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Todd Stone firm on tax limits for transit referendum

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The headline comes from a Jeff Nagel interview he did yesterday. It seems to me that it requires a point by point refutation

“he won’t sign off on the extra $300 million a year the mayors want, calling it unaffordable.”

He has sat on the Mayor’s proposal for months. He insisted that they come up with a costed plan – and they did. But he has waited until now to object to the proposed provincial contribution. So why is it unaffordable? Is it because the province has been giving away far too much potential revenue to the oil and gas industry? Or is it an acknowledgement that their much touted LNG bonanza now seems increasingly unlikely? Or was it simply that they did not take into account the revenue shortfall of the Port Mann toll? Does that mean the replacement for the Massey Tunnel has become unaffordable too? Or that the second bridge for the Premier’s constituency has been cancelled? No. Of course I am joking about the last two. Those projects are unassailable.

“Stone would not say exactly how much in new tax money he would approve “

So how exactly are the Mayor’s supposed to make plans for the future? If they do make the – very unlikely – choice to once again increase property taxes to make up for the shortfall in provincial contributions , what’s to stop Stone from deciding that he does not actually have to come up with any money for transit at all? Of course, if the Mayors want money for road projects, or to stuff more cash into the P3 money pit, I suppose that will be quite acceptable.

“The $1.6 billion they have earmarked in their plan for capital contributions from the province is simply not going to happen,” he said. “They might be wiser to count on or ask for half that amount.”

The amount requested is far more than has been extended in the region in previous 10-year periods, he added.

As though there was something magical about the previous periods. The Province of BC has systematically starved transit  – not just in the Lower Mainland but in the rest of the province too – for as long as records have been kept. The Metro Vancouver region has been growing rapidly, is absolutely critical to the provincial GDP but has never had enough support to extend transit into the most rapidly growing areas. The result of lack of transit spending, combined with continued highway expansion, has been increased car dependence. And as a result higher healthcare costs, damage to the environment, loss of productive agricultural land and green space. All things the provincially approved Regional Growth Strategy was seeking to avoid. But there is now a wider Highway #1, the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the widest bridge on earth (she says) and an improved Sea to Sky Highway. And a little tiny subway built down to a price not only inadequate to carry existing loads comfortably but apparently impossible to put all of its 20 two car trains into service due to the ruinous P3 arrangement.

“Nobody thought that the mayors would be able to pull together and unite behind the plan. And they did,” he said. “I’m not certain would have or could have happened in absence of the referendum requirements.”

Well, if you renege on your part of the funding bargain, or the referendum fails all that becomes academic. The election of a new Mayor in Surrey who has already declared she can deliver LRT even if the referendum fails shows how easily the present unity of the Mayors can fall apart. I am not sure that that is not the intention.

The Province – no matter which party was in power – has always preferred to dictate where major rapid transit projects will go and what technology they will use. The Millennium Line, Canada Line and Evergreen Line all reflect control from Victoria. Translink has to make the best of them it can, but they leave much of the region underserved by good quality transit. There was supposed to have been increased transportation choice ever since the LRSP was adopted, but for most of the region it has not happened. The choice is to drive or get someone to drive you, unless you are willing to wait for slow, unreliable and infrequent bus service. Only the #555 shows any real improvement South of the Fraser – and even then they left out the bus stop for Surrey. And there is still no direct bus service between Coquitlam and Surrey centres because that would impact the indirect two transfer SkyTrain option that the Evergreen Line will eventually provide.

But the amounts made available to transit pale in comparison to the amounts devoted to continuing highway expansion. No-one ever gets to vote on those proposals.

Who would like a referendum on LNG?

Written by Stephen Rees

December 4, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Election Impact on Transportation

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Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 3.16.55 PM

I got a call this morning from Global BC, inviting my opinions for their live cable news show which only goes to Shaw customers. So if you have some other way of getting tv, this will help fill the gap. Gordon Price was in the same coat closet sized “studio” ready to follow me, for another show and the same subject. While he was talking to me I heard the feed from Burnaby in my earpiece, where Keith Baldrey was playing down the likelihood of a Broadway Subway. He said that Christy Clark has no interest at all in funding a project for a constituency that had rejected her but would probably be very willing to help Surrey get LRT. Oddly, Gordon was pointing out almost simultaneously that former Mayor Diane Watts would be able to do some of the heavy lifting for the same project in Ottawa. So no wonder Linda Hepner seems so confident that she can deliver an LRT for Surrey by 2018.

What I had to say was that she seems to be implementing Plan B – what do we do if the referendum fails? – before Plan A had even been tried. Plan A requires agreement on the question – still to be decided – on how to fund the project list decided by the Mayors before the election. In order for any package to be acceptable there has to be something for everyone. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that if one project was seen to take precedence, that would be the death knell for any funding proposal that did not deliver for the rest of the region. The Mayors, under the guidance Greg Moore, re-elected Mayor of Port Coquitlam, have been acting very collegially up to now. Translink is not just a transit agency, so there would be some road projects for the parts of the region where transit cannot be a significant contributor for some time. And no-one was being allowed to play the “me first” card.

Actually, given the political cynicism  realism I was hearing from Baldrey and Price, perhaps this explains why Kirk LaPointe was so confident that he could deliver transit for Broadway better than Gregor Robertson. Peter Armstrong – who paid for much of the NPA campaign – must have given him some reason for believing that he would be favoured by the federal Conservatives (who featured so prominently in the revived NPA organization apparently) – and maybe even the province too.

It is very sad indeed that we cannot talk about how will build a sustainable region and meet the challenges of a world that will be sending us more people – whether we have plans to accommodate them or not. How we move to higher densities without upsetting existing residents, how more people can give up using their cars for every trip as things become more accessible and walkable, how transit becomes one of several better options than driving a single occupant car that is owned – not shared. How we have a region wide conversation on what needs to be done, and how we pay for that, in a way that satisfies a whole range of wants and needs across communities.

Worse, that is seems to be really easy to get funding for a major upgrade to a freeway interchange in North Vancouver when there seems to be no possibility of relieving overcrowding on the #99 B-Line. No doubt the new highway bridge between Richmond and Delta will still get precedence in provincial priorities. Once the Evergreen Line is finished there will be the usual protracted process before the next transit project starts moving and, as we saw with the Canada Line, perhaps expecting more than one major project at a time is over optimistic. The province also has to find a great deal of money for BC Ferries, since it seemed very easy to make a decision on the Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route really quickly – without any clear source of additional financing for the identified structural upgrades its continuation demands.

If the fix is really in for Surrey, who is going to find the local contribution? Assume that the feds and province pick up a third each, can Surrey cover the rest alone? Is it likely that the other Mayors will vote for a package that gives the major capital spending preference to Surrey? And if not, and Surrey does find a way to that – a P3 is always a possibility – do Surrey transit riders and taxpayers pick up that tab? Who operates Surrey LRT and will it have the same fare system – or do the rest of us have to pay more for that?

No I couldn’t cover all of that in the time allotted to me. I spent longer getting down there and back than I did talking. But these ideas and the questions they raise seem worth discussion below.

How could they get it so wrong?

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There’s a very entertaining piece on the Port Mann Bridge by Neil Salmond on Strong Towns. It is all about what people do when faced with a choice between a fast, tolled route and a slower, untolled route. Or rather, what they say they will do. Apparently in Ohio drivers said they would drive out of their way to avoid a toll. Which, of course, is exactly what they are doing here: driving over the Patullo instead of the Port Mann. Even though the extra cost in gas alone is often going to be about the same as the toll, as demonstrated by a neat little gizmo put together by Todd Littman and the Sun. There’s also the fact that traffic forecasts in general seem to have made a fundamental error by simply extrapolating from the past. Just like steering a ship by staring at the wake, this method has some fairly obvious shortcomings. When circumstances change, so should expectations.

This blog has often berated transportation models – and modellers – for the shortcomings of the standard models. This particular issue is one that is often key to making decisions about choices for the future. How do you assess the willingness of people to choose a new route or mode which is currently not available?  Two methods are in use: Revealed Preference (RP) and Stated Preference (SP).

The first one, RP, makes some generalizations about trip behaviour as a combination of time and money known as “generalized cost”. Data is collected about trip making and this is examined in terms of the trips made and the way they get distributed between routes and modes. This gets quite sophisticated as we know that travel time is not valued by users the same way in different modes. People prefer to be moving rather than waiting, and prefer to be seated and  in vehicles under most sets of circumstances. So the values ascribed to time are different: people who are stuck in traffic or waiting for a bus are conscious of wasting time. People riding comfortably as passengers on public transport can use that time to do other things – read, use their cell phones and so on.  With enough data about trip making on different routes and modes, it is possible to extrapolate what the new route/mode will be worth to its users in terms of time savings or greater comfort and convenience. It’s not hard, for instance, to compare High Speed Trains to airlines for city pairs and come up with a general rule that shows the threshold at which one will be preferred over the other. RP is only reliable for as long as the values assigned to the parameters do not change between the time the data was collected and the new project opens.

SP uses consumer surveys to get people to consider alternatives and tell the surveyor which one they prefer. It is widely used for all kinds of decision making – the appeal of new products and services, or even political preferences. And again it can get quite sophisticated in getting people to make comparisons and choices which are largely conjectures based on synthetic alternatives. And has a varied track record in accuracy of forecasting what choices get made in the real situations.  In a region where there were no road tolls, it is quite surprising to me that the reported response to tolls for a bridge in Ohio were so negative. When people who used the free Albion Ferry were asked if they would be willing to pay a toll for a bridge, they said yes. And given the multiple sailing waits experienced at peak periods, the value they put on their time could also be measured in terms of the length of the trips they would otherwise have to make – crossing the old, congested Port Mann or the much more remote Mission Bridge. In any SP survey, people want to impress the surveyor with their rationality and decision making ability. In good ones, this well known issue is taken into account.

The traffic forecasts for the new Golden Ears Bridge were wildly optimistic. Traffic has so far failed to meet the expectations of the bridge builder/operator. A similar mistake was made with the Port Mann. And this being BC where we design P3 projects to shift money from the pockets of the public to private sector companies, we now pay through taxes for these errors. The bridge builder/operator faces no revenue risk.

In the case of the Port Mann there was already a good reason to doubt the traffic forecast. There was no bus service over the old bridge. It would have been easy to provide one, that would avoid the congestion of the bridge approaches by using bus lanes on the shoulders of the freeway. The 555 could have been running years ago – but that was avoided as it would have reduced the perceived “need” for freeway widening. And actually much potential new transit traffic could also have been won by running a direct bus between Surrey and Coquitlam instead of relying on an inconvenient, out of the way combination of existing SkyTrain and bus routes.

There has been a secular change in perceptions of the value of time and willingness to pay tolls that has not been taken into account by the forecasters. And that is that real personal incomes have been stagnant or declining for a long period of time. Moreover, the expectation that things will get better in the future – which seemed common for most of the post war period – has evaporated. Tax cuts have benefitted the wealthy disproportionately, since they have been replaced by all sorts of fees and charges which are levelled instead: they are applied with little or no consideration of ability to pay. The toll across the Port Mann Bridge is the same for the office cleaner and the CEO.

The other thing that has to be noted is the reliability of the data that is being collected. I have observed many times how this region collects far less travel data in terms of sample size than other cities: and this is orders of magnitude difference. But some of the most reliable data on trip making came from the census – at least for the journey to work mode choice over a very long time scale.

And then there is this

“The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty, and breeds frustration, envy and fear. Through a magnificent paradox, it has led to the revival of a grand old Soviet tradition known in Russian as tufta. It means falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable power.”




Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2014 at 9:39 am

Andrew Coyne at SFU

with 5 comments

There is already a post on this blog announcing the talk this evening and with my initial reactions. I have have attached my notes below. I have also assembled a storify from the tweets that used the #movingthefuture hashtag

The evening was remarkably short, ending at 20:15. Usually these things go on until 21:00. Was Translink paying him by the minute? I also have the strong suspicion that he was reading a prepared talk, so it seems quite possible that a transcript may appear sooner than the SFU video which is promised “within weeks”. I would have thought a talk like this, which used no visual presentation materials at all could have been distributed as a podcast much faster.

My reaction then is what I am going to write first. He opened by disclaiming expertise – in this field or any other. Experts, he said, know very much more about much less. He knows less about very much more. He also has seemed to me, from his opinion columns, a convert to right wing politics, and in particular their love affair with markets and less government. For such people economics is delightfully simple and straightforward, for they only have familiarity with the basic concepts as set out in Economics 101. They seem not to have been listening when told that the market conceived of under Perfect Competition is an abstraction. It is an entirely theoretical construct used for didactic purposes: to explain what would happen under a set of highly unrealistic assumptions. You have to grasp that in in order to understand what comes in the later courses – which deal with the complexities and difficulties of the Real World.

I have been an advocate of Road Pricing myself – and covered that here. (There are 69 results if you do a search on this blog for “road pricing” (without the quotes). It would be a better way of allocating a scarce resource (road space at peak periods) than the one we currently use – queueing. But that is not to say that such a solution can be implemented easily or quickly. Road pricing might be a better way to deal with congestion – but that does not mean we can implement it here and now. Andrew Coyne did not deal with either here or now. He did not reference the provincial fiat: they are the only ones who can price provincial assets including the designated provincial highways. So the Mayors have been told that Road Pricing is effectively off the table at present. Indeed they themselves have said that while they recognize its potential usefulness they do not actually want it for at least five years in the the future. Like St Augustine is supposed to have prayed: Give me Chastity but Not Yet.

UPDATE Breaking News – according to a paywalled story in the Globe and Mail this morning Todd Stone is now willing to consider tolls and regional road pricing in the upcoming referendum (Posted at 09:08 Feb 26)

Secondly he was very selective in some of the evidence he cited. And in some cases I feel that he rather mislead the audience. For example he asserted that London Transport had halved the cost of providing bus service since it adopted contracting out. What he did not say was that this was imposed by a Conservative government at the national level with a stated objective of breaking the power of the trade unions. Most if not all of the savings came at the expense of the wages of those actually performing the service. The profits of the bus operating companies have been quite remarkable. Indeed that is also true of the railways. There the cost to the public purse has tripled. A franchise to run trains – such as that owned by Virgin – is a bit like a license to print money. It has been a lot tougher for the people who build trains. Only one UK manufacturer remains. The users also now complain of very expensive tickets and gross overcrowding due to underinvestment in very necessary additional rolling stock. Outside London Andrew Coyne conceded experience had been “mixed”. He failed to mention the complete absence of service in many rural areas, the dearth of off peak services everywhere and the consequential huge problem of social isolation.

He did concede that introducing prices on services now provided “free” like road space, hit poor people hardest, but that he said was simply an income problem. Easily solved by a commitment to give poor people more money. If anyone has ever come across a conservative politician who is actually willing to embrace this notion, please let me know. As far as I am aware the idea of the guaranteed income is anathema to every conservative and is no more likely to be introduced into Canada or BC than I am to be given a seat in the Senate.

UPDATE Todd Litman has posted to Planetizen that road tolls are fair and benefit the poor – with lots of references. He does not address region wide road pricing in this piece. He argues as follows

While it is true that a given fee is regressive (a dollar represents a greater portion of income for a poor than a wealthy person), road tolls are generally less regressive than other highway funding options because poor people drive relatively little on such highways: many poor people are retired or unemployed, lower-income workers often have local jobs that do not require highway commutes, and if they do commute on major travel corridors they are more likely to use alternative modes, or travel off-peak because they often have off-peak work schedules.

Saying “eliminate the subsidies” is easy: getting that to happen requires the enthusiastic cooperation of Stephen Harper and Christy Clark. They would also both have to support income supplementation for the poor. Does that seem at all likely?


I happen to be reading Sacré Blues by Taras Grescoe (it’s about Quebec) where I came across his assessment of Andrew Coyne – “the knee jerk conservatism of power worship”


Easing congestion in Metro Vancouver: Pricing without subsidies.

Traffic is strangling our cities – he produced a bunch of statistics which I am not a fast enough hunt and peck tapper to record. He did not note that driving in the US has been declining – something which is also evident here.

The costs of congestion are massive and growing

Commuting by car 85% of total nationally unchanged in twenty years

We use the most perverse system to ration road space – time
Building more roads also doesn’t work it induces traffic
Reduction in capacity produces less demand
Induced traffic also results from other measures. To the extent that they have been successful in improving traffic volume/delay that space is quickly absorbed by new induced traffic

Incentive requires rational mechanism – tolls
Smeed Report (UK 1964)
Roads represent a tragedy of the commons – people leave early to try to beat the traffic just as farmers drove their sheep onto the common to crop its loser before their neighbours got there.

Sprawl creates congestion

Many will object “I paid for those roads already”  but you haven’t paid for the space you occupy at peak periods. Each extra vehicle that joins a congested traffic stream has an exponentially worse impact.  Congestion exists on some roads and some times, so the toll that is needed is a congestion price. Willingness to pay for uncontested roads is demonstrated by the success of express highway lanes in California, HOT lanes in Minnesota and tolled autoroutes in France. Toronto has Highway 407 an express toll route that parallels a section of Highway 401 but offers a faster alternative to those willing and able to pay. The prices imposed on these roads are set at a level to deter enough new traffic to keep the flow moving smoothly. 

Do we need new roads? Can’t we toll existing ones? It a toll had been applied to Highway 401 maybe the 407 would not have been needed.

Cordon tolls are used in  London and Stockholm which were initially very successful but
have induced traffic within the cordon. Singapore had its cordon set up much earlier and now also applies tolls within the cordon on arterial roads

Why not toll every road all the time?
UK 2004 white paper for just such a system (summarized on wikipedia)
the netherlans and Oregon are both considering such schemes and trucks already pay this way in Germany and Austria

Many are concerned about the impact of specific road pricing by location and time on privacy. However that is already the case with the use cell phones. (It seems to me that the general reaction to the relevations by Philip Snowden on the use of this metadata by the NSA shows this asserted faith in cell phone companies is misplaced).

The biggest objection  is that prices are unfair to the poor. This is an income problem not a price problem. We do not in general try to fix the  price of food which would help rich and poor alike. (This seems to ignore US and European food agricultural policies) Equity issues can be dealt with through tax credits and other transfer payments

Buses would move better as a result of less traffic on the road. He felt that this improvement alone would be enough to create a beneficent cycle of growth of bus use without diverting revenue from tolls to transit. He felt a better use of the revenue would be to distribute the surplus as a dividend to all

Not same to use revenue to subsidize transit
There is no virtue in transit use
Unnecessary rolling roads produces better transit levelling the playing field

Transit use is still subsidizing sprawl

Not a good way to get to use transit. Better passenger experience, subsidies insulate operators. Value to society exceeds cost of provision. Thicket of overlapping subsidies.

Transit is not a natural monopoly
Experience in UK mixed

People make better choices when they know the true cost

Even a modest rp scheme would have some benefits
No free lunch or no free road

Q & A

1 After a impromptu poll of the audience which I think was supposed to show more people drive than used transit (it didn’t) Test of political bravery. (I think the questioner should have stuck to the track record of politicians unwillingness to try road pricing – there are plenty of examples)

We are at least now talking about this, which was not the case a few years ago. There is a lot of  spadework needed but “the answer is staring us in the face”
Cash grab objection

Political leadership Mayors council says 5 years out

Partial scheme like only tolling one bridge real problems

Eric Doherty:  climate change costs wide range of damage costs of GHG makes congestion cost look trivial

Carbon tax is a separate instrument
Road Pricing (RP) benefits car users

ED: In Zurich all surface transit has exclusive lanes. There even bankers use transit as driving is so slow by comparison

The best thing for transit is take the subsidy out of driving

Clive Rock: we only have a  weak regional entity, and provinces don’t do cities well. We need a
champion for RP who has to have stature. We have to review our institutional structures – municipalities were compared to warring tribes

AC admires the GVRD model and called it  “civic federalism”. He also warned of the penalties of amalgamation and the possibility of getting a Rob Ford instead of an RP champon

The Centre for Dialogue at SFU has been consulting on this issue and found that citizens want fairness and choice. They also preferred that RP be distance based. She also observed that the
capital cost of rapid transit can’t come from the firebox [By the way you can get a pdf file of the report from the SFU Centre for Dialogue]

People will have options and choices
Give poor people more money
Don’t need to subsidize transit
Can borrow or raise on equity markets for private sector transit investment
Transit is only really “needed” if it can be financed commercially

Externalities … Is there a societal benefit from transit use?

Q There are very few places where transit is profitable

By pricing roads you change the options

We are subsidizing sprawl not good public policy

Dense cities built before transit

Make transit better self reinforcing cycle

Affordability guaranteed income without that inequalities

Fixing prices does not target help

Trying do social justice on the cheap

Collective responsibility on the tax and transfer system

Fuel tax does not address congestion

Q BC had a huge amount of trouble getting changes eg carbon tax

This is a local fix and an easier sell than carbon tax
Achievable with a phase in period but there will be life investment upheaval

Richard Campbell: In this region there has been over optimism in tolls on bridges

Which shows the danger of partial solutions It also demonstrates that you can’t be sure of how much revenue you will get, so that is another reason not to rely on RP to fund transit expansion

20: 15 close

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

Running Campaigns, Winning Votes

with 7 comments

Carbon Talks organized a forum today with this title to get discussion going on how to win the upcoming Translink funding referendum with contributions from Bill Tieleman – based on his winning experience with the anti HST and anti STV campaigns in BC – and Denny Zane Executive Director of MoveLA based on winning Proposition R on the 2008 Ballot which secured a half cent sales tax to support improved transportation in Los Angeles County. It is important to note that although throughout the discussion both talk about transit improvements – which in LA went mostly to more light rail lines, it also included improvements to existing freeways, but no new ones.

I was at home watching the live webcast while eating lunch, so to make things easy for myself I have put together a storify using the carbon talks designated hashtag #bctranspo – which I have lightly edited as some of the live tweets were a bit fumbled. I have also deleted those which added nothing to reporting the talk but simply commented on the topics.

The whole thing is now on the Carbon Talks youtube channel and runs 1 hour and 24 minutes. Reading this summary might be quicker, but you will probably also miss some stuff.

Denny Zane opened by talking about the gridlock that seized LA county prior to the measure being put together. At that time LA Metro had $0 set aside for expansion projects and new capacity even though 3m more people were expected to move to the region in the next thirty years. “It was like Chicago was moving in.” There was Mayoral leadership in the campaign and there was only one place to go for money. In California every revenue source has to be passed by a referendum with a 2/3 majority. This was the “crazy legacy” of Proposition 13, which meant that most people felt that there was no hope of raising taxes for anything. MoveLA is a broad based coalition which includes business,  labour and environmental groups which proposed a half cent increase in local sales tax mostly to add rail lines to their transit network. Since the closure of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1961 there are many unused rail corridors and the overall network will reflect much of the old PER interurban system.

While they had strong political leadership it was important to hold the coalition together. They acknowledged that freeways matter – but they were not going to build any more of them. They would make sure that the existing system became safer with improved intersections, for example and also ensure a state of good repair for local boulevards. They also found that once the measure passed they could use the revenue stream to fund bond issues – and persuaded the federal government to become a ‘smart lender’. By converting the federal grants into forgiveness for interest they could fund a thirty year program in ten, achieving  faster results and lower costs. They also proposed Measure J which would have extended the program to 60 years which did not pass but did win 66.1% of the vote (not the required 66.6%) This was partly ude to a lower turnout election.  Measure R was on the same ballot as the 2008 Presidential Election which saw a win for Barack Obama. LA County is heavily Democratic.

Bill Tieleman was on the winning side of both the fight against the  Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) . He stressed the importance of having a strategy – which is focussed on the ends and is an art – that is supported by tactics – the means – which is science. He started with two simple words of advice “Stop Whining!”

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Sun Tzu The Art of War

Winning this referendum is entirely possible: 70% of transit referendums in the 2008 US general election passed, even though America is largely right wing and anti-tax. Hundreds of thousands of people in Metro Vancouver want to see better transit. They are the people who use the system every day to get to work or school. It will really help if we can get a fair question – and even government support. Both earlier campaigns had surprising cooperation  across party lines and sectional interests. “There is room for everyone on this bus.” This is an opportunity to improve transit, improve our lcoal economy and improve air quality. People need to understand the value proposition: there must be tangible results, but it is not a radical idea. It cannot be soft sold to drivers: the hard core of drivers will be opposed as will the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers.

The anti HST was constantly in the news as it has no resources for widespread advertising – unlike the government which outspent them 100 fold. They had to have earned media to explain the problem and the solution.

“However beautiful the strategy you should occasionally look at results”    Winston S Churchill

He also cited the Pirate Code for his recommendations – they are guidelines rather than rules. This region needs and deserves better public transit.

Q & A

In answer to the first question about the $4m that had been raised to support prop R, Denny Zame said that while MoveLA is a permanent institution there was a separate, specific committee formed to fight the referendum campaign. They had a few weeks in which to raise that sum.

qs:  We have not reached gridlock here and What will the question be?

A   If Translink takes the lead we have a huge problem. People are fed up with the inadequacies of the transit system – overcrowding, passups, lack of service in the suburbs etc. Our support will come from transit users who want a better system. It doesn’t have to get as bad as LA was to need improvement. LA Metro had had a period of very low public esteem and lots of trouble with the local electorate but had turned that around by being more responsive. Even so transit mode split in LA county was only 10% at peak periods- which meant support had to come from the 90%! The half cent tax showed that small increments mattered, defining each element clearly on a project by project basis. In Vancouver that means the Broadway subway must be on the ballot – but there has to be something for each part of the region as well. The case was made to drivers: transit would help

  • relieve traffic congestion
  • promote economic development and job creation
  • increase safety (there was genuine cause for concern with falling freeway bridges)
  • Increased choices for travel

There was an appeal to their self interest but also highly defined projects for each part of the region and an overall low cost ~25c a day per person

One source of funding was the Art Gallery: access to arts and culture is a big deal for the wealthy funders but with a station planned for the art gallery they got a better ROI from supporting the R campaign than their own capital budget.

Don’t go out and antagonize drivers

Municipal elections have a low turnout. The Mayors are not keen on having the question on the municipal ballot

A mail in question as with the HST referendum is possible

BT was more hopeful than has been suggested since we can have labour and business on the same side. He noted Peter Ladner’s article which raised concern that up to now business has been largely silent on the issue. We need a broad understanding that investing in infrastructure benefits all in the community. This is a unique opportunity to come together.

Q – Who draws up the plan?

This was directed at Denny Zane, who got into the complexities of Councils of Government. He nailed it with the line “basically a bunch of depressed people who think it isn’t going to happen” (Local municipal staffs)

An unfair question will rebound on the proposer

Treat it as an opportunity.

Expect the best of your leaders

The best decisions are those which afterwards appear to have been inevitable.


The last question really annoyed me. We know what the Plan is for this region. It is on Translink’s website and they have been consulting on it for years. The projects are all well known, the only real discussion now is which one goes first. The problem I see is that there is no consensus on which funding mechanism – or combination – is going to be favoured. I suspect that the provincial government might even support a question that suggested some increase in property tax since that has always been their preferred method, even though it makes no sense and will never get the support of the Mayors.

Someone should have been putting this broad based coalition together ever since we knew that there was going to be a referendum.

Businesses which depend on transit expansion – which includes real estate developers – should already be beating the drum for more TOD which will follow the transit expansions. It is not just the bus drivers and the environmentalists who want to see more rapid transit.

There is going to need to be similar sessions in Surrey and further out in the suburbs. Meetings in downtown Vancouver, even though they are webcast, are not going to be enough to get people to support a question – even before we know what the question is and when it is going to be asked.

I also think we need to keep in mind the reality that Translink is not just about transit – nor should it be presented in that light. It is not “soft selling drivers” to point out that Translink owns the Patullo and Knight Street bridges and provides funds for the Major Road Network. Increasing the funds going into Translink will inevitably result in more spending on roads too. You cannot put in a bus lane on a two lane road!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Managing Growth: Integrating Land Use and Transportation Planning

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Metro Vancouver Sustainability Community Breakfast at BCIT downtown Wednesday June 12 at 7:30am

I went along to this outreach event. The link above should also eventually link to the presentations as these are made available some time after the meeting – look at the top left of the screen that opens for “Previous Presentations”. They also had their own hashtag so I have a storify link too, which includes some  pictures of the slides.

Before I get into the detailed transcription of my notes, I want to make a couple of observations while they are fresh in my mind.

The meeting was chaired by Derek Corrigan, who is both Mayor of Burnaby and Chair of the Metro Regional Planning and Agriculture Committee. He made introductory remarks, and then ran the Q&A session after the presentations, interjecting whenever he felt the spirit move. I seriously think he constitutes a strong case for considering term limits for municipal politicians. While there is clearly value in having elder statesmen, and people with extensive experience, there are now a number of these Mayors-for-Life. Rather like Hazel McCallion of Mississauga they become characters, and gather electability over time so that they effectively can no longer be challenged. This gives them an air of invincibility – and  a distinct lack of humility. For instance, when someone, actually from the North Shore where no-one supposes rail transit is even a remote likelihood, raised a question about Translink’s current inability to make commitments to greater transit expansion, he responded  by going on an editorial about how buses are more efficient and effective than rail, and people in the room should not think of Transit Oriented Development as being dependent on rail – which he said was unaffordable. Now that is in some senses true, but is really easy to say when you are Mayor of a City that has two SkyTrain lines and no need of more any time soon.  He also intervened when someone was discussing community reluctance to embrace development and increases in density with observations about the importance of making commitments that developers can rely on. The important point to him was consistency so that no developer should think that “someone else is going to get a better deal”. That seemed to me to be tone deaf to the question which was about communities, not developers.

Peter Ladner also raised a very pertinent question about Christy Clark’s determination to hold a referendum on transit funding – which could well make the whole process of planning in this fashion pointless. He asked the panel members if they intended to campaign for the referendum – and again Corrigan intervened. Pretending to be humorous, I got the distinct impression he was issuing a warning to staff to not get involved in politics. He also said – with heavy irony – that all the Mayors were really keen on promoting tax increases to pay for transit.

The general tenor of the presentations was educational. It was a bit like attending an academic planning seminar – except of course this was actually about the future of this region – and what it could be. Although, if Corrigan and Ladner are right, might well fall short. All the transportation planning that was discussed was about walking, cycling and transit, and dealing with a more limited role for cars in the  future. But the newly re-elected provincial government seems to be on an entirely different track.

Lee-Ann Garnett, Senior Regional Planner, Metro Vancouver

Her presentation was about the tools that Metro use to manage growth and in particular Frequent Transit Development Areas (FTDA) . She showed how the 1m population growth in the next 30 years is to be distributed across the region by municipality. The biggest changes are to be South of the Fraser – mostly in Surrey. The Regional Growth Strategy has been adopted  by all of them, and each gets some growth. That growth will be shaped by a combination of the Urban Containment Boundary, Urban Centres and FTDAs. At the top of the hierarchy of centres is the Metro Core (downtown Vancouver) Surrey Metro Centre (no longer to be referred to as Whalley) seven regional city centres and 17 municipal town centres.  Only 40% of the population growth will be in those centres: the current concern is about where the rest will go.

The municipalities are now in the process of producing their Regional Context Statements (due in July) which show how their Official Community Plans and zoning will accommodate this growth. There are already a number of FTDAs including the Cambie Corridor in Vancouver (in response to the Canada Line) around the Evergreen Line stations in Coquitlam and Port Moody as well as a proposed FTDA at UBC. The municipalities are urged to “think regionally” and across boundaries. [The significance of this became apparent when Surrey discussed development in its north west sector which abuts Delta – which was shown as blank space on their map. At least it did not have the annotation ‘here be dragons’.]

The objective is to prioritize areas for development – where it goes first. She said that “the market is on board” and supports TOD for jobs and housing. The risks include the possibility that there are too many centres, that adding FTDAs will spread growth too thinly and that FTDAs on the edge of the region present issues of their own.

Andrew Curran, Manager, Strategy, Strategic Planning & Policy, Translink

[Much of what he said has already been covered here but is repeated for convenience of reference] Translink is currently updating Transport 2040 with more emphasis on co-ordinating land use development with transportation investment decision making.

Transportation shapes land use: Marchetti’s Constant – humans have long had a 1 hour travel time budget in their day. He illustrated what this means – the “one hour wide city” as a series of circles overlaid  on the map: the walking city = downtown Vancouver: the streetcar city = City of Vancouver: the auto city = Metro Vancouver. He also showed how the use of single occupant vehicles increases at each scale. In the future “cars will have a role but we have no room for every trip to be by car”. T2040 aimed for a 50/50 split between the walk/bike/transit mode on the one side and car on the other. He then very quickly went through the “Primer on the Key Concepts of Transit Oriented Communities“, noting that transit orientation is really about walking and cycling -which determine transit accessibility. The Frequent Transit Network (FTN) are the routes which run at 15 minute frequency – or better – all day, seven days a week. He said on these routes “you don’t need to rely on the schedule” [which suggests to me that the rest of humanity must have a great deal more patience than I do].

Land use shapes transit: He quoted Jarret Walker’s principle of routing “Be On The Way” – which he illustrated with the Expo Line and the Liveable Region Plan of 1976. While a six Ds [destination, distance, design density, diversity, demand] matter a metastudy by Ewing and Cervero showed a relatively weak direct relationship between travel and density – which in reality acts as a proxy for the other five Ds. “Don’t get too hung up on density, but don’t put it in the wrong place.” He showed an iterative dialogue between a land use planner and a transportation planner developed by Jarret Walker for his book Human Transit.   He also pointed for the need for transit to have bidirectional demand along a route, rather than the typical unbalanced “everyone goes downtown in the morning” route. By being more efficient, transit can provide more service for the same cost. He showed examples of recent transit plans for North Vancouver based on FTDAs, the pan for Main Street in Vancouver and also for Newton in Surrey.

He recognized the need for certainty to guide developers but acknowledged the need greater funding. Nevertheless he felt there was still a need for agreements between all parties to assure appropriate zoning. There is no requirement for municipalities to promote FTDAs but he felt they would recognize the value of partnerships.

Don Luymes, Manager of Community Planning, City of Surrey

Surrey is moving from the auto-oriented suburban development pattern of its growth until now, towards Transit Oriented Development (TOD). There are three key strategies

  1. Reinforce centres along corridors
  2. Define new centres on those corridors
  3. Identify future corridors as planning areas

This was being driven by health concerns, geography and the need reduce the impact of energy cost increases. The idea is to wean Surrey off auto-dependancy. Around SkyTrain stations density is being increased from 3.5 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to 7.5.

(“A density measure expressing the ratio between a building’s total floor area and its site coverage. To calculate F.A.R., the gross square footage of a building is divided by the total area of its lot. F.A.R. conveys a sense of the bulk or mass of a structure, and is useful in measuring non-residential and mixed-use density.” source: Lincoln Institute) In other town centres like Guildford and Newton this was at a lower scale, moving from 1.5 previously to 2.5 FAR now. The calculation is made over the gross site area to encourage developers to relinquish part of the site to the road allowance needed for a finer grain street grid. Cloverdale is not slated for much development as it is not on the FTN.

Subcentres for midrise developments within 400 to 800m of transit, not in exitsing centres. So far four have been identified.

  1. Scott Road SkyTrain station is “a no-brainer” as a new centre
  2. Between Guildford and Surrey Centre  on 104 Ave
  3. Along 152 St at 88 Ave and Fraser Highway
  4. Clayton
  5. Fleetwood West

No higher density will be permitted in Bridgeview to protect the existing community

Within these centres Surrey will encourage mixed use, pedestrain connections to transit, increase FASR on gross site area and relax parking requirements on developers – although there could be interim requirements until transit can be provided.

He then indicated on the map where there are candidate areas for future corridors.

  1. Will the market respond? See undeveloped sites in Surrey City Centre
  2. Timing of transit delivery – already have some dense neighborhoods without transit

His final slide illustrated three levels of transit – BRT, LRT and SkyTrain – but he must have run out of time to discuss this.

Q & A

1. There was no discussion of industry – which usually has a density well below that needed for transit

LAG – our focus on residential and commercial development in centres protects industrial land. The limited pool of funding for transit precludes provision for low density industrial areas

AC – it is very expensive to serve industrial areas. We do provide basic mobility (infrequent service) but there is interest in industrial intensification to provide more employment intensive areas. the key thing is to protect industrial land

2. There is going to be push back from the community to increased density. Are there better practices for communications?

DL – It is difficult to get the community engaged at this level of planning. More interest in immediate impact on neighbourhood. We have a well developed community planning process but there are different levels of interest in different areas

DC – Certainty and consistency [for developers]. Make sure that no-one else gets a better deal (see my introductory note)

3. There is no mention of food in your strategy. There is Metro Food Policy document but if you allow a small loss of ALR every year in 30 years most of it is gone. Have you considered rising ocean levels and the increases in cost of transporting food over long distances?

LAG – We have five goals – and I could have talked all morning Our policy protects food growing areas, we are also trying to make agriculture more viable and looking at local food strategies

DC – our prime concern is to protect the ALR

3. Housing for families in town centres? and minimum level of transit provision outside centres to provide an alternative to car use

DL – Our policies provide for a mix of housing types that includes three bedroom apartments as well as “skirt” of townhouses around centres. There are family areas adjacent to centres where we are stabilizing the community and providing “relative affordability”.

AC – Services in low density communities means that they need to be located along the FTN if they are to get good transit service.  We are working to improve South of Fraser networks using the 6d score and wouldlike to develop  more but the fudnign and resources are not there now. When there is a limited amount of money it has to go to higher demand areas.

4. Planning for a future village centre in the District of North Vancouver does have community support, but we have no confidence that Translink will deliver the service that is essential to support the development

AC – In the conversation about funding everyone wants everything but no-one wants to pay for it. We hope we will get new funding tools – but that is part of a larger conversation

DC – fixed rail is very expensive, buses are cheaper – improvements to the bus system are efficient and effective (see my notes above)

5. Access to transit: drawing neat circles on a map does not address the reality of cul de sacs in suburbs. Access is typlcially much longer than a straight line

DL – auto oriented streets frustrate direct access. We need new street connections and our density calculations allow the developer to benefit from the density otherwise “lost” to streets – they can “pile density on the rest of the site”. Pedestrian only links from street end bulbs have not been successful. It can be challenging to get new links without establishing a right of way.

DC – See Patrick Condon’s study that show how building new roads increases pedestrian access [can someone provide me with a citation for that please]

6. Bike Share?

in the absence of anyone from the City of Vancouver AC replied on the issue of helmets as slowing implementation

7 Car sharing and ride sharing can provide intermediate capacity where ransit not viable

DL – we have entered into agreements with developers to provide car sharing in return for less parking provision. In farther flung areas this can prove more challenging

Is car sharing included in the package?

AC – Translink has an Open Data policy and will share data more than just transit data now provided on Google apps through the API

8 Commercial development within mixed use can be very expensive to do. In the same way that we support non-market housing can we support commercial development?

LAG – We have only looked at office development on a large scale

AC – Los Angeles County has a program for supporting commercial development at transit exchanges

DL – Legislation forbids that here: local government is not able to support commercial developments financially. Subsidy is not allowed

9 Are you setting aside money for separated bike tracks to improve safety? There is no room for bike lanes on North Vancouver roads

AC – it is an engineering challenge on existing streets and there is growing consensus on the need for separate facilities. We will cost share at 50% with municipalities but there is only $3m a year

DL – there is going to be a two-way separated bike path along King George Boulevard. We will fund all of it if needs be.

10 (Peter Ladner) All of these plans crash on the reef of the referendum. Are you going to take an active role?

AC  – It’s early days yet, and the province has already given direction to the Mayor’s Council to develop a strategy [which is what they are doing]

DL – the pressures that give rise to the strategy are not going to go away. We will figure it out

LAG – It depends on the Metro Board

11. Are you going to change the zoning of corner lots to recognize that they have greater development potential?

LAG – established question actually directed at the City of Vancouver


Written by Stephen Rees

June 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm

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.

Restore elected control of TransLink

with 8 comments

Jeff Nagel in the Surrey Leader has produced a very good summary of the consultants’ report commissioned by the Mayors’ Council on the governance of Translink. He also provides the complete report itself (but without its appendices), and I would urge anyone interested to read the whole thing. It is only 21 pages long, “has been prepared for discussion purposes and does not make recommendations”.

I think it is useful, and will be considered when there is a new provincial government. I think that would have to happen even in the now extremely unlikely eventuality of another BC Liberal government. I think it is also somewhat unlikely to be given high priority in that event: my bet would be that their instincts are still tied more to ensuring a replacement for the Massey Tunnel than sorting out transit in this region. In part that is because the Ministry of Transportation is in fact if not name a Ministry of Highways – and the advice the Minister gets is nearly always going to be based on continuing to do what it has always done. There is never anything new or different – no matter who is in charge at the Ministry or who has the Minister’s office. The plans are the ones that they have always intended to pursue – and any set back is simply regarded as a temporary one. You can never quite kill a highway plan: it will always re-emerge.

While there may not be recommendations, it is clear that its authors have identified the need for more local accountability. They also point out that while Metro has been a good regional service deliverer, it has been less successful as a regional planning body – and has not managed to deliver on its regional strategy, or come up with an economic plan for the region.

It is perhaps not surprising given that the signatories of the report cover letter – Clark Lim and Ken Cameron – both worked for the GVRD, and both had responsibilities in that body’s transportation planning efforts. They both have first hand  experience of the grinding conflict between the province and the region – and that between the municipalities. They do not mention one of the major stumbling blocks: that the City of Vancouver regards itself as a different kind of government since it has a Charter – and is therefore different from all other municipalities in the region. The huge disparity in size and power of the various municipal governments is reflected in the cumbersome voting arrangements for decisions – since there are no direct elections at the regional level. It is supposed to be conducted at the level of consensus, but that is not always the case. The consultants were not, of course, expected to review regional governance as a whole – just the bit that looks after transportation. But they could not ignore the critical linkages between transportation and land use. They mention economy in passing and I looked in vain for some reference to the environment.

Actually, nothing about the report is surprising. The odd thing is that it is thought necessary. Kevin Falcon made a quite extraordinary decision when he set about “reforming” Translink. He had already got his way – by lying about the provincial readiness to proceed with the Evergreen Line and the Canada Line simultaneously. He did not really need to have a tame board to get his own way. And he had already wrecked the Livable Region idea by deciding to widen the freeway (Highway 1) and build the SFPR though the ALR. As long as capital spending on road expansion exceeded that of transit expansion by several orders of magnitude, the notion that transportation choice would be increased was laughable.

I have had direct experience of a similar decision. Margaret Thatcher became extremely tetchy over the ability of Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Council to demonstrate that there was indeed a viable alternative to her policies. She had actually become known as “Tina” for her frequent recitation of the formula “There Is No Alternative”. She not only abolished the the GLC but the entire level of Metropolitan government in Britain. And for good measure then got rid of property tax (“the rates”) by replacing it with a Council tax based on population (“Poll Tax”) – now widely recognized as disastrous.  At the time of its abolition I was working for the GLC producing reports on governance rather like this one. The difference is she had a secure parliamentary majority – unlike the present provincial government. In any event, it did not mater how respectable the research (we even put out reports by such well known revolutionaries as Coopers & Lybrand and the LSE)  the vote in the House was all that counted. Once Tina was gone, a new Greater London Authority with an American style executive Mayor was set up – a very remarkable innovation in British local government.

I hope that when the new BC Government considers this issue it takes the view that it is simply not enough just to restore accountability to Translink by having an indirectly elected Board again. I have made this recommendation before, and do not apologize for repeating it now. Greater Vancouver needs a directly elected regional government that has control of transportation and planning – which has to encompass not just land use but also the environment and the economy. It has to have not just a vision (like the LRSP) but also the means to deliver on it. Given that it is very unlikely that we will see transit funded by the feds any time soon, the new authority must have sufficient fiscal resources to bring about fundamental change. It is going to be a huge task but if it is not tackled with both speed and determination we will continue to flounder in business as usual, while the world collapses around us. Climate change is real – and really bad. Much worse than was predicted even on worst case scenarios. It is also now inevitable. The carbon that is causing sea level rises, temperature increases and severe weather events has already been released. What we have seen so far is mild by comparison to what we will see.

Gestures and spin will no longer suffice – not that they ever did but that is all we have had up to now. And the governance of Translink is going to look trivial by comparison to the challenges we are going to face. So lets get this out of the way, so we really can start to make a difference to our future.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Transportation Funding in Metro Vancouver: Mayor Richard Walton today’s Carbon Talk at SFU

with 4 comments

I suppose I could have sat at home and watched the live webcast, but as I had just finished this morning’s post I saw a tweet about the talk, and decided to go. I need to get out more, and I should not let a little thing like a Pineapple Express deter me. I am pleased to report that people were following the webcast and tweeting in questions (you can follow Carbon Talks too). And if this report seems inadequate, or you want to check its reliability, the whole thing is now available on video.

In May last year the Mayor’s Council approved a set of 13 Guiding Principles for Funding of Regional Transportation and these were printed and distributed around the lecture theatre.   My eye was caught by no 4

“Revenue sources should provide pricing signals to link desired user behaviour to overall transportation objectives.”

It seems to me that sets the tone of the discussion since it clearly puts defenders of more property taxes on the back foot. However, as Mayor Walton acknowledged, you do not want to be too successful at this since of you deter people from driving by raising the gas tax (or imposing a carbon tax) you increase demand for transit at the same time as reducing its funding.

He opened by observing that Translink runs “one of the best systems in the world”. He acknowledged “it’s got a little edgy lately, since all power lies in Victoria. ”  He put up slides showing the present Governance Structure – which is complex but pointed out “We [the Mayors Council] appoint the Board”. It is at the policy level that accountability is unclear since the Board, Mayors Council. Commissioner and province are all involved – but are all “in separate boxes”. The current review of the structure notes that the following attributes are all required Accountability, Advocacy, Transparency, Responsiveness, Clarity and Productive Relationships. They are all supposed to mesh – but in some respects Translink does not match up well to the four cities Ken Cameron and Clive Rock decided to compare us to – Brisbane, Stockholm, Vienna and London.

The funding context is that Metro Vancouver is still experiencing growth in both population and its economy but demand for transportation is growing faster than either, and the current portfolio of funding sources is not keeping pace (6% growth in population, 17% growth in transit use). Both the gas tax and property tax were said to be “maxed out” and had a declining share of the total. Fares now account for 40% of revenue [compared to over 50% in 2004] Direct user fees that are proportionate to transportation use (fares, gas tax, parking tax) account for 72% of revenue, indirect beneficiary fees (like property tax) 28%.

The province has stated that its priorities for new revenue sources are affordability for families, regionally based, support for the provincial economy and benefit capture. Mayor Walton stated his position that “the rest of the province should not have to support Translink”.

Looking at potential new sources was, he said, not so much looking for a silver bullet as silver buckshot. There has already been an evaluation which puts at high status on the carbon tax, fuel taxes, the parking sales tax (which though small is very unpopular with impacted businesses) The vehicle levy would join them except that the province has three times already “shot down” proposals to implement what is now in the Translink legislation. The idea of a regional sales tax got added at the last discussion as even a small increase would collect such a large amount of money: an extra 0.1% on existing sales tax would collect $50m in Metro. Sales taxes are widely used to fund transit in the United States. (He said “North America” but I think this term I use is more accurate.)  He also speculated about a conversion of HOV lanes to HOV/Toll lanes (single occupant vehicles permitted for a fee by distance). He spoke warmly about road pricing as the closest to a silver bullet but said it would be a 3 to 4 year “voyage” to get that established – which does not fit provincial election timetables. He also said that land value capture  could only be applied to SkyTrain as it has much more impact on density and land value than, for instance, increasing bus service frequency. Gordon Price demurred thinking that BRT might qualify.

“Germany leads the world in transit governance” because all the stakeholders get a seat at the table rather than occupy silos as ours do.


Eric Doherty made the point that the funds apparently available for the Massey Tunnel replacement would be more than enough to build the transit system we need.

In a discussion of the development levy, I pointed to the experience of the TTC and the Sheppard subway (developer fees were abandoned, when the developers said they would simply move their projects beyond the TTC’s territory). Gordon Price agreed that this had been the experience in Surrey where development cost charges in Surrey City Centre after the last Expo line extension saw development go elsewhere. Jeff Megs observed that they do work in Hong Kong, but only because the transit agency is the developer, and the density increases are huge. He did not think that similar density increases would be accepted here, and besides the City already captures much benefit for other things such as community centres and day cares. He  observed a “personal income tax increase is also not going to happen” [up until then, no-one else had mentioned them.]

The province is convinced there is room for an increase in property tax [because other cities pay more] but Mayor Walton said this is contrary to the affordability for families principle. And in any event local government in general only gets 8% of all taxes collected but delivers a wide range of services. Their only other source is fees “and it is political death to raise user fees” about which voters feel even more strongly than property tax increases. Jeff Megs stated that the Translink legislation caps the contribution made by property tax, but said that Adrian Dix has gone on record as willing to consider using the carbon tax to pay for transit.

One questioner suggested that people would support charges that clearly benefitted their area. If the fees collected were earmarked for projects in their community, they would support them. Mayor Jackson of Delta has consistently reiterated that Delta pays for more for Translink than it gets in transit service.

In response to another question Walton identified the central problem for governance as a lack of trust. “I don’t  understand where these perceptions [in Victoria] come from.” There is, he noted, a hesitancy to come to the table – and emphasized that this was not partisan it was equally shared by NDP and Liberal governments alike. “I think if you fix the governance trust issue, the funds will flow.”

Gordon Price observed that there were two different standards for transit and road funding. The freight industry just goes straight to the top and gets what it wants with debate. Road building – the new Port Mann and the replacement for the Massey Tunnel proceed simply due to measurements of delay. The projects are said to be justified by time savings – but transit is said to be inefficient, and costs must be saved by increasing delay to users through lower service levels. He said the Translink Board had similar priorities when the Patullo Bridge project did not get cut when bus service was.

Nancy Oweiler responded that “the Patullo Bridge is not a done deal. We have no way to fund it. But we do have to be concerned about some very basic public safety issues.” The recent audits had all said that Translink was doing well but there is always room for increased efficiency. She said – humorously I think – that it would be a good thing is Translink could impose “secret fees” like the airport does.

It was confirmed that no-one from the province was actually in the room.


I pointed out to Nacy Oweiler that the Airport Improvement Fee was not a secret when first imposed – and is propelling airport users to seek cheaper flights south of the border. I also tackled Jeff Meggs who reacted “Why so angry, Stephen?”

The answer is that I was appalled that the NDP appears to have abandoned the idea of a progressive taxation system. He said that personal income tax already pays “for many good things” and thus  could not be diverted to transit. He continued that the NDP has no intention of removing the MSP as it collects such huge amounts of money. I retorted that was one of the main reasons for replacing it. It now collects more than Corporate Income Tax but like all flat fees was desperately unfair to those on lower incomes. The rich really do not care very much about flat fees as they have such a limited impact on them.

It seems to me that the NDP is indeed committing the same errors of New Labour in Britain – so anxious to get elected that it has moved to the right, and in this case needlessly. The present government will fall as it has demonstrated how hopelessly incompetent and compromised it is. The “ethnic vote” scandal merely being the latest of a series of blunders. The voters want a different government, and would hardly be deterred even if the NDP was in fact still socialist. Instead Adrian Dix is doing his best to be reasonable. I am sure Jeff misspoke when he said they would cut corporate taxes – I am sure he meant restore to the levels before the last round of cuts – but such a thing is not inconceivable. The NDP appears to be as enamoured of LNG as the Liberals.

I believe that Richard Walton is indeed sincere when he says that he is non-partisan. I also believe he is fundamentally wrong in his understanding that there is no benefit to the rest of BC to have a decent transit system in Vancouver. National tax revenues support transit systems in the major cities of every other nation on the face of the earth. I am absolutely certain that you would never hear a Mayor of a Parisian suburb stating that the people of Perpignan should not have to pay towards the RATP/STIF. Actually, a lot of their funds come from a regional employment tax, but we didn’t talk about that either.

I wish I could feel happier about the outcome of the current governance review. Three of the four cities chosen seem fair comparisons – but London? Really? The scale alone is different. And it is the national capital of a major power – albeit one in steep decline.

The present system is a mess – and I think a lot more needs to be done than tinkering with current structures. But then I also cannot possibly endorse the sentiment that Translink runs “one of the best systems in the world”. Words fail me – but I wouldn’t mind betting the regulars will have some figures to show how laughable that statement is.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 1, 2013 at 4:58 pm