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It wasn’t supposed to pass

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CMBC ETB 2171 on #16 Arbutus @ West Blvd & 57th

The word “blog” is a contraction of “web log”: a record of a “journey” across the web and the sites visited. The announcement of the results of the plebiscite on transportation investment funding produced the very rapid response we have come to expect on twitter and the instant analysis. Of course a lot of organisations were involved and most had their pre prepared press releases ready. Many claimed to have correctly predicted the outcome in advance. I had declined to appear on Global TV since I did not have such a position ready. But on reflection it became clear to me that the reason the question was made non-binding by Christy Clark was that she did not want to have to abide by an answer she did not like. And the glee that was evident on the face of Todd Stone when talking to the press pretty much confirmed that.

Of course I was not the only person to think that. Gary Mason of the Globe lists the reasons why “The referendum was an unmitigated disaster from the start.” Todd Stone doesn’t think it was a disaster – he thinks there should be more of them. But only for transit of course, not major road projects, or healthcare or education. Crawford Killian in the Tyee was far ahead of the Globe writing that the referendum was designed to fail back in February.

Much of the “analysis” was simply opinion based on preferred anecdotes. But there is some actual data based on surveys conducted by Insights West and Angus Reid. They come to similar conclusions about why people voted No. Of course since Jordan Bateman got busy far before the Yes side was even organised his simple message, the Translink was not to be trusted, got across. None of the subsequent analysis which showed that Translink is actually quite well managed dented that. Which is what I told the Vancouver Observer. The real problem is the governance model and that was created by The BC Liberals when the previous board of elected municipal officials (mostly Mayors) took exception to the way that the province wanted to put building the Canada Line ahead of the Evergreen Line (which is still not finished). So I cannot agree with Mario Canseco’s conclusion that reforming the way Translink operates ought to be the first priority – even if both Yes and No voters agree on that. It is the way it is governed that is the problem.

Discourse Media does have some good data driven information on what the No vote means. But no recommendations on what to do to achieve that. Richard Zussman of the CBC is good on why referenda are not the way to proceed. I think that means that if the province does propose another one we should organize a resounding boycott of the proceedings. Badly run referenda are designed to produce a negative response and I do not think that the province is actually interested in a better form of communication. Why would they when they got the result they desired.

The idea that I have proposed to reform Translink’s governance – a directly elected regional board – seems to be getting  some traction. There is growing disquiet too with Metro Vancouver – which is indirectly elected and also seen as remote from electoral control. If we were actually serious about doing regional planning and transportation properly, we would follow the example of cities like London, England or Portland, Oregon. I would be very surprised indeed if that actually happened. If anything at all I expect there will be some more shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic. Maybe another name change and new livery: more communications/marketing bafflegab. No real change. It is a long time before we have another provincial election, and no matter how bad the government, if it simply ignores everything going on  – the scandals this government is surviving would have brought out the media in rage if it had been an NDP government – it might even get re-elected, despite its obvious incompetence.

So what happens now? Human Transit is, as always, very illuminating.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 3, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Posted in politics

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“What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?”

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Greenpeace Shell BC

Illustration taken from GreenPeace

One of the benefits of having a blog – and one of its curses too – is that I get things in the email that other people want me to put on my blog. Or write about on my blog. This is one of those: it comes from The Nation which is a magazine whose web site operates behind a paywall. So I get a complimentary log in to see articles which they think I will direct you to. Many are worthy, and I understand why The Nation wants to stay in business and keep paying its journalists to provide content. But, as far as possible, I continue to try and find sources that are not paywalled.

Today the news is full of two things that everybody is writing about: the new Papal encyclical and the latest American shooting atrocity. The Nation has three, searing articles about that and how this church and this date were neither randomly picked. And a commencement speech by Naomi Klein to the College of the Atlantic on June 6, 2015.

Mine is not going to be your average commencement address, for the simple reason that College of the Atlantic is not your average college. I mean, what kind of college lets students vote on their commencement speaker—as if this is their day or something? What’s next? Women choosing whom they are going to marry?

So as it happens there’s a couple of things here that have resonance with me. Firstly the Atlantic has, very wisely, closed comments on the three articles about the Charleston massacre. After yesterday, I have been seriously thinking that might not be too bad of an idea here, but two comments from the Usual Suspects set me straight on that. We do have good discussions here, and one wingnut is not going to be allowed to upset that. Secondly, one of the topics that Naomi Klein addresses speaks to something I have been thinking about.

These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts.

Recently Jane Fonda visited Jericho Beach and spoke there about pipelines and coastal tankers and whatnot, and of course the commenters weighed in as usual, being snide about how Jane chose to travel here, and thus was some kind of hypocrite because that trip used fossil fuel. Just as the same cabal has chided Al Gore for his campaigning on the same topic.

Maybe the Pope is going to be different. Maybe his speech will start the moral shift that is needed in the corridors of power to finally address the issue. Of course the fact that someone inside the Vatican leaked the encyclical (not a usual turn of events) and that Jeb Bush was already out front of it seem to point in the direction that the pontiff will be going. A bit like the way the President has had to acknowledge on gun control.

But continuing the “fair use “privilege, here is how Naomi Klein sees it towards the end of her speech

….the weight of the world is not on any one person’s shoulders—not yours. Not Zoe’s. Not mine. It rests in the strength of the project of transformation that millions are already a part of.

That means we are free to follow our passions. To do the kind of work that will sustain us for the long run. It even means we can take breaks—in fact, we have a duty to take them. And to make sure our friends do too.

And, as it happens you can also watch – for free –  what Naomi Klein said on YouTube

And also here is what she has to say about the Pope’s new message

James Moore Gets a Surprise Delivery

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A link to this video arrived in my email this morning.

I am not sure that the direct confrontation achieves very much, but the speech by the former commander of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station is telling.

Marathassa

Just to nitpick a bit more, the Marathassa was not a “grain tanker” (whatever that is) and the spill was Bunker C fuel oil, not diluted bitumen which is the most likely export from the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Dilbit sinks. There is also some doubt that 80% of the spill was recovered as there could well be oil residues that sank from the fuel spill – which is why fishing in the inlet has now been banned.

The email was intended to recruit more people to attend direct action training. I am not about to take on that myself, but click here if you would like more information

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

Posted in Environment, politics

Tagged with

Jordan Bateman calls Yes campaign ‘vicious and personal’

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Last night the CBC evening news gave Peter Ladner and Jordan Bateman equal time to put their side of the plebiscite debate. Not as a confrontation, thank goodness but as a pair of “one on one” interviews with Andrew Chang. The clip discussed in this link did not actually get broadcast. I think Peter Ladner’s criticism is fair: Bateman sticks to the same speaking points all the time, and those are designed to make people angry. The technique has been a favourite of right wingers for a long time – and was actually analysed rather well in “The American President

“You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. ”

Jordan Bateman has been trying to make people angry about the salary paid to Ian Jarvis – and about the Main Street Poodle. He says that these are examples of waste. And he keeps repeating that, even though the argument has been pretty much debunked. Translink has indeed made some grievous errors – but Bateman never refers to the waste of the Golden Ears Bridge, because he has been an advocate of many more bridges across the Fraser. He is probably made uncomfortable too by the fact that the toll revenues on that bridge do not pay for its ‘mortgage’. The way the P3 is structured, a private company is taking money from Translink that ought to have been available for transit. But our provincial government does not permit revenue risk to be transferred to the private sector. That is one of the few benefits of P3s, as far as I am concerned. It would also obviously draw attention to the grotesque waste of the Port Mann Bridge. Which far exceeds the cost of a poodle on a pole in every city centre!

Equally he never talks about the reorganisation of HandyDART, which cut service and increased cost for the benefit of a US based contractor. This again is a much bigger issue than some tv screens on SkyTrain not working. Yes the compass card is not yet working properly – but Jordan would not dream of pointing the finger at Cubic. Or Kevin Falcon.

In my experience the social media discussion has been dragged down by his supporters. He complains about fake accounts on Twitter. I would have thought he would have been aware of the BC Ferries misstep there just recently. Twitter can be a very nasty place indeed. So can facebook and the comments area of blogs and mainstream media sites. The No campaign has been very active to make sure that any comment made in favour of the Yes side gets bombarded fast and hard.

One of the favourite techniques actually speaks to the different styles of the campaigns. The mainstream media has criticised the Yes campaign for being geeky: concentrating on facts and figures, and making complex arguments showing how transit is related to other issues like access to employment, affordability of living in this region and so on. They have been recommending the sort of emotional appeal that works for the No side. So when a fact or figure is cited by a No tweet or post and attracts a reply which refers to the context a favourite ploy is to call that “opinion”. After all, every one is entitled to an opinion, even if it is wrong. So then the next step is to try and drag out the exchange and demand data and sources. I originally thought this was a variation of the old doorstep debate technique to hold up the canvasser and waste their time. But actually it is nastier than that. The initial responses are polite and appear concerned with debate, but gradually decline in tone, as other commenters pile on. On twitter, more names and hashtags get added to replies to use up more of the 140 characters. And beware of any discussion that has the bcpoli hash tag. Now that gets really down and dirty.

Jordan is not just the main spokesperson for the No side, he has actually been the campaign. One or two rogue elephant Mayors would like to share that limelight but Jordan has been adept and able to keep the spot for himself. He can hardly complain now when people start looking at his track record, and wondering where his pay cheque comes from. As usual the best thing to do in politics is always to follow the money. Who benefits most from a No vote? Note that in this region nearly every politician has wanted to acknowledge the truth that we need more transit. In reality, there is not that much choice. We know that motordom has failed to deliver on its promises, but our Premier seems not to have noticed or care. She has the chutzpah to promote a carbon tax and LNG at the same time. Left to her own devices she can readily find the tax payer funds to pay for more roads and bridges and the private sector profits and higher financing costs of P3s too. Motordom and big oil pay for right wing think tanks, and the Koch brothers have been funding anti-transit campaigns in the states for years. Since the CTF is not a charity, it does not have to reveal its funders, so it doesn’t. So there is no visible money trail. But the techniques and arguments have been translated holus bolus.

Of course people feel that their finances are stretched. Personal incomes for most people have been static, while those for the wealthiest have grown very rapidly. Income taxes have been cut – because that is what the wealthy demand. But it has not produced the economic growth that was promised – and what has flowed has failed to trickle down. Instead of a progressive income tax, all sorts of fees and charges have been increased instead. MSP is the most egregious example, but add BC Hydro rates, ICBC payments, bridge tolls, transit fares, BC Ferry fares and even the decline in gas prices quickly gets swallowed up. People genuinely do not feel there is room for more sales tax. The HST must have been on Christy’s mind when she made her promise to put any new transit funding mechanism to a regional referendum. And yes of course people dislike the way Translink was insulated from even indirect democratic control.

The reason that the No campaign has scored well is that it was nimble enough to get its shots in first. The trouble they are in now is that they are on the defensive. The coalition which took so long to pull together and get moving is indeed proving effective. As it must. Of course Bateman whines about using taxpayers’ money to fund the campaign. But increasing transit capacity – and adding bike lanes and more HandyDART service and even the selected road expansions – are all critical to municipal success in building the sort of place that will continue to grow, and remain livable. Greenhouse gas reduction over the motordom alternative does not get mentioned very much simply because most of those genuinely uncommitted are weary of of the very similar broader “debate” prolonged by the climate deniers’ refusal to admit they are wrong. Just as the people who became so rude and abusive over Point Grey Road traffic calming – or any protected bike lane anywhere – ever admit they have been proved wrong every time as well.

The Mayors did not pick this battle. It has been three years of asking for sustainable funding for future transit expansion, during which time Christy Clark has hid behind the need for yet another audit – none of which showed profligacy – and then her increasingly dubious playing with the referendum. Which was initially binding, and based on a clear question, but is now non binding and the question neatly made more fuzzy. Just how much more wiggle room does she need? Enough I think to dismiss any Yes result. She has a Plan B. Of course she does. She intends to stay Premier, and then pass on the baton to a chosen heir. So LRT if necessary for Surrey but not necessarily transit for anyone else, unless there is a short term political advantage in a swing constituency. BC politics as usual, in fact.

The No vote will not change anything, and it saddens me that so many people who have been allies on the generally progressive side continue to believe that this is another HST campaign. It isn’t, and Christy’s careful distancing herself from promoting the sales tax increase should be clear enough indication of that.

Jordan should not complain about “vicious” when so many of his supporters have so eagerly embraced that, where it suits them. Jordan cannot complain about personal since he has been front and centre from the start. Ian Jarvis was picked as CEO for Translink when it proved hard to attract good candidates from elsewhere. The speed of the departure of Tom Prendergast did not go unnoticed among the quite small field of potential replacements. He had also been very effective as a CFO – a job he had formerly held at GVRD. I thought the action of the Board in dismissing him, and realising too late that they still had a contract to fulfill, would have been inept for a politically oriented board. But for one that was supposed to be the best the business community could summon it is unforgivable. Ask Ian how he feels about personal attacks, Jordan.

Jordan is also disingenuous when he says that the Yes campaign has ignored his plans and proposals. They haven’t, of course.  There is just not much to argue about. You cannot find enough money  within Translink to fund growth. And indeed it was the policy of penny wise pound foolish that caused that huge SkyTrain disruption. Translink had decided not to buy a software upgrade, that would have removed the need to restart every train manually. Since the need had not arisen before, it was not thought necessary, and the pressure to cut costs was intense. The municipal governments are not going to use development cost charges or increases in property tax revenues that flow from rising house prices, because that money is already spoken for. To pay the wages of firefighters and police officers, for one thing. To patch the roads and prop up the bridges for another. To cope with the constant downloading from senior levels of government.

Vancouver Insider tweeted “You don’t have to like Translink, mayors, or sales taxes to know that better transit is much better for all of us. All else is noise. ”

But the noise will continue. NO will be mainly Bateman – but also a lot of people who think that taxes make them worse off. And who do not want to argue about facts and figures. It is a feeling – and a feeling they have in common with many others. Quote from The Goodbye Girl “I’m angry. I don’t want to lose it.”

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2015 at 8:57 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

What Works, What Doesn’t

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Jeffrey Tumlin

San Francisco transportation planner Jeffrey Tumlin talked last night at SFU mostly about the experience of transit funding referenda in California. The presentation is available on video.  Tumlin’s book “Sustainable Transportation Planning: Tools for Creating Healthy, Vibrant and Resilient Communities” is used as part of the Next Generation Transportation course.

Have you ever been to Phibbs Exchange? It is probably as bad as they get – a dreary, isolated and unpleasant place to wait for a bus, (and one I often use in my own discussions about what is wrong with transit here). Translink has a lot of room for improvement but “it’s also the best that I have worked for.” We invented transportation tax measure referendums in California, and if you think the current experience here is bad, understand that it is so much worse everywhere else. You are right to demand perfection, but don’t let the best get in the way of the good.

Map_of_Alameda_County_1878_LARGE

Alameda County in California has 1.6m residents in 14 municipalities and 6 unincorporated areas. The original transcontinental railway did not reach San Francisco – it reached Oakland where passengers transferred to ferries. Up until 1994 it relied on a gas tax to pay for transit but as “funding dried up” in 1986 they introduced a county sales tax, which was risky given that at that time other neighbouring counties didn’t. In a referendum in 2000 a tax increase was approved by 82% of the vote. In California any general purpose tax increase must be approved by at least two thirds of the votes. That means for a vote to succeed there must be no organised opposition since at least one third of the voters are ideologically opposed to any tax increase. There is no federal or state support for transit operations or maintenance.  In 2012 Measure B1 a half cent sales tax increase failed at 66.53%. Measure  BB in 2014 passed at 71%. That was because by that time there was a coalition “with everyone on it” which adopted a strategy of focussing on “investments that matter to real people”. Communications stressed improvements in safety, efficiency, local streets and maintenance. Some projects were identified but not fully funded. Many projects were tied to housing development and many stressed bikes and pedestrians. The county is half suburban, with over a 70% car mode split. Car drivers voted yes because they understood that if other people switched modes there would be more room on the existing roads for those who continued to drive. Doing nothing would make matters worse.

Transit demand is increasing faster than population growth. This is due to demographics. As the baby boomers age and retire, they drive less and the millennials have much less interest in car ownership. Housing prices are actually worse than Vancouver. For many people in a low wage service economy driving is too expensive when housing costs have to be met first. Much of the success of the coalition was from the understanding of the combined affordability of transportation and housing. Every county in California has a similar story. Los Angeles knows that for its economy to succeed they cannot continue to bulldoze neighbourhoods to build freeways through them.

Messages that work

  1. Stress people, not mobility NOT focussing on congestion relief. For instance, tell the story of the single working mother who has the challenge of getting her children to and from daycare/school and herself to work – and how expensive that gets if she has to drive.
  2. Use pictures of people, including seniors and people with disabilities and reflect the diversity of the population. Be culturally sensitive to those communities and produce written materials in their languages
  3. Stress the need for employers to attract and retain young talent – people who don’t want to drive everywhere
  4. Improve public health – reducing the obesity epidemic means walking has to be built in to daily lives
  5. Improve economic efficiency – the space needed to move an automobile is ten times more than any other mode. There is much more people moving capacity if they are not all in cars – for the same space.
  6. Accomodate aging adults – see “Best Cities for Successful Aging” – that means walkability and more transit
  7. Everyone should have the opportunity to succeed – which is where the housing and transportation affordability index comes in. “San Francisco is more affordable than Little Rock, Arkansas” simply because it has homes and jobs within easy commute distance and good transit. It is not just affordable housing – its the combination with affordable transportation options. In Little Rock houses are cheap but they are distant from jobs and the only way to cover that is by driving. You do not improve the competitiveness of your region in the global economy by forcing poorer people to live in remote suburbs where they have to drive.

COMPASS

Much has been made by the No side of the delays in introducing this smart card fare payment system. The Bay Area has been trying to get such a system established since 1993. It was originally called Translink. It was launched in 1993 and abandoned in 1995. Twenty of the larger transit agencies agreed to relaunch the idea in 2010 .

TransLinkCard2

By 2015 only 15 of the 20 agencies have actually implemented the card. Now rebranded as “Clipper” it is hated by all. The problems are many and various. For instance in San Francisco alone there are six transit operators each with their own fare system and no coordination between any of them.

In fact there is no better transit system in North America than TransLink. Look for example at Boston, which is currently trying to de-ice 120 year old rail switches. Or Chicago where ancient wooden platforms on the El are disintegrating, dropping debris on the streets below and leaving foot wide gaps. Or BART which has had a disastrous 18 months. “You set the gold standard”  for integrating land use, transportation, environment and social equity. In terms of cost effectiveness Vancouver ranks alongside much larger systems like London or New York. If you want to see disfunction look at New Jersey.

The one thing where Translink has fallen behind is communications. To some extent this can be attributed to Canadian culture and your dislike of “boasting”. But also Translink needs to get better at listening. Public officials need to be in the limelight all the time. There needs to be a greater focus [in the Yes campaign] on telling stories not wonkishness. In California the campaigns for funding measures last two to five years. Plan B must be to win next time. The new campaign starts as soon as this one is over and will be a lot of work. It has to identify outcome based performance indicators, not just dollars per ride. How you meet economic, environmental and social targets to show tax dollars are well spent. Every $1 spent on transit produces $5 of benefits.

Q & A

1  “I want better transit but I see the defects of Translink.” The BC Government is the problem. They give tax breaks to the corporate sector and do not step up to the plate to pay for needed infrastructure. We do not have a fair tax system.

We have many people who share your values. Sales tax is the worst form of taxation. It is regressive. The poor pay the most and the rich are the least impacted. But we have to live in the real world. The right solution is not necessarily the most workable one. The perfect is the enemy of the good, and the alternative is worse. Pressing for perfection is a recipe for not getting anything at all.

2 “Can we pull it off? In a month?”

Poll results are often different to polling – going both ways. There have been lots of surprises and rapid turnarounds in sentiment. The important thing is the delivery of the message to voters – mainly through tv and radio. There has been rightful criticism and it warrants a full response. The problem is that it is very hard to do that in a seven second sound bite. The Alameda County campaign relied on images and factoids.

3 The current provincial government was elected by the majority. The coalition has a very wide range of organisations within it. The question is did anyone’s views change as a result of your campaign?

Tumlin then conducted a quick straw poll of those present. Many there said they were “conflicted” supporting transit spending but mistrustful of Translink or disliking the sales tax. A few who came undecided said they had been persuaded by the presentation.

4 The next questioner linked the distrust of Translink to the pay of its CEO as “grossly overspending”

Tumlin gently pointed out that Translink is comparable to other agencies and that the cost of living here is very high, which makes it hard to attract people if you offer lower pay. There are some systems that pay less due to “the optics” – but they do not necessarily get the best managers as a result. You are actually talking about less than 0.1% of the budget

5 Gordon Price asked if privatisation – perhaps of parts of the system – was a way to improve performance.

At that point my notes stop as I stood up and positioned myself to reply to that assertion. I think Tumlin must have dealt with it effectively, as I then talked extempore about the campaign – and how Tumlin’s interview with News1130 had been received by the facebook trolls. I did scribble “governance – none is perfect – Portland Metro” which he said was directly elected – and is certainly an approach I would favour.   Privatisation has been a disaster for public services everywhere: and worst bits of the Translink system are privatised – MVT runs HandyDART at much higher cost and lower service levels than the previous collection of mainly NGO and volunteer supported service providers. The Golden Ears Bridge and the Canada Line are P3 showcases of profit for the private sector at public cost.

6 How much do people save when they stop driving?

A media campaign is not an information campaign. The best facts are hard to explain. The cost of driving needs to include externalities, and needs to be expressed as an opportunity cost. That is a challenging message to deliver especially to the undecided. You need short messages  for swing voters, you don’t have half an hour. It also depends on who says what: it has to be seen to be real. Campaigns that work bring on key people. We found that affordable housing advocates were key – once they got the tptn+housing affordability index thing sorted they could relay that to their clients in meaningful ways.

7 The first speaker got another turn at the microphone. “It is not right or equitable that the corporate sector gets the benefit of de-congestion at the expense of the people. There has been a $13bn loss of revenue due to tax cuts for corporations and that is being filled by fees and charges on the poor. It is a beautiful plan but I don’t want to pay for it. There is no Bill of Rights for users.”

You present an intelligent reasoned argument, which is valid from a good governance and policy standpoint. But it is a solution for the next provincial election not this referendum. It is possible for voter initiatives to rescind taxes – and you can go back every year. (He was obviously talking about the California Proposition legislation at this point, not necessarily BC.)

8  We are tribal social primates. We have no sense of belonging (I think he meant to the region) which has lead to a loss of trust. How do we deal with tribalism?

Metro Vancouver is a coherent economic  unit and a very effective competitor in the global economy. It is more cohesive than many California metro areas. San Francisco is quite different to San Jose – but it is very difficult to put a simple line between them that  does not have boundary effects. In terms of economic productivity the boundaries here are clearer and well set. By tribalism I think you mean that we do not want to pay for other people’s projects. I think the way to deal with that is to engage young people as they are better networked than anybody else – but then you also have to get them to vote. I think you do have here a sense of commonwealth which is missing in the US. You have no idea how bad things can get. No-one can get everything they want. You have to develop a sense of compassion for people who are different to you. We are not in competition.  It is in my interest to help you become more productive. In crass politics give them what they need but not all that they want. It is an ugly process.

Hire a lot of young people and get them involved in the campaign. Get them to show up at the polls. The Alameda County  proposition was lost by 731 votes!

9  Erica Rathje reminded those present that the federal government subsidises the fossil fuel industry with billions of dollars. We will have the opportunity to deal with that in this year’s federal election.

Do not punish yourselves locally by denying additional funding that your transportation system desperately needs.

10  The Hong Kong model which produces great transit at no cost to the taxpayer.

I am very much in favour of Value Capture. We use a lot of it in San Francisco. Development of land freed up by the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway for instance. The TransBay Terminal is being funded in part by Tax Increment Financing. Impact Fees on residential developments pay for affordable housing.

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

REACTION

The meeting was large and well attended. Discourse was generally polite – except for some heckling when the first speaker made a long statement which appeared not to include a question. He did get a better reception later, and many people admitted to “feeling conflicted”. I agree. I do to. I think we are being manipulated. We do not have the same antitax Proposition 13 mentality here – and it should not be foisted upon us. I think the speaker was right when he said that if this sales tax proposal is approved, the province can then withdraw from funding transit expansions and concentrate on its favourite road building projects. But I think he missed how much provincial politicians love to cut ribbons on SkyTrain extensions. It will be interesting to see, if Linda Hepner has to proceed with her Plan B, if the province co-operates. Though that risks creating the multi-agency mess that sank the TransLink card in the Bay Area and bedevils their Clipper.

My understanding is that the problems of the Bay area are more of Fares Integration and Service Coordination are at the heart of the Clipper problems rather than technology issues. When I came to Canada in 1988 it was to work on FISC between the TTC and GO Transit who had incompatible mag swipe and optical reader tickets respectively. But the problem was not one of technology – a clumsy “TwinCard” approach fixed that – but rather incompatible tariffs and service objectives. Much has changed in the Toronto region since but transit mode share regionwide has not advanced by very much. And the number of agencies has actually increased. The battles in the Bay Area are I think similar and are reflected in the number of agencies and their local loyalties. It would be very sad indeed if one of the outcomes of losing this plebiscite is  that Translink were broken up into municipal fiefdoms but that seems to be in the back of the West Vancouver Mayor’s mind.

As to Value Capture I must say that I am not all convinced that our developers will welcome the Hong Kong approach here. They have been infuriated by suggestions that Translink here get into the property development business. My experience with the first TTC Sheppard Subway proposal was that when developers heard that value capture of station developments would pay for the line construction, they would not give up so much of their profits and would be able to make more by simply taking their development proposals to adjacent municipalities outside the TTC service area. I have also heard here that many developers are becoming averse to the current Development Cost Contributions regime – which they see as capricious and open to abuse.  The municipalities meanwhile point out that DCCs pay for parks and schools, community centres and sidewalks, and other desirable amenities. They do not wish to relinquish this source of funding to the regional transit system which has more nebulous local benefits, in their view. Here is more about the use of value capture for rapid transit.

Oh and as for privatisation read this

Written by Stephen Rees

February 25, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Transportation Referendum: Lessons Learned from the Front Line

with 11 comments

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.

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

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

Todd Stone firm on tax limits for transit referendum

with 13 comments

The headline comes from a Jeff Nagel interview he did yesterday. It seems to me that it requires a point by point refutation

“he won’t sign off on the extra $300 million a year the mayors want, calling it unaffordable.”

He has sat on the Mayor’s proposal for months. He insisted that they come up with a costed plan – and they did. But he has waited until now to object to the proposed provincial contribution. So why is it unaffordable? Is it because the province has been giving away far too much potential revenue to the oil and gas industry? Or is it an acknowledgement that their much touted LNG bonanza now seems increasingly unlikely? Or was it simply that they did not take into account the revenue shortfall of the Port Mann toll? Does that mean the replacement for the Massey Tunnel has become unaffordable too? Or that the second bridge for the Premier’s constituency has been cancelled? No. Of course I am joking about the last two. Those projects are unassailable.

“Stone would not say exactly how much in new tax money he would approve “

So how exactly are the Mayor’s supposed to make plans for the future? If they do make the – very unlikely – choice to once again increase property taxes to make up for the shortfall in provincial contributions , what’s to stop Stone from deciding that he does not actually have to come up with any money for transit at all? Of course, if the Mayors want money for road projects, or to stuff more cash into the P3 money pit, I suppose that will be quite acceptable.

“The $1.6 billion they have earmarked in their plan for capital contributions from the province is simply not going to happen,” he said. “They might be wiser to count on or ask for half that amount.”

The amount requested is far more than has been extended in the region in previous 10-year periods, he added.

As though there was something magical about the previous periods. The Province of BC has systematically starved transit  – not just in the Lower Mainland but in the rest of the province too – for as long as records have been kept. The Metro Vancouver region has been growing rapidly, is absolutely critical to the provincial GDP but has never had enough support to extend transit into the most rapidly growing areas. The result of lack of transit spending, combined with continued highway expansion, has been increased car dependence. And as a result higher healthcare costs, damage to the environment, loss of productive agricultural land and green space. All things the provincially approved Regional Growth Strategy was seeking to avoid. But there is now a wider Highway #1, the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the widest bridge on earth (she says) and an improved Sea to Sky Highway. And a little tiny subway built down to a price not only inadequate to carry existing loads comfortably but apparently impossible to put all of its 20 two car trains into service due to the ruinous P3 arrangement.

“Nobody thought that the mayors would be able to pull together and unite behind the plan. And they did,” he said. “I’m not certain would have or could have happened in absence of the referendum requirements.”

Well, if you renege on your part of the funding bargain, or the referendum fails all that becomes academic. The election of a new Mayor in Surrey who has already declared she can deliver LRT even if the referendum fails shows how easily the present unity of the Mayors can fall apart. I am not sure that that is not the intention.

The Province – no matter which party was in power – has always preferred to dictate where major rapid transit projects will go and what technology they will use. The Millennium Line, Canada Line and Evergreen Line all reflect control from Victoria. Translink has to make the best of them it can, but they leave much of the region underserved by good quality transit. There was supposed to have been increased transportation choice ever since the LRSP was adopted, but for most of the region it has not happened. The choice is to drive or get someone to drive you, unless you are willing to wait for slow, unreliable and infrequent bus service. Only the #555 shows any real improvement South of the Fraser – and even then they left out the bus stop for Surrey. And there is still no direct bus service between Coquitlam and Surrey centres because that would impact the indirect two transfer SkyTrain option that the Evergreen Line will eventually provide.

But the amounts made available to transit pale in comparison to the amounts devoted to continuing highway expansion. No-one ever gets to vote on those proposals.

Who would like a referendum on LNG?

Written by Stephen Rees

December 4, 2014 at 1:37 pm

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