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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 was recorded and will be available on the City program web page in due course. 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.

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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

Debunking the “NO” campaign

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Last week Mario Canseco published the latest Insights West poll that showed intending No votes edged ahead of Yes votes. It seemed to stem from the Translink’s Board decision to remove Ian Jarvis as CEO but, rather than pay severance (a lot of money to do nothing) they retained him as an advisor – and also appointed a temporary CEO. This action seemed to play into the hands of the CTF who have decided to target Ian Jarvis and his salary as evidence of “waste”. Now Translink seems to be paying two CEO salaries.

I am not sure if Canseco was actually in the field at the time this decision was made. But even so, a number of articles and blog posts have appeared around the issue. So rather than duplicate them I am going to summarise their findings. This should enable YES supporters to counter some of the most frequently heard talking points – nearly all of which are based on misinformation.

Firstly, the accusation that Translink is incompetent – and lags behind other systems

Source: Peter Lander, Business in Vancouver December 2014

TransLink’s … performance successes:

•A mode shift – out of cars into transit, walking and cycling – that is unmatched in North America. The number of trips by transit is up 80% since 2000.

•By far the highest per capita transit use among other cities our size in North America – three times more than Portland, the next highest city.

•The third-highest per capita transit use in North America, after only New York and Toronto.

•The lowest-operating-cost light rail network in the world, more than covering operating expenses from fare box revenues.

•The Canada Line built on time and on budget and beating revenue targets – projected to have 100,000 daily riders by 2013 but hitting 120,000 by 2011.

•An overall 7.4 out of 10 customer satisfaction rating in the last quarter.

Secondly that Translink is “wasteful” as evidenced by its executives’ salaries

“the items commonly cited as examples of TransLink’s storied wastefulness add up to a mere fraction of one per cent of its annual expenditures. In other words, the vast majority of the organization’s budget goes to the vital public services we rely upon it to provide”

source David Bancroft in Rabble with his source embedded

Actually, public sector CEOs get paid considerably less than equivalent private sector CEOs but the Vancouver Sun helpfully lists highest paid public servants in BC which shows Ian Jarvis as well down the list of the top 100.  Not nearly as much as the CEOs of the port, airport, ICBC or BC Hydro. And certainly not nearly as much as the people who oversee my pension fund. (see note at end of this post)

This week I will be going to listen to Jeff Tumlin at SFU – again. I reported his talk here a couple of years ago. He is quoted by News 1130

“One thing that we have learned however is that the best thing to do to make your transit agency worse off is to de-fund them. That taking away money from them in order to demonstrate frustration only punishes the people who are reliant on the transportation system.”

Looking at all basic performance metrics, he says TransLink’s problems are far better managed than anywhere else.

Who is he? The principal at Nelson Nygard, one of America’s “most innovative consultants” (Price Tags)

I posted that on facebook – and it got one of the most vituperative responses when someone else copied it to their profile. So not my followers – and quite possibly the people who Norm Farrell identifies as paid trolls for the BC Liberals. By the way, I have the greatest of respect for the work he does on his Northern Insights blog. It just saddens me that he seems to have got caught up by the CTF rhetoric. But not to worry, Darryl de la Cruz rides to the rescue with some exhaustive analysis which shows what happens when you compare like with like. I doubt that the people who listen to the CTF will have the patience to plough through this stuff, but it essentially repeats what often has to be said to people who try to compare Translink’s region wide coverage, to other transit systems with a much more restricted remit.

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And on February 25 Pete McMartin brings his MSM spotlight to bear on Daryl’s blog with this conclusion

The comparisons the No side are using are intentionally misleading and meant to cause anger.

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As Peter Ladner  pointed out TransLink is not on the referendum ballot – but if it was

“They’ve tightened operations over the past few years. I don’t think they’re wasteful,” said independent commissioner Robert Irwin after his 2013 review. Spending is “reasonable” and employee compensation is “reasonable when compared to other organizations of similar size,” concluded an independent 2012 provincial government audit, prompting then-minister of transportation Mary Polack to say, “Everyone agrees that TransLink provides a world-class service that is the envy of many jurisdictions.”

Voting NO cannot bring about change in Translink’s governance, which is actually their weakest point but one which the CTF seems to ignore. And, of course, is something that Christy Clark appears not to understand.

There have been some pretty dreadful decisions at Translink. The Golden Ears Bridge – which was as bad as the Port Mann at predicting toll revenues – sucks money out of revenues that ought to be supporting transit. The reorganisation of HandyDART, and subsequent freeze on service levels. Going to one contractor actually increased costs significantly and produced worse service. Trip refusals surged so they simply changed the way they collected the data.  The Canada Line – which is now overcrowded but cannot utilise all the trains it has due to costs of its P3 contract. In fact, contracting out seems to cover all three problems I have identified here. And I would blame Cubic for the failure to deliver Compass on time if that did not let Kevin Falcon off the hook for his decision to impose unnecessary fare gates in the first place.

In fact most of the problems that beset Translink at the moment all have their genesis with the provincial government. Christy Clark has done one brilliant job: she has deflected all the criticism of her failure to authorize adequate resources for running the transportation system in BC’s largest metropolis onto an organisation that she herself controls. It is an appointed Board – with a bafflingly complex system of appointment to disguise the very limited range of qualifications of its appointees. No-one represents the users of the system, and there are only two of 20 Mayors on the board, both very recent appointments.

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POSTSCRIPT I wrote that paragraph a day before this Pete McMartin column appeared in the Vancouver Sun

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Voting NO is not going to change anything. (See this Stephen Hume opinion piece in the Sun for more)

Actually Voting YES might have exactly the same result – since we are not voting in a binding referendum but rather an advisory plebiscite. Christy can look at the result and claim it is not representative enough, or even claim poverty – given that there is a budget surplus of ~$1bn this year I doubt even she has the chutzpah to pull off that one, but blaming the Mayors for the current mess shows how she rolls.

And now a complete and up to date post of Translink myth debunking is on VanCityBuzz

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Note: thanks to Norm Farrell for this information about the BC Investment Management Corporation

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.53.34 PM

This occurred at roughly the same time that the BC Public Service Pension was effectively cut: pensioners were required to pay for MSP and Blue Cross coverage, which had previously been paid by the employer. We were told that this was necessary to protect the value of the pension fund. No mention was made of the increase being paid to BCIMC who manage the investment of the pension fund. Note that Doug Pearce in 2014 was making nearly as much in a week as Translink’s new temporary CEO makes in a month.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 23, 2015 at 12:29 pm

FACT CHECK: “No” to Transit side is misleading voters with mythical math

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A Mayors’ Council press release

A “Yes” to Transit vote would cost average households $125 a year

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                         February 6, 2015

Vancouver, BC – The “No” side’s baseless claims, mythical math and random calculations demonstrates they are not producing facts to back their arguments. In this latest claim, they have no idea how households really spend their money and how the PST is applied to goods and services.

The Mayors’ 10-year plan to improve transit and transportation as the region grows by one million more people will cost the average household $125 a year. That’s about 35 cents a day. The mayors’ calculation considers how much money households make and how much they spend on PST-eligible items. They also looked at how much of the tax would be paid by households, businesses and visitors, to come up with a realistic cost for an average household.

In fact, households making less than $100,000 per year – about 70% of Metro Vancouver’s households – will pay between $53 and $116 per year for more buses, better roads and more transit options.

Our Plan “No” to Transit
·         Classified six income categories.

·         Used Statistics Canada Survey of Household Spending by income to:

  • generate a reliable picture of PST-eligible spending by income category
  • understand the impact of a 0.5% increase in sales tax by category
Household Income Average annual cost of 0.5% increase in sales tax % of Households
<$25,000 $53 8%
$25,000-50,000 $70 21%
$50,000-75,000 $100 22%
$75,000-100,000 $116 19%
$100,000-150,000 $166 18%
>$150,000 $266 12%

Determined the annual cost per average household

  • Multiply annual cost per average household by the % of households in that income category
Divided $250 million (total funding required) by 967,948 (total number of households).
=  $125 per household = $258 per household

The “No” to transit side wants us to do nothing. This will cost the region untold millions in economic costs as traffic gets worse, and mean you are stuck in traffic and on transit longer.

The Mayors’ Council will continue to share information and updates on activities at www.mayorscouncil.ca.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 6, 2015 at 10:59 am

Transit Ridership has NOT been “flat”

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Better Transit

One of the frequently used speaking points of the no side has been the claim that costs have soared while ridership remains flat. Not true. You are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts. Metro Vancouver has recently “upgraded” its website. You can find this table there but for reasons I cannot understand the link in my browser address bar doesn’t translate to a usable link for you. And just searching Translink’s website is, as usual, frustrating  but here is the data as a pdf

TransitRidership

And here is the best analysis I have seen yet of the motivation of the NO side

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2015 at 10:44 am

“Transit tax” will be the same as Provincial Sales Tax

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It is not often I see a Press Release on a Sunday lunch time. It is reproduced entire below. The retailers were getting concerned at the potential for all sorts of complexity to be introduced by the new “Metro Congestion Improvement Tax”. Those fears can now be laid to rest. Good.

February 1, 2015

 

Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation Welcomes Minister Stone’s Letter on Collection of Metro Congestion Improvement Tax

Vancouver, B.C. – The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation welcomes Minister Stone’s letter, received last night, regarding collection of the Metro Congestion Improvement Tax (MCIT).

Minister Stone’s letter confirms the MCIT, which will fund new transit and road improvements in the mayors’ Plan, will be harmonized with the existing Provincial Sales Tax.

“We’re pleased with the announcement that they are harmonizing the collection of the MCIT with the existing PST. This will address concerns that the retail sector and others had, and eliminate any further confusion about exemptions and administration of the tax,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the Mayors’ Council. “This clarity is critical for a ‘yes’ vote. ‘No’ is not an option. We need these improvements to prepare for one million more residents.”

Of note in Minister Stone’s letter:

  • The Province reiterated that revenues collected for transit will be subject to independent audits and annual reviews.
  • The Province has confirmed that the tax base for the MCIT will mirror the PST tax base.

Mayor Robertson confirmed that the Mayors would not be seeking additional exemptions:

“Application of the PST to the tax base has always remained a provincial responsibility and this harmonization provides seamless administration. We want to ensure that simplicity continues so we will not be requesting any further exemptions.”

This ensures that essential items such as groceries, children’s clothing, transportation expenses, prescription medication and other basic goods and services will be exempt from the tax.

“Residents and businesses can now vote ‘yes’ for the plan for better transit knowing that the MCIT will be collected in the most efficient and fair way possible,” added Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, vice chair of the Mayors’ Council. “Thanks to the this decision, voters can be confident that a 0.5% regional increase to the existing PST is fair and will only cost the average household 35 cents a day for more buses, better roads and more transit options.”

The move will ensure the economic efficiency of the tax, which is critical to supporting the integrated economic development strategy supported by the Mayors’ Council plan, a vision that includes consideration of the importance of goods movement.

Minister Stone’s letter to MC.Feb1-15

Written by Stephen Rees

February 1, 2015 at 1:16 pm

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

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