Stephen Rees's blog

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

Restore elected control of TransLink

with 8 comments

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

8 Responses

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  1. What is easy to mix up is making translink elected verses abolishing Translink altogether. We need to appreciate how lucky we are to have a regional transportation agency that takes care of roads, bridges, transit and cycling, where all the municipalities are inter-connected. Though abolishing TL altogether may make it a little more fair for each municipality in the region with their own taxes, the increased complexity and governing costs cannot justify it.

    So instead of blaming TL through reports and audits and commissioned checks, what has been reported time and time again is simply that Translink is an extremely well organized and transparent agency that lacks funding. Whether a democratically elected board or not, either won’t be able to do anything unless the mayors, the province, or feds allow translink to make some money. The vehicle levy, sales tax, property tax, congestion pricing, and transit fare increases have all been rejected, so how is TL supposed to maintain its operations?


    March 22, 2013 at 3:22 pm

  2. The only person I see “mixing up” abolition with reform is you. Indeed, I know of no-one who is proposing out right abolition – though the Mayor of Delta has speculated that they would be better off alone, that idea does not stand up to critical examination. Just look at the numbers of people travelling through the tunnel everyday on buses!

    I did not quote the following – mostly because I do not normally want to be seen as a cheer leader for Translink – but the consultants recorded thefollowing

    A Leader Agency:
    Few, if any, transportation agencies are seen as better in NorthAmerica, and most are seen to be far behind compared to TransLink;

    Sense of Pride:
    There was a significant sense of pride among most of the interviewees inrelation to
    TransLink and the region’s many achievements and leadership role in NorthAmerica;

    ‘More Right than Wrong’:
    Overall, as one respondent stated, there is much ‘more right than wrong’ with the scope and mandate of the agency

    The word abolition does not appear in the report

    Stephen Rees

    March 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm

  3. I haven’t made a detailed study of the transit authorities in European towns that have a great transit system –for the size of their town. I do know how it is done in London, Paris, Berlin, Lyon, Bordeaux, ..Seattle..and a few other places and it is relatively easy to find it on the internet.

    By and large it is, roughly, the elected politicians in a metropolitan area that plan and finance urban transit. They work with regional politicians when it comes to regional commuter trains and buses. The National government also pitch in financially.

    The day-to-day running of transit systems is done, in big towns like Paris and London, by the transit operators that was more or less there in the very beginning (I think the story is more complex in London, thanks to “Tina”..and all the changes after her…)

    Mayor Boris–who is supervised by the Assembly for London, made of elected local politicians–is the chairman of the board of the Transport for London, and appoint the board’s members).

    Smaller towns, the size of Metro Vancouver and smaller, use private transit operators (even in so-called socialist France..) that are contracted for X years and subject to regular performance appraisal. If they botch the job they loose the contract..the drivers, mechanics etc. stay on, regardless who is the transit operator.

    It works fine because in Europe (and Japan but their transit systems are private-yet not that expensive) politicians used transit when they were not politicians..and often still use it, or at least, get feedback from their relatives and friends.

    unfortunately here there is no transit culture. Do most of the regulars on this blog use transit at least a couple of times a week?

    To me this is a MAJOR PROBLEM… How can our mayors and councilors plan all aspects of transit if they don’t use it regularly?
    They would be like the Catholic priests in my youth that tried to give us sex education without having any practical hand on knowledge about it… (unless they had broken their vows). Not that the Protestant pastors (I went to both churches) were that much better…

    Talking about TransLink, in their latest well publicized report they are touting the wonders of Bus Rapid Transit….have they already forgotten about the 98 B line in Richmond that was so crowded?

    Sure a bus is cheaper than a LRT….however a bus with one driver carry around 120 passengers, while a LRT with 1 driver can carry 300…Or more:
    The Paris trams on the T2 LINE use twin trams, with 1 driver for 440 passengers.

    The Seattle LRT also use 1 driver for 2 units, with a possible load of 400. According to the manufacturers they could run 3, even 4 units, with one driver..
    Portland also use routinely twin units with 1 driver..

    Red frog

    March 23, 2013 at 1:12 am

  4. It was 16° in Portland today (62F) and the kids had Mom and their mopeds so I was free to roam around Pioneer Square checking things out. I looked at the building heights and compared it to the width of the square (200-foot block plus two 50-foot streets; 15+ storey buildings). I stood on the curb as a bus and a double-car LRT MAX moved by. What was the noise, the vibration, the attitude of folks around me? And finally, I hit on the criterion that probably carries the most weight: the streets around Pioneer Square have been reduced to one lane for autos (down from four). A 75% reduction in vehicular use. Of course that was somewhat countered by the traffic we found on the 405 Freeway as we left downtown ahead of the afternoon rush on a Monday.

    Portland Metro is a regionally elected government fully funded, in charge of transit among other things (I really don’t know the details—social housing is another regional concern about which I have no facts for Portland Metro). However, one of their elected officials spoke in Langley Township a few years ago stating that they hold a “beauty contest” to see which municipality gets the next line. At that time Tigard was favoured to get a BRT link to downtown.

    My other suspicion is that commuter trips downtown (home to CBD & back) convert the quickest to transit.

    For all these reasons, I agree that we need regional governance and that transit (and social housing) should be part of it. Stephen goes further:

    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.

    In my area of work the need for a federal role in municipal governance is strongly felt. Having 10 provinces and 3 territories all not talking to each other and repeating the same mistakes is clearly one of the weaknesses of the Canadian municipal system.

    DFO and Environment Canada have vastly different reputations. What taxes would be devolved from federal and provincial government? Or would it take new revenues? On land use… how far from our front doors do we want planning decisions made? Isn’t that distance too far already? Or can we structure regional government to bring some of the federal and provincial decisions/moneys closer to home?

    The other worry is that we will go the way of the super-municipality rather than create a new level of government.

    lewis n. villegas

    March 26, 2013 at 1:20 am

  5. Portland:
    Metro, the Metropolitan Service District, is the regional governmental agency for the Oregon portion of the Portland metropolitan area. It is the only directly elected metropolitan planning organization in the United States.
    It has the authority (so far, un-exercised) to take over operation of the regional transportation authority, known as TriMet.

    TriMet, more formally known as the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon, is a public agency that operates mass transit in a region that spans most of the Portland metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Oregon. TriMet is overseen by a seven-person board of governors appointed by the state’s governor.
    The board members represent, and must live in, certain geographical districts. The term of office is four years, but a board member serves at the pleasure of the governor. Board members are volunteers and can serve up to two four-year terms. The board sets agency policy, enacts legislation (taxing and ordinances relating to policy ordinances), and reviews certain contracts.

    Part of their revenue comes from the employer payroll tax, levied on gross payrolls of private businesses and municipalities, and on net earnings of self-employed individuals within the TriMet service area.

    Seattle: Sound Transit plans, builds and operates express bus, light rail and commuter train services. We serve the urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

    Leadership: Sound Transit is governed by an 18-member Board made up of local elected officials and the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation. The Board establishes policies and gives direction and oversight. The Board includes three members from Snohomish County, 10 from King County, four from Pierce County and the State Transportation Department secretary. Board meetings are open to the public.
    Accountability: Sound Transit is accountable to the public. Cost and project controls, outside audits and oversight, and clearly defined and updated milestones are evidence of our commitment to accountability. External Oversight: The 15-member volunteer Citizen Oversight Panel oversees and monitors the implementation of Sound Transit’s voter-approved regional transit plan and provides ongoing review and oversight. An independent 15-member Diversity Oversight Committee was established by the Sound Transit Board in 2006 to ensure that the agency complies with its guiding principles for employment and contracting. Oversight also includes the U.S. Department of Transportation, which monitors the progress of Sound Transit projects that receive federal grant funding.

    Berlin transit authority The VBB (Verkenhrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg ) is the transportation authority for the Berlin-Brandenburg district. A private limited company established in December of 1996, the VBB is comprised of representatives of the Federal government, the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, 14 separate districts, and four cities. The VBB ensures fluid and cohesive movement of people throughout the region, mediates between policy makers and operators, plans and executes a unified fare card system, supports operators, and promotes public transit in the region.
    This agency manages 42 private transit operators that serve approximately 3.4 million passengers every day. All of the represented states, cities and districts contribute to the financing of the regional public transit system managed by the VBB.

    Red frog

    March 27, 2013 at 12:33 am

  6. Greater London The Mayor of London is responsible for producing an integrated transport strategy for London and for consulting the London Assembly, Transport for London (TfL), boroughs and others on the strategy. The Mayor has wide powers of direction over TfL, sets TfL’s budget (subject to the approval of the Assembly – see below) and appoints its board. The Mayor also sets the structure and level of public transport fares in London (including ‘black cabs’ but not National Rail or minicab fares) Has a say in how the commuter railways are run Has powers to fund new transport services, and to invest in new transport systems.

    The London Assembly is an elected body, part of the Greater London the activities of the Mayor of London and has the power, with a two-thirds majority, to amend the mayor’s annual budget. The assembly was established in 2000 and is headquartered at City Hall on the south bank of the River Thames, close to Tower Bridge.

    What does the London Assembly do?
    A watchdog for London
    The 25 Assembly Members hold the Mayor to account by examining his decisions and actions to ensure he delivers on his promises to Londoners.
    Assembly Members also champion Londoners’ concerns by investigating important issues and pressing for changes to national, mayoral or local policy. Assembly Members are elected at the same time as the Mayor. Eleven represent the whole capital and 14 are elected by constituencies.

    The Mayor is the most powerful directly-elected politician in the UK, so the Assembly has a key role in holding him to account on behalf of Londoners. It does this by directly questioning the Mayor and his advisers on his activities, strategies and decisions across all areas of policy including policing and crime, transport, the environment, housing and regeneration.

    The Assembly also examines the Mayor’s spending and can amend his total budget if two-thirds of the Members agree to do so. The Mayor is required to consult the Assembly on his statutory strategies and respond to comments submitted to him. The Assembly may reject the Mayor’s statutory strategies if two-thirds of the Members agree to do so.
    The London Assembly is able to summon the Mayor and senior staff to account for TfL’s performance.

    London TravelWatch, a body appointed by and reporting to the Assembly, deals with complaints about transport in London.
    The chairperson of the London Assembly get a yearly Travel Card for the London Transit system..(a taxable benefit)

    Greater Lyon SYTRAL is the transit authority of the Rhône County and the Lyon metropolitan area. Its Urban Transport Zone (PTU) is made up of the 57 towns of Greater Lyon, plus 7 adjacent towns. 613 square km. 1.3 million inhabitants. Metro Lyon has around 2.1 million people.
    SYTRAL board of governors is made of 16 elected members of the Greater Lyon and 10 elected members of the assembly of the Rhone Region. A staff of 100 implements the board decisions.

    SYTRAL’s mission as public transport authority is to: Decide on routes, schedules, fares
    Maintain rolling stock, buildings, tracks, tunnels.
    Design, finance and build network extensions
    Delegate network operations to companies and control the quality of service
    Define and implement the urban transport policy.
    Monitor traffic flow and conduct customer surveys
    Finance network operations and maintenance.

    Lyon transit operator is Keolis Lyon (current contract: 2011 to 2016)

    Bordeaux Urban Community CUB, The Urban Community of Bordeaux, is the council of the Greater Bordeaux, made of the city of Bordeaux and 27 of its closest suburbs. The council has 120 members, all councilors or mayors of the townships that form the CUB. Each township selects a number of councilors proportionate to the number of its inhabitants. CUB acts as the Greater Bordeaux Transit Authority.
    A transit committee does all the necessary planning then presents it to the council at large for discussion and approval.

    Its mission is the same as Lyon’s Sytral and other French transit authorities.

    There are about 240 000 people in Bordeaux and 1.1 million in its Metro area.
    Bordeaux transit operator is Keolis Bordeaux (current contract: 2009 to 2014). It replaced, after a bitter battle, a transit operator that had been in Bordeaux since the late 19th century (after changing names every so often, it was known in 2008 as Veolia transport, and has changed names twice since…)

    Keolis is a child of the SNCF (French National Railways) and operates in 8 foreign countries.

    TER (commuter trains) and inter-city commuter buses around France are the children of the various regions. From Lyon 16 commuter train lines service the Rhone -Alpes region. From Bordeaux 15 commuter train lines service the Aquitaine region.

    Red frog

    March 27, 2013 at 1:21 am

  7. Another excellent post Stephen..

    Good info Red Frog. I will flag your links for future reference.

    Lewis, the feds under Paul Martin had a national transit plan in the works under their cities agenda which respected and involved the provinces. Then in what was a case of extreme short-sightedness Jack decided to take down Paul’s minority government and we’ve had Steve ever since. It would serve the country well IMO for the opposition to cooperate and resurect such policies as a government.


    March 27, 2013 at 12:13 pm

  8. If politics were akin to local fashion, Tina would have been the best client Mack’s Leather ever had.


    March 27, 2013 at 12:15 pm

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