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Road pricing: What’s not to love

with 5 comments

The title is taken from Gordon Price’s blog post and op-ed in the Vancouver Sun today.  He used a question mark, so this post tries to address the question. Yesterday the Sun had another op-ed on the same topic – equally positive – by Michael Goldberg (you may recall I quoted a lot from him at the “Moving the Future” meeting). I won’t link to that since it’s behind the paywall, but I am sure you can find it if you want to. And on Friday I am invited to another meeting where road pricing is going to be debated.

I am not just being contrarian. I have been in favour of moving towards road pricing ever since I read Gabriel Roth’s “Paying for Roads” back in the mid 1960s. I have written about it on this blog often enough. My impression is that there is a movement afoot to persuade us that we will get a say in future road pricing in the referendum. Frankly, I doubt it. And if we do I also doubt that it will win. Gordon does a good job of explaining why it is unpopular in general – but I think that there are some very specific reasons why it will not fly here, now. And that is what I am concerned about.

“The best is the enemy of the good.”

Road pricing is fine in theory, but very difficult to do in practice. Parallels with other places that use cordons to impose congestion charges on central areas (London, Singapore, various Scandinavian cities) fall down very quickly when you compare our geography to theirs. Our commute pattern in not dominated by travel from the suburbs to one central area. Suburb to suburb travel is much more important. We cannot do a simple cordon price system here.

The province appears to be willing to reconsider its tolling policy which means that prices could be applied to existing roads at some future date once it has decided what that policy is going to be. But it will almost certainly be a province wide policy, not one designed to be optimal for this region. That is going to create a whole new set of problems we cannot yet determine, since the new policy is still in vitro. But you can already see that since some roads are provincial, some municipal and some get funding from Translink’s Major Road Network it is going to take a fair bit of negotiation to sort out which roads it will be applied to and how.

The next huge issue is what will happen on the other roads. As Gordon’s other recent blog post about Portugal shows, when you toll the major roads, a lot of traffic shifts to the minor roads.

In London, when the congestion charge was introduced, it was recognized that there would be a shift from driving to public transport. And that would be a problem as the railway systems were already at capacity at peak periods, and it takes a great deal of time to build new railway capacity (though they are doing that too). So the only quick way to add capacity was to increase the bus system. The problem was that the buses were caught up in the congestion themselves. So it would not be enough to just add more buses. The service would have to become both more reliable and faster – to attract passengers and cut costs. So at the same time as the congestion charge zone was being set up, so too were lots of new exclusive bus lanes.

In Metro Vancouver there are very few examples of bus lanes. Most are simply queue jumpers – and many are also open to “high occupancy vehicles” (even where “high occupancy” means only two or more people). On the busiest bus routes, there are parking restrictions but at peak periods only. While there have been short lived examples of bus priority measures (on the old #98 B Line for instance) most have now been removed. Municipalities could – at any time – have demonstrated a commitment to better bus services by their traffic management policies. None have down so in any significant fashion.

If we are to switch to road pricing it cannot happen until we have resolved the issue of how the trips deterred by the tolls can continue to be accomplished. That means significant transit expansion has to be ready to go before the toll collectors are turned on. That means more buses, more operators, more operating and maintenance centres. There is no spare capacity in the present transit system. It has been managed out as part of coping with increased demand without increased funding. There will be some additional trains when the Evergreen Line opens but none are being bought for the rest of the (overcrowded) SkyTrain system. The Canada Line presents its own set of capacity restraints that have been expounded here often enough.

There has been an opportunity to switch on a road pricing like system for some time. Not one that is sensitive to routes or times of day, but would have reduced car use significantly. I refer to distance based car insurance. With mandatory provincially provided car insurance we could have had this years ago. Instead the province has used ICBC as a way of collecting more for general revenues.

Today the province also announced increased hydro rates – for the next five years. This is to help pay for the disastrous policies of privatization, “run of the river” schemes ( sorry that link is paywalled) and settling a legal dispute with  California.

At the same time provincial policies at BC Transit are being shown to have been very badly thought out. Hydrogen buses in Whistler – introduced for the Olympics fuelled from hydrogen trucked from Quebec – are found to be too expensive. There is never funding for dull, boring everyday transit service, but there’s always a ribbon cutting opportunity – and plenty of PR pizzazz for daft ideas like the hydrogen highway – which still doesn’t exist.

In BC – as in the rest of North America – real disposable incomes have been largely static. Reductions in taxes have been matched – and in some cases more than matched – by hikes in fees for services which used to be paid from taxes. 1% of the population has done very well indeed. Most of the rest does not feel better off. Household debt is at record levels. Raising hydro rates will make people feel worse off, especially those who have no way to increase their incomes and who have very little ability to reduce their use of power. We’ve had all the free light bulbs we can use and many of us cannot afford a new fridge.

There is going to be a referendum on increasing the amount we pay for transit. That will come from a combination of sources since that is the way the system is set up now, and there is no current ability to change that. The new revenue stream is need to play catch up to currently constrained demand.

None of the articles I referred to have dealt with inequality – or land use. We know that land use takes a long time to change, but we also know that transportation and land use are inextricably linked.  If we change the way we pay for roads, people will have to reconsider their location decisions. Many will feel stressed by this – there are few more traumatic events in life than moving. But they made their present decisions in a system that closely controlled how much they were allowed to spend on housing but ignored how much they would have to spend on travel. “Drive until you qualify” is actually a terrible strategy – for a two income family especially – but it was what most people did. Change those rules and expect howls of outrage. People on the lower end of the income scale are much more vulnerable to changes of this kind – and more numerous. That matters in systems where votes matter. Like referenda.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2013 at 11:56 am

The Dutch Introduce Road Pricing

with 46 comments

You can read very similar information about this new legislation at either Associated Press or Deutsche Welle (in English)

The Dutch government approved a bill on Friday that will implement a new per-kilometer-tax on drivers. Beginning in 2012 the law will abolish current road taxes and sales taxes for automobiles, cutting the cost of a new car by 25 percent, in favor of the pro-rated distance tax.

Drivers will be charged 0.03 euros per kilometer (7 cents US per mile) in an attempt to reduce traffic jams fatal accidents and carbon emissions.

The tax will increase every year until 2018, when it will cost 6.7 cents per kilometer to drive in Holland.

The government says the tax will benefit 6 out of 10 drivers, with those who drive the most and at peak hours with the most burden to bear.

The system is based on GPS which will track every vehicle. These short pieces say nothing about how the civil liberties groups responded to this.

The system is expected to cut carbon emissions from driving by half and increase cycling and use of public transport. And, of course, the Dutch already have very high rates of use of both of those alternatives to driving  and very good provision of services and facilities. Once again the policy, like carbon tax and U Pass trots out the old “revenue neutral” line, but at least in this case there is a commitment to steadily increase the cost of driving and a note that if the mode shift is not as great as anticipated, there will be greater increases.

Such a system will be instantly dismissed here as politically untenable. Unfortunately, the physics of climate change do not understand that concept. Canada – and also the United States – is increasingly out of step with the rest of the “developed” world. Countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway all saw that something needed to be done about an oil dependent life style back in the 1970s with the first great oil shock. The Dutch had significant reserves of North Sea gas but that has been rapidly depleted. The wiseacres said at the time that they “wasted the opportunity” because they continued to provide a decent level of social services when so many other countries fell into the grip of the Chicago school and slashed public spending and instead gave the rich tax breaks.  The Dutch felt that if anyone deserved a break it was poor people, not the rich or the corporate behemoths.

Our present system is clearly not working well. Not only do we have traffic congestion and an appalling toll on the lives of road users, we also have wasteful land use, unhealthy lifestyles and a carbon footprint greater than nearly anyone else on the planet – and one that is growing. We distribute a very scare resource – peak hour road space – the way they used to distribute everything in the former Soviet Union. It is essentially given away to anyone willing to line up to use it. And we have failed to provide any realistic alternative in most places.

There are similar ideas like distance based car insurance, which is now becoming increasingly available  just tot he south of us, but which we steadfastly refuse to even discuss. If the main stream media do pick up this story I imagine we will see the spin trotted out once again about “punishing drivers” and “social engineering” as if the present system did not punish pedestrians, cyclists and transit users and also socially engineered widespread obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Plus of course social isolation for those who cannot drive, loss of farmland, pollution of watercourses and all the rest.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 14, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Are we ready for road pricing?

with 17 comments

The amount of coverage that Martin Crilly’s report got surprised me. After all it was not as if he was saying something new, or that anyone was bound to act upon his recommendations. The only substantive issue covered was would he approve next year’s fare increase if the Mayors endorse it. All the rest was editorial.

In an opinion piece in today’s Vancouver Sun, Craig McInnes forecasts that it will be up to the province to decide if the Evergreen Line gets built.  Which is also hardly a stunning insight. The decision to build the Canada Line that was forced through the former Translink board was achieved by “promising” that the two lines would both be built. And there is both federal and provincial money lined up to do that. Just no way for Translink to come up with its share. The Canada Line is now open, and there is no sign that the Evergreen Line will ever be built.

McInnes accepts Crilly’s assertion that there is now spare capacity in the transit system. He also endorses the idea that simply increasing capacity has not been enough to tempt people out of their cars and onto transit – which, of course, has not happened to any great extent. Transit ridership grew but only as total demand for transportation grew – transit share of the market has hardly changed. Therefore, the argument goes, since just providing capacity “didn’t work”, we need sticks as well as carrots.

I am not sure that this analysis is adequate. Firstly, the claim about spare capacity is new to me. It is not backed up either by figures in Crilly’s report or, so far as I am aware at present, in figures that Translink has made available. As I noted in my previous post, Crilly says that he has seen unpublished data at Translink. I regret that I am not prepared to accept his word for that. Firstly, because I have too much experience with the way that Translink creates its ridership “data” – and any statements about capacity utilisation have to be based on ridership data. But secondly, given that Translink is in a desperate cash crunch and badly needs to convince us all of its situation, why has this data set not been made available publicly?

But passenger demand was not just driven by new and more frequent services. The biggest increment in demand was due to the introduction of the UPass – and we are still seeing significant impacts on operating costs of that decision. Much of the new capacity that will start next week is to relieve overcrowding on routes serving UBC. Wherever this “spare capacity” might be on the system it is certainly not on Broadway. (And maybe Gordon Campbell cares more about his tube to UBC than the north east sector?)

There are indeed passenger counters at the new Canada Line stations. But they have only been working for the last three weeks. I have heard talk that the small number of passenger counters installed on a few buses are not proving reliable – but that’s just talk. And it also reminds me of the time when we first started getting data from the electronic fareboxes. The idea that everyone would swipe their ticket when they boarded a bus was quickly relinquished even before the new machines were put into use as they were not “swipe” but “dip” – which meant it took too long to board if all pass holders lined up and waited for the machine to return their pass. But, if we had data on cash payments and transfers – as well as good survey data on pass usage – we could factor up  farebox data to produce estimates of boardings by route and time of day. A huge advance. Except the service planners refused to even look at the data, since it did not confirm their “professional judgement” of ridership. The absence of “good survey data” was also a handicap. We had some data, but not nearly enough to be confident at the route and time of day levels.

So unless things have changed greatly since I left, I remain skeptical. But I also recognize that the bus operators themselves have a vested interest – and an on going campaign – on overcrowding and pass ups. And Translink themselves are saying that on Tuesday morning, when school starts again and everyone is back from their vacations, there will be overcrowding and stress on the system. As they always say just before Labour Day every year. If there really were plenty of capacity on the system to absorb new riders – as Crilly and by extension McInnes assert – then, surely,  there should be no problems on Tuesday.

The figures are needed since it is essential to understand how much capacity we now have, how it is utilised, and how much more would be needed if some or all of these new “sticks” were to be deployed. Forget road pricing for a moment (that is the least likely after all) Translink had its own parking tax quashed by the province, and the prospect of  increasing the current sales tax on paid parking vanished with the switch to HST. ICBC commissioned a study on pay as you drive insurance years ago – and has sat on it ever since. We know it would work, we know it would also be a much better way of allocating risk – the more you drive the greater your chance of a collision. ICBC refuse to even discuss the idea- even with the man who wrote the report for them!

But let us suppose for a moment that a sudden light goes on somewhere in Victoria and some new and really effective policy is introduced that changes the way that people view the cost of driving. Now we have a good example of that – the dramatic rise in gasoline prices to $1.50 a litre here and $4 a gallon and more in the US not so long ago. And, as far as that goes, the increase in unemployment and the loss of easy financing, that has encouraged more Americans than ever to try to use their transit systems. All over the US demand for transit has increased, and car use is down. But not a single system can cope with this – they simply do not have the operating funds. Every system is both cutting service and raising fares because its tax base has fallen due to the recession. We can see quite clearly what happens when you start applying the “stick” but also have inadequate capacity to cope with demand. All you have to do is set up a Google news alert with the search term “transit” and you will get a page full of links to US local news sources bewailing the current crisis of transit there every weekday morning (it quietens down at weekends).

I will even accept, for the sake of argument, that there may be some spare capacity on Translink – but I cannot accept that there is anything like enough to cope with the sort of shift in mode share that we actually need to see to make any real difference. And, for the want of anything better, I will restate that in 1999 we said that 11% mode share was not good enough and that by 2009 we should be at 17%. Without seeing any data, I am willing to bet that it is nothing like enough to accomodate that sort of shift from single occupant cars to transit.

Road pricing is a very good idea indeed.   It was a very good idea in 1967, too, when Gabriel Roth published “Paying for Roads”. At that time the technological requirements seemed a bit like science fiction. These days, that is no longer the case. But it is not the technological issues that have held back road pricing. There is nowhere, yet, that has adopted a comprehensive system that charges for road space that varies by location and time of day. There are a few places that levy a flat fee to enter a central cordon. There are a few others that charge varying amounts for queue jumper lane usage depending on congestion (so called HOT lanes – High Occupancy or Toll). If Metro Vancouver were to adopt regionwide road pricing it would be unprecedented – and for that reason alone I think it is unlikely. But even if we accepted some system that made the best use of available technologies – such as GPS satellites and cell phones – I think it would still take a great deal of time and effort to create the necessary billing and payment system, even if we could resolve the obvious concerns about privacy.

It could be done, but it would require a major shift in public opinion. Because the reaction that can already be seen is the common belief that we have already paid for these roads through our taxes – and that we are “entitled” to use them whenever and wherever we want to. The notion that road space at peak periods is a scarce resource that is either rationed by queueing (as we do now) or pricing is way beyond common understanding. Not that that could not be overcome. But again that would take time and resources.

Oddly enough, we do have a provincial government that prefers user fees to taxation for government provided services. They just promised us another income tax cut, which they promptly took back in higher MSP fees. Post secondary education used to be supported by taxes, now it is supported by fees – and student loans. We now even pay to use provincial parks – and we always have had to pay for healthcare services such as ambulances and prescription medications. So in terms of political dogma there should be no problem. But then there is the prospect of public outrage such as we saw over the vehicle levy (a flat fee not related to road use at all) – or, come to that, the HST. Which they seem to be sticking to despite the furore and fuss.

We cannot use a cordon price system here. We no longer have a single, dominant central place that creates a “many to few” (origins – destinations) morning commute. We also have very little through traffic in downtown to be diverted to a ring road. Geography also does not help. Simply tolling water crossings (another much discussed option here) misses off the predominant movement east-west on the Burrard Peninsula which has no water crossing. Congestion is widespread, but occurs only at limited times of day. So a real road pricing system is needed which varies the price by location, direction of travel and time of day. A driver westbound towards the Port Mann at 7:30am (lots of congestion) ought to be paying much more than one southbound on Highway 99 at 9:30pm (none at all). And it needs to cover more than just the major and provincial road networks if there is not to be a major impact through diversions to minor roads.

At present Gordon Campbell seems to be in denial. He was on the box again last night saying the Evergreen Line will be built. He is convinced that Translink has the resources even though the Commissioner doesn’t. And nor does anyone who knows much about the system expect there to be discovery in the next month that will turn up more than relatively small sums compared to what is needed. Actually, the decision not to proceed with the Evergreen Line is one of the easier ones. After all, we don’t have it now and thus won’t miss it. That is not the case with the the current threat to transit service. If that is cut – and it costs more to use the system – there will be significant anger. And I can only hope that it is directed at Gordon Campbell – since it will be the result of people doing his bidding. But history shows that it was Translink that has always borne the brunt of the consequences of Premiers’ incompetences (and there has been plenty of precedent there).

Written by Stephen Rees

September 5, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Dutch Road Pricing Proposal

with one comment

The TerraPass Footprint has a short piece on the proposed introduction of road pricing into the Netherlands in 2011. It includes this useful  link to the official (english language) Dutch government site – and a biggish pdf file can be downloaded from there.

We have known about road pricing for a long time and some of us have speculated how long it would be before Metro Vancouver seriously considered it. This proposal is much closer to what it needed here, regionwide, than other existing congestion pricing schemes which are based simply on a flat fee for a central area (like London).

It really is a serious alternative because it is structured in a way that is both tied directly to the behaviour that causes the problems but it also equitable, since it replaces other taxes on cars which are regressive.  It also has a good chance of working there since the Netherlands has an excellent public transport system and one of the highest bicycle use rates already.

A system here could also be revenue neutral if it replaced not just taxes on car ownership but also basic car insurance premiums. It has been clear for a long time that pay as you drive insurance would be a much better idea than subsidies to people who drive badly and a lot from low risk drivers who do not drive very far. ICBC refuses to even talk about it.

RP also does not stand a chance of being fairly evaluated here, since all our institutions are geared up to continue doing what they have always done, but expect a different outcome this time. And, of course, it was Not Invented Here and could not possibly work in this region. Just like so many other innovations which other places have introduced but leave us baffled. But an RP scheme would end once and for all the problem that Translink now faces – the cash crunch – which it has always faced – and would also eliminate the need for the road building schemes which are about to destroy the  hope of a sustainable and liveable region. Becuase we know that you cannot build your way out of congestion – no-one ever has – but several places are now showing that you can price your way out of congestion.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 10, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Economics

Price on Road Pricing

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In Business in Vancouver and on his blog.

This is an idea whose time has come. New, most voted for Councillor Suzanne Anton has already promoted tolls as discussed here earlier. So maybe Gord is not quite on the money when he says it has to be done by stealth. There are politicians (even in the NPA) who are risk takers.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 7, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Guest Post: Todd Litman’s VTPI News

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There has not been very much recently on this blog other than photo challenges and the like. That is because I had the feeling that much of what I was now writing was simply repeating what I had already written. It is bad enough boring yourself, but you should never bore your audience. Todd makes his living writing and talking about transportation policy – and he is never boring. He produces a regular email newsletter and in that states “please pass this newsletter on to others who may find it useful.” So this is what I am doing.

Everything below the line is simply cut and pasted from his email except for his snail mail address and telephone numbers.


 

 

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                 VTPI NEWS

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              Victoria Transport Policy Institute

“Efficiency – Equity – Clarity”

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Fall 2017    Vol. 17, No. 4

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The Victoria Transport Policy Institute is an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transportation problems. The VTPI website (www.vtpi.org ) has many resources addressing a wide range of transport planning and policy issues. VTPI also provides consulting services.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

NEW VTPI REPORTS

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Evaluating Public Transit Criticism: Systematic Analysis of Political Attacks on High Quality Transit and How Transportation Professionals Can Effectively Respond” (http://www.vtpi.org/railcrit.pdf ). High quality public transit, such as urban rail and Bus Rapid Transit, and Transit Oriented Development (TOD), can provide many benefits, including direct benefits to users and indirect benefits to other members of society. There is evidence of growing consumer demand for these options. As a result, many communities are investing significant resources to improve transit services and encourage TOD. A small but vocal group of critics attack these efforts. Critics argue that transit service improvements attract few riders, provide few benefits, are not cost effective, and are unfair to low-income residents and motorists. This report systematically evaluates these claims. Many of the critics’ arguments are based on inaccurate, incomplete or biased information. This report describes appropriate responses to inaccurate criticisms. This should be of interest to transportation professionals, public transit advocates, and anybody interested in determining optimal investments in transit service improvements and TOD.

 

A New Traffic Safety Paradigm” (http://www.vtpi.org/ntsp.pdf ). Despite decades of effort to increase traffic safety, motor vehicle accidents continue to impose high costs, particularly in the U.S. New strategies are needed to achieve ambitious traffic safety targets such as Vision Zero. Recent research improves our understanding of how transportation and land use factors affect traffic risks, and therefore how transport and development policy decisions can help increase safety. Applying this knowledge requires a paradigm shift: The current paradigm favors targeted safety programs that reduce special risks such as youth, senior and impaired driving, a new paradigm recognizes that all vehicle travel imposes risks, and so supports vehicle travel reduction strategies such as more multi-modal planning, efficient transport pricing, Smart Growth development policies, and other TDM strategies.

 

Greenhouse Gas Reductions and Implementation Possibilities for Pay-to-save Transportation Price-shifting Strategies” (www.vtpi.org/G&E_GHG.pdf and www.vtpi.org/Greenberg&Evans_GHG_Policies.pdf ), by Allen Greenberg and John (Jay) Evans. This report and presentation estimate the GHG emissions reductions that could be achieved by a bundle of price-shifting policies (no net increase in consumer costs), including pay-as-you-drive-and-you-save (PAYDAYS) car insurance, parking cash-out, and the conversion of new vehicle sales taxes to mileage taxes designed to raise equivalent revenue. These policies could be implemented by federal or state legislation or regulation. The analysis indicates that this package could reduce over two-thirds of the emission reductions provided by the EPA’s current Clean Power Plan Rule, and far more than the emissions reductions by a $50 per ton CO2e surcharge on transportation fuels.

 

Pay-As-You-Drive Insurance in BC – Backgrounder” (http://vtpi.org/PAYD%20in%20BC%20Backgrounder.pdf ). ‘Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) insurance is the best transportation policy reform you’ve probably never heard of.’ This short report describes why and how to implement PAYD insurance pricing for affordability, safety and emission reduction’s sake. This is a timely issue. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) has applied for a 6.4% vehicle insurance rate increase (http://bit.ly/2BGVH4L ). As an intervener status, Todd Litman can request information and provide testimony concerning how vehicle travel affects crash rates, and therefore the actuarial justification for PAYD pricing.

 

Reforming Municipal Parking Policies to Align With Strategic Community Goals” (http://www.vtpi.org/vpr.pdf ). The City of Victoria is currently engaged in a parking policy review which proposes reducing some off-street parking requirements. These changes are good, but modest. This short report identifies much bolder reforms that would better align parking policies with other community goals. Although written for Victoria, the analysis and recommendations are appropriate for most municipalities.

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PUBLISHED & PRESENTED ELSEWHERE

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Public Transportation’s Impact on Rural and Small Towns: A Vital Mobility Link” (www.trb.org/main/blurbs/176733.aspx). This report by Todd Litman for the American Public Transportation Association describes the important roles that public transit plays in small towns and rural communities, current trends that are increasing these demands, examples of rural community public transport programs, and responses to common rural transit myths. Public transportation helps rural communities become more efficient and equitable by ensuring that all residents, including non-drivers, enjoy independent mobility and receive a fair share of public spending on transportation facilities and services. Although public transit serves only a minor portion of total rural travel, many of those trips are crucial, including access to healthcare, basic shopping, employment and education. Current demographic and economic trends are increasing demands for affordable mobility options in rural communities, including ageing population, high poverty rates and a large portion of military veterans. Serving these demands can provide multiple benefits, but many of these benefits tend to be overlooked or undervalued in formal transportation planning.

 

Grounding Urban Walking and Cycling Research in a Political Economy Framework,‘ by

Meleckidzedeck Khayesi, Todd Litman, Eduardo Vasconcellos and Winnie Mitullah, published in “Non-Motorized Transport Integration into Urban Transport Planning in Africa” (http://bit.ly/2jdFEDP ). This book chapter examines the political economy that affects urban walking and cycling policy.

 

Transportation for Everyone: A New Accessibility Rating System” (http://bit.ly/2AMVqPY ). This Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog by Todd Litman describes how to determine whether a transportation system is multimodal and so can serve diverse users, including people who cannot, should not or prefer not to drive.

 

Determining Optimal Urban Expansion, Population and Vehicle Density, and Housing Types for Rapidly Growing Cities” (www.vtpi.org/WCTR_OC.pdf ), published in ‘Transportation Research Procedia.‘ This study by Todd Litman examines the economic, social and environmental impacts of various urban development factors including urban expansion, population and vehicle density, housing type, roadway design and management, and recreation facility availability. The results are used to create guidelines for urban development that optimizes for various planning objectives including openspace (farmland and habitat) preservation, efficient public infrastructure and services, public health and safety, efficient transportation, affordability, economic productivity and opportunity, and urban livability (local environmental quality). This analysis indicates that to be efficient and equitable, cities should provide diverse housing and transport options which respond to consumer demands, particularly affordable housing in accessible, multimodal neighborhoods, and affordable travel modes, with pricing or roadway management that favor resource-efficient modes, plus convenient access to parks and recreational facilities.

 

How to Do Efficient Congestion Pricing (Or Thoughts on William Vickrey)” (http://bit.ly/2ASLp4d ). This ‘Market Urbanism Website’ posting is based on a summary by Todd Litman (http://www.vtpi.org/vickrey.htm ) of Nobel Prizewinning economist William Vickrey’s recommendations for efficient road pricing. Without efficient pricing and suitable alternatives, such as high quality public transit traffic congestion is virtually unavoidable. When motorists say “no” to efficient road pricing they are saying “yes” to congestion.

 

The Million-Dollar Neighborhood: Walkable Mixed-Use Neighborhoods Can Help Families Build Wealth” (https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2017/08/07/million-dollar-neighborhood ). This article in the Congress of New Urbanism’s ‘Public Square’ magazine summarizes VTPI research on the direct economic benefits to households from living in Smart Growth communities. Since real estate appreciates and vehicles depreciate in value, households can significantly increase their long-term wealth by purchasing a home in a walkable urban neighborhood where they spend less on transportation and investment more in real estate. A typical household can gain a million dollars in additional equity over their working life. It is based on the VTPI report, “Selling Smart Growth” (www.vtpi.org/ssg ).

 

Transportation and the Challenge of Future-Proofing Our Cities” (http://bit.ly/2w6v5JX ). This ‘Governing Magazine’ article mentions the VTPI report, “Autonomous Vehicle Implementation Projections” (www.vtpi.org/avip ).

 

Recent Planetizen Blogs (www.planetizen.com/blog/2394 ):

 

The Many Problems With Autonomous Vehicles” (https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/95445 ). Optimists predict that autonomous vehicles will be a transportation panacea, but there are good reasons to be skeptical. They may create as many problems as they solve.

 

The Future of Mobility in Cities: Multimodal and Integrated” (https://www.planetizen.com/news/2017/10/95204 ). Ten principles developed by international non-governmental organizations are designed to guide urban decision-makers toward the best outcomes for the transition to new mobility options.

 

Responding to Public Transit Criticism” (https://www.planetizen.com/node/94729 ). Critics often use fallacious arguments and inaccurate evidence to attack public transit and Transit Oriented Development. Here are suggestions for responding to their false claims.

 

Let’s be friends. Todd Litman regularly posts on his Facebook page (www.facebook.com/todd.litman ). Befriend him now!

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UPCOMING EVENTS

=======================

 

TRB Annual Meeting (www.trb.org )

Mind the Gap: Can Inclusive Cities Bridge Social Equity Disparities?” (https://annualmeeting.mytrb.org/Workshop/Details/7790 ), Sunday, 7 January 2018, 1:30 PM-4:30 PM, Convention Center

Todd Litman will discuss qualitative and quantitative measures of transportation equity in this multifaceted workshop. This analysis is important because transport planning decisions often have significant equity impacts.

 

Rethinking Sustainability for Agencies: It Is Much More Than Green Transportation” (https://annualmeeting.mytrb.org/InteractiveProgram/Details/8227 ), Monday 10:15 AM- 12:00 PM, Convention Center, 152A

NCHRP Report 750 noted that transportation agencies are challenged to build consensus around balancing short-term cost-effectiveness and long-term sustainability. Todd Litman will participate in this panel discussion of how organizations are making a transition to triple bottom-line sustainability.

 

“Selling Smart Growth” (https://www.nar.realtor ), 9 January, noon-1:00pm, National Association of Realtors Washington DC headquarters.

Households often make trade-offs between housing and transportation costs: they can purchase a cheaper house at the urban fringe where they must spend significantly more on transportation, or pay more for a home in a walkable urban neighborhood with lower transportation costs. In the short-run the costs often seem equal, but motor vehicles rapidly depreciate in value while urban real estate tends to appreciate, so shifting expenditures from transportation to housing tends to generate long-term household wealth. This presentation will discuss ways to measure and communicate the direct economic benefits to households, businesses and local communities that result when households choose Smart Growth, based on the report “Selling Smart Growth” (www.vtpi.org/ssg).

*    *    *    *    *

 

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

=======================

Why Transit Oriented Development? Benefits for Everyone!” by Todd Litman, keynote presentation at the Eighth International Symposium on Transportation Demand Management (http://2017tdm.ntu.edu.tw ).

 

What’s So Good About EcoMobility? Understanding Co-Benefits” (http://bit.ly/2xTNpYR ), presented at the 2017 EcoMobility Festival (http://www.ecomobilityfestival.org ). Also see the “Kaohsiung Strategies for the Future of Urban Mobility” (http://bit.ly/2BIW9Qa ), a twelve-step program to creating more inclusive, livable and sustainable communities.

*    *    *    *    *

 

USEFUL RESOURCES

=================

Inclusionary Housing Calculator” (http://inclusionaryhousing.org/calculator ) can help evaluate development costs and the impacts that factors such as parking regulations and inclusionary housing policies would have on the profitability of development in a particular situation. For more discussion see: http://bit.ly/2wj6IWl .

 

Urban Amenity and Livability (http://bit.ly/2iNytp9 ), by the Australian Transport and Infrastructure Council (https://atap.gov.au ). The Australian Transport Assessment and Planning (ATAP) Guidelines provide guidance for transportation project Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) and appraisal. These now include guidance on how to evaluate the extent to which community design supports quality of life, health and the general well-being of residents. The Guidance describes practical approaches and implementation of these impacts into Cost-Benefit Analysis.

 

It’s Official: Mexico City Eliminates Mandatory Parking Minimums” (http://bit.ly/2ihUmJk ). Mexico City has taken a step that many urbanists advocate: they’ve eliminated parking minimums. “The policy change applies to every land use and throughout the entire city of 8.8 million residents,” Angie Schmitt reports for Streetsblog USA. “The old rules mandated parking even though only about 30 percent of Mexico City residents own cars and the city has a well-developed subway system.” Backers say this change will encourage more development around transit and save money for those renters and home buyers who are not interested in parking.

 

Forbidden City: How Los Angeles Banned Some of its Most Popular Buildings” (http://bit.ly/2f80h2q ). L.A.’s forbidden city consists of the many buildings that we inhabit, use and care about but that are illegal to build today. Some of Los Angeles’ most iconic building types, from the bungalow courts and dingbats common in our residential neighborhoods to Broadway’s ornate theaters and office buildings, share this strange fate of being appreciated, but for all practical purposes, banned.

 

Automobile Dependency as a Barrier to Vision Zero: Evidence from the States in the USA” (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2017.07.012 ), by Hamed Ahangari, Carol Atkinson-Palombo and Norman Garrick, in ‘Accident Analysis and Prevention.’ Using sophisticated statistical analysis of U.S. crash rates this study found that the most important factors were Vehicles per Capita and Vehicle Miles Traveled, that state-level traffic fatality rates decline with urban density and walking rates, and there is little evidence that conventional traffic safety strategies, such as graduated driver’s license programs, provide significant safety benefits.

 

New Mobility Playbook” (http://bit.ly/2zLX6pr ), Seattle Department of Transportation.

This guidebook identifies integrated policies and strategies to foster new mobility options while prioritizing safety, equity, affordability, and sustainability.

 

The Not-so-Secret Trick to Cutting Solo Car Commutes: Charge for Parking by the Day” (http://bit.ly/2iLwp0R ), published in the Seattle Times. Charging for parking by the day, not by the month, is one of the most powerful tools that employers have to spur their employees not to drive alone to work.

 

Kicking the Drive-alone Habit has been Key to Seattle’s Economic Boom” (http://bit.ly/2kkFVZ6 ) and “Seattle Businesses Buy into the Vision of a Transit-driven Economy,” (http://bit.ly/2iLE8Mp ). These articles by Ethan Goffman describe the economic efficiency gains provided by Seattle’s multimodal transportation planning.

 

The Relationship Between Pedestrian Connectivity and Economic Productivity in Auckland’s City Centre” (http://bit.ly/2wc0VS1 ). This study for the Auckland Council investigates the contribution that walkability makes toward urban economic productivity by facilitating face-to-face interactions that increase knowledge generation and sharing. It found statistically significant positive associations between pedestrian accessibility and labour productivity, and so concluded that city center walkability improvements support economic development.

 

Commute Mode Diversity and Public Health: A Multivariate Analysis of 148 US Cities” (https://doi.org/10.1080/15568318.2017.1321705 ) by Chad Frederick, William Riggs and John Hans Gilderbloom, published in the ‘International Journal of Sustainable Transportation.’ Analyzing transportation and health indicators in 148 mid-sized U.S. urban areas, this study found significantly better health outcomes where fewer commuters drive alone to work, and that multimodal transportation planning (improving walking, cycling and public transit) can significantly improve public health.

 

America’s Addiction to Automobiles: Why Cities Need to Kick the Habit and How” (http://publisher.abc-clio.com/9781440852817 ), by Professor Chad Frederick. This new book uses detailed quantitative analysis to measure the impacts of motor vehicle travel on urban livability, public health and economic equality, examines ways that public policies contribute to excessive automobile dependency, and describes various policy responses. The book argues that multimodal and auto-dependent cities are categorically different kinds of city, and there are fundamental conflicts between higher rates of automobile travel and healthy community planning objectives.

 

Reducing Speeds for Better Mobility and Quality of Life” (http://bit.ly/2jL75Vd ) by Carlos Felipe Pardo. This lecture discusses the impacts of excessive urban traffic speeds and how speed management can increase efficiency and livability.

 

Problems and Prospects of Curbside Parking in Lahore: Policy Implications for Effective Management” (http://bit.ly/2ns0ELN ). This article by Salman Sabir and Ghulam Abbas Anjum examines why and how to improve curbside parking regulations and public transport to reduce parking problems in Lahore, India.

 

Street Mobility Project” (www.ucl.ac.uk/street-mobility ), includes several reports and a Toolkit for measuring community severance (roads that create barriers to walking and cycling) and improving walking conditions, particularly for seniors.

 

Cruel Musical Chairs (or, why is the rent so high?)” by the Sightline Institute (http://bit.ly/2nsGAsv ). This fun Sightline Institute video explains how increasing housing supply can increase housing affordability for everyone, including people who cannot afford new homes.

 

Cycling Towards a More Sustainable Transport Future” (http://bit.ly/2vOrWLy ). This editorial by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler published in ‘Transport Reviews’ describes progress in improving cycling conditions and encouraging cycling activity in many cities around the world.

 

“Bus Stop Urban Design” (www.kjzhang.com and http://bit.ly/2AuUP33 ). This information by Kevin Jingyi Zhang aims to improve the waiting environment of bus stops and their adjacent neighbourhoods through the development and application of 9 design techniques.

 

Demystifying Compact Urban Growth: Evidence From 300 Studies From Across the World” (http://bit.ly/2w3mHZa ). This review by Gabriel Ahlfeldt and Elisabetta Pietrostefani for the Coalition for Urban Transitions found significant positive effects of economic density (the number of people living or working in an area) and land use mix and recommend policies that maximize benefits and minimize costs of urban infill, to ensure efficient and equitable access in compact cities.

 

Mapping The Effects Of Parking Minimums” (http://bit.ly/2An6tyZ ). This article by Josh McCarty uses concrete data to illustrate the economic harms caused by parking minimums.

 

Streets Wide Shut – A Principle for Urban Streets” (http://bit.ly/2Bw4c1E ). This article by Professor David Levinson proposes an urban design principle: ‘No street should carry more than four lanes of private vehicle traffic in a city. No more than two of those lanes should go in the same direction. Most streets should be three, two, or one lane wide.’

*    *    *    *    *

 

Please let us know if you have comments or questions about any information in this newsletter, or if you would like to be removed from our email list. And please pass this newsletter on to others who may find it useful.

 

Sincerely,

Todd Litman

email litman (at) vtpi.org

Victoria Transport Policy Institute (www.vtpi.org)

 

Written by Stephen Rees

December 4, 2017 at 10:33 am

Posted in Transportation

Tolls to be eliminated on Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges

with one comment

CBC News image

This was, of course, a major plank for the NDP election campaign. I am referring to the CBC story, but it will be all over mainstream media.

“These tolls are unfair to people who live in the Lower Mainland and to people who live in particular areas of British Columbia. If you live in Kelowna, you don’t pay tolls to cross a bridge,” Horgan said. “You shouldn’t have to pay tolls because of where you live.”

Which is true, and fair enough as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.

The problem is based in the policies of the previous government, which held that tolls were acceptable as long as there was a free alternative. But they had also secured votes in the interior by cancelling the tolls on the Coquihalla. Because the alternative was much slower than the toll road. There is also the Vancouver precedent of the Lions’ Gate Bridge, which was built by developers and had a toll until it was taken over by the province.

But the other problem was the Public Private Partnership model used by the BC Liberals, which I have lamented here more than once. It deliberately kept the revenue risk in the public sector. Taxpayers were on the hook if traffic did not reach expectations – which was exactly the case with both the Port Mann and the Golden Ears. In the case of the Port Mann the congestion on the aging, overdue for replacement, Patullo Bridge – which the province had downloaded to the GVTA along with the Knight Street and Canoe Pass bridges. They were also long overdue for strengthening – the former due to the seismic risk, the latter to satisfy some potato distributor who thought Westham Island was a good place for a distribution centre. In the case of the Golden Ears, money that Translink was collecting that ought to have gone to improving transit service was diverted to the pockets of the private sector partners in the P3.

The reason that the forecasts were so far out of whack is also something I have covered here. When market research surveys were done people were asked if they were willing to pay tolls – having first been told that they would save time by using the new bridges. Of course respondents would say yes to a question framed that way: any other response would sound stupid. But the reality is what people do when faced with a toll is that they seem to be more than willing to put up with the delay if they can keep the money for other needs. Also, not stupid at all.

So yes tolls are unpopular but also the way the BC Liberals used tolls was exceptionally unfair. Money going to investors in the Golden Ears should have been used to retain the bus pass for the low income transit users, and to increase both HandyDART and bus service in lower density parts of the region.

The problem we now face is that picture at the top I have taken from the CBC. The truth podium will now be trotted out as soon as Horgan – or someone from Translink – dares mention road user pricing, which is not really the same thing as a bridge toll with a toll free alternative. Congestion pricing imposes a fee for using roads when so many people want to drive that no-one gets very far, very fast. The alternatives are walking,  cycling and transit – which are either free or low cost, but also much more efficient users of road space than the typical single occupant vehicle.

29187-m4oqnr

And it is pricing that existing road space, which is so valuable at peak periods, to achieve greater efficiency that policy is aimed at, not lining the pockets of capitalist profiteers. The fact that the funds then get used to build exclusive, separated bus and bike lanes, better sidewalks and public spaces as well as increasing transit service is a happy but very necessary outcome. Road pricing cuts down the attraction of driving but increases overall mobility by far more than the lost car trips. Less air pollution, noise, loss of lives and injuries are all bonuses!

One of the things that this story also illustrates nicely is that there is no GreenNDP coalition. The two partners have a very different approach.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver immediately slammed the NDP government for the move.

“It’s unfortunate that the government has decided to proceed with this reckless policy,” Weaver said in a press release.

“There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern. However, this policy is high cost and low impact.”

He contended the province would get a higher return on investment for programs targeting things like education, student housing and child care.

“Moreover, making such a massive addition to our debt risks raising interest on all debt, which ultimately prevents government from being able to invest more in important social programs,” Weaver said.

In contrast, Horgan insisted the loss of toll revenue shouldn’t affect the province’s borrowing costs.

But Weaver added that tolls can help encourage drivers to find other modes of transportation, which helps to reduce congestion and pollution.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore echoed those concerns in a tweet Friday morning, asking if eliminating tolls could “shift transit users back to their cars and thus increase commute times.”

But the story then tries to point out that “road pricing is still on the table”. But I am not so sure. Maybe now that the “need” for a referendum has been removed, perhaps the knee jerk response of the electorate to catch phrases, sound bites and dog whistles will not matter as much as it did last time. But I think the appeal of “Toll Free BC” will have much more resonance than reuse of the congestion gif – even on many blogs.

And we are still paying MSP

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Transportation

Transit Fare Review Stakeholder Forum

with 8 comments

I attended the second forum at the Translink headquarters on Monday. Somehow I seem to have missed the whole phase 1 of this project. However you can always go to the translink website and catch up.

Before the meeting we were sent the Phase 2 Discussion Guide which included the following

Learn more by reading the discussion guide or watching our online videos. Then let us know what you think by taking the survey and participating in our online discussion forum, which will be open between January 30 and February 17, 2017. You can find all of this at

translink.ca/farereview.

The guide sets out the different types of fares that were considered during Phase 1 but did not report what was heard in the first phase. It does summarise the winners and losers in each of the scenarios that were examined. There is also this diagram which shows what happened when the mid-day discount was ended

This example shows how a simple fare policy change can have a major impact on system costs, crowding and passenger comfort.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-12-39-10-pm

This is the first time I have ever seen anything as official as this which admits that the decision was wrong. Full disclosure, I was at the time a relatively new employee at BC Transit. I was not by any means unfamiliar with transit fares policy and how it can be evaluated, but what astonished me at the time was how few people with whom I was working seemed to understand some simple, basic principles. I had, however, got used to the response I heard about how I was new and therefore could not possibly expect to understand how this system worked.

I would ask you to take note that there is nothing at all on either axis of this graph to show what is being displayed. Time of day is not to hard to interpolate, but the ridership top and bottom does need some indication of value, I think.

Terms of Reference

Project Background

The Transit Fare Review is a comprehensive review of Metro Vancouver’s fare structure that aims to recommend fare policy changes that will increase transit ridership by delivering a better customer experience and improving system efficiency today and into the future. It is comprised of four phases: Phase 1 (Discover), Phase 2 (Define), Phase 3 (Develop), Phase 4 (Deliver) running through to 2018.

Responsibilities

TransLink will:

1. Consider the feedback received through the Stakeholder Forums as advice when making decisions, and

2. Will report back on how the feedback contributed to the decision-making process.

Stakeholder representatives will:

1. Provide TransLink with feedback that reflects the perspective of their organization or constituents to better inform the overall decision-making for the development of the plan, and

2. Participate in the Stakeholder Forum meetings or send a delegate.

Composition and Membership

Each organization is asked to send one to two participants to appear on their behalf as their representative. TransLink is seeking a commitment from organizations for consistent participant attendance at all future Stakeholder Forums during Phases 2, 3 and 4, in order to ensure continuity.

Governance and Authority

All stakeholder feedback will be shared with TransLink staff and considered as advice.

Meeting Logistics

One to two stakeholder forums will be held per Phase. All Forums will be held over the next 24 months. Advance notice of Forums will be provided. Forums will be held during the day time at TransLink’s head office in New Westminster.

Reporting

The outcome of the Stakeholder Forums will be publicly reported at the end of each phase in a Summary Report. The Summary Report will be available online at www.translink.ca/farereview

I am going to record what I heard, but I would encourage you to go online and take the survey if this material is of interest to you.

The meeting was opened by a facilitator from Modus who emphasised that we were “not deciding anything” but rather reporting what we were “thinking and feeling”. Many of the people present were representing groups – “stakeholders”. A show of hands demonstrated that most of them had not been present at the first meeting – though there might have been someone else from their organisation.

img_1770

Only three factors in the fare structure were going to be discussed – distance travelled, time of travel and service type. The findings of the meeting are reported on line – but the first two were actually available at the end of the meeting. The goal was to recommend changes that would increase ridership, be simple to understand, fair and affordable. The structure of the fare system is supposed to contribute to the quality of service. It was emphasized that “the most economically vulnerable should have access to transit”.

Phase 1 of the exercise had shown that there was not a lot of support for the current three zone system.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-10-56-10-am

Taken from the Phase 1 Summary Report

The rest of the meeting was taken up by working in small groups to look at more detailed questions relating to these issues. At each subquestion we were presented with a large poster on which to affix sticky notes with our comments and “votes” using coloured sticky dots.

img_1771

After each exercise there was an opportunity for discussion

At my table were a couple of representatives – one from the Metro Vancouver Alliance and the other from a union. They said that they felt the zone system- and fares by distance – are “erecting walls” and intended to “keep people in the poor part of town”. There is an issue of social isolation due to both cast and lack of access to services. Professor Robert Lindsay of the UBC Sauder School said that fare by distance was a better representation of the cost of providing service than zone system and should be preferred for “economic efficiency”. There were also comments that the concentric rings of the current zones do not reflect  current trip making which is now much less oriented towards commuting between the suburbs to Downtown Vancouver than when the zone system was created. It was suggested that if there were to be a new zonal system it ought to reflect the multiple  centres of activity across the region. It was also necessary to reflect the difference between the journey to work and other types of trip purposes.

I pointed out that one of the major differences was between the grid system of routes in the centre of the region versus the hub and spoke of the suburbs. Great concern was voiced about how the route structure in the suburbs imposes longer distances through indirect routings (to increase ridership pick ups) and transfers. I also expressed my reservation about recommending any finer gradation of fares while the Compass system on the bus does not include a “tap out”. Translink representatives assured me that this was a temporary problem that was about to be fixed.

One of the major concerns about the time of travel section was the need to reduce overcrowding  and pass ups. There is currently no incentive for people making one zone trips to change their time of travel to avoid congested periods – and this was made worse by making the bus system one zone all the time.

When looking at travel by service type it was pointed out that the current service provision generally does not allow for service duplication: for instance, there is no bus service over the Patullo Bridge, so SkyTrain is the only transit option. I also pointed out that there is no direct express bus service between Surrey and Coquitlam centres – both major regional centres – but only an indirect, double transfer SkyTrain ride.

When the results of the analysis of the voting on the distance and time questions were presented it became clear that the group I was part of was not representative of the rest of the meeting.

One thing that did become clear was that there was an almost complete absence of hard data to inform the people present of the results of their choices. But one thing that the Compass system ought to have provided by now was a wealth of information about how people in real life make choices about their travel. For example, the decision to make bus a one zone ride means that there is now a choice by fare for journeys to the North Shore. It is now a one zone bus ride or a two zone SeaBus trip. While we were all busy doing stated preference, there is a whole bunch of much more reliable revealed preference data. I was not all surprised to be told that Compass data is proving difficult to analyze, and that none could be made available due to privacy concerns that is currently preventing data collection on mixed mode “linked” trips. Equally since there is no tapout on the bus, distance travelled can only be interpolated from other sources.

While I do encourage you to go online and take the survey, I feel it is only fair to point out that the reason Translink chose to buy Compass was that it would make fare by distance feasible. Gates at SkyTrain stations could have been operated by the previous “mag swipe” fare media – which is what they use in New York City. A single zone system to this day.

Also worth reading Anthony Perl’s thoughts on the effect of distance based fares when there is no equivalent road pricing

 

Written by Stephen Rees

January 31, 2017 at 11:44 am

We Can’t Get There From Here

with 6 comments

Much attention in the mainstream media this morning is being paid to Road Pricing (RP). That is because there is a new report out from Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission that recommends road pricing as the way to deal with traffic congestion. Reaction has, of course, been swift. The reactions have been predictable – that traffic congestion is actually an indicator of economic success, and also that this new Commission has to be suspect since it is financially supported by corporations like Suncor and TD. Actually, I think these both rather miss the point. By going to the Ecofiscal web site you can easily establish who is behind it. I think it is safe to accept that we are not dealing here with yet another tentacle of the right wing think tank monster. Secondly, the report is aimed squarely at a problem that is daily front of mind for much of the population, and one that has been resistant to most other policy prescriptions.

I have written about RP here quite a lot (75 items turn up in a search for road pricing), and as usual as soon as I start writing a blog post feel that I am repeating myself. I thought that RP was a Good Idea when I first read about it: “Paying for Roads” a Penguin Special by Gabriel Roth that cost five shillings when it was published in 1967. Back then much of the technology that now makes RP technically possible was far into the future. Though there was a brief experiment with license plate readers and a series of cordons in Hong Kong while it was still a British colony: it was one of the first acts of the short lived democratic, pre-Chinese takeover government to kill it.

One of the good things is that you can download both the Executive Summary and the full report for free and read it for yourself. I am going to highlight just a couple of shortcomings, but I am sure others will find more. First, in terms of case studies it seems to me that they have missed the biggest one: London. That is a pity since it misses the single most important lesson.

The report states “Congestion pricing is likely to have its greatest impact when accompanied by complementary non-pricing measures—for example, road and transit improvements that improve alternatives for drivers.”

True but not trenchant enough. RP will fail to get any support in a situation where people feel that they have no alternative. So any RP demonstration project here will fail, simply because the transit system is inadequate for many trips – and there is no ability to fund any significant improvement under the present funding model. In London, when the flat rate cordon around the Central Area was introduced, it was recognised that railway system was already at capacity at peak periods, and there was not going to be any ability to increase that capacity in the short term. On the other hand, it was possible to greatly increase the bus system capacity by introducing an extensive system of bus only lanes and other priority measures. And that this improvement had to be made before the cordon was activated. Yes, RP produces a revenue stream that can be used to support transit, but for the system to work that additional capacity has to be available on the first day the RP bites.

The Executive Summary has this to say about our region

Metro Vancouver has constrained geography bounded by mountains and ocean, polycentric travel patterns with multiple hubs of activity, and a complex governance structure with involvement from multiple municipalities and the provincial government. Applying variable pricing to each of the region’s bridges and tunnels that cross waterways would be one way to price access to key driving arteries to reduce regional congestion.

Again, true so far as it goes but also a recipe for disaster. Bridges and tunnels are an obvious choice, but also a mistake, because there are plenty of trips at peak periods that do not cross a bridge (or use the tunnel). As long as you are driving east-west, you can avoid crossing significant bodies of water.   Coquitlam to UBC for instance. Or Abbotsford to Delta.

RP can be much more sophisticated than a simple flat rate cordon toll system. Indeed, what Roth was proposing all those years ago was a system that was able to price correctly depending on time of day and traffic conditions. So not at all like the cordon charges imposed in London or Stockholm. Something of the sort that has been used successfully in the Minnesota HOT lanes, and in the San Francisco variable parking fee regime. But that means you have to have a system that is less concerned with optimising revenue take, and more to do with improving travel times. The great benefit of RP is that those who can afford the fees get a quicker drive. Which is one reason why it is perfectly reasonable to question why we are trying to tackle traffic congestion when there are so many other more pressing issues like climate change and income/wealth inequality that ought to be concerning us. The optimum is unlikely to be a simple piece of fiscal calculus, since we need to put into a model all those really awkward considerations that are controversial in terms of pricing. Since our income distribution has become so inequitable, price solutions are going to be very unfair indeed. And if we have failed to make adequate provisions for people who cannot drive, as well as those who find it hard to afford to drive, or who simply do not want to, then the whole thing is going to be wildly unpopular before it starts.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 2, 2015 at 11:01 am

Posted in congestion, road pricing

Tagged with ,

A Reasonable Approach

with 7 comments

On Wednesday this week I watched the CBC Evening News and heard New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright talking about the Patullo Bridge. Two things stuck in my mind. He thinks that tolls on the new bridge would be a good idea to limit the amount of traffic. And a cheaper bridge would free up some money to spend on more transit in Surrey.

Actually there was a lot more that the CBC did not cover. There is a 32 page report on the bridge that went to New Westminster council (that link downloads a pdf which is in two column format, that makes on line reading awkward and quoting tricky) and there is also a shorter Backgrounder – which is also a pdf which does not permit cut and paste at all. But that is where the title comes from

TransLink has identified the need to rehabilitate or replace the Pattullo Bridge in order to respond to risks related to its vulnerability in an earthquake, its structural integrity and the effect of river currents on its foundations.

Like all the bridges that the province downloaded to Translink. The Knight Street and the Canoe Pass bridge also were badly in need of rehabilitation. They were old and had been neglected. And when the big shake happens would almost certainly collapse. It was a cynical ploy. The region wanted control transit but the province wanted to get rid of some impending liabilities. So the deal to create what became Translink was that the region would get some more gas tax points (it was already getting 4c a litre for transit) but only f it took on some roads and bridges. So the transfer allowed some increase in transit service, but it also tied the authority’s hands. There would be a “balanced” approach. Translating that spin it meant more would be required for roads – and would be a priority – and there might be some left overs for transit.

I applaud the Mayor for recognizing what the rest of region seems to have difficulty acknowledging. Our problems are based on lack of accessibility brought on by over dependence on the automobile. That applies as much in Vancouver (the suburbs begin south of 12th Avenue) as in Langley. New Westminster is a bit different since it is small, compact and mostly developed before the automobile became the primary means of personal transportation. It also has five SkyTrain stations for its 66,000 people. And a great deal of through traffic on old narrow streets.

The Royal City Record agrees the approach is reasonable. But its editorial goes on to point out that reasonable and well thought out does not necessarily mean that is what gets built. While Christy Clark enjoys the photo opportunity of naming the new TBM for the Evergreen Line she does not actually want to see an increase in transit mode share. And that is what her other big announcement is going to stall – as Translink points out. The New Massey bridge is not going to help increase transit use. Surrey is not pleased with the idea of a tolled four lane Patullo and will continue to press for its preferred free six lane version. And given the impact of the widening of Highway 1, the opening of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the chance that Vancouver will win the shoving match for rapid transit funding for its tunnel over their LRT one cannot really be surprised.

Of course, they are quite wrong in thinking that a six lane Patullo will actually help them. But then that is because no-one in this region seems to be able to grasp that traffic expands to fill the space available. No one has ever solved congestion by increasing road capacity. There are only two ways to cut traffic congestion – road pricing or economic decline. In fact I am not the only economist who has pointed out that traffic congestion is an indicator of economic success.

But to return to New Westminster. What the Mayor is pointing out is that cities are mainly places for people to live in. Not primarily places for cars to get through quickly. Indeed everything that has been done to “improve” traffic speed/flow has an adverse effect on every other aspect of life in cities. The introduction of the automobile has been decidedly deleterious to the quality of life in cities, and the most successful cities in recent years have been those that have been most effective in tackling that impact. Not because they focussed on traffic congestion but because they focussed on what makes cities work better for people. The common factor seen in all the current anti-transit, anti-bike, anti-Translink propaganda has been its uniquely narrow focus. It has been all about people who want to drive their own cars for all their own activities, no matter what that does to them and their communities. It is profoundly conservative in its focus in the sense of “there is nothing wrong with what we have been doing” perception. Like climate change denial, it actually gets stronger and louder in its denunciations of innovation the more that the demonstrable facts show them to wrong. And not just here either.

If you think that the real problems facing us are that gas prices are too high, that it takes too long to find a free parking space and that all government spending (except more prisons and newer war planes) is wasteful then everything I have written – or all of what Mayor Wright says – will fall on deaf ears. But if you think that we need to start rethinking how cities are organized and that reduction in car use is a good measure of success in that regard then a four lane tolled new Patullo actually seems a good idea. I cannot say however that I agree with his other suggestion of a another new bridge linking Surrey and Coquitlam. I think ten lanes ought to be quite enough.

I have cut and pasted some highlights below but I think if you are really interested you ought to read the full report – or at least the Backgrounder which I am unable to quote from

Problem Statement

The Pattullo Bridge may not survive a moderate earthquake or ship collision, the piers are at risk of being undermined by river scour and many bridge components have surpassed their useful lives.

Other Issues

When considering the best alternatives for the problem, it is an opportune time to establish the optimal roles for the crossing and also to address other issues with the current crossing, including:

  1. The Pattullo Bridge does not meet current roadway design guidelines, including for lane widths and curvature, potentially contributing to collisions.
  2. Pattullo Bridge facilities, such as sidewalks and barriers, and connections for pedestrians and cyclists, are inadequate and do not provide sufficient protection from traffic.
  3. During rush hours, travel demand on the roads leading to the Pattullo Bridge results in queuing and unreliable travel times for the movement of people, goods and services.
  4. Current traffic (including truck) volumes affect the liveability of adjacent communities due to air quality, noise and resulting health impacts, as well as due to neighbourhood traffic infiltration.

Objectives

The preferred alternative will meet transportation, environmental and health objectives,

including:

  1. Moves towards the regional goal that most trips will be by walking, cycling and transit.
  2. Minimizes single-occupant vehicle use and vehicle kilometres travelled.
  3. Minimizes emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and pollutants.
  4. Is capable of supporting neighbourhood liveability by minimizing and mitigating impacts, including during construction, and provides an aesthetically pleasing structure.
  5. Supports local and regional land use plans and economic development.
  6. Provides reliable access and predictable travel times for all modes, users, and for an appropriate level of goods movement.
  7. Provides a safe crossing for all modes, is structurally sound and meets current standards for seismic and ship impacts.
  8. Is cost-effective.

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The reality is that public money that is spent on the bridge will restrict the ability to fund other much needed projects such as the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system within Surrey. The City is supportive of reallocating capital cost saving from a rehabilitated 4-lane bridge project or a new 4-lane bridge project to the much needed rapid transit system in the City of Surrey.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 7, 2014 at 2:27 pm