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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.