Stephen Rees's blog

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

Myths vs. Reality in the Transit Debate..

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“I heard it so often, it must be true.”

I went to this City Conversation at SFU yesterday lunchtime. The presenters were Daphne Branham and Gordon Price. I also put together a Storify.

Daphne wrote a very well considered opinion piece on this topic in Vancouver Sun

DB

She wants to be a citizen rather than a taxpayer, though she also noted when politicians use that term it is always qualified “ordinary citizen”. The No side has been able to frame the debate, and they have done as the end game of the movement that began with Reagan and Thatcher, and has been continuously sustained rhetoric of the right. Don’t trust government to spend your money wisely, it will not be used well. At the same time there has been a decline in voting, and a growing gap between rich and poor. It lead to the HST referendum, which was called by a citizens’ initiative and rejected merging provincial sales tax with the federal GST.   The elites who for a long time have been appealing to our self interest to cut taxes and let the public sector assets and services erode. This is apparent not just in transportation but schools and universities, ferries, hospitals. Citizens are now being asked to vote in a plebiscite to increase sales tax to pay for transit expansion and other transportation improvements but it is too late. This is now a watershed moment. It is time for a change. We must take back the word citizen and to do that we need to vote.

Gordon Price agreed but said he was here to add context, and set the plebiscite within a larger frame. He has been reading Gutstein’s “Harperism”. The rise of neoliberalism is not due to a conspiracy. It started with a very small number of people – a “thought collective in the marketplace of ideas” – and that phrase in itself is an indicator of their success. There views have become so accepted that we are like fish trying to describe the ocean. Frederick Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” was written to change the climate of ideas at a time when Keynesianism and planning were widely accepted as economic strategies. The political term “liberal” has now become meaningless, but “neo-liberal” is defined by its program of a balanced budget, free trade, and tax cuts. In the 1980’s politicians could talk of “starving the beast” – denying funds to government so that its power would be diminished. The torch has been picked up by Grover Norquist and Milton Friedman. A network of funders has been established for “think tanks” like the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute – there are no over a thousand of these “dealerships in secondhand ideas” who produce things like the Economic Freedom Index and the TTI Congestion Index, and fund transit critics like Wendell Cox.

While the CTF may not publish its sources of funds if you Google its board members you will find people who also sit on the boards of these same think tanks and foundations. They share board members with the Canadian Constitution Foundation, World Taxpayers, Canadian Labour Watch. All share the same program aims: to reduce the size of government and persuade people to vote against government programs. He predicted that Translink will become “collateral damage” if No wins and that will lead to privatization. The point of the plebiscite is to deny government access to taxes. At the same time as it was launched, the BC budget enacted the sunset clause on the two year old tax increase on the richest 2% of the BC population. A tax rebate of about the same order as the funds sought by the sales tax increase ~$250m.

I was the first commenter, mainly because Daphne Bramham had not mentioned HandyDART in her opening presentation. I had actually come armed with facts and figures – as I thought that we were going to be talking about alleged waste at Translink.

“Is Translink a bloated, inefficient and wasteful public agency providing terrible public transit? Probably no. But facts don’t matter, emotions do. “

Well I tried an emotional appeal for HandyDART users. I am not sure it persuaded anyone.

The next speaker said that the problem with the Mayor’s plan is that it did not recognize how rapidly the world is changing due to new technologies which will make it possible for more people to live and work in the same place. 3D printers are changing the way that we will be acquiring things in the future. If there is less need to travel, or to transport goods, why are we spending more money on increasing mobility?

Gordon Price said “You are not going to get a vote about that.” A vote for NO is a vote for the default.

“Aren’t we here to talk about transportation?”

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.28.57 AMThis was followed by a gentleman who stated that he was “an irritated soul”. He spoke of an extractive industry whose agenda feeds a broken system. “I am not seeing my interests served: my needs are not being met.”

Daphne Bramham said “I don’t know how to vote. We should not have a plebiscite at all” [APPLAUSE]

Gordon Price: It is now the turn of local government to have the neo-liberal cap forced on it. “No” means NO.  Government must live within its means which must be no more than 30% of the economy.

Responding to the point about technology change – which is inevitable and irresistible – the next speaker preferred to move into that future with better transportation options. Transit that is attractive and affordable is a political question. If the NO campaign succeeds we move into a future dominated by cars and trucks.

At this point in my notes I have “GP talks too much. There is not enough time for a conversation as he challenges most speakers.” Afterwards I canvassed the point of view of those around me and they all agreed.

Daphne Branham pointed to the new tenants of the Pacific Centre building (that used to be Sears). These include employers like Sony who need to be at the centre of the transit service.

It is a fundamentally flawed process, but it is difficult to buy into the doomsday scenario. The Yes vote is endorsing what? The No vote is at least saying “I’m not playing this game”. All aspects of infrastructure have declined: will we be asked to vote on them too if this works?

There is a general level of apathy on the part of the public  – and there will be a City Conversation on that topic soon

If there were a 100% No vote it would be much clearer as a rejection of the process. The Mayors have done everything the province asked for.

Daphne Bramham spoke about a charity she works with which gets constant requests for bus tickets

Gordon Price – the base plan is funded. But there is nothing for growth. That means as more people arrive the level of service per capita will decline. By 2020 we will be back to 2003 levels of service.

Translink is run well when compared to other North American systems

DB People can no longer afford the house they want. The anger is real: they want to say No because over everything else they feel they have no control. The plebiscite has unleashed a basketful of resentments.

GP If this works, it will be used again. “Kill the green dragon in its own den. Get ready to fight the freeway battle 2.0″

People are mad for legitimate reasons but at the wrong things

Landlords cannot rent the space they have in office parks because employers need to be where transit it. Translink is like democracy. It’s terrible –  just that everything else is worse.

REACTION

It seems to me that there must have been more from participants, but at this conversation there was not a lot of listening. I had expected to need my notes on how well Translink is operating its transit system – since the waste is located elsewhere. I think too that what needed to be said is that the referendum was designed to be lost from the start. Christy Clark was badly burned by the HST decision. But she is also well aware that when transit funding initiatives have succeeded in the US (nowhere else in the world uses them) they have had much longer campaigns when they suceeded. She has been determined to push this through as fast as possible. At the same time she has launched a Moving BC plan which does not require any approval process – and that is mostly about highway expansions across the province.

The other thing that did not get said is that the neoliberal policy nostrums do not work. They have failed miserably everywhere – even on their own terms. There was much less economic growth, not more. Free Trade was good for corporations looking to cut costs and avoid regulations that protected workers – and the environment. It was terrible for everyone else except the few who have been stuffing their increasing wealth into tax havens. Revenues did not increase when taxes were cut. Wealth did not trickle down. Market forces do not protect the environment nor do they ensure good quality products that meet consumers needs. We are being buried in our own waste, poisoned by our own activities, denied access to everything of value that does not have a price. Privatisation did not make any enterprise more efficient or successful. It has produced worse service at higher cost. Employers were forced by law to stop employing children. They were required to provide safe workplaces. Their activities were monitored – and they were required by law to clean up the mess they made. Deregulation has increased worker exploitation, reduced human health and happiness, damaged the environment to the point where not just human life on earth is threatened but all life forms. Well maybe not water bears, you can’t seem to kill those little buggers.

The right wing “think tanks” do not think at all. They recycle damaged ideas, broken promises, failed experiments. They cheat and they lie. They do not let their “research” be subject to peer review – and when it is a whole raft of legitimate objections are exposed. Faulty reasoning and flawed data are hallmarks of these bodies.

trickle

They talk about Freedom, but freedom everywhere – and especially in the US and Canada – is under assault as never before.  More people are imprisoned in the United States as a percentage of population than anywhere else. Only in the US can a law enforcement official take your money or other possessions and devote them to his own use – with no fear of legal repercussions. The US constitutional protection from illegal search and seizure has no force now. The government spies on everyone all the time, with almost complete impunity. Anyone involved in that activity who dares speak the truth is subject to cruel and unusual punishment without due process of law. Bill C51 in Canada has a similar intent – based on the fear spread by the Prime Minister playing on the activities of a solitary individual labouring under delusions. Vulnerable people have been lured into heinous crimes by agents provocateurs – police officers  who entrap those who would be incapable of causing any harm without police assistance.

In 1984 George Orwell introduced a new language – doublespeak. There was a Ministry of Plenty concerned only with shortages. A Ministry of Truth concerned only with lies. A Ministry of Love concerned only with hate. We are living now in the world that Orwell described. If you want to understand the output of the right wing “think tanks” just simply reverse everything that they say.

This went into the mail yesterday

Written by Stephen Rees

March 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

Our way out of this mess

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Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2015 at 11:58 am

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 ,

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 ,

Here’s another video

with 2 comments

I showed you the warm and fuzzy one. This one is a little more gritty.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Transportation

Referendum Myths: TransLink Inefficiency

with one comment

Stephen Rees:

Daryl is a Prince among bloggers. He is supposed to be on holiday but he posts this take down of the CTF and the NO sides empty blather. He invites us to share his thoughts and I am pleased to reblog this. Not something that has happened very often on this blog

Originally posted on Daryl's take and more:

Let’s talk about TransLink and Inefficiency.

But first, I’m going to have to call into question whether we really know what “efficiency” is.

The big supporters of the “No TransLink Tax” campaign for the upcoming transit referendum have always relied on (and continue to establish) a perception that TransLink needs to improve its efficiency game. I think we’ve pretty much heard all the insults: TransLink is unaccountable, inefficient, doesn’t make good use of taxpayers’ money – and with every time we hear it from them, some sort of particular example is attached of money not being used as well as it could be.

(CTF gives TransLink waste award search result) - Look what I found on the news today! But, is anyone really surprised at this point? I'm not. Look what I found on the news today! Is anyone really surprised at this point, though? Anyone?

The “No” campaign relies on many of these small-scale examples to feed their perception and drive their agenda. They can be real or manufactured: the examples may vary from a small TransLink…

View original 1,986 more words

Written by Stephen Rees

March 5, 2015 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Transportation

“Metro Vancouver air quality suffers as driving increases”

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The headline comes from a disturbing story in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun (paywalled)

I think many of us had been under the impression that driving was probably declining, since that was widely reported from US sources. It now seems that in this region we are not only driving more but in larger vehicles.

The proportion of small cars in Metro Vancouver has declined, to roughly 32 per cent of all vehicles in 2013 from 38 per cent in 2007. In contrast, the proportion of SUVs has risen to 22 per cent from 15 per cent over the same period and the share of large cars has increased to 20 per cent from 18 per cent.

At the same time, the study found the average number of kilometres driven by passenger vehicles fell by almost five per cent from 2007 to the first quarter of 2012, but that number has risen just over two per cent between 2012 and 2014.

Some of that might be attributable to the shifting around of transit service, which saw low ridership routes lose out to overcrowded routes – which also hit the outer, more car dependent suburbs harder than the region’s core.

The report can be found at autostat.ca which belongs to Pacific Analytics Inc.

The report is twenty three pages and is available as a pdf to download. There are some very notable omissions. No authors are credited. While there are plenty of graphs there are no tables, and no sources of data are cited other than Pacific Analytics model. For example, there is a very detailed analysis of vehicle types and some interesting, and quite remarkable data on vehicle kilometres travelled. But no source is cited for either. By implication the vehicle analysis would seem to come from ICBC, but I have no idea who has the data on vehicle kilometres travelled in the region by quarter, for every year.

So I called Jim Johnson, who is the sole proprietor of Pacific Analytics. He has given me permission to host the report here (link at bottom of article). The source of the vehicle data is a combination of data from AirCare (which of course will no longer be available) and the autorepair industry. A full description of the dataset is available at autostat.ca

Sinoski’s article tries to paint a relationship to the way Translink has been adjusting service. It does seem likely that in areas where transit was not a very good option (with the exception of the #555 bus along Highway #1 which enables people to avoid the Port Mann toll, and West Coast Express) and service has been cut, that driving would increase. The drop in gas prices would also have both reduced that disincentive to drive and the deterrent to buying a bigger vehicle. But while the auto manufacturing industry may have been turning its mind to more fuel efficient models, consumers seem to be buying the cars/trucks they want rather than the those that might burn less fossil fuel.

MetroVan GHG Emissions Report Feb 2015_0

Written by Stephen Rees

March 4, 2015 at 10:48 am

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