and besides I keep reading the stories about how they do things differently in Norway. That ought to be example enough. The MSP could be replaced by income tax – that is fairer than the flat level fee now charged but remitted to the very poor. The graduated scale of income tax is better, the amount collected could stay the same, and the right people (those who can easily afford it) would be paying most of it. It could equally be argued that there are plenty of other worthy cases. The headline reference to “Good Times” suggests a party. We are not talking about a party, we are talking about restoring a measure of social justice. “Publicly funded child care, … raising rates for social assistance, more resources in the classroom ” are all good and worthy policies.

“Reinvestment in the forests” is trickier – but is certainly a better objective than just giving away all the cutting rights for free which is what the current government is trying to do in its dying days. The last thing we need to do is allow a hell for leather rush to cut down the trees as fast as possible in the name of quick profits.

The other thing that we must do is change the mindset that says we cannot afford rapid transit – so we must chose between the UBC subway or Surrey LRT – but the tunnel under the Fraser must be replaced because of congestion on Highway 99. There is indeed a very short window of opportunity to comment – but the report on Phase 1 makes it clear that the majority of those consulted so far still believe that expanding highways cures congestion. Those few of us who did suggest real alternatives are treated as an eccentric, insignificant minority. Harry Lali was on the CBC News last night – and he looked like a transportation critic who has not had time to master his brief. The NDP made the mistake last time of continuing to build the Island Highway – and then got bogged down by the fast ferries, which they thought did not need anything like a basic travel demand study let alone a full cost benefit analysis.

I missed a report on NEWS1130 on March 7 when Adrian Dix made it clear that he is not committed by the present process

“The Liberals have talked about the Massey Tunnel,” he says. “I think the premier, in her speech to the UBCM, talked about the Massey Tunnel. There’s no money or real plan attached to that.”

Hat tip to Eric Doherty for posting that to trans-action

Popular opinion has been steadily misled but is at least willing to consider (transit) alternatives – as the Tunnel Phase 1 report makes clear. They are just not being given any real alternative

• Scenario 1 – Maintain Existing Tunnel
• Scenario 2 – Replace Existing Tunnel with New Bridge
• Scenario 3 – Replace Existing Tunnel with New Tunnel
• Scenario 4 – Maintain Existing Tunnel and Build New Crossing along Existing Highway 99 Corridor
• Scenario 5 – Maintain Existing Tunnel and Build New Crossing in a New Corridor

In Phase 1 a significant number of people expressed interest in a transit alternative as way of tackling congestion. Do you see any mention of transit in those scenarios?

CN 7206 Shell Rd at Hwy 99, Richmond BC 2006_0404

CN has announced – several years ago – its intention to abandon their current operation along Shell Road. This route parallels Highway #99 and gets close to the northern portal of the tunnel. CN are going to link to their other line at the eastern end of Lulu Island – so the freight service to the port continues. In most other countries, when looking for a way to expand rapid transit the first place you look is for a disused rail corridor. Of course it needs upgrading – double track for a start – and while modern electric traction can cope with grades up to 6% easily (and steeper if necessary) getting over both the North and South Arms of the Fraser will not be cheap or easy, but is perfectly feasible and cheaper than building a much wider highway bridge. And yes it could be linked to the old CP Arbutus right of way, and the line that runs on the north bank of the North Arm from Marpole out to Coquitlam. This line was indeed considered by  Translink for LRT not so long ago. What it might do South of the Fraser might be to provide a fast passenger service to the ferries (and the Tsawassen’s massive development projects).

There are three open houses this week and you can also respond on line. Please do, if only to make the numbers of those saying no to highways look a bit more respectable.


Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie has spoken out strongly against Option 5 – the idea of a new bridge across the South Arm to No 8 Road

Written by Stephen Rees

March 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

The paper trail

with one comment

“There have always been oral meetings that don’t have much of a paper trail. I don’t think that’s anything particularly new,” he said.

That’s Former parliamentary secretary to the premier John Les talking to the CBC today in response to the B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner recommendations following an investigation that began after a number of Freedom of Information requests to the premier’s office came back empty.

There’s a real danger in using language that includes words like “always”. My partner, for instance, talks about buildings in Vancouver that she says “have always been there” when what she means is “I don’t remember them not being there.”

I have been out of the civil service now for many years – but early on I made it a practice to have with me a hard bound notebook. A journal if you like. It went with me everywhere. This was long before civil servants were issued with Blackberries. But to me it was essential, especially when sent to attend meetings. The instruction always was “make good notes”. Sometimes, those notes got turned into more formal documents – but they were always useful when minuted meetings took place – because the notes could then be compared to the official record. And I often logged important information as I was engaged in other activities. If I met someone in a corridor, say, and I needed to record a telephone number. Or if I was on the phone and it seemed likely that a record of that call might be needed later.

All of this was started long before there was a Freedom of Information Act. But boy was it useful if there was any later repercussion. I think that this all started when I was a student. Lecture notes were essential – if for no other reason than to stay focussed. Maybe that’s why I still fill my blog with lecture notes. You can now compare if I am any good at them by looking at the Carbon Talks video and my blog post. I confess I have already filled in one gap when my scribble was unreadable – but now I can see that I wrote something very like what was said.

I have also found myself at various times under cross examination and my notes have indeed been called into evidence. And that’s a Good Thing, since memory is fallible – increasingly so with age, unfortunately.

Once upon a time, in the service of H M Government in the United Kingdom I was subject to the Official Secrets Act  – a very bad piece of hastily drawn up legislation that originated in 1914 and was a total catch all. If I told you the price of a cup of tea in the staff canteen at the Department of Transport we would both be guilty of an offence. The existence of a canteen was itself an Official Secret. FoI was supposed to change all that. Indeed working for the BC Government I can recall more than one occasion when the response to a sloppily worded FoI request was to simply bombard the enquirer with so much information it would be a Very Long Time Indeed before they found what they really wanted.

It is also the case that more than once I got called onto the carpet because I had written down what was said. And the person writing the minutes wanted them to show what ought to have been said instead. Being honest can make you very unpopular indeed.

But it is only recently – that is to say within the last ten years at least – when custom and practice within the BC civil service has been to conduct business in such a way that any FoI request could be frustrated. It may have always happened at the exalted level of the Premier’s office, but somehow I don’t think so. It is only a government which now has problems when it has to explain who said what to whom that this gets out of hand.

The BC Liberals have – and “always” have had – a lot that they would prefer to be not subject to FoI. If you have nothing to be ashamed of, there is no reason at all why there should not be a record. It is only when you know you do not want to be caught that you make sure there is no paper trail.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 7, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Translink 2013 Supplemental Plan

with 7 comments

Rather than continue to modify and correct an earlier post I am going to simply report on the latest development in Translink’s ongoing financial tussle with the province.

The Minister of Transport was supposed to have come up with a new funding mechanism to ensure that transit in Greater Vancouver could be expanded to meet growing demand. Current funding sources are inadequate, so Translink has been “optimizing” transit service – taking service away from lightly used routes to bolster service where overcrowding and pass-ups are all too frequent. More rapid transit is needed – the two most urgent needs being from the end of the current SkyTrain Millennium Line at Vancouver Community College out to UBC, and a light rail system for Surrey – the fastest growing city in the region with some of the lowest transit provision relative to population. But there is no consensus on how to do that – yet.

Since the province has failed to produce any new funding mechanism – and has refused also to increase the available ones – the Mayors have decided to rescind a planned two year temporary increase in property tax. That was supposed to ‘fill the gap’ between current levels of financial support and the expected new funding source. Translink has now produced the 2013 Supplemental Plan which sets out how it will cope without the expected $30m a year from the temporary increase in property tax.

So what is going to change? Nothing. The Plan takes five pages and lots of informative tables to state that it is now doing better than expected and can continue to operate as planned without the extra $30m a year. Probably.

TransLink will be able to proceed with the existing program and service commitments for 2013 and 2014, including the expansion in the 2013 Base Plan. TransLink is able to do this as a result of better than expected performance in 2012, achieving further and significant operating efficiencies and by drawing down its cumulative funded surplus. Reductions to programs and services, or an increase in transit fare revenue, may be required in 2015. This will be determined through future base plans, however at this point further expansion is not possible without additional funding.

So that’s all right then. You are being consulted and you can respond here.


If you feel like it, you could point out that while Translink can manage on $30m a year less, if temporary property tax increase was left alone, then good things could be done to the transportation system. These examples of what $30m buys come from the Bike Portland blog – but $30m also buys quite a bit of additional transit service. Two years of no passups might be nice, don’t you think?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 5, 2013 at 10:43 am

Posted in transit, Transportation

Tagged with

Transportation Funding in Metro Vancouver: Mayor Richard Walton today’s Carbon Talk at SFU

with 4 comments

I suppose I could have sat at home and watched the live webcast, but as I had just finished this morning’s post I saw a tweet about the talk, and decided to go. I need to get out more, and I should not let a little thing like a Pineapple Express deter me. I am pleased to report that people were following the webcast and tweeting in questions (you can follow Carbon Talks too). And if this report seems inadequate, or you want to check its reliability, the whole thing is now available on video.

In May last year the Mayor’s Council approved a set of 13 Guiding Principles for Funding of Regional Transportation and these were printed and distributed around the lecture theatre.   My eye was caught by no 4

“Revenue sources should provide pricing signals to link desired user behaviour to overall transportation objectives.”

It seems to me that sets the tone of the discussion since it clearly puts defenders of more property taxes on the back foot. However, as Mayor Walton acknowledged, you do not want to be too successful at this since of you deter people from driving by raising the gas tax (or imposing a carbon tax) you increase demand for transit at the same time as reducing its funding.

He opened by observing that Translink runs “one of the best systems in the world”. He acknowledged “it’s got a little edgy lately, since all power lies in Victoria. ”  He put up slides showing the present Governance Structure – which is complex but pointed out “We [the Mayors Council] appoint the Board”. It is at the policy level that accountability is unclear since the Board, Mayors Council. Commissioner and province are all involved – but are all “in separate boxes”. The current review of the structure notes that the following attributes are all required Accountability, Advocacy, Transparency, Responsiveness, Clarity and Productive Relationships. They are all supposed to mesh – but in some respects Translink does not match up well to the four cities Ken Cameron and Clive Rock decided to compare us to – Brisbane, Stockholm, Vienna and London.

The funding context is that Metro Vancouver is still experiencing growth in both population and its economy but demand for transportation is growing faster than either, and the current portfolio of funding sources is not keeping pace (6% growth in population, 17% growth in transit use). Both the gas tax and property tax were said to be “maxed out” and had a declining share of the total. Fares now account for 40% of revenue [compared to over 50% in 2004] Direct user fees that are proportionate to transportation use (fares, gas tax, parking tax) account for 72% of revenue, indirect beneficiary fees (like property tax) 28%.

The province has stated that its priorities for new revenue sources are affordability for families, regionally based, support for the provincial economy and benefit capture. Mayor Walton stated his position that “the rest of the province should not have to support Translink”.

Looking at potential new sources was, he said, not so much looking for a silver bullet as silver buckshot. There has already been an evaluation which puts at high status on the carbon tax, fuel taxes, the parking sales tax (which though small is very unpopular with impacted businesses) The vehicle levy would join them except that the province has three times already “shot down” proposals to implement what is now in the Translink legislation. The idea of a regional sales tax got added at the last discussion as even a small increase would collect such a large amount of money: an extra 0.1% on existing sales tax would collect $50m in Metro. Sales taxes are widely used to fund transit in the United States. (He said “North America” but I think this term I use is more accurate.)  He also speculated about a conversion of HOV lanes to HOV/Toll lanes (single occupant vehicles permitted for a fee by distance). He spoke warmly about road pricing as the closest to a silver bullet but said it would be a 3 to 4 year “voyage” to get that established – which does not fit provincial election timetables. He also said that land value capture  could only be applied to SkyTrain as it has much more impact on density and land value than, for instance, increasing bus service frequency. Gordon Price demurred thinking that BRT might qualify.

“Germany leads the world in transit governance” because all the stakeholders get a seat at the table rather than occupy silos as ours do.


Eric Doherty made the point that the funds apparently available for the Massey Tunnel replacement would be more than enough to build the transit system we need.

In a discussion of the development levy, I pointed to the experience of the TTC and the Sheppard subway (developer fees were abandoned, when the developers said they would simply move their projects beyond the TTC’s territory). Gordon Price agreed that this had been the experience in Surrey where development cost charges in Surrey City Centre after the last Expo line extension saw development go elsewhere. Jeff Megs observed that they do work in Hong Kong, but only because the transit agency is the developer, and the density increases are huge. He did not think that similar density increases would be accepted here, and besides the City already captures much benefit for other things such as community centres and day cares. He  observed a “personal income tax increase is also not going to happen” [up until then, no-one else had mentioned them.]

The province is convinced there is room for an increase in property tax [because other cities pay more] but Mayor Walton said this is contrary to the affordability for families principle. And in any event local government in general only gets 8% of all taxes collected but delivers a wide range of services. Their only other source is fees “and it is political death to raise user fees” about which voters feel even more strongly than property tax increases. Jeff Megs stated that the Translink legislation caps the contribution made by property tax, but said that Adrian Dix has gone on record as willing to consider using the carbon tax to pay for transit.

One questioner suggested that people would support charges that clearly benefitted their area. If the fees collected were earmarked for projects in their community, they would support them. Mayor Jackson of Delta has consistently reiterated that Delta pays for more for Translink than it gets in transit service.

In response to another question Walton identified the central problem for governance as a lack of trust. “I don’t  understand where these perceptions [in Victoria] come from.” There is, he noted, a hesitancy to come to the table – and emphasized that this was not partisan it was equally shared by NDP and Liberal governments alike. “I think if you fix the governance trust issue, the funds will flow.”

Gordon Price observed that there were two different standards for transit and road funding. The freight industry just goes straight to the top and gets what it wants with debate. Road building – the new Port Mann and the replacement for the Massey Tunnel proceed simply due to measurements of delay. The projects are said to be justified by time savings – but transit is said to be inefficient, and costs must be saved by increasing delay to users through lower service levels. He said the Translink Board had similar priorities when the Patullo Bridge project did not get cut when bus service was.

Nancy Oweiler responded that “the Patullo Bridge is not a done deal. We have no way to fund it. But we do have to be concerned about some very basic public safety issues.” The recent audits had all said that Translink was doing well but there is always room for increased efficiency. She said – humorously I think – that it would be a good thing is Translink could impose “secret fees” like the airport does.

It was confirmed that no-one from the province was actually in the room.


I pointed out to Nacy Oweiler that the Airport Improvement Fee was not a secret when first imposed – and is propelling airport users to seek cheaper flights south of the border. I also tackled Jeff Meggs who reacted “Why so angry, Stephen?”

The answer is that I was appalled that the NDP appears to have abandoned the idea of a progressive taxation system. He said that personal income tax already pays “for many good things” and thus  could not be diverted to transit. He continued that the NDP has no intention of removing the MSP as it collects such huge amounts of money. I retorted that was one of the main reasons for replacing it. It now collects more than Corporate Income Tax but like all flat fees was desperately unfair to those on lower incomes. The rich really do not care very much about flat fees as they have such a limited impact on them.

It seems to me that the NDP is indeed committing the same errors of New Labour in Britain – so anxious to get elected that it has moved to the right, and in this case needlessly. The present government will fall as it has demonstrated how hopelessly incompetent and compromised it is. The “ethnic vote” scandal merely being the latest of a series of blunders. The voters want a different government, and would hardly be deterred even if the NDP was in fact still socialist. Instead Adrian Dix is doing his best to be reasonable. I am sure Jeff misspoke when he said they would cut corporate taxes – I am sure he meant restore to the levels before the last round of cuts – but such a thing is not inconceivable. The NDP appears to be as enamoured of LNG as the Liberals.

I believe that Richard Walton is indeed sincere when he says that he is non-partisan. I also believe he is fundamentally wrong in his understanding that there is no benefit to the rest of BC to have a decent transit system in Vancouver. National tax revenues support transit systems in the major cities of every other nation on the face of the earth. I am absolutely certain that you would never hear a Mayor of a Parisian suburb stating that the people of Perpignan should not have to pay towards the RATP/STIF. Actually, a lot of their funds come from a regional employment tax, but we didn’t talk about that either.

I wish I could feel happier about the outcome of the current governance review. Three of the four cities chosen seem fair comparisons – but London? Really? The scale alone is different. And it is the national capital of a major power – albeit one in steep decline.

The present system is a mess – and I think a lot more needs to be done than tinkering with current structures. But then I also cannot possibly endorse the sentiment that Translink runs “one of the best systems in the world”. Words fail me – but I wouldn’t mind betting the regulars will have some figures to show how laughable that statement is.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 1, 2013 at 4:58 pm

The Mayors vs The Minister

with 14 comments

Modified and corrected March 5, 2013

Thanks to Frances Bula we can read the letter the Mayor’s Council sent to Minister Mary Polak. You will recall no doubt that this issue got covered at length here recently.

I thinks it is worth quoting the very long title that Frances uses.

Frustrated mayors make plans to roll back planned property-tax increase of next two years, which will remove $30 million a year from the system

That actually is not in the letter itself. I had to read it several times. The reference is on page 2 under the heading The Funding and points out that the $30m a year was a temporary increase conditional upon a new funding source being made available. They had only approved property tax increases for 2013 and 2014 on the understanding that the province would be implementing the new funding source. It would take time to get the new funding in place: they had expected the new funding source to be identified and agreed before the 2013 property tax increase was applied. The province has clearly failed to implement its side of the bargain. The $30m was only ever going to be collected in 2103 and 2014 because, had the province lived up to its own commitments, new funding ought to have been in place for 2015.


updated material is indented below

In a “just-released notice from TransLink” (which I got from Price Tags)

The Mayors’ Council has requested  the removal of the time-limited property tax from the 2013 Base Plan

Translink is now preparing a Supplemental Plan for the Mayors’ approval before May 1

What the Mayors are doing is in their letter to the Minister is what the Minister’s civil servants ought to have been doing – and probably were. The letter sets out an accurate account of the present arrangements – all of which have been put into place by the Ministry of Transportation. Except for the one thing the Mayors are allowed to do – approve funding from property tax. So they did that but only in a very limited fashion. Someone should have been telling Mary Polak – before she made her recent pronouncements – of the inevitable consequences of her inaction. She either wasn’t listening or did not care. Which is pretty much the conclusion I reached last time I wrote about this.

What has changed is that the Mayors are no longer “playing along”. The ball is firmly in the other court – because that is the way the province set up the rules in the first place.   They can’t do the things she is telling them that they must do because they do not have the legal authority or resources to do so. What they have done is tell Translink to prepare a “Supplemental Plan” for their approval, to remove the temporary funding.

The incoming government is either going to have to scramble something together to make the current arrangements work or announce yet another temporary arrangement while new ones are put in place. But in a government that is trying to sign long term deals with all sorts of people to tie the hands of future administrations there is the distinct possibility of an even sillier announcement – and, on current precedents, maybe Christy herself will be stepping in. The frankly incompetent performance of the current Minister would seem to require that. Unfortunately it is more likely that all that will happen is yet more bluster from a government that is in deep trouble.  And for whom Translink funding is the least of their worries.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 1, 2013 at 10:01 am