Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Translink referendum

It wasn’t supposed to pass

with 16 comments

CMBC ETB 2171 on #16 Arbutus @ West Blvd & 57th

The word “blog” is a contraction of “web log”: a record of a “journey” across the web and the sites visited. The announcement of the results of the plebiscite on transportation investment funding produced the very rapid response we have come to expect on twitter and the instant analysis. Of course a lot of organisations were involved and most had their pre prepared press releases ready. Many claimed to have correctly predicted the outcome in advance. I had declined to appear on Global TV since I did not have such a position ready. But on reflection it became clear to me that the reason the question was made non-binding by Christy Clark was that she did not want to have to abide by an answer she did not like. And the glee that was evident on the face of Todd Stone when talking to the press pretty much confirmed that.

Of course I was not the only person to think that. Gary Mason of the Globe lists the reasons why “The referendum was an unmitigated disaster from the start.” Todd Stone doesn’t think it was a disaster – he thinks there should be more of them. But only for transit of course, not major road projects, or healthcare or education. Crawford Killian in the Tyee was far ahead of the Globe writing that the referendum was designed to fail back in February.

Much of the “analysis” was simply opinion based on preferred anecdotes. But there is some actual data based on surveys conducted by Insights West and Angus Reid. They come to similar conclusions about why people voted No. Of course since Jordan Bateman got busy far before the Yes side was even organised his simple message, the Translink was not to be trusted, got across. None of the subsequent analysis which showed that Translink is actually quite well managed dented that. Which is what I told the Vancouver Observer. The real problem is the governance model and that was created by The BC Liberals when the previous board of elected municipal officials (mostly Mayors) took exception to the way that the province wanted to put building the Canada Line ahead of the Evergreen Line (which is still not finished). So I cannot agree with Mario Canseco’s conclusion that reforming the way Translink operates ought to be the first priority – even if both Yes and No voters agree on that. It is the way it is governed that is the problem.

Discourse Media does have some good data driven information on what the No vote means. But no recommendations on what to do to achieve that. Richard Zussman of the CBC is good on why referenda are not the way to proceed. I think that means that if the province does propose another one we should organize a resounding boycott of the proceedings. Badly run referenda are designed to produce a negative response and I do not think that the province is actually interested in a better form of communication. Why would they when they got the result they desired.

The idea that I have proposed to reform Translink’s governance – a directly elected regional board – seems to be getting  some traction. There is growing disquiet too with Metro Vancouver – which is indirectly elected and also seen as remote from electoral control. If we were actually serious about doing regional planning and transportation properly, we would follow the example of cities like London, England or Portland, Oregon. I would be very surprised indeed if that actually happened. If anything at all I expect there will be some more shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic. Maybe another name change and new livery: more communications/marketing bafflegab. No real change. It is a long time before we have another provincial election, and no matter how bad the government, if it simply ignores everything going on  – the scandals this government is surviving would have brought out the media in rage if it had been an NDP government – it might even get re-elected, despite its obvious incompetence.

So what happens now? Human Transit is, as always, very illuminating. And Peter Ladner has some penetrating analysis in Business in Vancouver.

And now (July 6) from Martyn Brown (“former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia.”)in the Georgia Straight:  The great TransLink railroad job: Why Christy Clark couldn’t be happier about the outcome of the transit referendum. Which makes for a very depressing read but is, no doubt, well informed and realistic.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 3, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with

“No means yes to regional transportation improvement limbo”

with 7 comments

I have insomnia. I have had it for a long while. Recently the only way I have managed to get to sleep is to imagine a world where we have won the plebiscite, and the parties that failed to secure individual majorities have successfully combined into a coalition that prevents Stephen Harper from continuing his disastrous reign. My partner tells me I am dreaming in technicolour.

I can deal with the No campaign appealing to the anti tax, right wing crowd. I would expect no more. What has hurt are the numbers of people who say they are voting No on principles that we share, like equality. That they are voting No for all sorts of Good Reasons. They have not, they say, been swayed by the outright lies perpetrated by the CTF which only now are being authoritatively tackled by those traduced by them. Rather they object to the Really Important Issues. Like the impact of a regressive tax on poor people, or the thoroughly unsatisfactory governance of our transit system and its lack of accountability to the people of this region. That rejecting a sales tax is more important than getting more HandyDART service – as though that were – somehow – a bribe.

Peter Ladner in his BIV editorial hits the right note

The only one clear message all these heartfelt no votes can truly claim is: I cannot bring myself to support the only proposal on the table, backed by municipal, regional and provincial governments, endorsed by 130-plus organizations from all walks of life, that – in spite of its inevitable flaws – is guaranteed to strengthen the economy, spread costs evenly, clean up the air and save lives, reduce spending on costly automobile infrastructure and subsidies, improve social equity, reduce public health costs, give employers access to a wider range of employees, give tens of thousands of households a chance to save $10,000 a year in automobile expenses, speed up goods movement, and reduce congestion and commuting times.

But rather like last weekend’s Pete McMartin column just a little bit too late, I fear.

The time to submit your votes stretches out before us, but I have a worry that the convinced have already committed themselves – not that they were open to any suasion. They had already made up their minds, and cannot conceive of any circumstances that would persuade them otherwise. And the people who might be swayed don’t actually vote these days. Their ballot has probably been recycled, or simply lost. Or they never bothered to register and anyway they haven’t got a driver’s license.

So this is now the time for the Hail Mary pass. A ball tossed high in the air in the hopes that someone near the goal line might actually reach it in time. And we could still, maybe, squeak out a win. If you are reading this you are mostly likely someone who has already voted. So this is not addressed to you. This is aimed at those who care enough to register, who got their ballots only recently and have not yet made up their minds. Or who could still register, and vote, if only they can summon up the will to try and make a difference.

Because that is where we are. More of the same, only getting steadily worse as we try to find another way forward. or something better. Something we had a glimpse of in 2010, but which seems to have slipped our grasp. A place where owning a car and driving for everything, no matter what, does not define us. Where walking, cycling and taking transit are realistic options. Where society actually does exist. Where “me first” is not an acceptable justification for anything.

 

When originally published this article had no title. I have since inserted the title from the Business In Vancouver editorial by Peter Ladner that I quoted

Written by Stephen Rees

March 30, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Transit Funding Plebiscite FAQs

with 6 comments

Maria Harris is the Director Metro Vancouver Electoral Area A and thus a Member of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. She wrote to me to tell of her creation of a list of Frequently Asked Questions – and of course – the answers. These are very thorough and objective. They are currently available as PDF File and will be available as a web page shortly.

She writes “I intend to update the FAQs if there are more questions that should be answered or if any of the answers need to be modified based on feedback I receive.” As you can probably tell, I have not yet sent any feedback but when I do it will be very brief. I am very impressed, and reading through her answers there was nothing that caused any surprise or instant urge to suggest a correction. Which is something of an unusual experience in general and especially in connection with the current plebiscite.

I wish I felt that people have generally open minds on this issue, and are seriously seeking out advice. I find it somewhat distressing to see reports of ballots being discarded in the recycling bin of apartment buildings, though these may simply be a reflection of the mobility of the population and their refusal to pay Canada Post to forward their mail. The least likely to look at the FAQs as a source of information are those who have already made their minds up based on the propaganda of the No side, who seem to be utterly impervious to either reason or good quality data. However if you know one of these rare people who actually do need one of these questions answered – or can suggest one that needs to be added – please click that link in the first paragraph.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2015 at 7:37 am

Another comparison

with 2 comments

This time from “Business in Vancouver

You can of course just click on that link to read the article. I just like this infographic

transit_infographic5

What I also think is worth sharing is the commentary from Todd Litman which he posted to facebook – which I take to mean he wanted it read more widely (as it should be) and even if you are on facebook you may have missed due to very odd way they chose to display information on your “newsfeed”

Here is a great new article published in Business Vancouver, “Who takes transit to work in Metro Vancouver? (with infographic).”

It cites my analysis in “Eleven Reasons to Support Vancouver’s Transportation Tas” (http://www.vtpi.org/VanTransitTax.pdf ), and includes criticisms of our analysis from Jordan Bateman.

Bateman’s comments suggest that he does not understand urban transportation statistical analysis. TransLink trip diary surveys (http://bit.ly/1DGfajZ ) report mode share for TOTAL trips, Census data shows mode share for COMMUTE trips, which generally have higher transit shares. Since regional travel surveys are not standardized between cities and are performed infrequently, that are unsuited for comparing cities. In contrast, Census data are collected using standardized methods, so even if there is bias (for example, because the long-form is voluntary), the biases should be similar between regions so the results are comparable. Commute mode share is a very useful indicator because it is one of the few transportation statistics that are collected around the world.

We can therefore be confident that Vancouver has relatively high and growing walking, cycling and public transit mode shares compared with peer cities even if we are not sure their exact magnitude. These positive trends are also evidence from other data, such as declining downtown vehicle ownership and total trip generation rates.
Cost-efficiency and mode share are what experts call “output” indicators, that is, they reflect the efficiency of a particular step in the system. Even more important are “outcome” indicators which reflect how well the system actually performs with respect to community goals. Vancouver fares particularly well with regard to two very important outcomes: Vancouver has one of the lowest per capita traffic fatality rates (considering walking, cycling, bus and automobile crash deaths), and its households devote a smaller portion of their total budgets to transportation than any other large Canadian city, as indicated in the revised version of my report. This suggests that the region’s efforts to improve and encourage walking, cycling and public transit are having positive effects and providing savings and benefits to residents and local businesses.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 23, 2015 at 10:08 am

HUB video for the Yes campaign

leave a comment »

Written by Stephen Rees

March 21, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with

Myths vs. Reality in the Transit Debate..

with 3 comments

“I heard it so often, it must be true.”

I went to this City Conversation at SFU yesterday lunchtime. The presenters were Daphne Branham and Gordon Price. I also put together a Storify.

Daphne wrote a very well considered opinion piece on this topic in Vancouver Sun

DB

She wants to be a citizen rather than a taxpayer, though she also noted when politicians use that term it is always qualified “ordinary citizen”. The No side has been able to frame the debate, and they have done as the end game of the movement that began with Reagan and Thatcher, and has been continuously sustained rhetoric of the right. Don’t trust government to spend your money wisely, it will not be used well. At the same time there has been a decline in voting, and a growing gap between rich and poor. It lead to the HST referendum, which was called by a citizens’ initiative and rejected merging provincial sales tax with the federal GST.   The elites who for a long time have been appealing to our self interest to cut taxes and let the public sector assets and services erode. This is apparent not just in transportation but schools and universities, ferries, hospitals. Citizens are now being asked to vote in a plebiscite to increase sales tax to pay for transit expansion and other transportation improvements but it is too late. This is now a watershed moment. It is time for a change. We must take back the word citizen and to do that we need to vote.

Gordon Price agreed but said he was here to add context, and set the plebiscite within a larger frame. He has been reading Gutstein’s “Harperism”. The rise of neoliberalism is not due to a conspiracy. It started with a very small number of people – a “thought collective in the marketplace of ideas” – and that phrase in itself is an indicator of their success. Their views have become so accepted that we are like fish trying to describe the ocean. Frederick Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” was written to change the climate of ideas at a time when Keynesianism and planning were widely accepted as economic strategies. The political term “liberal” has now become meaningless, but “neo-liberal” is defined by its program of a balanced budget, free trade, and tax cuts. In the 1980’s politicians could talk of “starving the beast” – denying funds to government so that its power would be diminished. The torch has been picked up by Grover Norquist and Milton Friedman. A network of funders has been established for “think tanks” like the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute – there are now over a thousand of these “dealerships in secondhand ideas” who produce things like the Economic Freedom Index and the TTI Congestion Index, and fund transit critics like Wendell Cox.

While the CTF may not publish its sources of funds if you Google its board members you will find people who also sit on the boards of these same think tanks and foundations. They share board members with the Canadian Constitution Foundation, World Taxpayers, Canadian Labour Watch. All share the same program aims: to reduce the size of government and persuade people to vote against government programs. He predicted that Translink will become “collateral damage” if No wins and that will lead to privatization. The point of the plebiscite is to deny government access to taxes. At the same time as it was launched, the BC budget enacted the sunset clause on the two year old tax increase on the richest 2% of the BC population. A tax rebate of about the same order as the funds sought by the sales tax increase ~$250m.

I was the first commenter, mainly because Daphne Bramham had not mentioned HandyDART in her opening presentation. I had actually come armed with facts and figures – as I thought that we were going to be talking about alleged waste at Translink.

“Is Translink a bloated, inefficient and wasteful public agency providing terrible public transit? Probably no. But facts don’t matter, emotions do. “

Well I tried an emotional appeal for HandyDART users. I am not sure it persuaded anyone.

The next speaker said that the problem with the Mayor’s plan is that it did not recognize how rapidly the world is changing due to new technologies which will make it possible for more people to live and work in the same place. 3D printers are changing the way that we will be acquiring things in the future. If there is less need to travel, or to transport goods, why are we spending more money on increasing mobility?

Gordon Price said “You are not going to get a vote about that.” A vote for NO is a vote for the default.

“Aren’t we here to talk about transportation?”

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.28.57 AMThis was followed by a gentleman who stated that he was “an irritated soul”. He spoke of an extractive industry whose agenda feeds a broken system. “I am not seeing my interests served: my needs are not being met.”

Daphne Bramham said “I don’t know how to vote. We should not have a plebiscite at all” [APPLAUSE]

Gordon Price: It is now the turn of local government to have the neo-liberal cap forced on it. “No” means NO.  Government must live within its means which must be no more than 30% of the economy.

Responding to the point about technology change – which is inevitable and irresistible – the next speaker preferred to move into that future with better transportation options. Transit that is attractive and affordable is a political question. If the NO campaign succeeds we move into a future dominated by cars and trucks.

At this point in my notes I have “GP talks too much. There is not enough time for a conversation as he challenges most speakers.” Afterwards I canvassed the point of view of those around me and they all agreed.

Daphne Branham pointed to the new tenants of the Pacific Centre building (that used to be Sears). These include employers like Sony who need to be at the centre of the transit service.

It is a fundamentally flawed process, but it is difficult to buy into the doomsday scenario. The Yes vote is endorsing what? The No vote is at least saying “I’m not playing this game”. All aspects of infrastructure have declined: will we be asked to vote on them too if this works?

There is a general level of apathy on the part of the public  – and there will be a City Conversation on that topic soon

If there were a 100% No vote it would be much clearer as a rejection of the process. The Mayors have done everything the province asked for.

Daphne Bramham spoke about a charity she works with which gets constant requests for bus tickets

Gordon Price – the base plan is funded. But there is nothing for growth. That means as more people arrive the level of service per capita will decline. By 2020 we will be back to 2003 levels of service.

Translink is run well when compared to other North American systems

DB People can no longer afford the house they want. The anger is real: they want to say No because over everything else they feel they have no control. The plebiscite has unleashed a basketful of resentments.

GP If this works, it will be used again. “Kill the green dragon in its own den. Get ready to fight the freeway battle 2.0”

People are mad for legitimate reasons but at the wrong things

Landlords cannot rent the space they have in office parks because employers need to be where transit it. Translink is like democracy. It’s terrible –  just that everything else is worse.

REACTION

It seems to me that there must have been more from participants, but at this conversation there was not a lot of listening. I had expected to need my notes on how well Translink is operating its transit system – since the waste is located elsewhere. I think too that what needed to be said is that the referendum was designed to be lost from the start. Christy Clark was badly burned by the HST decision. But she is also well aware that when transit funding initiatives have succeeded in the US (nowhere else in the world uses them) they have had much longer campaigns when they suceeded. She has been determined to push this through as fast as possible. At the same time she has launched a Moving BC plan which does not require any approval process – and that is mostly about highway expansions across the province.

The other thing that did not get said is that the neoliberal policy nostrums do not work. They have failed miserably everywhere – even on their own terms. There was much less economic growth, not more. Free Trade was good for corporations looking to cut costs and avoid regulations that protected workers – and the environment. It was terrible for everyone else except the few who have been stuffing their increasing wealth into tax havens. Revenues did not increase when taxes were cut. Wealth did not trickle down. Market forces do not protect the environment nor do they ensure good quality products that meet consumers needs. We are being buried in our own waste, poisoned by our own activities, denied access to everything of value that does not have a price. Privatisation did not make any enterprise more efficient or successful. It has produced worse service at higher cost. Employers were forced by law to stop employing children. They were required to provide safe workplaces. Their activities were monitored – and they were required by law to clean up the mess they made. Deregulation has increased worker exploitation, reduced human health and happiness, damaged the environment to the point where not just human life on earth is threatened but all life forms. Well maybe not water bears, you can’t seem to kill those little buggers.

The right wing “think tanks” do not think at all. They recycle damaged ideas, broken promises, failed experiments. They cheat and they lie. They do not let their “research” be subject to peer review – and when it is a whole raft of legitimate objections are exposed. Faulty reasoning and flawed data are hallmarks of these bodies.

trickle

They talk about Freedom, but freedom everywhere – and especially in the US and Canada – is under assault as never before.  More people are imprisoned in the United States as a percentage of population than anywhere else. Only in the US can a law enforcement official take your money or other possessions and devote them to his own use – with no fear of legal repercussions. The US constitutional protection from illegal search and seizure has no force now. The government spies on everyone all the time, with almost complete impunity. Anyone involved in that activity who dares speak the truth is subject to cruel and unusual punishment without due process of law. Bill C51 in Canada has a similar intent – based on the fear spread by the Prime Minister playing on the activities of a solitary individual labouring under delusions. Vulnerable people have been lured into heinous crimes by agents provocateurs – police officers  who entrap those who would be incapable of causing any harm without police assistance.

In 1984 George Orwell introduced a new language – doublespeak. There was a Ministry of Plenty concerned only with shortages. A Ministry of Truth concerned only with lies. A Ministry of Love concerned only with hate. We are living now in the world that Orwell described. If you want to understand the output of the right wing “think tanks” just simply reverse everything that they say.

This went into the mail yesterday

Written by Stephen Rees

March 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

Our way out of this mess

leave a comment »

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2015 at 11:58 am