Stephen Rees's blog

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

That Lucy Moment

with 25 comments

Gordon Price predicted it last week – but I doubt even he expected it this quickly.

Jeff Nagel is reporting that

municipal reps were told Thursday property taxes are the only source that will be on the table when a vote on an [transit] expansion comes in December.

Not just transit either – they are also expected to cough property tax to pay for the North Fraser Perimeter Road!

An average $600,000 home that now pays $220 a year in property tax to TransLink would pay an extra $31 a year to raise $412 million towards the $1.4-billion Evergreen Line and another $53.2 million for the phase one of the North Fraser Perimeter Road, which would extend United Boulevard.

I am a bit unclear on where the “reps” (whoever they are) might have heard this and who from. But it seems that MoU was – in the premier’s mind anyway – not about everything being on the table right now but in future negotiations about the UBCM promise of SkyTrain to Langley.

So once again, the Mayors have been suckered. Lucy always says when she holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick – usually when the NFL season is about to open – that she will not whip it away as she does every year. This year will be different. So Charlie Brown takes a run kicks – and she whips the ball away and he falls over spectacularly. Which is what has happened now with Translink funding once again. So now we do the head count on the Mayor’s Council and see who really thinks the province will impose a solution if they don’t vote for this one – which, presumably, might be even worse

Meggs said there’s also frustration the province has forced TransLink to embark on costly projects, such as a $180-million smart cards and faregates that many cities doubt will ever pay for itself through reduced fare evasion.

Several mayors say the province has signaled it will impose a solution on Metro cities if they don’t voluntarily vote to provide funding for the Evergreen Line.

I had to put the top para in there as well, since I know I have been saying this ever since it was imposed by Kevin Falcon – I had not heard anyone at Translink admit that yet.

UPDATE  here is Translink’s summary of the options courtesy of a tweet from Ken Hardie

I apologise to Jeff Nagel for an incorrect atrribution which is now sorted out. It would appear that all of this became apparent to the Mayors when they were briefed by Translink staff. Which means to me that the provincial politicians are even more gutless than I thought and that Translink is now clearly a provincial and not a regional agency. Basically the arrangements we have now have even less local input than the old Vancouver Regional Transit Commission – but a similarly uncomfortable relationship that the creation of the GVTA was supposed to correct.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 7, 2010 at 12:41 pm

25 Responses

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  1. Nice analogy Stephen ;)

    Paul Hillsdon

    October 7, 2010 at 1:08 pm

  2. Regarding footballs, the article also mentions:

    He said the priority list reflects the federal government’s apparent intention to withdraw funding at the end of this year for the Evergreen Line and North Fraser Perimeter Road if those projects don’t advance.

    Ron

    October 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

  3. As long as we let the Premier make promises that depend on getting 2/3 of the money from someone else he’ll keep doing it.

    David

    October 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

  4. What irks me is that the premier used to be the mayor of Vancouver and understands the limitations of property taxes.

    Some politicians survive with a canny ability to wear coats of many colours. But Gordo seems lost at sea. The man really has no definable vision or sense of direction.

    MB

    October 7, 2010 at 3:34 pm

  5. Thanks to explain what is a “Lucy moment”.

    may be, relative to the flyer on the symposium, I was connecting it to some paleontology breakthrough discovery, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_(Australopithecus)

    (it is a breakthrough discovery, because, it highlighted that we adopted bipedalism, a form of locomotion, much sooner than what was thought before the discovery)…so didn’t catch it very well

    voony

    October 7, 2010 at 8:34 pm

  6. @MB And even as the mayor of Vancouver. Campbell was a jerk. He always has been a jerk and always will be a jerk. He could promise me $1 Million and I still wouldn’t vote for him ever.

    I saw this coming as well.

    What is sad though is I’m not against paying what would be an extra $6 a month on my house. For a much needed improvement to transit.

    Paul C

    October 8, 2010 at 2:54 am

  7. We musn’t forget that the federal government bears moral responsibility to help its own citizens too, 85% of whom live in cities and large towns.

    A national urban agenda is needed now more than ever.

    MB

    October 8, 2010 at 8:28 am

  8. “What is sad though is I’m not against paying what would be an extra $6 a month on my house. For a much needed improvement to transit.”

    hmmm….

    Tell me why a property tax increase is bad again?

    mezzanine

    October 8, 2010 at 8:33 am

  9. Funny how Gordon found enough spare change to redo the BC place roof to help the casino promoter. As if we needed more casinos!(for a while I worked with people with addictions and gambling was the elephant in the room that no one want to talk about).
    Someone in the Tri-cities suggested we get 500 millions from the casino and give it to TransLink.

    Red frog

    October 8, 2010 at 10:43 am

  10. @Mezzanine.

    Some how I get the feeling your question is satirical.

    Paul C

    October 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  11. well, more rhetorical. ;-)

    Thinking back to the last time a vehicle levy was discussed, the last provincial administration killed it b/c of the politcal heat, but they did not offer any further sustained funding to replace it.

    At least with prop taxes, we have a very stable funding source, unlike sales taxes.

    Vehicle levies and tolls would be a good idea, but this environement (HST rollout), Victoria would be gun shy about proposals that will attract a lot more heat politically than a prop tax raise.

    mezzanine

    October 8, 2010 at 1:23 pm

  12. It was to be expected.

    Why not build cheaper transit solutions, such as LRT? Spending more money on the Edsel of public transit defies belief.

    zweisystem

    October 8, 2010 at 1:49 pm

  13. mezz

    The province has always been clear – whether under Liberals, NDP or whatever – that they prefer to pay for transit from property tax. That way the Mayors get the blame for the bad decision making in Victoria.

    Stephen Rees

    October 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm

  14. I also don’t think that using property taxes to pay for transit is such a bad thing. After all, it’s local transit.

    Arguably, there’s a close connection between a piece of property and the City and Regional instrastructure that service the property.
    i.e. City taxes pay for roads and smaller water and sewer mains. Likewise, Regional taxes pay for larger sewer and water infrastructure – why not pay for regional roads and transit infrastructure through the regional transit body too? Don’t the cities collect regional taxes on behalf of GVRD? Why can’t there be a separate line item on the tax bill that says Regional Transit Property Tax?

    There’s a closer connection between property taxes and local infrastructure than, say, with one of the alternatives – increasing the gas tax. If it were, say, an overall sales tax, that may make more sense, as people could use transit to go shopping, but you don’t use transit to go buy gas, so it’s really a penalty. A gas tax is a bit like saying the only property owners who should fund the school system are those without children.

    And if you’re thinking that Cities feel they are closely accountable for their decisions and what they spend their citizens’ hard earned cash on – just look at how the City of Vancouver spends its taxpayers’ hard earned money.

    And if it’s a question of control, I think the last thing you’d want is the transit system under the control of the City – just look at Toronto.

    Ron

    October 8, 2010 at 10:14 pm

  15. While I don’t mind paying and an extra $6 per month on property taxes to pay for the upcoming project.

    The big downside to property taxes. Is it gives no incentive for people to drive less. The only thing they do is the more your property is worth the more you pay. Which is ok. But that doesn’t give any incentive to take transit.

    Paul C

    October 9, 2010 at 3:33 am

  16. Good point Paul, but in all fairness people will only reduce the use of the car if there is a true fast and relatively cheap–fare wise–alternative.

    As it is right now there is no rapid transit (unlike many other towns were rapid transit cover most of the town)in whole chunks of the City of Vancouver itself, only buses that get stuck in traffic.

    Never mind the suburbs, where a car is pretty much a must, unless one work downtown (where one has to pay for expensive parking to leave a car there 8 hrs a day) and also live near a bus line going straight to the SkyTrain.

    When discussing the Evergreen line in our building, late last year, the TransLink staff in attendance was opposed to suburban Park and Ride lots!(something that is now a compulsory feature of newly built or planned LRT and other transits systems in Europe).

    I now live in Coquitlam by the way and do not have a car–by choice–or a bike–out of fear.

    Red frog

    October 9, 2010 at 12:18 pm

  17. @Paul C, individual municipalities can also take the intitative to have ppl drive less. the pros and cons of this are nicely encapsulated by vancouver’s protected bike lanes. It does discourage driving by making parking and traffic worse and of course increases bike use. on the con side, i was surprised by the backlash from other groups against the lanes and the current city adminstration IMO lost some political capital in some groups by pushing this thru. Not to say that it shouldn’t be done though.

    mezzanine

    October 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm

  18. Wait until Robertson found out that lots of towns around the world have shopping streets that are CAR-FREE everyday single day of the year (at least during business hours)

    In many towns only the people living in the upper floors in these streets are allowed to park there after business hours. Steel posts across the entrances of these pedestrian streets ensure that other cars can’t drive through (the posts go up and down with a swipe of a card)

    Red frog

    October 10, 2010 at 1:46 pm

  19. @mezzanine

    The Transport Politic just did a post on the success that Paris has had reducing traffic by reallocating road space.

    http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/10/06/an-alternative-to-congestion-pricing-roadway-traffic-restraint/

    Richard

    October 10, 2010 at 7:13 pm

  20. @mb
    We musn’t forget that the federal government bears moral responsibility to help its own citizens too, 85% of whom live in cities and large towns.

    A moral responsibility, perhaps. A constitutional responsibility? Absolutely not. It will be interesting to see how much waste the audit of the Urban Transportation Showcase Program finds in Vancouver’s Main St. project.

    fersure

    October 11, 2010 at 9:38 am

  21. “fersure” seems to want to get into something new. Not sure he understood what he read. While Vancouver was one of the partner’s in Translink’s showcase, there were many projects. There is, in any event, no suggestion of “waste” (and it is clear that Main Street was significantly improved by the spending) merely that some projects – not necessarily Vancouver’s either as no city is named – had inadequate documentation.

    Federal funding always seems like a good idea – spending someone else’s money. But federal funding of transportation in the US has created as many problems as it solved.

    And, of course, the Conservatives would love to have some mud to throw at the Liberals, no matter how well the project actually performed.

    Stephen Rees

    October 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm

  22. Stephen, my apologies for hijacking this thread: the “Lucy” problem is indeed the much more interesting and important issue than a comparatively-small audit of the Urban Transportation showcase. :)

    I did not mean to imply the article was targeting the City of Vancouver (though it may be); rather like you and the article’s author, I took “Vancouver” and “TransLink” to be synonymous.

    You are correct, the Main St. improvements were but one component of the federal government’s largess in the Urban Transportation Showcase program. For your audience’s background, that program included the following:

    * Main Street corridor transit and pedestrian priority — $5.6 million
    * Hybrid bus demonstration — $1.6 million
    * Central Valley Greenway — $14.1 million
    * Transit villages — $6.05 million
    * Goods movement efficiency — $0.2 million
    * TravelSmart household-based marketing — $0.85 million
    * Project management — $1.75 million

    I’ll confess, the Main St. example was likely a poor one: I provided it because it was the only project I could remember off the top of my head. Nonetheless, the audit explicitly identfies project(s) administered in Vancouver (or the Greater Vancouver region), by TransLink presumably, as being problematic.

    According to the article, most of the problems originated in “murky claims for salaries:” implying poor documentation in the “project management” portion of the budget may be to blame.

    With respect to defining “waste”: expenditures without proper documentation and accountability have the potential to be wasteful, regardless of positive outcomes achieved. This has been proven time and time again at the federal level, regardless of the party in power

    How much (if any) of the $5 million in question belongs to TransLink or (Vancouver) remains to be seen.

    All of this is auxillary to my main point I was trying to make in an admittedly snarky way: the federal government should not be funding municipal or regional transportation projects – unless those projects have demonstrable positive impact on the movement of people and goods to and from Canada’s ports of entry.

    Thread high-jack over: keep up the excellent writing! :)

    fersure

    October 11, 2010 at 5:30 pm

  23. […] » Jeff Nagel keeps plugging away at the Translink funding issue. Now he is talking to Lucy – erm – make that Shirley Bond The premier last month agreed to wide-ranging talks to find […]

  24. @ fersure, @ Stephen.

    As far as I am concerned the Showcase Project on Main Street was a ripping success, and the $5.6 million was not a lot to see remarkable improvement in transit service. Bus stop and cross walk curb bulges + pedestrian signals are simple devices that have excellent results in terms of lower bus dwell times and improved pedestrian safety.

    I was on the project steering committee and, having lived in the Main Street corridor for a dozen years, my only complaint is that it looks too utilitarian and did not include pedestrian lighting.

    I would not so cavalierly dismiss federal funding for transit in the context of bald provincial negligence. That negligence can in part be blamed on the constitution that places cities under the wings of the provinces. The provinces perceive this arrangement in practice as a form of downloadiing. This nursary room squabbling is unheard of in Europe … or should I say it doesn’t seem to stop significant federal involvement in European cities by and large.

    Instead, I actively encourage increased federal involvement and accountability. In fact, Stephen, you suggested a couple of years ago that we need a National Transit Plan. I thought that was a great idea.

    MB

    October 13, 2010 at 10:37 am

  25. I suppose I have been educated a bit recently; that seminar on streetcars talked a lot about the US. The feds do have very strict criteria on what they will fund there, and it has distorted the decision making. Cities build what they can get funded which is not the same thing as the things they think they really need – or would prefer. I do like the way that transportation funding there has to be part of an approved regional land use/transportation plan. But I cannot say I am overly impressed with the generality of the results: some places have done better than others, but obviously the process while it limits the usual “pork barrel” politics cannot eliminate it entirely.

    As long as federal taxes in Canada suck up so much – and as long as they get spent on things like defence – then I will continue to suggest that they could be better spent.

    But I also have begun to shift towards more locally based decision making. Partly to improve democracy but mainly to promote diversity of solutions. The grim reality of much of urban USA is that it really is nowhere – there is no sense of place – its all the same.

    Stephen Rees

    October 13, 2010 at 11:02 am


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