Stephen Rees's blog

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

TransLink briefing

with 11 comments

The set up

I arrived this morning at a Translink Boardroom at Metrotown to find a room filled with media. The front row was filled with TV cameras. There was a screen for a powerpoint presentation that I couldn’t see, but after a while they did manage to get me WiFi access. Though after a while I abandoned all ideas of live blogging from my tablet – or even tweeting. (Indeed, I was quite surprised given the number of familiar faces around the room that there were no tweets on my feed afterwards.)

The tables were around the outside and the picture below is what I had to look at throughout the presentation.

All I could see

Drew Snider was kind enough to email around a copy of the powerpoint file as a pdf, so you can see the whole thing TransLink 2013 Base Plan Media Technical Briefing Presentation

You can also get a good summary from the Buzzer Blog and read the whole of the plan itself from Translink’s website

Nancy Olewiler

Nancy Olewiler the Chair of the Translink Board opened the proceedings by pointing out that there has been a significant growth in transit use in recent years. What I really noticed was the change in tone – for what the professional appointed Board is now saying is that they have done the best they can, but the current shortage of resources means that their best is simply not good enough. Translink can no longer grow, even though the region will continue to grow. The best they can do, once they have built the Evergreen Line is hold on to what they have, despite having very little in reserve to cover for unforeseen eventualities.

What do we do now? The plan has to deal with the Translink Commissioner’s decision to only allow part of fare increase. They have found the  efficiencies he called for  and will reapply for the increase, but they have not included that in the current draft. Gas tax revenues are down. “We are the victim of our own success”. The Province has refused to announce any new source of revenue, and continues to refer to the need for efficiencies. Because of this lack of commitment, The Mayors do not wish to see an increase in property tax, even though it has already been approved and therefore is in the present plan.

She said that they have had been aggressive in cost cutting. And, “We did do a great job for the Olympics – and ridership started growing. People found out it was a great system.” Their long term debt comes from the market: “We get AA ratings from bond agencies and banks. We do have these external checks.”

Bob Paddon

She then turned over the floor to Bob Paddon, Executive VP Strategic Planning and Public Affairs who spoke about the 2011 Plan. That envisaged the Evergreen Line plus more bus services,as well as increasing road and bike spending. There is an approved three year plan and this is now year one of that three year plan. However, toll revenue on the Golden Ears Bridge is below expectations. Fare revenues have also gone down too, due to service reductions and the Commissioner’s decision, revenue will be off by $180m in the next three years

The 2012 “Moving Forward” Plan adopted by the Mayor’s Council in October 2011 assumed that there would be an agreement with the province on a new $30m per year funding source. That has NOT been identified. Oakridge (the former Vancouver Transit Centre) cannot be released to the market yet as it continues to provide essential functions, including maintenance of the trolley overhead, community shuttles and storage for spare vehicles (which will now be sold). This was to have provided $150m which will no longer be available to fund operations. Fuel revenues have been in decline: as gas prices rise people switch to transit but Translink’s fuel cost rises and income falls.”Perhaps we have reached the tipping point.” The graphic below shows the drop in the volume of fuel sold in the region last year and an increase in Fraser Valley. “People are crossing the border but we have no actual data.” Over the next three years Translink forecasts that fuel tax revenues will be $144m lower than what the 2012 “Moving Forward” Plan assumed.

Efficiency and service optimization, draw down reserves

What can we deliver?

The Evergreen Line funding is in place for 2016 but we will therefore need to upgrade Broadway/Commercial station due to the increased number of transfers expected there as a result as well as other stations such as Main Street, Metrotown, Scott Road and so on
Highway #1 coach service will be in place when the new bridge opens. There will be a bus every ten minutes at peak peak periods, every 30 minutes offpeak, from Langley (the plan reads “Carvolth to Braid”) nonstop.  A new B-Line will operate from Guildford on 104th to King George the south but it cannot get to South Surrey and White Rock as originally intended. It will now run as far as Newton.
The upgrades to existing SkyTrain stations can leverage $160m in senior government funding.

360,000 hours of service can’t be added which means the loss of

  • increased frequency of SeaBus
  • Lonsdale Quay upgrading
  • Roads and Cycling funding to stay as is, with no increase

Park and Ride pricing will be introduced on all lots
Expansion is coming to an end
Draw down reserve
Will have impact on customers
Cutting recovery time, cutting spare buses,

Will be consulting, plan on web site.

Will be less service but not cutting routes

We are not reducing hours overall, but there will be  109,000 new bus service hours but not all of the expansions we wanted (which would have added 306,000). This is on top of the 5m service hours per year base

We are consulting on two years of property tax increase – if the Mayor’s do not agree then we will have to cut further. When the Mayors said no to the property tax increase, they did not have the information on the loss of fuel revenue or the impact of the commissioner’s descision on fares.

Q & A

What will be the effect of the Port Mann toll cut on the Golden Ears?
The two bridges serve different markets. The Port Mann bridge has been free up until now and the introduction of tolls on it  can’t hurt us.
Traffic growth on the Golden Ears has occurred but it is lower than anticipated.  “The recession did a number on us.”

Where will the buses for the Highway #1 service come from?
Initially we wanted to do Port Mann bus at ten minute frequency all day. The opening of the Canada Line shortened routes that had been running to downtown Vancouver to Bridgeport Station. We have had spare coaches available since the Canada Line opened

R9279 at Burrard Station #601 South Delta

Have you included increased fare revenue from gates?

It’s a timing issue – there will be more when they are activated.

There are no results yet from the Provincial Audit. It is expected to be announced next month. We nay have to make changes, but we have done a lot of work on efficiencies.

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

REACTION

I trust the readers of this blog will be reading the full document closely and taking part in the consultation process. I want to draw attention to Figure 6 on page 25. The is entitled “Limited Progress toward the Region’s Transportation 2040 Goals”

“Transit mode share will plateau near 14% by 2020, well below the Provincial target of 17% “

That means firstly that we are nowhere near 14% now – which I regard as disgraceful. Yes we have seen significant increases in transit ridership, but we have not seen has been what was necessary. And these transit mode share targets were supposed to have been achieved in the Livable Region Plan years ago! The powerpoint slides show Transit Market Share at 10% in 1999, 14% in 2011. There was an 80% increase in transit trips between 2000 and 2011 – but a lot of that was due to rising population and increased travel. The expression “will plateau” implies to me that we still have some way to go to get to 14% now – we must have fallen back since the Olympics.

The apparent failure of transit is quite clearly not the fault of Translink’s Board or management. The blame must be laid at the feet of the politicians – the BC Liberal government and the Mayors – who continue to battle over the same ground they were fighting over fifteen years ago. The creation of a Regional Transportation Authority was supposed to end the argument about whether gas tax revenue came from the Provincial revenues or the regional population’s pockets. The failure of the previous NDP administration to deliver on the Regional Vehicle Levy, which was part of the GVTA Act – was the start of the decline. Then the argument over the Canada Line – and the removal of powers from the Mayors – and the failure to deliver the Evergreen Line at the same time as the Canada Line – all can be laid at the feet of the present administration. They were also the authors of the disastrous plan to widen Highway #1 – which essentially puts paid to the idea of a sustainable region.

The Province of BC needs to get its head around the reality of climate change. It cannot now be averted. It is upon us much faster than expected and will be much worse than we first thought. That is because we have been increasing our use of fossil fuels – and BC has been part of the dramatic expansion in production of oil, natural gas and coal. The fact that much of this gets burned in other places does nothing whatever to reduce our responsibility for the problems we face. We can’t do much about reducing our car use if the place we live in is designed for cars and not people. We can’t switch to transit if there is no more transit service than we have now. What we have here is not enough – never has been – and what is proposed is also woefully inadequate.

It is also pointless to keep repeating that we “cannot afford” more – when the reason we have a rising deficit is due to cuts in taxation – especially cuts in income tax for individuals and corporations. Switching to taxes on consumption is regressive and thus unfair. Our heavy reliance on flat fees like Medical Services Premiums is a good example of what is wrong. BC is a wealthy place, and Vancouver one with some of the highest personal incomes in the world. Pretending that we “cannot afford” a decent transit system is ridiculous – especially when it appears that we can afford to widen a freeway, but only charge a toll on the bridge. It also must be said that rising gasoline prices have lead to declining consumption everywhere: it is not just the impact of rising gas taxes in this region. Reliance on gas tax is causing problems for transit systems across the US.

By the time this plan is approved and implemented, the current government in Victoria will be packing its bags. I trust that the new government will treat this issue as a very high priority. BC only has one major metropolis. Its government and services cannot be like any other city in the province but its long term success is critical to the province. And the current mess of its transportation system cannot be tolerated for much longer.  The whole region needs a lot more transit service, and we need to find a way to pay for that that spreads the load fairly and appropriately.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm

11 Responses

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  1. Since there are no comments yet why not read what Peter Ladner has to say in his Business in Vancouver column

    Here’s what I think is really going on: “We need to wait and see TransLink run more efficiently” really means “I don’t want to pay for someone else’s transit.”

    “TransLink is politically unaccountable” really means “I don’t want to pay for someone else’s transit.”

    “We’re being taxed to death” really means “I don’t want to pay for someone else’s transit.”

    “We have to wait until the economy recovers before investing in more rapid transit” really means “I don’t want to pay for someone else’s transit.”

    So the question becomes: When does “someone else’s transit” become “my transit, my way of getting around,” or something that benefits me – not just my friends and neighbours? When will enough voters view transit as being in their interest?

    Stephen Rees

    September 18, 2012 at 8:10 am

  2. “The opening of the Canada Line shortened routes that had been running to downtown Vancouver to Bridgeport Station. We have had spare coaches available since the Canada Line opened”

    That’s not true. The cancellation of these portions of the routes coincided with frequency increases on the existing route portions, which helps their timing and service match the Canada Line’s frequency and level of service.

    Daryl

    September 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm

  3. OK Daryl – lets take your word for that. Where do you think the buses for the new Highway #1 service are going to come from?

    Stephen Rees

    September 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm

  4. Misunderstood that, I thought the “spare coaches available” thing was your comment. While I don’t doubt the possibility of the availability of spare coaches but the inability to operate them as a result of lack of funding, I highly doubt that this availability was caused by the shortening of the routes after Canada Line, because frequencies were increased to compensate for the shortened route.

    Daryl

    September 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm

  5. [...] what will go forward and what it can’t afford to grow or keep around. TransLink’s Buzzer blog, Stephen Rees, Civic Surrey and Vancouver Observer go into much greater depth on the implications of this plan. [...]

  6. I have yet to read the full document so I’ll limit myself to saying that the entire process is unlikely to accomplish anything because the real source of TransLink’s woes is Victoria (and to a lesser extent Ottawa).

    David

    September 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm

  7. TransLink did increase highway services after the launch of Canada Line. But the improved reliability, less than anticipated travel time, and the subsequent service optimization result in some surplus buses that were placed in storage. In April, some of those surplus buses were assigned to 301, 340, and 394. They can probably just take the buses away from those routes if they are out of surplus…

    SS

    September 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm

  8. When the city of London decided to build the first subway line–by hand at first, I bet that many people were totally opposed to the idea of going underground in some weird contraption when it was so much more natural to walk, or take a tram or.. at ground level. Obviously enough people liked it, as other lines followed…Other cities did the same..in the early 20th century, despite the money lost to WWI.

    The average tax payer, both in late 19th century London and in Europe from the early 1900s to 50s, wasn’t told how much this or that big project cost, nor given the choice to vote for/against them. The government and/ or some private company thought it should be done—for the general good– and it was done and did indeed helped the average John, Jean, Karl, Alessandro etc. (even if a few in politics and in business made more money they should have).
    If it wasn’t for the foresight of the pioneers there wouldn’t be subways, commuter trains and long distance high speed ones etc.etc.

    B.C. politicians, businessmen and far too many average people here are still stuck in the horse and buggy age, with the private car being both horse and buggy.
    I got a ride a car ride twice this week from Coquitlam to downtown and the traffic, even at 3 pm on a Saturday, was more than it used to be. It looks that way more and more. 7 days a week.

    Same with the long buses along Broadway, now that students are back using them.

    Surely it should be obvious that drastic measures are needed now. Why can’t the provincial government raise taxes by a modest amount, including income taxes, for the majority of the people, to fund transit on a steady basis? I call it the WallMart effect: making a small amount of money per customer but having lots of them.
    And why is it that the Federal Conservatives had promised 7 billions to Toronto, to built LRT lines, but only gave B.C. a piddly sum for the Evergreen line?
    Based on the respective populations in TO and Van, we should have got 2.5 billions at least!

    We MUST have more lines of rapid transit if we want to take more people away from their cars. As it is now 2/3 of Metro Vancouver doesn’t have easy access to rapid transit.

    Next to TransLink latest bad news, today’s Globe had a column from Gary Mason about “road pricing” …then there are the articles about B.C. Ferries..in various papers this week
    Raising fares too much (Ferries and Transit) will definitely not attract more customers.

    In other countries–where they too have tight budgets, people living on islands hours away from the mainland pay 1/2 the fare paid by non-residents (with a yearly pass).
    Urban transit passes go up a notch each year but the yearly passes offer one or 2 months free and the monthly fare is often lower than in Metro Vancouver. Park and Ride lots by transit stations are free for transit users with a weekly/ monthly/ yearly pass etc.

    Red frog

    September 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm

  9. One note to Red Frog: All the money for the LRT lines ($8billion) in Toronto came from the Ontario Provincial Government. The only transit in Toronto that is being funded by the federal government is the extension of the Spadina Line to York Univeristy and Vaughn.

    Michael Marriott

    September 19, 2012 at 12:11 am

  10. Just to expand on my passing remark about problems for transit systems in the US due to declining gas tax revenues

    “Impact on Transit

    The impact of the cuts will hit the transit sector particularly hard, according to the report. Unlike state DOTs, transit agencies are usually independent municipal or regional agencies and raising state fuel taxes may not necessarily benefit them. The largest impact will be in the area of capital spending because federal funds cover nearly 40 percent of capital costs but only six percent of transit operating costs. The response of transit agencies to cutbacks in federal revenue will vary, according to the report. Large transit transportation agencies will likely defer their maintenance cycles. Smaller agencies will reduce service levels, delay upgrades to rolling stock and terminate low-productivity routes. A common reaction of all transit agencies will be to delay capital investments.”

    source: Innovation News Brief Vol 23 No 24 Sept 19, 2012
    http://www.innobriefs.com

    Stephen Rees

    September 19, 2012 at 9:41 am

  11. Pretending that we “cannot afford” a decent transit system is ridiculous – especially when it appears that we can afford to widen a freeway, but only charge a toll on the bridge. [...] BC only has one major metropolis. Its government and services cannot be like any other city in the province but its long term success is critical to the province. And the current mess of its transportation system cannot be tolerated for much longer. The whole region needs a lot more transit service, and we need to find a way to pay for that that spreads the load fairly and appropriately.

    Well said, Stephen.

    I posted the following over on the Bulablog, and think it’s apropos here too:

    Many G8 and some developing jurisdictions are investing widely in transit, despite the world economic trends of the last few years.

    Canada isn’t one of them.

    The global rail industry is defying the slumping economy.

    Governments are investing heavily in public transportation in spite of the pressure to crunch their budgets in the age of austerity. And few companies are cashing in on the trend more than Bombardier Inc.

    The Montreal aerospace company’s rail division, one of the top three players in the global industry, is reporting rising sales even in the recession-stricken euro zone and enjoying a surge in North America, where a rail revival is under way.

    BT’s ,order backlog stands at $31.9-billion (U.S.), the largest in the global industry, as cities become weary of favouring automobiles over rail. In car-mad North America, traditionally a slow market for any rail company, BT’s order backlog hit $6.5-billion by mid-2012, up from $4.4-billion at the start of the year.
    [...]

    “Demand for passenger rail was scarcely affected by the recent economic downturn,” and even the freight sector has recovered quickly, said a rail study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, [...]

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/international-business/bombardier-riding-a-rail-revival/article4555435/

    MB

    September 21, 2012 at 10:14 am


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