“Say “no” to TransLink and Metro’s Hong Kong model for funding transit”
The title is taken from an opinion piece on the Straight’s web page forwarded to me by reader Mike Harridon. It is written by Elizabeth Murphy who “has a background in development and urban land economics and has worked in the private sector, for the City of Vancouver, and for the Province of B.C.” She also seems to be able to conjure up a great deal out of very little evidence. It is a long article, and I won’t quote much from it, but you need to read the whole thing to get an idea of what she is concerned about. I am not saying she is wrong – with this government who knows what they think they can get away with. I just think she is probably over reacting. And anyway who can we say “No” to? Neither Translink nor the Provincial Government listens to citizens concerns.
She takes one diagram out of Transport 2040: A Transportation Strategy for Metro Vancouver, Now and in the Future and from that concludes “The province has effectively given TransLink authority over land-use policy plans at the regional and municipal levels.” It seems to be to be over reaching. I take the diagram to mean that the province sets the overall transportation and transit strategy for the province, and then Translink translates that into a 30 year transit plan for the region and has a dialogue about it with Metro.
If I had not already recently disposed of Harvey Enchin’s similar fantasies, I might have disregarded the rest. But I read carefully and also looked at the references, and I still cannot come to the same conclusion. But perhaps that is because I spent a few years in the GVTA (the SoCoBritCA predecessor that also used the Translink identity) wondering what we had to do to get legitimate transit concerns about major developments considered either at the regional or the municipal level. Becuase the old GVTA Act said they had to consult and they didn’t, and wouldn’t. And since the GVTA was then run by a Board composed mostly of Mayors and some other councillors no-one in the management really had any desire to tackle the issue. So it simply got ignored.
She is absolutely right to be concerned about “the Undemocratic Nature of TransLink and Its Transportation Plan”. And I agree that “the Proposal to use the Hong Kong Model of Funding Transit through Real Estate Development is Problematic”. Actually the main problem I see is that in the current market there is little chance of Translink making much money and a great risk it will end up, like the City of Vancouver, in trouble with a development like the olympic Village.
For instance, to raise only $15 million toward funding one SkyTrain station in Richmond at Capstan Way, 16 towers were proposed. That project has since fallen through because of the economy and the financial crisis.
Translink was not part of that development of course, and the developer had promised to pay that sum to get a station near his development, then backed out of the deal when it looked like he would have trouble selling the units. That is quite different to Translink buying land to build a line, which it then pays for out the development on the bits it doesn’t need for stations. Which is what I understand is the Hong Kong model.
But then she goes on to state “Metro Vancouver’s 2040 Regional Growth Strategy Proposal Implements TransLink’s Hong Kong Model of Development-Funded Transit”. No, I do not think it does. It says, quite properly, that future density needs to be served by better transit and concentrated at transit nodes or along transit corridors. That is just good planning policy. But Metro has absolutely no way of making the municipalities actually do anything. We saw that with the previous LRSP. Each municipality had to get the GVRD’s endorsement that its OCP was compatible with the Regional Growth Strategy, but once that was done, what they decided to do on Monday night when they looked at development applications was up to each individual municipality. And in BC there is no appeal of a municipal planning decision – not to the region or the province. The Regional Growth Strategy said nothing about Office Parks, for instance, but did say employment should be concentrated in the regional town centres where they could be served by mass transit. Except most of them weren’t and very few developers wanted to put up expensive towers near the transit lines. They wanted to put up cheap low rise buildings with huge parking lots near the freeway entrances. And that is what most municipalities allowed as they needed the property tax revenue.
I happen to think that Frequent Transit Development Corridors as proposed in the Regional Growth Strategy are a very good idea – but that doesn’t mean that even if Metro endorses them that we will necessarily see them happening. Only if enough developers buy in to the concept and municipalities decide to let them.
She also has a series of recommendations, most of which I can support except for this one
TransLink should be limited to authority for transportation only
Which I think is actually the case at present. Allowing them to develop the sites they own to produce transit oriented development seems to me to be a much better idea than the current practice which produces places like Sexsmith park and ride or Phibbs Exchange which seem to me to lack basic urbanity, but could be quite good places if developed properly. They might even make money, but right now I would regard that as a possible bonus not a secure source of funding for transit growth. But also I think that we need a different kind of regional authority or government. One that actually has real powers over transport and land use – as well as other regional services like sewers, parks, waste disposal and all the rest. That would combine Translink and Metro as one directly elected body, accountable to the people of this region and with powers to both borrow and to raise taxes and levy charges. Metro as it currently stands has no power over planning: it tries to achieve consensus which means we go no faster than the slowest – and we cannot afford that any longer. We need to change, and change radically, to a sustainable region which means more transit, denser development and no (expletive deleted) freeways! The chances of that happening here now are slim to none, and we will suffer for that. But eventually we will have to embrace this notion or we are doomed. Business as usual is no longer an option. And I think that is really what Elizabeth Murphy wants to return to.
I really doubt hat there is any substance to the idea that the province thinks it can control development through Translink. And anyway it doesn’t need to. It is already influencing future development patterns by picking its preferred transit lines (Canada Line gets chosen over Evergreen is a purely provincial decision) and by expanding the freeway. That and the SFPR have pretty much set the pattern of development across the region for the next forty years – and it is not going to be transit oriented.