Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 28th, 2013

Return of the blogger: Stakeholder Forum – Translink

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It has been twenty one days since I last posted on this blog. A lot has happened in the intervening period, some of which I might well have reported or commented on. But I was otherwise occupied. I have sold my townhouse in Richmond, and after disposing of a lot of my possessions, and relocating others, am now a full time resident of Vancouver. And hopefully will now find more time to write here, as there should be a declining demand on my time from domestic duties.

This morning I attended a Stakeholder Forum organized by Translink as the start of the next steps towards “confirming our vision for the long-term and map out the near-term steps needed to get us there” (their words, not mine). It was held at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue and the range of “stakeholders” present was quite wide – it included the cyclists, the truckers, the unions and quite a lot of municipal people as well as NGOs like the Fraser Basin Council. Many familiar faces – but nearly as many empty seats.

Ian Jarvis opened with a summary how well Translink has done, doubling transit ridership in the last ten years, securing $3bn in senior government funding and surviving a series of reviews which showed that it is well managed. But “we can’t save our way to growth”. One million more people are coming to this region by 2040 – and they will want to get around a system which is already straining its capacity. There are funding sources but they are all at the maximum they can be – and the fuel tax (one of the more significant sources) revenue is declining. We need to have a “new conversation” about how we shape growth in the region and protect the quality of life here. This stakeholder review is just the start. There will be “broader engagement” in the fall. The purpose of this meeting was to “pin down the strategies”.

Bob Paddon

Transport 2040 will remain in place but some things need to change. Much of the subsequent presentations concentrated on what these changes would be. Unfortunately, that assumed a high level of familiarity of what was already there. It is perhaps unfortunate wording but Goal 1 of the current plan is

Goal 1 Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are aggressively reduced, in support of federal, provincial and regional targets.”

Both federal and provincial governments maintain lip service to reducing emissions but both are actively promoting export of carbon fuels. While in this region, transportation is a significant slice of our own ghg emissions, they pale into insignificance when compared to the volumes of fossil fuels that both federal and provincial governments and their agencies propose to move through this region.

The region has two metro centres (Vancouver and Surrey) seven city centres and many town centres. The movement pattern (as shown by the 2011 Trip Diary Survey) is between these centres and is not simply centred upon commuting to downtown Vancouver. The economy of the region is also dependent upon goods movement – and, he implied, mostly by trucks.

The intention is still to increase sustainable transportation choice. The Regional Health Authorities have been engaged in the process (which is a considerable departure from past practice, and very welcome). The vision and goals remain similar, and there was a lot of investment in the last ten years and “I would like to believe that those days will return.”

Currently trips by walk, cycle and transit are 27% of the total (compared to 19% in 1985) and should be 50% by 2045. [Transportation 2040

Goal 2 Most trips are by transit, walking and cycling. ]

All trips, 6m in 2013, will rise to 9m by 2045

73% of trips by auto now 4.4m

50% of trips by auto in 2045 is also 4.4m – no change

That is because transit, walk and cycle together will rise from 27% (1.6m) to 50% (4.4m)

Our focus now will be outcome driven. Integrated (the automobile will always be part of the pattern, as will trucks) co-ordinated, resilient and affordable (value for money, performance driven). The new strategic approach will be to manage (improve utilization by pricing) invest ($5bn just to maintain a state of good repair plus up to $18bn if all the desired projects are built) and partner. The choice of how to do this will be based on what can be achieved not by adopting a particular technology [I take this to refer to SkyTrain] We will not follow the pattern of “build it and they will come” but rather ensuring that land use changes to support the new transit lines.

At this point questions and comments were invited:

Martin Crilly – the former Translink Commissioner but now a private citizen – pointed to the legislated requirement for a Plan by August 1. Bob Paddon responded that they could simply adopt  Transportation 2040 as the new plan, but they would prefer to adopt the visions, goals and strategies of 2045 by August 1 and then proceed with an implementation plan.

Bob Wilds of the Gateway Council asked about the role of Ministry [who were not present]. Doug Hall (an ADM at MoTI)  is co-chair with Bob Paddon of the key Steering Committee, and provincial staff are working on the plan.

Louise Yako of the BC Trucking Association pointed out that one of Translink’s problems is that is has responsibility but no authority, to which Paddon replied “We are having that dialogue and governance changes will occur.”

Bill Susak of the City of Coquitlam said that Translink should add advocacy to its aims. Ian Jarvis replied that Translink supports the regional growth strategy. “The vision is not ours, it is what the region comes up with.”

Dr John Carsley, Vancouver Coastal Health urged “aggressive advocacy” – “this is a pressing health issue” – obesity and diabetes. [In fact this is something for stakeholders to do.] He also remarked: “Who is the doctor who prescribes your equanimity tablets?”

Tamim Raad took over the rest of the presentation

He opened by talking about the “new reality” – the revenue challenges would remain for the foreseeable future: 2008 marked a structural shift, and Translink now has to do more with less. The reference to Partners is significant – municipalities in particular, with the emphasis on land use, to establish that land will be in place to support the investments. His presentation concentrated on what is different in the present plan to T2040 – and he said that a draft list of strategies and actions will be made available “in the next few weeks”.

1 Manage: In 2045 the car will still be dominant but now the car is too often the only available choice. “Pricing is the key to efficient choice”  Translink now has a 100% accessible bus fleet and “we do have some spare capacity” This could be utilised by shifting demand from the peak time and peak direction. For instance the development of employment in Surrey Town Centre will provide a useful back load  for SkyTrain. They also need to introduce priority lanes for buses and trucks [my notes indicate my surprise at hearing that]

Pricing for fairness and revenue: we expect to pay more if we consume more, or at peak times. For example, the City of Vancouver does a good job of pricing curbside parking which reduces traffic circling, looking for a space. [Actually other cities like San Francisco do better, but we’ll let that pass.] Transit does have user pay, but it only covers half the cost. There is a societal benefit from transit use – it frees road space for others – and all users [of the transportation system] benefit from the transit subsidy. The decision to remove the midday off peak discount (to increase revenue and reduce complexity) has had an effect on demand and was not the most efficient choice as it shifted more trips into the peak period, raising costs and overcrowding. The fare zone system’s coarseness often seems unfair (for example the two zone fare for SeaBus) and there is a lot of opportunity for a finer grain system made possible by the Compass smartcard technology.

Driving is priced indirectly, and we need to shift  from general revenues to user pay. This is not a new concept. Metro and the Mayors’ Council have both endorsed it. The present policy of tolls only on new bridges, and just to pay for the facility, seems unfair and is not optimal for system utilization. At the same time, road pricing is not a panacea for revenue.

At this point reaction was called for, so I got to express my concern that somehow protecting the environment seemed to have slipped into fourth place – behind concerns for the economy, efficiency and health. I pointed out that environmental concerns ought to be a more significant driver – especially if Vancouver is to become a major route through which carbon is exported to the rest of the world.  Richard Campbell (BC Cycling Coalition) and Lon Leclair (City of Vancouver) both spoke of the need for the plan to include more detail “its a hard sell at this high level” – the details will help individuals work out how it will affect them. People need to see solutions. Los Angeles has recently approved a 1% sales tax increase to invest $300bn over 30 years – and would have passed that for a ten year implementation but for the requirement of a two-thirds majority which was very narrowly missed. “The power of lines on a map”

Tamim responded that we have actually completed most of what was proposed in Transport 2021 – in terms of investments – but road pricing was supposed to have been implemented by 2006.

Someone whose name I did not hear from HUB stated that pricing was not the best way to get people to use active transportation. She felt that the role of education was a more appropriate approach to change lifestyles.

2 Invest Strategically

After the coffee break Tamim returned. T2040 identified the need for significant and early rate of progress and identified a need for an additional $1bn for the regional share of projects. In fact the search for savings only produced $35m, about half the target. He said “there is a sense that we have more limited means”. TOD is really about walking and cycling – and the number of cyclists in the region now is roughly equal to those who use the Millennium and Expo lines: the amount invested on each mode is very different.

Transit: 1. meet basic mobility and access needs across the region i.e,. commit to transit in low ridership areas, since these are the capillaries of the network but they will set clear minimum thresholds for ridership (plus grandfathered established services, on which people rely) But communicate a clear set of criteria so that there are no surprises.

2. Have high levels or good future prospects of demand for new services which will be prioritized by the objectives – supply in the right places at the right times “We will not be driving empty buses around” Translink must have confidence that future levels of demand will rise over time and the demand management is in place.

Roads – autos are not the only user of this mode, there are are also walkers, cyclists and trucks. Too little investment in roads can stifle growth. Too much road capacity is NOT an antidote to congestion, in fcat building more roads can make matters worse. We will provide access but not promote dispersal. There will be no more vehicle trips overall by 2045 than there are now. There will be three programs 1. Local access – a finer grain network in urban centres  2. Safety – reconfiguration of intersections can reduce crashes  3. Goods movement – selected links to improve travel time for goods without increasing general purpose traffic.

A representative from UBC asked if a cap on all car trips is actually realistic – he saw a disconnect between aspiration and the proposals

Stu Ramsay of the City of Burnaby said that while he appreciated the idea of supporting local access and providing a finer grid in town centres this was “not Translink’s role hitherto”. Tamim responded that Translink has always been willing to provide support especially around rapid transit stations

Don Buchanan of the City of Surrey said he welcomed the opportunity to exoand the dialogue. The biggest opportunity to leverage change is through walkway and bikeway networks. Funding for that would get a lot more trips shifted from cars than in the last 20 years.

Marion Town of the Fraser Basin Council thought that influencing behaviour would require Translink to be more “nimble”  in the way that information is collected and used.

Katherine Mohoruk of Coquitlam observed that much of the population growth was going to be in the South of the Fraser and the Eastern communities. “We have an excellent system on the Burrard Peninsula” but not in the areas where most of the growth was going to occur. It is critically important to build the roads to complete the grid, and provide transit, in these areas

Tanya Paz (a consultant) said that Translink had an ambitious goal and 2.2 was an effective way to get there but “you will need down escalators on Sktrain”. The system must be both multimodal and seamless. She noted that the province was not here  but we need legislation to reduce speeds in urban areas as well as changes to the Passenger Transportation Act to encourage real time ride and car sharing. “There is an app for that.”

Peter Ladner asked about the provincial conditions for Translink to be able to collect charges on the lift in value that occurs due to transit investment. He asked if that required Translink to invest in land acquisition. Tamim responded that value capture did not require ownership and that benefitting area taxes are within the current legislation.

3.  Partnering 

Funding must be stable, sufficient, appropriate and influence travel choices. There is a real need for new funding – not just road pricing. Land use must support walking and cycling and we should be making decisions about land use around stations before the line is built. There has to be a written commitment [from municipalities]

On economic development, being an advocate for change is not “within our mandate” but ” we need to know what the econmic objectives are.

Martin Crilly pointed out the need for political endorsement

Rob Woods of CUPE (speaking for the other unions present) noted the need to “keep trips safe and secure” and noted that “there was not a lot of talk about retaining employees” although Translink trains people who then get lured away to other employers. “Keep Canadian, buy Canadian, keep jobs local”

Paul Lee of the City of Surrey found it difficult to make the judgement “when the trade-offs are not made apparent – more content would help”

A representative from MVT made the point that Burnaby had used Travel$mart to educate users – but we also need to educate the whole community. For instance there was little value in encouraging users to make appointments later in the day than 9am (to increase the probability of getting a trip) when doctors close their offices between 11 and 1 for lunch. If we provided services throughout the day, then better use could be made of existing capacity.



We live in desperate times – and we need desperate measures. This forum was not the one to make observations about federal or provincial priorities – but the last twenty years have been dominated by the Gateway. Decisions about international freight transportation – the port, the airport, railways – and the need for treaties with First Nations (The Tswawassen was the first urban treaty) blew a hole through regional transportation and land use plans. Massive expansion  of the freeways and loss of agricultural land were wholly contrary to the LRSP – but went through the system with hardly a ripple. We have lost huge tracts of prime food growing land to be covered in concrete for storing empty containers, when climate change is destroying the capacity of California to continue to provide our food.

As it happens, very little of our regional economy is about making stuff anymore, there is a fair amount of distribution, but not much manufacturing. Trucks are not nearly as important in freight transport as trains and ships, both of which are largely a federal jurisdiction – a fine distinction which is destroying our ability to be sustainable – or even to have any kind of effective voice in determining our own future.

Three billion dollars has been spent on a freeway at the same time as car use has started declining.

We passed 400ppm CO2 in our atmosphere at the same time as we became more car dependant – when transportation is one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gas in this region.

This plan is going to be more modest and “realistic” than the last one. It is no longer  “Most trips are by transit, walking and cycling”. It is now half. And no doubt consultations with stakeholders like the truckers, and big business, will whittle that down further. Both provincial and federal ruling parties are indebted to big business, and it is corporate interests who really call the shots, not “stakeholders”.

Translink has been cut off at the knees by a previous BC Liberal Minister of Transport. Why would they now admit that they were wrong? Do we really expect them to allow road pricing to replace their current model of tolls for new build only? And won’t their attention be focussed on Prince Rupert and the Peace  and all that lovely LNG?

Unfortunately, Translink made the very bad choice of showing that they were right. They are well run, there are no magic buckets of savings to pay for new services, despite what Christy knew for a certainty. And the one thing that is absolutely unforgivable is to be right and in disagreement with our Premier at the same time. The BC Liberals were willing to say anything before the election, but now they are back, and with more seats in the leg. Don’t hold your breath waiting for all that new funding for transit in the lower mainland. Not a priority, sorry.

I would have liked to have given a précis of the talk by David Miller former Mayor of Toronto over lunch. But I was too busy eating to make notes. I really hope that Translink did not pay for him to come all that way just for an hour’s talk. Even though it was highly entertaining. And it is not as if they have done so much better than us in recent years, after all.