Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 19th, 2013

UBC Alumni dialogue: Transportation?

with 5 comments

UPDATED November 22

I went to a UBC dialogue at the Burnaby Hilton Metrotown on Monday November 18, 2013. You can find out more about the alumni at Attendees at the meeting were encouraged to tweet using the hashtag #ubcdialogues (despite the unavailability of free wifi) and I have gathered what was tweeted here  and in more readable format on Storify

Stephen Quinn of CBC Raidio was the moderator who introduced the five experts Larry Frank, Ian Jarvis, Carole Jolly of UBC planning, Paul Lee of City of Surrey and Ian Druce of Steer, Davis & Gleave.

The meeting was recorded for a podcast that is now available on the UBC Alumni web page.

Larry Frank opened by stating that future funding for transit should be  tied to suitable land use planning. It was essential to bring development to transit. The public sector health care costs of car dependence are greater than the investment required “We are lazy and sedentary” which gives rise to the most prevalent health problems: diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Ian Jarvis noted that everyone seem to be in favour of improvements to transit as long as somebody else pays for it. Fares cover half the operating cost, and do not make any contribution to fund capital investment. Everyone benefits from the improvements to the economy and quality of life that follow transit investment. The upcoming referendum will focus attention on these issues.

Carole Jolly stressed the economic benefits of rail all the way to UBC along the Broadway corridor linking the hi tech industry and health care institutions to the centre of research.

Paul Lee noted “We are not alone: everyone else has this problem.” Surrey covers a huge area and every two years adds the population equivalent to another Port Moody
How much courage do we have?

Ian Druce said that out region was actually ahead of other places in Canada as we have  integrated planning and transportation. We get funds for transit from three sources fares, gas tax and federal contributions [?]. There are issues over governance and decision making with both the province and the municipalities. There remains an unresolved issue for the region of affordability.

Stephen Quinn asked with reference to the referendum how do we make a case to people who can’t access transit?

We all rely on other people to make better choices, to allow us to drive. Congestion is bad and getting worse. I think  that the health argument carries a lot of weight as we pay for everybody else’s health. The greenhouse gas argument is profound but not as immediate

How much of an impediment is the governance structure?

The are two questions to be dealt with
1 The need for elected officials to control broad policy issues
2 What is the appropriate level of investment

How much is the Broadway rail line worth to UBC?

The recent KPMG report shows the significant economic benefit to UBC but, unlike the airport we don’t have a revenue source to tap for funds. Quinn responded that there is a great deal of property development at UBC  to which Jolly responded that the development benefits are fed back to education

When did the light bulb go on for Surrey?

Four years ago we did a study which showed that the maximum we can do with road expansion would allow for a 10 to 12% growth but our population will double.

He had contributed to a governance review of Translink for the Mayors Council. What is missing now is the policy led decision making that requires elected officials [for legitimacy] The mayors are frustrated that they get the blame for overcrowding and passups but they can’t raise the funds to do anything about it.

How should the referendum question be framed?

It should address decision making as well as funding. H wis much more worried about “bad infrastructure” and its impact on land use.

There were successful referenda in the US. The ones that won had a specific set of projects with determined costs and timelines for construction. For example, Los Angeles  had a long list of projects to ensure that there is something for everyone

We have to identify champions – its not enough that Ian Jarvis asks for more money. Groups like the Board of Trade have to be out in public talking about the benefit to the economy
Everyone wins

We have to present a package of benefits not just cost

Must include pedestrians and cyclists

Questions from the floor

1 The province should do something for transit

Use the carbon tax pay for transit. [Not just use it to reduce other taxes.]
Planning should be at regional level – not dropping a huge project out of the blue onto the region [i.e. Massey Tunnel replacement]

BC spends more on transit than the other provinces do [presumably he means in proportion to population or GDP not absolute amounts]. An economic vision for the region is needed. We have done quite well in recent years [transit investments].

2. Look at the relative density cf London and New York (cited data I did not get to write down)

We built inefficient land use

Density by itself is not enough. The City of Vancouver  is actually denser than most cities but is designed for cars

1m people are coming but the land base is limited

3. What is the right transit technology for Broadway?

Build for the future
Not just the costs look at benefits too

We have excess demand now – many cities would like that problem
We need to build in flexibility

SQ Raised the issue of Human dignity – referring to his commute on SkyTrain from Broadway & Commercial to downtown. Is comfort [on transit] a luxury?

The problem with SkyTrain is it moves a lot of people through one narrow corridor. We need a bigger, broader network to improve resiliency. Currently we are vulnerable to incidents on one part of system. We need a technology that will “fill the gap” between bus and sky train [in terms of passenger capacity].

4 – Identified two areas that are likely to vote No. Low density areas without  access to transit
Burnaby and New West already have their transit

We should “bundle housing with transit” to improve affordability and reduced the need to “drive until you qualify”.
Parks open space

Vibrant economy benefits everyone

5 – (from Transit operator) What happens if the answer is no, what do we do?

TransLink articulates that – dig deeper in the hole

The vote will be taken as one of non-confidence in Translink

6 – Is the Implementation Plan the list pf porjects? When will it be ready ?

Yes – mid 2014

7   Developer Cost Charges to pay for transit ?

Distance based impact fees. Has been done elsewhere. Munis get DCC to pay for Pedestrian facilities etc.

Capstan Way station development in Richmond – developer (voluntary) contribution



I am not sure why I was invited to the meeting. I think it is interesting that this is now the second time I have sat in a room where everyone was convinced that we needed more transit but was also sure that the rest of the region would not be willing to pay for it.

I think the carbon tax idea is popular but is actually the least likely outcome. Firstly because it was sold as “revenue neutral” and that will be difficult to reverse. Does it only get diverted to the extent it is collected in this region? Or do we think that other parts of BC deserve to get carbon reducing investments too? No one talked about sales tax.

I was struck by the conversation that once again identified the need for a champion for transit but once again did not name any of the coalitions that are already forming

I also think it is highly unlikely that the region will get to decide how to frame the question. The province will do that to get the answer it wants.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 19, 2013 at 8:58 am