Stephen Rees's blog

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

Harvey Enchin: “We want a transit system we can afford”

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The Vancouver Sun’s columnist picks up the cry from Maureen Bader. He thinks that the private sector can solve all our transit problems.

He does get some things right. “It’s not hard to make a case for an efficient public transit system.” But he also has some odd ideas as well. For instance

So far, it is the only transit authority in Canada responsible for roads and land use planning, although other jurisdictions are looking at the model.

Translink is not responsible for land use planning. That is the exclusive domain of the municipalities. The old GVRD used to have some land use planning function – most of it was stripped away by the SoCred Bill Vanderzalm when it looked like they might get in the way of his own money making schemes – and neither NDP or Liberal provincial governments have thought to restore those powers. Though the GVRD (in its current identity “Metro”) still does its best to influence planning at the strategic level, with at best limited success. Translink might get consulted, or it might just be informed late in the day about major developments, and is even intending to be a player itself in the development process. But no, it does not plan land use.

And there’s plenty of elasticity in the parking tax. Vancouver is at the low end of parking costs among major cities, with an average of $16 dollars a day, compared with $68 in Amsterdam.

Do you think he has the slightest idea what the term “elasticity” means when talking about prices? I suggest he reads Todd Littman first. I think what he means is that the demand for parking downtown is inelastic with respect to price – or in other words – prices for parking downtown could be raised  without significantly reducing the demand for parking.  There are two problems with that.

1 Translink does not control any parking downtown

2 When Translink has tried to impose taxes on parking it got slapped down

I have discussed parking policy here quite often and won’t repeat it here – but it is obvious to me that Harvey hasn’t a clue about what can and cannot be achieved with parking pricing. It must also be  obvious that Amsterdam has lots of transit service – in fact so does the rest of the Netherlands – and a lot less of its urban core is devoted to parking cars.

If the Canada Line proves that the private sector can build and manage public transit — and there are many examples of private operators in smaller communities around B.C. doing just that — it should be invited to do so. A dose of private enterprise just might help curb TransLink’s appetite for our tax dollars.

First the fact that the Canada Line is ready three months early is not actually the most important indicator of success. The new line is a lot less than was originally promised – that was to stay on budget. Now they have done that, but on the way they also managed to open up a huge liability for Translink through their chosen method of construction. Legal costs alone of the ongoing appeals are a burden – but the potential payout to business impacted by cut and cover is huge. And – let it not be forgotten – that $10m addition of a pedestrian and cycling element to the bridge over the North Arm between Richmond and Vancouver only got added at Translink’s expense. The private sector does nothing for nothing.

Heading into Richmond

What we have got is a new line which has very limited capacity – and no room for expansion except at huge additional cost. And one of the major reasons Translink needs more money now is that it has to prop up not only the Canada Line P3 but also the Golden Ears Bridge P3 until the levels of use get near to their projections. (Good luck with that, by the way.)

Secondly, while other communities in BC get tendered transit service, Victoria and Vancouver do not. And the last time it looked like Translink might try to change that, there was a four month transit strike. I do not think it would be any different next time around either. It does not matter how the private sector might reduce costs of providing service (though our health service provides a very clear example of how they do that) because it is not going to happen. Unless someone has come up with some new way to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2009 at 10:34 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] August 17, 2009 Spend money now to save money later. Posted by viewfromthe44 under Uncategorized Leave a Comment  Harvey Enchin has a column in last Friday’s Sun where he winds his way around to suggesting that Translink needs to have more private-sector involvement, because then it will somehow be more efficient.  He makes serious errors of fact and is confused about basic economic concepts, as Stephen Rees patiently explains. […]

  2. On the topic of parking – Translink will probably have even less ability to affect parking pricing because of the HST. The PST on parking is 7% but Translink has the authority to raise that to 21%, and has proposed to do that in order to raise an extra $30 million or so each year. If we adopt the HST that authority will be gone.

    Jeff Dean

    August 21, 2009 at 2:15 pm


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