Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Dark Day for the Livable Region: What the No Vote Really Means

While not surprised, I am disappointed that citizens in Metro Vancouver voted no to improving transit in Metro Vancouver. Langley, Maple Ridge, and Pitt Meadows had some of the lowest levels of support.

In Surrey, only 34% of eligible voters said yes to a 0.5% sales tax to improve transit and transportation in the region. Surrey would have been the largest recipient of transit and transportation service improvements in the region under the plan that voters rejected.

From the get go, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said that there was a Plan B for Surrey’s light rail project should the transit plebiscite fail. I’m sure that many in Surrey voted no because they felt that they would end up with light rail either way.

Of course nothing is free, the capital and operating costs for the Surrey light rail project will likely come from property tax increases and/or other city services being reduced as budget is reallocated to the light rail project. Hepner’s Plan B does not include money for increased bus service, funding major roads, or funding cycling improvements in Surrey like the plebiscite plan did.

One of the real tragedies is the result of the no vote for people who live in the Township of Langley. Traffic and parking are major problems, and will only get worse as the population in areas like Willoughby triples in the next few decades. People in the Township of Langley have been calling for more transit service, but because of the outcome of the plebiscite, will only see their limited transit service get worse.

TransLink has already indicated that they will cut service on routes that under-perform. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the community shuttle routes in Langley are completely eliminated. This is bad news for seniors, students, and working-class families.

One of the clear messages from the plebiscite is that people do not trust TransLink. There are many reasons why, but it all comes down to its governance structure. The sad reality is that TransLink and its current governance structure was created by the provincial government. Only the provincial government can change the governance structure. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone has indicated that the province may now look at changing the TransLink governance structure, but will it be enough?

Todd Stone also said this afternoon that our region’s mayors will still need to come up with the 1/3rd of funding needed to pay for transit improvements in the region. The province has always wanted the mayors to hike up property tax to pay for transit improvements. The mayors have consistently said no.

The major reason for saying no is that the mayors don’t want their property tax revenue going to a provincial agency for which they have little control over.

We are back to where we started in 2012 when TransLink needed more funding to expand service: a provincial government that wants mayors to hike up property taxes, and mayors who won’t raise property taxes to fund desperately needed transit improvements until there is governance changes at TransLink.

At the Mayors’ Council press conference this morning, there was a strong indication that the region’s mayors might step away from the Mayors’ Council altogether if the province doesn’t change the governance structure of TransLink.

Interestingly enough, with no new funding for transit expansion, the Mayors’ Council isn’t really needed. The only thing of importance that TransLink won’t be able to do is increase fares.

I know that many people voted no because they believe there is hidden money within TransLink; a no vote would clean up TransLink. This is simply not the case.

At the end of the day, new money is needed to improve transit in our region. In the meantime, residents in Metro Vancouver can look forward to more traffic gridlock, more broken-down SkyTrains, more over-crowded buses, and less service in the South of Fraser.

While Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto are expanding transit service in a big way, Metro Vancouver can’t even fund a new bus route.

Transit is an important part of attracting businesses to the region. The results of this week’s plebiscite, the provincial government’s refusal to fix TransLink’s governance, and the mayors’ line-in-the-sand approach to property tax means that Metro Vancouver will not live up to its full economic potential.

The added cost of owning a vehicle, congestion, and pollution will further deteriorate the livability and affordability of our region.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Who took a cut of your property tax in 2014

Municipalities in BC not only collect property tax for their own use, but also collect property tax for other organizations. In Metro Vancouver, municipalities collect property tax for themselves, school districts, Metro Vancouver, TransLink, the BC Assessment Authority, and the Municipal Finance Authority. The BC Assessment Authority determines the value of your property while the Municipal Finance Authority provides loans and investment options for local government.

Percentage of Revenue from Property Tax
35% Surrey
42% Township of Langley
54% City of Langley
56% Corporation of Delta
58% City of White Rock

Besides property tax, municipalities also collect user fees for things such as water, sewer, and garbage collection services. Other user fees include parking, business licensing, and facility usage. If a municipality hosts a casino, they also get a portion of casino revenue.

One of the other big revenue sources for rapidly growing communities like Surrey and the Township of Langley are fees from developers. This is why Surrey and the Township of Langley have a smaller percentage of their revenue coming from property tax.

The following charts show where your property tax goes. These charts are from the 2014 annual reports of municipalities which were released in the past month or so.

Distribution of property tax in 2014 for land owners in Delta. Source: Delta 2015 Annual Report

Distribution of property tax in 2014 for land owners in Surrey. Source: Surrey 2014 Annual Report

Distribution of property tax in 2014 for land owners in the Township of Langley. Source: May 25, 2015 Afternoon Council Meeting

Distribution of property tax in 2014 for land owners in the City of Langley. Source: June 29, 2015 Council Meeting

Distribution of property tax in 2014 for land owners in White Rock. Source: White Rock 2014 Annual Report

Municipal governments and school districts get about 90% of your property tax. TransLink gets about 6-7% of your property tax. All the other agencies gets what’s left over. One of the interesting things to note is growing community like Surrey and the Township of Langley have a lower percentage of property tax flowing to their top line. This is because they rely more heavily on developer fees and contributions to balance the books.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Proposed Bow Banning Bylaw May Miss Mark

The City of Langley has over 20 bylaws that can result in a fine from between $25 if your dog is not wearing a license, $100 for failing to remove snow from a sidewalk, all the way up to $1,000 if a dangerous dog chases, injures or bites a person.

Apparently the City of Langley has been getting complaints over the past year about people using bows and crossbows on residential properties in the municipality. In response, the City is looking at banning the use of bows.

The proposed bylaw simply states that “no person shall discharge a firearm or bow within the City.” Certain government officials are exempt from the proposed bylaw like police, animal control, and conservation officers. Discharging a firearm or bow is also allowed within the Agricultural Land Reserve under certain circumstances.

One of the interesting things about this bylaw is that is has a section about paintball guns being allows in “a licensed and insured facility designed for organized paintball games.”

Archery is also a sport, and under the City’s proposed bylaw, using a bow in an indoor or outdoor range would violate the proposed bylaw and result in a fine of $100 per day.

I did a quick search and found a CBC news story title “Penticton archer wants draw bows removed from firearms bylaw.

He and his son would like to grow that sport in that City. With the BC Winter Games coming to Penticton in 2016, if the City doesn’t update their bylaw, the BC Winter Games will run afoul of the Penticton bylaw.

One of the things that I’ve been noticing lately is that the City of Langley has being passing bylaws with overly broad prohibitions. For example, earlier this year I posted about how everyone who doesn’t wear a shirt in the sports box at Douglas Park, or swims in Al Anderson Pool, could be fined for break a City bylaw.

While using a bow is dangerous, further exemptions should be put into the bylaw, similar to the paintball exemption, to allow the use of a bow in a safe environment which would allow people to participate in the sport.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Who's been complaining about what TransLink service

To finish off this week of looking at some of the key indicators of TransLink’s performance, today I look at the customer complaints received about the transit system. This information is from TransLink’s Statutory Annual Reports.

Complaints per 1 million board passenger about TransLink's transit service from 2010 to 2014. Select graph to enlarge.

Even though the SkyTrain system has been in the news a lot since last summer's service disruptions, there are actually very few complaints that TransLink receives about the system. In fact, SkyTrain service has the least amount of complaints per 1 million boarded passengers of any of the transit services that TransLink provides.

Now there has been an uptick in the amount of complaints about the Expo and Millennium lines. This is due to track and train noise disturbing residents between Main Street-Science World Station and Stadium-Chinatown Station. TransLink has improved this section of track to reduce the noise issues. The other major cause of complaints was due to service reliability. This makes sense considering that reliability has decreased in the last several years.

Complaints about the West Coast Express increased sharply in 2013, but was down in 2014. This increase was due to people getting upset when TransLink optimized the service by reducing the amount of seats available on one train to increase the amount of seats available on another train. People were also upset because TransLink ended the discounted Employee Pass Program at the end 2013. 40% of West Coast Express customers had the discounted pass which was about 20% cheaper than a normal pass over a 12 month period.

Complaints about bus service has remained stable with the majority of complaints focused around staff. The second largest group of complaints was about the delivery of bus service, such as buses not showing up at their scheduled time.

While HandyDART service doesn’t receive the same amount of media attention, it is the service that appears to need the most amount of attention. It has more customer complaints per 1 million board passengers than any other transit service. This is no surprise as HandyDART service is chronically underfunded, and service hours have been slashed in recent years. I posted about this in more detail last summer. There is also an excellent report by Eric Doherty called “Metro Vancouver’s Aging Population and the Need for Improved HandyDART Service” which goes deeper into the issues around HandyDART service.

While much of the public’s attention has been around SkyTrain service, the real focus should be on improving HandyDART service.