Stephen Rees's blog

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

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

14 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. The frustration is understandable, but here is what has been stated on the 2 years property tax

    Anyone know what funding tool the mayors would like to see?

    The mayors can certainly vote a motion asking Translink to study some scheme, they didn’t.
    They like to speak of road pricing, but so far it is very difficult to understand what they means by that:
    -Why they don’t ask Translink to study a couple of model and to see how it can work in the region (like done here ) ?

    Why keep all the things vague…Why not come with a clear sustainable scheme people can discuss and submit it to the Province? … expect more power, including more power to tax, At this time who understand what the mayors are asking exactly?

    On the governance
    I notice that Obama could say exactly the same as the Council of Mayors (He can only sign or not the bills coming from the congress, not initiate them)…but a better comparison could be the European Union, where Appointed commissioners draft the European laws…European parliament member can’t introduce a bill, just vote on what the commission propose…and if it has been designed like that by the founding father of Europe (Rome Treaty 1957), it is for good reason (avoid bill drafted on patriotist interest)…basically the same reasons are prevailing in Metro Vancouver (Parochialism)…Of course in practice, in US like in the EU, you can send some message on what you want to see on the table…and The council of Mayors can do exactly that with the Translink board…but so far thy didn’t have expressed the leadership required for that.


    March 1, 2013 at 8:13 pm

  2. @voony

    The mayors have been very clear. The have asked several times for the province to approve the collection of the vehicle levy. The levy is already in the legislation as a source of funding TransLink can use. The only problem is that TL has no authority to collect it. The province needs to provide that and so far, they have refused to.

    The levy is one of the only short term options as a congestion charge or road pricing could take years to set up.

    As far as consultation goes, the Province really needs to be involved. Many roads and bridges in the region are under their control and only they have the power to give the region the authority to collect it.


    March 1, 2013 at 11:29 pm

  3. @Richard,

    I agree that the current prov govt is ignoring its responsibilities. I also agree with voony that the mayors can do more within its existing powers but is also ignoring its responsibilities and shirking their decisions.

    For example: “mayors, what is your consensus, do we build surrey’s metro line or the broadway line first?”

    Gregor Robinson:
    “Only a rapid transit system–a subway extending from Commercial Drive to UBC–can meet the massive growth that we’re expecting in the coming years.” 1

    Dianne Watts:
    “Vancouver wants to push their agenda and they have every right to do that. But I would suggest that the multi-billion-dollar project that they’re proposing is not going to fly with residents in Surrey – and Surrey residents will be contributing to it.” 2

    Derek Corrigan:
    Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan asserts Vancouver city hall is “dreaming in technicolour” with regard to the $2.8-billion proposal. He said he “cannot imagine” the rest of Metro Vancouver’s municipalities identifying the subway as a priority. 3


    It would be interesting *if* the next prov govt will introduce road pricing, and of course, *how* they will do it. That will be the true test.


    March 2, 2013 at 7:47 am

  4. @Richard,

    No the short term solution, is the stop-gap property tax increase (no need to put new/expensive mechanism to collect it).

    Here in Mainland, people explains that “road pricing is good”, but “it gonna take years to implement” so “better to do something else”: that is pure political rethoric:

    First, Years of construction of a subway/bridge is not a reason to not build it, why should be different with road pricing?

    Secondly, It didn’t took years to Stockolm to set up their congestion charge, but only ~6 months (and that is including the necessary legislation change) …in fact it has been implemented as a experiment at first…See How Vancouver is able to implement a cycle track in a matter of weeks…It can be the same for a congestion charge: So really, if it doesn’t happen it is just due to a lack of political will.

    It is just a matter to mount some RFID readers on gantries here and there, not much more complicate than to install a road sign ( )

    What is true, is that people have different opinions on what form road pricing should take, I for one have an opinion, and believe that some other opinions are so complicate to implement that they are a non starter
    (see here but the matter of the fact should be clarified by agency like Translink, Probably the only one able to come with solid number.

    So far, they didn’t and the mayor didn’t ask them to do so either …thought that the timing is very right for such discussion.

    regarding the priority in investment, the mayor could for once defer to Translink studies outcome,…and if Translink studies outcome find out that the best investment is the SFU Gondola…

    They should accept it, and if they don’t, they should be prepared to face the consequence which is higher operating cost which someone need to pay for.

    So far, their position is schyzophrenic:
    They could tend to favor investment we all know increase Translink operating cost, but are unwilling to accept this consequence.

    So as said Mezzanine, let the mayors take their responsabilities…so far they didn’t.


    March 2, 2013 at 12:13 pm

  5. @Mezz

    The way the question is framed matters. Forcing the Mayors to chose between two essential rapid transit projects, for example. Because of the way we have spent huge sums at the road network but not nearly enough on transit, there is a huge backlog just to keep pace with growth, let alone achieve the absolutely essential shift from driving to transit. But divide and rule always works better for the provincial government than doing the right thing. It really doesn’t care about transit – or climate change, or the environment or the economy of Metro Vancouver. If we had not wasted so much on the highway expansions, would could have had a transit system, carrying more people to more places than the highways do. And before anyone tells me we need more roads for freight, that is simply untrue. The roads are empty in the evenings and overnight – and anyway the vast majority of freight to and from the port moves by rail. If the port worked 24/7 the would be no congestion, but they work 8 to 4 M-F and are surprised when things get bunged up. There are never line ups of trucks on Deltaport Way at weekends.


    The parallels with the US federal system and the EU are fascinating but irrelevant. Our system is loosely based on the British Parliamentary one – but ignores all the custom and practice that gets applied there. Much of the British constitution is enshrined in conventions – which we either ignore or defy. Unsurprisingly, even the bits of the system we do use that are covered by legislation or regulations simply get bypassed – until there is a leak, and someone has to take the fall. In the most recent case the author of a document that demonstrates total contempt for the democratic process. The idea is that we are supposed to have a representative and responsible government but most of the time we have neither – no matter which party is in power.

    Stephen Rees

    March 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm

  6. @SRees:

    I agree that the highways are clogged weekday hours, but it isn’t with trucks – it’s with personal vehicles. IMO if you place a toll on major arteries now (eg, Hwy 91, Massey Tunnel, etc) you will relieve significant congestion now, but it will come with a high political cost that provicail and civic politicians fear.

    That’s the crux of the problem with the mayors – If we do change governance and give mayors more power, “divide and conquer” wil happen from the mayors themselves (google “lois jackson free parking”). I do agree the major driver of these initiatives has to be victoria, b/c i have little faith in the mayors council as it is..


    March 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm

  7. […] 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 […]

  8. @ Stephen:

    The way the question is framed matters. Forcing the Mayors to chose between two essential rapid transit projects, for example. Because of the way we have spent huge sums at the road network but not nearly enough on transit, there is a huge backlog just to keep pace with growth, let alone achieve the absolutely essential shift from driving to transit. But divide and rule always works better for the provincial government than doing the right thing.

    That says it all!


    March 5, 2013 at 11:30 am

  9. ^ but you are assuming that financial issues are the only stumbling block to support.

    Neither the province, nor the mayors, want to be the bagmen for possible problems due to a certain route or technoloogy chosen. getting skytrain or LRT westof arbutus may present political problems to a motivate group of neighbourhoods, not unlike what happened with the RAV line and cambie village. IMO, the canada line was built, provides more transit choice for people and the village survives, vibrant still but different, which may have happened without buiilding the canada line.

    Look at surrey. Dianne watts’ administration is set on LRT for surrey, but TL’s study suggests that skytrain down fraser highway is the best choice for expanding transit reginally. LRT is the worst choice for cost, ridership and time savings.

    This is what Paul Hilsdon had to say:

    “While I have been an advocate of Light Rail in Surrey for years, the numbers are quite clear. For practically the same price, SkyTrain delivers a more robust, attractive, and effective transit service for the South Fraser than an LRT network would. For this reason, I am prepared to endorse and support a SkyTrain/BRT plan for Surrey moving forward.”

    would the province back a plan from TL that does not have the local support of a local govt? I hope a govt can weather a storm of controversy (short-term in the big scheme of things) about this, but the next prov govt will have its work cut out for them…


    March 6, 2013 at 6:24 pm

  10. I think Stephen is right. Locals seem to be hell bent on defending their fiefdoms and childishly criticizing their neighbours. The province’s transit governance tactics are historically cynical and create division, and their funding partnerships are too often all or nothing (mostly the latter) or mixed with ideological policy like P3s first without acknowledging the absolute necessity to strike a balance via long-term stable and more generous funding and local democracy.

    An overall comprehensive transit plan would ideally get everyone aligned, more or less, as signatories, but without federal oversight and much greater participation not just as a flaccid funding partner, but as the Chair or Project Manager, would negate transit’s increasing importance as a big solution just as peak oil and the associated international economic instability approaches, let alone having to finance climate change adaptation measures. Geologists like David Hughes have recently conducted independent extensive analysis and concluded that the new US shale oil & gas phenomenon from all resources combined will not even come close to realizing the hype (“American energy independence!”) and will plateau then decline fast at the same time as the decline curve of world supplies of conventional oil take a much steeper downward slope in the early 2020s than the 6% per annum of today.

    These issues seem to be too big for the Clarks and Harpers out there to grasp, let alone local mayors who really should be educated in what elements actually allow their cities to run, energy being Number One. These issues will surely impact our urban residents and businesses very harshly.

    Broadway is too unique and has been so chock full of transit demand over the decades to deserve anything less than a higher level of planning and funding. The idea that running SkyTrain tunnels west of Arbutus would create havoc amongst west side neighbourhoods assumes they will utilize the archaic cut & cover method imposed by the Canada Line construction fiasco. My loonie is on the complete rejection of this method in future based on the Cambie experience, and the adoption of tunnel boring technology and roofing over the station box excavations as the new standard in the densest urban areas.

    I see transit technology increasingly in terms of a melange of urbanism, engineering and energy. Simply put, adapt the tech to the desired results. The perfect transport solution with respect to urbanism and the other considerations (with the exception of goods movement) is walking. So place that criteria at the top of the list. Marrying land use to transit is also a very powerful tool and should, in my view, be adapted from major rapid transit lines down to the major arterial bus route level with better quality architecture and urban design extending several blocks into the neighbourhoods.

    BRT and LRT are coming closer in service capacity than tramophiles care to acknowledge. Urbanists like Patrick Condon who promote one type of tech (trams) tend to attach so much emotion to it that everything else falls to the wayside, and their cost / benefit analysis is incomplete or flawed. Buses aren’t sexy, trams are … trams always stimulate good urbanism … you can replace existing high-capacity bus service with trams without a cost penalty, etc. etc. Well, triple articulated buses in a dedicated busway are so close to trams in the cold, hard numbers that they are practically indistinguishable. Trams have an expensive track bed that signifies a “permanent commitment” to a community, but a next generation BRT route also requires an engineered road bed that can take the constant pounding of these heavier vehicles, and thus also signify a permanent commitment. Bus stops in Vancouver and the Granville transit mall are paved with concrete. These are thick, heavily reinforced slabs on a deeper engineered road base, not an average road profile, and therein are easily applied to dedicated BRT medians. BRT can also have all the other bells and whistles trams have (quieter electrification, lower maintenance, signal priority, GPS, stylish vehicles, cool transit stop shelters and furniture, etc.).

    The major differences are in graduated levels of service. I wouldn’t recommend grade-separated SkyTrain where trams / streetcars / BRT would be appropriate (whether In Surrey or elsewhere). Grade-separated SkyTrain is great for the major regional high-capacity and very frequent rapid transit service between high-density town centres, but a high-capacity surface LRT line would be a pretty close match where you have the land and / or road capacity to accommodate it in a dedicated median where faster speeds are possible and fewer intersecting cross streets exist. Broadway is not the King George Highway.

    What can make a difference is that future LRT lines can double as light rail freight (LRF) carriers connected to regional commuter + freight facilities, all grid-linked to clean electrical power. Local light trucks (i.e. up to 5 tonnes) could feasibly be replaced by light rail freight service at least to businesses close to stops. LRF vehicles could carry moveable containers or bulk items and be outfitted with small cranes and electric forklifts, just like a 5-tonne truck delivering lumber to a construction site or groceries to a medium-sized store. Of course, these ideas are way beyond our current crop of politicos to grasp because not many have seen the writing on the wall yet, or if they have, they fail to act beyond flipping the Willful Ignorance switch to the “on” position.


    March 7, 2013 at 11:02 am

  11. @MB “The Broadway RRT was assumed to be bored tunnel with cut-and-cover stations between Commercial and Blanca, and cut-and-cover tunnel west of Blanca through the golf course, UEL and UBC.” source: a Translink planner closely involved in the study

    Stephen Rees

    March 7, 2013 at 11:12 am

  12. Stephen, yes it makes sense for C&C tunnels through park land and the golf course. What does not make sense to me is splitting tunneling into two phases (i.e. BRT west of Arbutus for “X” years). The fact is that two smaller projects with two tenders, two separate contractor mobilizations, two sets of boring machines, etc. will inevitably cost more per km. One larger contract means more value to the contractor who will bid more competively.

    The best way to manage these large projects IMO is to share the TBM purchase / lease and rebuilding costs between cities spread over multiple tunneling projects. If five TBS were purchased and shipped around the country on several projects, then it’s feasible that Vancouver could employ two machines to work in tandem from a very reasonable price and lop off a year from the construction schedule. Placing massive orders for livery and energization would similarly result in lower unit costs . Of course, that will require federal project management in a National Transit Plan, but no one in power currently seems to have this insight, nor can they be expected to in light of government blunders over the F-35.

    The station covers during excavation would add to the cost, but would allow businesses and traffic to continue rather than shutting down the road. And any decent transit project would budget for the inevitable disruptions to local business to keep them alive during construction, maybe even offer them good deals on space within new adjacent developments.


    March 7, 2013 at 12:44 pm

  13. Correction:

    What does not make sense to me is splitting tunneling into two phases in the Combo option (i.e. BRT west of Arbutus for “X” years).


    March 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: