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

Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Granville Bridge

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It’s huge. Eight lanes wide, it was the only bridge in the region which was never associated with congestion. Until the even wider Port Mann opened. There have recently been some proposals to dedicate the centre lanes of the bridge to a linear park.

These pictures are of course all from my flickr stream where they form an album or set. I have the feeling that people there no longer read the set description – if they ever did. So I make no apology for repeating that here. By the way the set is called “Vancouver’s High Line?”

There is much talk in urban circles of finding similar linear structures to the High Line capable of being converted into public space. In Vancouver, that has centered around the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. Which in my view should simply be removed altogether to create a new development opportunity.

On the Granville Bridge people have been suggesting a new pedestrian area in the centre lanes. This seems to me to be even sillier than the viaduct idea. If I am going to walk over a bridge, I want to see what I am crossing over not three lanes of traffic on either side. And no doubt a pair of solid, unclimbable safety barriers too.

This set is of the views from the Fir Street off ramp, where there is a sidewalk on the west side, overlooking Kits and Granville Island. An elevator directly down to the Island would be good too.

Fir Street

In the foreground the CP railway (Arbutus Line) crossing and then the other Granville Bridge off ramp to 4th Ave. That’s West Van in the distance.

7th Ave

The High Line in New York is actually midblock – it threads itself in between buildings, which used to be the factories and warehouses it serves. So neither this bridge nor the viaducts will work in quite the same way. But they do provide a view down the streets – sorry Avenues in our case – they cross. Much quieter than the streets of Lower Manhattan.

A view of distant snow capped mountains

Just as the High Line there are good views off to the distance. And I happen to think the Burrard Inlet is a lot more picturesque than the Hudson River, but your view may be different.

Playground

The playground is a very happy addition to this corner site.

6th Avenue West

The CP Arbutus tracks are off to the right, hidden by the trees

Six lanes on West 4th

Count them – six lanes – on West 4th Avenue. That makes it a stroad: a major arterial road and a shopping street. I would suggest that it is a candidate for traffic calming – or maybe bus lanes for the #4, #7, #44 and #84 – but of course that would set off the same outrage we had to weather from the Point Grey Road changes. Which of course have not actually lead to the decline of Western civilization as we know it.

Starbucks on 2nd

At one time the CP track along Lamey’s Mill Road went through here, crossed the road at an oblique angle and then swung right up towards Burrard. But then Starbucks was built which in some people’s mind ended the possibility of reopening the Arbutus Line for trams, which would connect with the now abandoned Olympic Line. But the old Sockeye Special did not come through here. That line crossed False Creek at an angle on a long gone trestle. Anyway there’s a better alternative: I will get to that in a bit.

Duranleau Street

The Fir Street ramp leaves the main bridge around here. Granville Island is immediately below. One of the features of Granville Island is the large amount of space devoted to car parking. On a sunny weekend, the line-up of cars trying to get on to the Island backs up to the 2nd Avenue intersection and sometimes beyond. Traffic on Granville Island of course moves very slowly because of all the pedestrians, the service vehicles and all those people either hunting for a parking space or trying to get in or out of one. I think a pair of elevators either side of Granville Bridge with their own bus stops would be ideal to improve transit accessibility. I am not a great fan of the #50.

6th Avenue West

This shot down the length of the railway track next to 6th Avenue West illustrates my other great idea. The Fir Street Ramp could be taken away from cars altogether and repurposed for light rail/tram/streetcar – chose your own favourite term. As you can see the trains/interurbans had to climb from here to get up to Arbutus. The alignment could be used for a level rail structure that would connect onto Granville Bridge. That also allows for grade separation of the crossing of Burrard Street. On Granville Bridge the line would use those two centre lanes with a straight shot off the Bridge to the Granville Mall (does anyone still call it that) for transfers to the Canada Line, Expo Line, SeaBus and West Coast Express. The old CP Arbutus right of way could be turned back into an interurban as a cheaper alternative than expanding the stations on the Canada Line. It could also connect to a future conversion of the little used CP tracks to New Westminster and Coquitlam, via Marine Drive Station and the new riverside developments.

new line

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Why can’t we be like Zurich?

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I retweeted this video this morning and as I sat watching it, I kept thinking about that question. Or perhaps we just need to rephrase: when Vancouver grows up, it will be like Zurich.

The bit of history that I think is important that is not mentioned in this video is about the trams. It is part of a European awakening. Cities like Amsterdam seriously considered replacing their trams (streetcars) with a subways. Others used a technique they called “pre-metro” to put the trams underground in city centres. And of course what happened in every case was the traffic expanded to fill the space available. So they stopped doing that. Places like Strasbourg designed the trams to be a desirable part of the city, not just a regrettable necessity. There is a lot about public transport in North America that reminds me of other public conveniences.

The same thing also happened in Toronto. When the Yonge Street subway opened, traffic in the City Centre increased because there were no longer streetcars on Yonge getting in the way of the cars. It might be significant that Toronto still has streetcars. It is also very significant that while the planners (transportation, urban and regional) all now think in terms of surface LRT, Rob Ford wanted a subway.

Some people have even referred to the referendum as Vancouver’s Rob Ford moment. And even Daryl dela Cruz is convinced that the choice of LRT for Surrey is increasing the No vote there.

In Zurich they did plan on a subway system. But the costs were astronomical. And they already had a tram network as well as really good railways, which provided both suburban and intercity services. The Swiss are very well off, of course, and Zurich is the centre of financial services. But they are also very keen on democracy and civic minded. An American in that video almost cannot believe that government can be genuinely concerned about people.

I have often thought that the reason we like SkyTrain so much here is that it keeps the transit out of the way of the cars. An elevated structure does provide a more attractive ride than a tunnel – and is considerably cheaper. But it also has an impact on area through which it runs. Not as horrible as the old elevated railways – which may have been taken down in Manhattan but are still the dominant mode of the New York subway in the other borros.

El Queens

I wonder if in some future Vancouver, having finally got up the courage to rip down the viaducts we will start planning to get rid of the SkyTrain structures. Or perhaps turning them into High Line style parks. SkyTrain of course has to grade separated because of the LIM rail.

The British method of light rail is to use old railway lines wherever possible, but on street running in town centres. In Paris even though there is a disused Petite Ceinture railway line parallel to its route  – grade separated at street crossings – the new T3 runs in the centre of the boulevard. The “art of insertion” is actually just removing space that is now taken by cars (moving and parked) and replacing it with people. Lots of people.

New tram station under construction

Here we seem to be much less concerned about people. The Cambie Street line had to be underground because the City had designated much of the route as The Heritage Boulevard. A broad strip of grass with some large trees. Not actually usable. No one plays on it, or sits watching the cars speed by. There are no couples strolling hand in hand on those lawns. Cutting down trees for a transit line – or widening the Stanley Park causeway – is a red flag. Oddly, not for wider sidewalks and bike lanes apparently.

The other thing I noticed about Zurich’s city centre was the absence of towers. This is also common in much of Europe. In cities like Rome or Florence the centro storico is four to six stories maximum. Unless it’s a cathedral or something. Paris does have towers – but only one at Montparnasse which is widely derided or clustered in La Defense (which is the location for shooting dystopian SF films).

You will also note that the film concentrates on the decisions to limit parking and the volume of traffic allowed into the centre.

One other thing that needs to be said too is that the Swiss are very particular about who they let in to live there. I haven’t looked but it seems to me highly unlikely that the Zurich region is planning on absorbing another million people in the next thirty to forty years.

Haven’t I written all this before?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2015 at 10:31 am

Another comparison

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This time from “Business in Vancouver

You can of course just click on that link to read the article. I just like this infographic

transit_infographic5

What I also think is worth sharing is the commentary from Todd Litman which he posted to facebook – which I take to mean he wanted it read more widely (as it should be) and even if you are on facebook you may have missed due to very odd way they chose to display information on your “newsfeed”

Here is a great new article published in Business Vancouver, “Who takes transit to work in Metro Vancouver? (with infographic).”

It cites my analysis in “Eleven Reasons to Support Vancouver’s Transportation Tas” (http://www.vtpi.org/VanTransitTax.pdf ), and includes criticisms of our analysis from Jordan Bateman.

Bateman’s comments suggest that he does not understand urban transportation statistical analysis. TransLink trip diary surveys (http://bit.ly/1DGfajZ ) report mode share for TOTAL trips, Census data shows mode share for COMMUTE trips, which generally have higher transit shares. Since regional travel surveys are not standardized between cities and are performed infrequently, that are unsuited for comparing cities. In contrast, Census data are collected using standardized methods, so even if there is bias (for example, because the long-form is voluntary), the biases should be similar between regions so the results are comparable. Commute mode share is a very useful indicator because it is one of the few transportation statistics that are collected around the world.

We can therefore be confident that Vancouver has relatively high and growing walking, cycling and public transit mode shares compared with peer cities even if we are not sure their exact magnitude. These positive trends are also evidence from other data, such as declining downtown vehicle ownership and total trip generation rates.
Cost-efficiency and mode share are what experts call “output” indicators, that is, they reflect the efficiency of a particular step in the system. Even more important are “outcome” indicators which reflect how well the system actually performs with respect to community goals. Vancouver fares particularly well with regard to two very important outcomes: Vancouver has one of the lowest per capita traffic fatality rates (considering walking, cycling, bus and automobile crash deaths), and its households devote a smaller portion of their total budgets to transportation than any other large Canadian city, as indicated in the revised version of my report. This suggests that the region’s efforts to improve and encourage walking, cycling and public transit are having positive effects and providing savings and benefits to residents and local businesses.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 23, 2015 at 10:08 am

HUB video for the Yes campaign

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Written by Stephen Rees

March 21, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with

How does Translink compare?

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Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.42.34 AM

Seattle conducted a Peer Review a few years ago.

“This section examines transit services and performance in five U.S. cities and two Canadian cities that are North American leaders in transit service delivery and system development. The evaluation is intended to provide insight into challenges and opportunities Seattle will face as the regional rail system is expanded, RapidRide begins in Seattle, and the city continues to grow.”

bettertransit.info posted about it on twitter as “Too Long, Didn’t Read” when actually it’s only 34 pages – and full of really geeky stuff. You may recall that I did reblog a similar comparison by Daryl de la Cruz to the five largest transit systems in Canada: Translink came out of that rather well. This is a bit different in that the cities were chosen by Seattle to compare itself to equivalent North American systems.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.30.48 AMThis peer review explores how transit performs and is structured and how Seattle compares to other North American cities that are leaders in delivering high quality transit services. Although each city and transit agency is unique, the similarities and differences in these five U.S. cities and two Canadian cities provide useful insight into how transit works in Seattle and opportunities for improvement.

So not as up to date as one might like – and you will note that county/region gets noted for Seattle/King County but not the others. Even so, reading the report will give you an idea of why other systems look up to Translink as a guide to how to do better. I could not resist not retweeting TL:DR but selectively quoting some of the key statistics. At the end of 2008 we did not have the Canada Line in service and some of the best years leading up to the Olympics are missed out. But it was an impressive performance then. And I suppose if someone has the time to update these statistics there would be even more ammunition to throw at the “wasteful” slur which Jordan Bateman persists in reiterating.

UPDATE

OK so I had a look at the US National Transit Database and downloaded one of their massive spreadsheets. Then I picked one agency and one figure I could glom onto. Sound Transit operates a line a bit like SkyTrain but without the automated train control or fancy LIM rail. I then divided their operating expenses by unlinked trips. I converted that to Canadian dollars using the current exchange rate. I went to Voony’s blog and used his spreadsheet of Translink data to figure out the same thing for SkyTrain. So in 2013 the cost per trip on Sound Transit was $8.53. On SkyTrain $1.31.

Sound Transit Link LRT

So much for all that noise about inefficiency. Yes Ian Jarvis was paid more than the CEO of King County. So what. So look at this more recent review published by the CBC and conducted by Todd Litman (whom God preserve).

“Executive pay represents one or two per cent of TransLink’s total budget. It is not a significant factor in looking at the overall cost-efficiency of the system,” he said.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2015 at 10:46 am

Posted in transit

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.

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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

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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

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