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

Archive for January 2015

More about Uber and the “sharing economy”

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Back in the middle of the month I reported on a City Conversation which looked at the issue of the taxi shortage in this region, and the reaction to Uber. If you didn’t read it then, can you look at it now – and especially the comment by MB, which talks his experience as a taxi driver.

I get all sorts of “pitches” in my inbox every day. Usually invitations to meetings in places far away (now if they included airfare and hotel I might even be tempted) or books to review. The invite to read the paywalled Nation has become a regular. On the whole my campaign to find links to free rather than paywalled sites has been lagging. I am pretty sure that most people find ways to get to content that I am not going to discuss. In this case I wanted to read today’s article about Uber and the Taxi Industry, just to see if it adds anything to what appears on this blog already. So I got the proffered free access behind the paywall for reviewers. The article in question is “adapted from a paper produced as part of the Future of Work Project, an inquiry supported by the Open Society Foundations.” So I rather thought that there might be an open source version of it somewhere. If there is, my Google technique needs to be improved.

Writing from a place where Uber is already established and basing the article on interviews with the people impacted – mostly taxi drivers – gives a good insight into possible outcomes here. John Liss used to drive a cab himself and his experience mirrors that of MB. In fact most of the article addresses the issue from one that was hardly touched on at the City Conversation.

The rapid growth of Uber has profound implications for both taxi drivers and the industry. Are Uber drivers earning full-time living wages? Are they protected from arbitrary or discriminatory dismissal? Can they support their families? What does this mean for the future of work?

Well, that’s all very well, but should there not also be some coverage of the needs of the users?  Well there is this

But Uber has no requirement to serve the public. Indeed, there is a strong race, class and age bias as to who can utilize the service. You have to own a smartphone, which has an average cost of more than $500. Uber requires customers to pay with a credit card, cutting off those with no or poor credit. Until recently, the company had no wheelchair-accessible vehicles in Virginia, and continues to lack adequate services for the disabled in many places.

which I think does reflect some of the remarks I heard. There is also the issue of “surge pricing” which means drivers on Uber get to profit from times when there are peaks of demand – which was also discussed if not in the context of Hurricane Sandy.

The general conclusion seems to be that drivers for Uber have ended up earning pretty much the same as cabbies – and with all the attendant risks (pay up front, hope you get enough rides, no benefits) and once again the company that developed an app makes the big money.

As National Taxi Worker Alliance organizer Biju Mathew said, “It’s drivers and millionaires against the billionaires.”

So not different enough, I think to allow Uber in here even if they can be persuaded to play by the rules – that is to say the rules of society rather than their own. Which, according to Liss are stacked against the drivers.

But there is also the broader issue of the public interest. We need better alternatives to driving ourselves everywhere, and the current suite of options is not adequate. But simply relying on private sector initiatives and the market economy is unlikely to address these issues in a way that will satisfy anyone. In the same Nation there is a further examination of the “sharing economy” based on an examination of Uber and AirBnB.

“Now, despite over five years of official recovery, the sharing economy offers some people, like cab drivers, the prospect of real wage cuts, and others, like people with a spare bedroom, a way to supplement stagnant incomes. The sharing economy is a nice way for rapacious capitalists to monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous, and to evoke a fantasy of community in an atomized population.”

So not much to cheer about there then. Actually I did notice something that seemed to offer a glimmer of hope.

“Uber’s a different story in New York, where all drivers have to be certified by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the cars are all regular cabs or car-service vehicles. Every Uber-hailed driver I’ve spoken with in New York likes the service, because it delivers more paying riders than they’d otherwise have.”

So it seems that Uber can work in a regulatory environment. It is also possible I think that the fleet of vehicles and the number of drivers could also be supplemented at need under such a system. In New York you see “car-service” vehicles all the time. They tend to be black, and are often upmarket sedans and SUVs as well as limousines. If you are staying in Brooklyn and you have an early morning flight out of Newark, they are probably the only practical way of completing the trip – short of sleeping overnight at the terminal. I do not know about Uber cars, but from these articles it seems that there are some attempts at both quality control and market segmentation.

Liss does give some insight too into how different cities and states have developed regulated taxi systems. What they seem to have in common is that having evolved as cars proliferated they then became stuck at the point in history when the regulation was imposed and have changed remarkably little since. It does seem that change is both necessary and desirable, but not that all attempts at control should be abolished overnight.

One of the more curious meetings I had when at Translink was with a lawyer. He had noticed numbers of people left behind at bus stops as he drove through Vancouver towards downtown, and he wondered if there was some way that people could be picked up to utilize the empty seats that were going the same way anyway. I had to disabuse him of the notion that the public transit provider – or the taxi industry – would welcome such an innovation. But this kind of ride sharing does happen. On the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco it has become established and officially recognized that people will wait at a point where single occupant cars can pull up and load enough people to get into the HOV lanes and share the cost of the toll. I somehow doubt that anyone has thought of this at the Port Mann.  Hitch Planet hooks up people making trips within BC but does not seem, so far, to have tackled shorter trips with Metro. Jack Bell has expanded from simply organising commuter car pools  with an app of its own which can also handle one time trips.

Liss seems to be mainly concerned about the people who work in the taxi industry, and I must admit that cab drivers in BC are – as in so many other places – at the bottom of the food chain. I had hoped he would also look at why Uber has become so popular with users. Yes it has sharply reduced the number of cab rides, but I think it must also have greatly increased the size of the market, and probably diverted some people from transit in the process. It also seems to me that in the longer term a company with Uber’s track record is bound to target the transit market and cream off traffic on the most productive routes. This is exactly what happened in Britain (outside London) when buses were deregulated. There is now a distinct gap between denser urban areas where buses are frequent and reliable, and rural areas where buses are almost entirely absent. Greater Vancouver could be very much at risk if the disrupters start to take an interest in transit. And that is not so unlikely in a future where the public authority has to compete with one arm tied behind its back.

So, no real conclusions other than I recommend reading the Nation articles if this topic held you long enough to still be reading.  The current regulatory framework for taxis in Vancouver is far too biased towards the established license holders, and has resulted in a shortage of taxis – compared to other Canadian cities. It has also lead to people developing all sorts of ways of accommodating these rides. The trip diary survey shows that around 10% of car trips are to take someone to where they need to be – often with an empty return trip. The airport has even set up a “cell phone parking lot” to cope with one of the more obvious needs. Yes, the Canada Line helped, but lots of people need to get somewhere other than downtown. New technology does offer us ways to use the vehicles that currently stand idle for most of the time. And there is a real need for opportunities to make extra money for a lot of people. Yes it would be better if there was a higher minimum wage and a really good social safety net for those in need of supplementation to their incomes. Neither of those seem remotely likely in present day Vancouver, BC, Canada, so let us have a sensible conversation about how we can increase mobility in the region.

Here’s a place to start: Helsinki

“Passengers request a shuttle service on their phones and Kutsuplus computes the best way to get everybody where they need to go, based on real-time data. It also indicates how long it would take to complete the trip both with Kutsuplus and with other modes of transport.”

“[Uber] is an approach that works fine in America, where walking is rarely an option and public transport mostly nonexistent.”

Read more here

Bits keep adding themselves to this story. I saw this link in the February 3 edition of The Direct Transfer (something you might want to consider subscribing to). It comes from Bloomberg and the story is extraordinary. Google is developing its own ride hailing service, in direct competition with Uber a company it has been funding itself.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2015 at 5:42 pm

“Yes” coalition calls on voters to support Metro Vancouver transportation improvements

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Press Release

The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition — the biggest, most diverse coalition in B.C. history — highlights opportunity for Metro Vancouver to determine its transportation future

VANCOUVER, Jan. 29, 2015 /CNW/ – Victory for the “Yes” vote in Metro Vancouver’s upcoming transportation referendum will benefit people from all walks of life, according to the broad-based Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, which calls the referendum “one of the most important decisions facing our region for the next generation.”

The BTTC, the largest and most diverse coalition of its kind in B.C., is backing the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation Plan to expand transportation options, cut traffic congestion, reduce pollution, improve the health of our communities and strengthen the local economy. The plan is also accountable in that independent auditing and public reporting requirements will ensure money raised is spent on the proposed projects.

The BTTC has come together from incredibly diverse backgrounds to become a formal non-profit society with a common purpose, appointing four co-chairs representing business, labour, environment and student groups, among others. All are encouraging Metro Vancouver residents to vote “Yes” in the binding plebiscite mail-in ballot, which takes place from mid-March through the end of May.

“The plan will make our regional and provincial economy more competitive by dramatically improving the movement of goods, services and people,” says coalition co-chair and Vancouver Board of Trade president and CEO Iain Black.

Improvements in the plan include better service on existing SkyTrain and bus routes, light rail transit in Surrey andLangley, Broadway Corridor rapid transit, replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and 11 new B-Line routes throughout the region.

“Saying ‘Yes’ to these vital projects is the most important step we can take to show we care for the environment and to improve our quality of life,” says coalition co-chair and David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson.

The Mayors’ Council Plan will cut traffic congestion by 20 per cent, shortening commute times by an average of 20 to 30 minutes per day, and give 70 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents more frequent transit service. It also addresses Metro Vancouver’s future transit needs as the region prepares for one million more residents by 2040.

“Better transit and transportation benefits workers in a real way by making it easier and faster for them to get to and from their jobs and to spend more time with their families instead of wasting precious time on long commutes and traffic gridlock,” says Gavin McGarrigle, coalition co-chair and Unifor’s B.C. Area director.

The plan will be funded by a 0.5 per cent regional Congestion Improvement Tax. This funding method will be fair to everyone, including visitors and tourists. It is affordable — on average about 35 cents a day per household — or $125a year.

“Students rely on transit,” says Bahareh Jokar, coalition co-chair and VP External at the Alma Mater Society of theUniversity of British Columbia. “A stronger transit system will help thousands of students across Metro Vancouver advance their education, while building a better region for generations to come.”

The BTTC will work throughout the Lower Mainland with speeches, public appearances, editorial boards, digital media efforts and other ways to help ensure Metro Vancouver voters understand the benefits of expanded transportation options.

The BTTC is inviting the media and supporters of the “Yes” vote in Metro Vancouver’s upcoming transit and transportation referendum to a campaign event:

Time: 12 noon, registration at 11:30 a.m.
Date: Thursday, February 5
Location: SFU, Segal Building, 500 Granville Street, Vancouver, B.C.

About the BTTC:
The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition is a new coalition — the biggest, most diverse ever in B.C. — supporting the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council Plan to dramatically improve transit and transportation in our region. The BTTC has more than 65 organizational supporters representing more than 250,000 Metro Vancouver residents, including organizations from business, labour, environment, student, community, health and other groups. Learn more at the BTTC’s new website: www.Bettertransit.info Follow us on Twitter @voteyestransit and FacebookBetterTransitInfo

Better Transit and Transportation Coalition co-chair bios:

Iain Black is president and CEO of the Vancouver Board of Trade. He has been in this role since 2011, leading the organization through fundamental transformation and returning it to increased membership growth, financial health and relevance in the public and business domain. He joined the board after serving six years as an elected MLA and cabinet minister for the government of British Columbia, where his various responsibilities included three cabinet posts encompassing economic development, labour and small business.

Bahareh Jokar is a fifth-year political science student and vice-president external affairs of the Alma Mater Society of UBC Vancouver. She sits as the chair of Get on Board BC and vice-chair of the Alliance of BC Students. Her work focuses on advocating for student issues to different levels of government, while ensuring that students are informed and engaged during elections. Metro Vancouver is home to upwards of 100,000 students.

Gavin McGarrigle is the B.C. Area Director for Unifor and a vice-president and officer at the B.C. Federation of Labour. McGarrigle has represented workers and bargained agreements in many industries, including transit and transportation, with Vancouver’s container truckers, and in aerospace and hospitality. Unifor is Canada’s newest union and largest in the private sector, with more than 305,000 members across the country, working in every major sector of the Canadian economy. The B.C. Federation of Labour represents close to 500,000 members throughout British Columbia and includes many unions representing transit workers, including COPE Local 378, CUPE and BCGEU.

Peter Robinson is the chief executive officer of the David Suzuki Foundation, a non-profit science and education organization working to address some of Canada’s most pressing environmental challenges. He brings to this position a diverse background spanning four decades in business, government and the non-profit sectors. Robinson began his career working as a park ranger in wilderness areas throughout British Columbia, where he was decorated for bravery by the Governor General of Canada. After his park career, he worked at BC Housing, a provincial crown corporation, eventually becoming its CEO. Immediately prior to his appointment as CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, he was the CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op.

SOURCE Better Transit and Transportation Coalition

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2015 at 10:53 am

Toderian and Montgomery on The National

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I need something hopeful. The debate over the “transit tax” is debilitating. So this big chunk of last night’s CBC tv news cheered me up this morning. I know that here I am preaching to the converted, and I must admit I do not watch tv news late in the evening. Good thing about this being on YouTube is you can watch it anytime and pass along the link.

I would like an escalator to Kerrisdale please, but leave me Ravine Park for the stroll back. Or add a slide.  A few bike escalators would get me riding again I think. So far there is only one in Trompe, Norway.  Gondolas for SFU – but why not New West or North Van too? Escalators should go in there too, of course. And can you imagine the row if someone dared suggest improving access to/from Wreck Beach? But we seem to tolerate the continued existence of a wide divided highway around Pacific Spirit Park. (From the video above “If you build a wide road people will drive faster…”)

We have been waiting for the sad old Arbutus shopping centre to be transformed into a mixed use hub for many years. The locals just grumble about what it would do to the drainage. The existing “recreation centre” in the basement of the mall looks like it may close as all the strata councils are considering dropping support due to lack of use. That shows me that we really have not yet figured out how to build public facilities yet. I think that also underlies the intolerance of the Poodle on the Pole on Main St. Why cannot people laugh at it? We seem to understand the laughing guys of Denman and Davie. But if you want to offend people, put a misaligned head of Lenin into Richmond. Actually, go look at the Oval and the area around it to see what not to do in our suburbs.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2015 at 8:28 am

Healthy City

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I saw this on PriceTags and was instantly enthralled. I haven’t tried to embed a facebook video on here before – and over there it did look a bit different. But the reason for posting this is as an antidote to the sort of scoffing we hear far too often here about initiatives like allowing city residents to keep chickens in their back yards.

This blog tends to get embroiled in transit and transportation but that is actually only one small part of what makes Vancouver such a great place to live in.

I took these pictures yesterday at Kits Beach which have nothing to do with food, but everything to do with Vancouverism

Kits beach

Fog Rolling Back In

Written by Stephen Rees

January 27, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Posted in placemaking

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The Link Between Obesity, Transportation and Land Use

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There was a story tonight on the CBC TV news Vancouver at 6. It is about an important shift in the advice given to doctors. “The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care released recommendations for family physicians …on prevention of weight gain and treatment of overweight and obesity.” The emphasis is shifting from treatment – which mostly does not work – to prevention, which might. As is now the practice, after the news story from back east, Andrew Chang sat down with a local expert to talk about this some more. She was a doctor from Children’s Hospital and it was all about what we teach our children to help them keep the slim figure they have in their adolescence. It wasn’t until right at the end of the interview when she used the word “environment”, and it was left mostly unexamined. But without doubt it was the most important word in the discussion.

The shift in obesity statistics for the Canadian population occurred at the same time as it did for the American and a bit later for the UK. People have become less physically active partly due to their jobs changing – but mainly due to their commuting. Most of us used to stand to do our jobs, which usually involved some muscular exertion. And we either walked or biked to work. These days we are much more sedentary both at work and at home. And we tend to drive between the two. At the same time, we have stopped cooking for ourselves and rely heavily on processed food or prepared food from commercial outlets. This was not mentioned at all and is a bit of distraction, but basically when you do your own food prep you are much more likely to control salt and sugar. Processed food contains all kinds of preservatives and flavour enhancers to prolong shelf life – and long distance shipping. When you eat out, or buy a pizza, there’s a lot of fat and carbs on your plate.

It is not at all coincidental that the people who are now getting involved in long term planning for transportation and land use are Medical Officers of Health. They were largely absent during my career as a regional planner and transportation economist but in recent years they have noticed that people who live in walkable (and bikeable) neighbourhoods have lower levels of adult onset diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Also known as “metabolic syndrome” even though it has nothing to do with metabolism and everything to do with living in suburban sprawl and driving to do anything at all.

You will not hear anything about this from Jordan Bateman or the No lobby in general. They are the people who have no intention of changing anything. They want a ground oriented house with a two car garage, in a residential area far distant from any other land use apart from schools and churches. Jordan Bateman was a Councillor in Langley. This is still his constituency. The people who listened to the “drive until you qualify” mantra. They shop once a week, spend much of their time taking their children to and from school or after school activities and will tell you they have to drive. They cannot conceive of using a bus or a bike to live like they do. And as they age their weight increases steadily and inexorably.

The Yes campaign is driven by the concept of increasing transportation choice. That phrase was key to the Livable Region Strategy, written by Gordon Campbell, and intended to guide the pattern of development in Greater Vancouver. You cannot have a Protected Green Zone and a Compact Region with Complete Communities unless you Increase Transportation Choice. Wendell Cox does not understand this. Neither do Christy Clark, Todd Stone or Kevin Falcon. The two solitudes in Greater Vancouver are the people who live in the parts of the region where they can reasonably decide for themselves which mode to use for their trips – and switch between them at will – and those who can only drive for every purpose imaginable. The second group see nothing odd at all about driving to the dog park. Or driving to the gym or community centre to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. If you suggested to them that they walk or ride a bike for any other purpose than recreation, they would tell you “it isn’t safe”. And they would be right. We equate safety with belts and airbags in cars, designed to have crash resistant crumple zones. They demand everyone wear helmets – on the ice, down the hill, on the bike. Fear of head injury – actually not that frequent in adults especially once you have deducted car crashes – vastly outweighs fear of the diseases that kill most people. All of which can be traced to weight gain in adulthood. And the study that was used to justify BC’s compulsory helmet law has since been repudiated by its own authors.

The biggest challenge we face – after climate change – is the increasing cost of healthcare. Actually if we had sensible economists advising politicians, that would also be manageable, but we have built our own box to get locked into by insisting on tax cuts as the policy nostrum for every problem. As the baby boomers – people my age – retire and continue to live long after any generation that preceded them, the cost of taking care of them will balloon. Correction, is ballooning. Since we now live in nuclear, rather than extended, families that cost is borne by the public health system, not the daughters and granddaughters of the former wage earner.

I think the healthcare benefits of increasing our ability to walk, bike and take transit – every transit trip involves more walking than any driving trip – vastly outweigh the terrible burden of an extra 0.5% sales tax. If we still believed in cost-benefit analysis (nobody has paid me to do one of those in the last twenty years) then we could show that the costs of paying the tax for more transit would be more than made up in the savings in healthcare costs alone.

Of course, just increasing existing bus service frequencies will not be enough on their own. Just as we really cannot expect to see any reduction in congestion from the sales tax funded expansion alone. We need to do something radical about mixed use developments, increasing density, safe routes to school and all the rest. Just as we will need some fiscal sticks – fees and charges that change behaviour – as well as increased capacity and attractiveness of alternatives to driving. But making Vancouver and its suburbs better places to live features nowhere in the No campaign. Even sensible people like Laila Yuile have been caught up in the fallacy that somehow not paying more taxes will produce better run institutions.

Anyone who talks about transit – or transportation – as though it were a free standing issue is spouting nonsense. Transportation and land use are two sides of the same coin. The best transportation plan is a land use plan. Better land use is measured by the reduction achieved in motorised trips over business as usual. Not only that but Charles Marohn and his Strong Towns movement have shown that this form of development is actually financially more responsible and actually sustainable – in the sense that we can afford to pay for it. Which is quite clearly impossible in motordom with its freeways and  sprawling single use subdivisions.

When I ran for the provincial legislature for the Green Party, I started every speech with what I thought was an unarguable truism. We know that capitalism and communism have both failed. Neither paid the slightest bit of attention to the environment or the limits to growth. While the Liberals (federal) and NDP pay lip service to these truths, their policies are still based on economic growth and more jobs. I think it is equally obvious that we cannot continue a pattern of urban growth predicated on increased car use. It also seems to me that enough people agree or have been forced by economic realities (read huge student loans and no prospects of full time permanent employment) that car use is actually declining. But our provincial politicians are still stuck on increasing the extraction of fossil fuels – and other limited natural resources – while widening highways and building ever bigger bridges.

The anger you can hear from the No campaign is the refusal to accept the necessity of change. No-one in their right minds should be proposing dedicated taxes – or a new imposition of yet more regressive taxation. But on the Yes side, we have no choice. If we want to see transit expansion  – more bike routes, safer walking, more HandyDART for the aging population – more CHOICE in transportation – this is the only way we can do this right now. Not our doing, but those who set the rules for this thing. She Who Must Be Obeyed. She who never thinks of a plebiscite for the Massey Bridge or dualling some more highways in the heartlands. I do not think that an increase in sales tax is a Good idea at all. It is simply the easiest of the available options. No one is now talking about road use pricing. More gas tax or more carbon tax would work quite well as the price of oil is falling but we don’t get that chance either. I do know that I could more easily deal with an open house  on the sales tax increase than those I had to face back when we were proposing a vehicle levy.

I also know that the No side will not deal with any of these issues as they are not in the solutions business. They have a coalition of the unwilling. It is a diverse and motley band and includes a lot of people who think of themselves as progressive and find the whole process repulsive. It has been imposed on us by someone who thinks she can control the outcome. The Yes side is similarly heterogeneous, but what unites us is the desire to prove her wrong. We do not want the future she imagines. We don’t want this plebiscite or this sales tax either, but it is the only game in town, and it has to be won if motordom and sprawl are to be defeated. And if our waistlines are to start shrinking and our health to improve.

More on this topic can be seen on PriceTags with all sorts of references and sources

Plebiscite Posters

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UPDATED January 28

These five posters were created by frequent commenter Meredith Botta who says

I thought I would do my bit for the Yes side and created three posters for the cause.  I am making them available at no cost for posting, distribution, copying, etc.

I have made small screenshot png versions for display purposes, but there are links below the images to his large pdf files for you to downloadScreen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.19.52 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.23.15 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.24.52 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.23.16 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.23.51 AM

transit plebiscite – yes
transit plebiscite – yes 2
transit plebiscite – yes 3

transit plebiscite – yes 4

transit plebiscite – yes 5

And here is another from James Gemmill

Concept-1 Concept-1

Written by Stephen Rees

January 23, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Transportation Referendum: Lessons Learned from the Front Line

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First of the 2015 Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas series of lectures sponsored by Translink at the SFU downtown City Program. This talk was also live webcast and is  available on youtube. I have also created a Storify from the tweets that carried the #movingthefuture hashtag.

Carl Guardino is the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy trade association that represents more than 385 of Silicon Valley’s most respected companies.

He also serves as the chair of the California Transportation Commission, an independent public agency responsible for programming and allocating of funds for the construction of highway, passenger rail and transit improvements throughout California.

The sub headings are his own. He spoke without visual aids.

1 “Confessions”

He opened by talking about how much he loved Canada, having visited Vancouver “five or six times …and it never rained”. He said he was a political scientist (“the only real science”) a “public policy geek” and concerned not just with transportation but placemaking. Transportation is the skeleton on which we build the body of our communities. He was proud the innovative housing trust fund the SVLG had set up using a $20m fund to leverage $200m of investment. They had intended to house 4,800 individuals and families who could not afford housing in Silicon Valley’s expensive real estate market. Since 1999  they have now housed 20,000 families and individuals. He recalled the first city meeting he had to attend where he spoke last after a large number of opponents to the plan. He he was thinking to himself “One man, armed with the truth, is a majority.” He managed to persuade the city to proceed despite the opposition, and when the first project opened, the opponents came up to him at the ceremony and said: if we had known what affordable housing looked like, and what the people who need affordable housing looked like, we would not have opposed the proposal. The trust seeks to house three groups, and divides its tenants into roughly equal thirds: the homeless, those who need affordable housing (i.e. low income) and first time buyers. Out of 250 proposals they have only lost 12.

2 Context

SVLG was founded by David Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame) who called together 38 CEOs of companies in the valley many of whom were competitors. He stressed they shared common ground in the well being of their community. They now represent 390  employers with annual revenues of $6 trillion, all concerned with making their region a better place. They have taken part in five transportation funding measures, each of which became a magnet for regional, state and federal funding. “We were the first” – just as the Vancouver region is the first to have a funding ballot for a regional sales tax increase to pay for transportation improvements.

In 1984  the first measure was a ten year, half cent sales tax increase for specified improvements which raised $1.4bn in local funding. Each of the improvements was delivered on time and on budget “except those which were delivered early and under budget…. Promises made, promises kept.”

3 Common Ground 

The proposal included annual audits of the funds raised and spent, which were kept segregated from other funds. A watchdog committee was appointed to ensure accountability. The same structure was used for the 1996 campaign which looked a lot like the set of projects in Translink’s plan. There were 19 projects over nine years spread over all transportation modes – roads, transit, cycling and walking.

He has been impressed by the broad base of the coalition he had been speaking to that day. (This was the fourth discussion he had had – each different. And delivered on Martin Luther King Day, a public holiday in the US.) He stressed that opposition is important to a functioning democracy. “I hate taxes. I hate traffic more.” It was important to “wisely invest in the future”. The opposition continues but over time “build that trust, keep your word”. More California counties have followed suit until 80% of the state is covered by these voter supported initiatives accounting for 50c on every dollar invested in California transportation.

4 Commitment

“We can sit back and be enraged or stand up and be engaged.” There are now 55 days until the ballot starts and 75 days of voting to speak to the electorate. One million more people are coming here in the next 25 years which means there will another 600,000 additional weekday trips on an already congested system. Business CEOs have to “get into the game and move the ball forward” not just shout encouragement from the sidelines. They need to mount in house information campaigns – not telling people how to vote. It was important that people hear from their peers – students talking to students, for example

In the most recent campaign they had budgeted for a $1.6m fund: campaigns demand “time, treasure and talent”

5 Courage

A campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. You are running an Iron Man. I have immense respect for you: you care enough to work for it or are concerned enough about to want to learn more. We have won nine of ten campaigns. I am always asked what I learned from the loss. I hate losing. We worked as hard on the campaign we lost as those we won. Win this campaign, build a better Vancouver then invite me back. You are building for your future and that takes time. You are in it for the long haul.

Q & A

Q  Why doesn’t transit run 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

He politely declined to answer the question as it is outside his knowledge. He did point out that we are similar in size and population to Silicon Valley, but we have a higher percentage of trips on transit/walk/bike – and the climate in California is better.

Q  What guarantees are there that the projects will be built? You spoke of a skeleton which suggests that we have to build on what we have. Would courtesy transit be viable?

Silicon Valley is a lot more sprawled than the Metro Vancouver region. We do not provide free transit as the farebox helps pay for the service. Roads are subsidized too. We all benefit from their improvement.

Q about the campaign

Silicon Valley is comparable in size: the campaigns we are talking about did not apply to the whole of California. We chose to take command of our future as the federal and state governments were not getting the job done [applause]

Another Q about this campaign

There was a football game this weekend. I doubt the team coaches exchanged play books before the game started. This meeting is open to all and being webcast so I am not going to share what we discussed at the meetings earlier today. It is essential that everyone be engaged, but we all care about different aspects – cyclists care more about bike routes than buses. Employers are more concerned about how their employees can get to work in reasonable time and cost which plays heavily into employee retention. We must speak to the concerns of the community but I will not address strategy or tactics here. We started much earlier than you did, but we also had to deal with a skeptical media. The annual audits, sticking to the declared schedule and not co-mingling funds brought about a greater degree of trust. Our tax expired when the projects were done and all the commitments were met.

“I have never yet seen a government that everyone thought was great.”

Q We did not make the choice [to have a referendum]. It was forced on us. Is there a term on our sales tax?

See the language on your ballot. We had sunsets but Los Angeles, which faces far bigger problems, had an open ended approach

Q Disputed the statement that there is not enough transit. The questioner used it regularly without issues. He also felt that the No campaign was being under reported

This morning’s Vancouver Sun story was 90% unflattering. The coverage in general seems to be even handed.

Q related to Urban Farming

“You have me stumped”

Q The voice of youth has been under represented. The No campaign speaks for older voters, who are more concerned with no tax increase than better transit service. How do we bring in students into the campaign?

Students do not vote as often as they could. First get them registered to vote, so they get a ballot, then make sure they fill out and post the ballot.

We started two years before the vote – and before the recession hit. Once that happened the question “Can I afford it?” became more important to the voters than “Is it worth it?” We also had to get a 2/3 majority.

Q Issue for small businesses – included a remark that the opening of the Canada Line helped the questioner’s business

Often our approach has to be one of balance. Yes the cost goes up but the benefits are real and measurable. Neither the state nor federal governments were investing in transportation at a time when there was increasing demand and there was a clear cost due to the resulting congestion – and that is a real cost we all pay. We do a lot of polling and we have to be hypersensitive to what people are willing to pay. We found that a small sales tax increase was much more acceptable than larger (but revenue equivalent) increases to gas taxes or tolls.

Q There is no accountability here: the Compass card was cited as an example as well as underperforming bridge tolls

Q About specialised services for People with Disabilities

These were included in all four transit packages

Q Does your state still build roads without ballots?

California is at present adopting a band aid approach. They are not spending enough to meet growth nor local priorities. They are constraining spending to be barely enough to maintain the system.

Q Turnout? What about misinformation from the opposition? We tried to inform students recently “not many stopped at our table”. “We haven’t got enough detail about how the proposals will impact our students.

If they didn’t stop at your table maybe you should make your table more attractive – free chocolates? Or get out from behind the table and go talk to people.

Most of the campaign should be about your message. When someone posts misinformation, set the record straight. But if they are posting to Twitter and only have three followers, it may not be worth getting into an argument.

Q Does your experience with a series of successful ballots mean you are now locked in to doing this forever? Higher levels of government are probably quite content for you to take all the heat and pressure off them.

Washington DC is dysfunctional. Our measures do matter a hoot to them. The dysfunction is widespread and affects most programs not just transportation. We have found that when we had funds in hand and approached them for matching amounts we got a better response than we we simply asked for them to do something for us. We have formed a Self Help Counties Coalition to build on success and the federal government now often builds in a local match requirement in many programs. “Yes, they should do more, but  I can’t change their mind on that.”

“What’s in it for me?” is always top of mind

Pavement maintenance and rehabilitation spending now requires that local government maintains its previous levels of spending for the prior three years. This ensures that funds raised by the initiatives do not supplant existing funding but supplement it. The Pavement Condition Index must equal at least 75% to qualify for funds, and cities that are at 90% can use the funds for improvements on other things.

Q A planner asked how the campaign included planning

We bring them to a safe space and get them to talk to us as professionals. They have a huge say in what we do. Their local knowledge is essential to our regional challenge.

Q How do we make the shots they take work for us

“Come let us reason together” is the ideal. Stay factual, provide data and if you don’t know the answer, admit it. I have never yet seen a 100% vote in favour of anything in a true democracy.

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REACTION

I was really impressed by the style and clarity of the presentation, and the politeness with which all questions were dealt with – even when it was quite obvious that the questions were being directed at the wrong person. He was universally polite and good humoured throughout. The people who brought him here on a holiday weekend and exploited him so relentlessly owe him big time.

Despite all the similarities in the situation, BC is not California. That is the place where voter initiatives and “direct democracy” took root – mainly as a taxpayer revolt. This of course is as popular as the Boston Tea Party. Which was not actually so much about taxes as the lack of representation of colonists back in Westminster. But the idea that people hate taxes is a very old one, but not nearly as universal as might be supposed. Peace, order and good government is a collection of desiderata that at least implies a willingness to pay for the support services that provide that. We do not have the same deeply held and misguided faith in the value of personal responsibility as Americans. Remember that the US is the only advanced country on the planet that does not have universal healthcare. Proposition 13 was the start of the tax reduction movement which required a shift away to much lower service standards and a much greater reliance on fees and charges. Right wing governments at both provincial and national levels here seem eager to follow the example, but what was as equally clear after Proposition 13 was the collapse of civil society, the abandonment of many valuable programs and the continuing shift towards ever greater inequality.

Most of the people who spoke against the sales tax increase stressed its regressive impact on the poorest people in our community. The sales tax increase is not the best idea, merely the best of a bunch of poor alternatives. We have to improve our transportation system and the Massey Tunnel replacement is not regionally a high priority. It is obvious that most people here would not vote to increase their taxes to pay for a new bridge – or a new interchange in North Vancouver. We are also not being consulted on our willingness to help pay for transit in Kelowna – or another lake crossing there. People in Greater Vancouver already pay taxes to support transit in every other place in BC that has it, and we cannot understand why there is not reciprocity. The value of Greater Vancouver to the economy of BC is not in any doubt, yet fails to get mentioned whenever essential service improvements are needed here.

The province of BC continually pleads poverty, yet has no problem at all in funding freeway improvements. There is always money for tax reductions for the wealthy and for highly profitable corporations, who appear to be able to dictate terms to the province whenever they want to exploit our raw materials and natural resources, and never take any responsibility for the damage they cause.

The referendum must not be viewed as a popularity poll for Translink or the provincial government. Voting no on principle will hurt all of us. Voting no on the grounds that “Translink cannot be trusted” is simply falling for the three card trick that Jordan Bateman thinks he is so clever at. But he knows that the savings he claims are available are nowhere near enough to meet the necessary expansion. He also knows that “value capture” (building permits and development cost contributions) are already spoken for and the Mayors have made clear that yet another hike in property taxes to pay for transit is not acceptable.

The advice provided by the gentleman from Silicon Valley is critical to win the plebiscite. But we must not let our province become another California, nor our country a pale imitation of the US. We must win this one, then get on with the essential task of removing Stephen Harper and Christy Clark from office.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 20, 2015 at 4:42 pm