Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘budgets

TransLink in cash crunch

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Vancouver Sun

It is not in a cash crunch yet, but it will be. For the last few years they have been putting money aside into a reserve, but now they are starting to dip into it and that cannot go on for long. By 2011, a new revenue source will be needed to maintain service. This, of course, is not exactly news. They have been saying the same thing for some time, but so far there has been no response from the people who really hold the purse strings.  Given that an election is coming up over the horizon, Falcon and Campbell do not want to be talking about either a new tax for Metro Vancouver – or even hinting that Translink raise its take on property taxes. Especially when assessments are going to start going down soon and tax rates will have to increase just to keep the same levels of municipal revenue flowing.

In adopting its $1.3-billion budget and capital plan for 2009 on Friday, TransLink said it will have to dip into its reserves in order to proceed with the projects it has committed to for the coming year.

These include adding another SeaBus, providing more cars for the West Coast Express, launching the Canada Line and opening the Golden Ears Bridge.

Golden Ears Bridge construction in July this year

Golden Ears Bridge construction in July this year

That last little gem confirms what I have been writing here for some time. As a P3, the revenues from the Bridge have yet to start flowing. But the private sector partner obviously has its hands full with the construction costs, and the way that they have been rising steeply since the project started. “Opening” the bridge, you might have thought should also be a cost borne by the bridge builder – to be recouped later from the projected $13m a year in toll revenue. Come to that “launching the Canada Line” should also have been a cost included in that P3.

There is nothing intrinsically bad about P3s – its just that this administration seems to be incapable of writing and enforcing contracts that work in the public interest. In their haste to get private sector investment into the system, far too many concessions are made. It is not clear if this is simple incompetence, or a determination to get as much money into the hands of investors as possible. Either explanation is equally plausible. What we now cannot tell is what could have been achieved if a different approach had been taken.

Equally, it is clear that the set of priorities imposed by the province on the region are not the ones it would have chosen itself – whether or not the region’s politicians actually paid attention to either public opinion or the region’s legally mandated  growth strategy. And that is what we are paying the price for, and will continue to do so unless the direction  changes. Massive road expansions and needlessly expensive, short sections of rapid transit lines are what has lead us to the point where we are paying far too much for a very poor regional transit service. This was bad enough before we began to realise the realities of post peak oil, environmental degradation (which has not been and will not be mitigated thanks to our useless environmental “protection”) and continuing urban sprawl.

But the message for the future could not be clearer. And is the same as the one being delivered to President Elect Obama. We must stop freeway expansion now. There will still be need for refurbishment and replacement of life expired assets – like the Patullo Bridge – but the Highway #1 expansion and SFPR are not needed. Much more efficient, effective and environmentally sound investment in transit is essential – as well as a commitment to support the system’s operating and maintenance costs. Gating SkyTrain and building deep level tube railways is wasteful and irresponsible.  More buses, more bus priority on street, and new light rail/tram services are essential. So are really innovative services for low density suburbs – which will otherwise become uninhabitable as gas prices start to rise inexorably. Transit oriented development must replace existing plans – and retrofitting the region to reduce car dependence is also essential. And this is not some distant  goal. It is an immediate priority – and its success will be measured by a reduction in regional ghg emissions despite an increasing population.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 8, 2008 at 9:30 am

Hiring by contractors, road builders head in different directions

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Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun

There has not been a lot to write about this week. Or at least anything where I felt I had anything worth adding. On the whole I prefer to have things that I want to comment upon rather than just pass along. I assume that my readers are a well informed bunch who probably look at many of the same rss feeds and email lists that I do.

This piece today simply confirms what I was writing fairly recently, that the people who build houses and condos are not the same as those that build roads. So while housing construction is going to slow down that does not necessarily mean that resources can be switched into the road building sector. The skill sets and experience may be related, but they are different.

It may also be worth noting today’s Vaughan Palmer piece on what the economic downturn does to the province’s budgetary predictions. Millions this year (there are still five months to go in the fiscal year) but billions for the next three years (the “planning cycle”). Since contracts have not yet been signed on the Gateway projects, this again may not be bad news. The “fairy gold” of the P3s has also dried up, so the public sector will be required to pick up much more of the tab. Though no doubt Mr Falcon will still be considering how much more of the provincial pension plan funds he can divert. A prospect which, as a future beneficiary, alarms me considerably. It is one thing to see my RRSP dwindle, it is quite something else to contemplate the possibility that civil service pensions could now be at risk to prop up the follies of misguided politicians

Written by Stephen Rees

October 30, 2008 at 9:20 am