Stephen Rees's blog

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

Return of the blogger: Stakeholder Forum – Translink

with 10 comments

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.

10 Responses

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  1. I actually think that when he said “The choice of how to do this will be based on what can be achieved not by adopting a particular technology”, he isn’t referring to SkyTrain, but rather – alternatives like Light Rail, which have been lobbied for heavily by the City of Surrey, among others.

    TransLink’s two big rapid transit studies show the Light Rail options’ contributions falling short of meeting those regional goals – the mode-share, and the GHG-emissions reductions – that are seemingly becoming so important to TransLink (and the more important, the better – this region is going to need to reach those goals to maintain sustainability)


    May 28, 2013 at 7:30 pm

  2. There is a fair amount of belief that the LNG plant plans are pie in the sky – when current trends (everyone is discovering gas with fracking), the costs (high), and the time and number of workers required to build the plants (again, high) are taken into account. The commenter “mission impossible” has made some cogent arguments – see the comments section here:


    May 28, 2013 at 7:43 pm

  3. Bob Paddon: 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

    That is a good new: it should be a plan first,, then and only then, transit investment come in due time (that is when demand make it a sensible investment)…not the reverse.

    good point by Tamim Raad on pricing too. I agree that it is more than time to come with something palpable on all the road pricing talks: a pricing model, expected revenue, expected operating cost (something on the example here): something people can see how it can cost for their particular trip.


    May 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm

  4. Unfortunately the current governing powers won’t listen to these arguments. The only ones they may pay heed to are economic. Fortunately they are there but they don’t bear good news. What is the cost of doing nothing? Quite high even if you take the environmental issues out of it. A million more people by 2040? Where are they going to live and work and how will they get there? The current chasm between rich and poor will only widen. The desireable areas will become more so and go to the highest bidder.

    Getting around will be very time consuming and expensive no matter how you get there. Will wages keep up? The cost of doing business will go up greatly if Employers are going to be expected to pay livable wages in the region. What will be the makeup of these extra million? The poor and the desperate seeking a nice climate? It just paves the way for ghettos of poor with sub standard accommodation marked with crime in between pockets of super elite areas. That is Metro Vancouver’s current path if nothing is done. More of the same except the extremes just keep getting more extreme. The middle class vanishes. They either seek a better place to live or lose their standing as costs continue to rise but wages do not keep pace. If nothing changes, the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour. Compare Vancouver of 30 years ago to Vancouver of today…..good parts and bad. The same will continue except the extremes will be magnified more so as the problems continue to compound.

    Metro Vancouver. Expensive to live and expensive to do business. Home to the wealthiest of wealthy and poorest of poor with all the attendant problems in between.


    May 28, 2013 at 10:45 pm

  5. Meanwhile….in Ontario… “Metrolinx backs hikes in gas, sales tax, parking levy to fund the Big Move
    Dedicated transit fund would cost average GTA household $477 a year, raise $2 billion a year to be used strictly for easing congestion”. Their projects will cost $ 34 billion..

    As we all need a laugh:…In Sweden the company that maintain all the toilets cubicles in all the country railways station has removed the coin-operated locks on all the cubicles doors. The users will have to send a SMS to a number printed on each door and the door will be opened remotely (from Todays’ Railways, April 2013 issue, page 56.

    Red frog

    May 28, 2013 at 10:57 pm

  6. Thank you for this very helpful summary. It does indeed sound like Translink is making a gentle backpedal from Transport 2040 given the lack of Provincial and Federal vision. I’m very curious what the alluded “governance changes” will be, and how this will actually enable Translink to meet the funding challenge of maintaining and expanding service. Were there any concrete details about how road pricing could be implemented? This has been politically untouchable as long as I’ve lived in the city, and I don’t see the Liberal government giving Translink a mandate to implement such an unpopular measure. Automobile use appears to have plateaued, so the increase in population necessarily means that Translink will have to implement more service with fewer resources.

    Indeed notable that emissions are hardly talked about anymore.


    May 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm

  7. Regarding Toronto, I could be tempted to agree with a today GlobeAndMail article:
    When you end up with a LRT costing 3 times more than the Canada line, it is time for Toronto to ask serious questions on the sanity of their Transit plan, rather to try to figure out which taxes to raise to finance it.

    Beside it, I notice that Ontario has a Premier open to road pricing (at the difference of BC), but Toronto has an agency not putting it on the table at the difference of Metro Vancouver, At the exception of the parking levy, Metrolynx (I guess well under mayoral control) is resorting taxes which are structurally declining (gas tax), or making no positive difference on transportation choice, and eventually a negative one (sale tax): So in brief, what proposes Metrolynx is just to continue business as usual with more taxpayer money: We all know that is not going anywhere in the longer term,

    Since you are talking toilet (that reminds me, a good reason to emigrate to Canada, I have also noticed that many “free” wifi network are like it too in Europe, they are free but they feel the need to send you a SMS, with the code after having you spending several mn to fill up a form. receiving SMS is certainly not free when you are on roaming), but back to the toilet:

    here is a public toilet in China (shilin, near Kunming), which has a TV – obviously you need to “sit” on the toilet to be able to watch the TV:

    All the ads on the TV may be pay for the toilet?

    isn’it cool?


    May 29, 2013 at 11:11 pm

  8. Thank you for this review, Stephen. Admirably put, especially regarding placing transit in the context of land use and climate change.

    The other context is, of course, energy. By all truly independent accounts, the world is heading for a crisis in the supply and price of liquid fuels within the decade. The latest report by the Energy Watch Group, Fossil and Nuclear Fuels, The Supply Outlook (March 2013) just confirms and builds on previous work by people like Dave Hughes, Bill Powers, Nicole Foss, Gail Tverberg, Kjell Aleklett and organizations like The Oil Drum reporters and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO), and contains graph after graph indicating a precipitous worldwide decline (and by extension a corresponding spike in prices) in supplies of oil and natural gas (not to mention coal and uranium) starting in earnest in 2020. Their report includes analysis of unconventionals like shale gas and tight oil, which have extraordinary decline rates and associated massive company debts just to keep drilling and fracking at a frenzied pace only to maintain a steady output, and deep sea and arctic drilling which costs hundreds of millions per well.

    Christy prefers to place her trust — and a huge amount of public financial and hydro resources — toward underwriting the profits of companies who intend to frack the entire NE quadrant of BC strictly for export purposes, and in doing so disregard the local economic and environmental consequences (notably on ground water) and the contribution to drving the carbonization of the atmosphere ever upward. Perhaps she should compare that to the return per invested dollar in SkyTrain in relation to the transit-oriented development it has fostered. Of course, the flow isn’t directly into the provincial coffers, but the metropolitan (ergo the provincial) economy has done measureably better over the last quarter century of transit than it could ever with freeways and expoited and exported fossil fuels.

    For Tamim Raad to state that the car will still be dominant in 2045 is a very large stretch that disregards the fact that without gas stations issuing affordable fuel for the next generation, cars will inevitably decline in numbers. Not everyone can afford a hybrid, and electrifying the current 1.5 million car fleet with public electrical generating and transmission facilities would not be economically feasible.

    Moreover, transportation costs have been found to have a profound effect on affordability relative to income. Transit, especially frequent and fast transit, makes it more affordable to live closer to amenities in areas where housing is more expensive. The transport costs of sprawl include not just the drain on incomes to operate a car over longer distances, but to operate more than one car per family, to receive a greater public subsidy in the form of greater proportional road infrastructure and services, and to measure the cost in lost time.

    Enter electric transit (which is way more efficient than EVs), electric grid-based movement of freight (road or rail), rebuilding cities for humans instead of cars, and very deep energy conservation. There is a lot of work tom do, but a vacuum of insight at the leadership level. The politicos prefer to wait for Armageddon.

    The EWG report can be found here:


    May 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm

  9. […] of what he said has already been covered here but is repeated for convenience of reference] Translink is currently updating Transport 2040 with […]

  10. […] should also be no surprise, given what you have read here about Translink’s Stakeholder Forum at the Wosk Centre, or the Sustainability Community Breakfast by Metro. What I heard from Bob Paddon, in our telephone […]

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