Thursday, March 23, 2017

Federal budget stays the course on infrastructure, transit, and housing investment

Local governments are responsible for 60% of infrastructure like water lines, sewer mains, and roads in Canada, but only collect 12% of all tax revenue. Much of this infrastructure is coming to its end-of-life, and needs to be replaced. The federal government has to be a key funding partner to ensure that our infrastructure remains in a state of good repair, and meets the needs of our growing communities.

Public transit in Canada needs to be expanded and renewed. The federal government has promised a National Housing Strategy to address the affordable housing crises in our major regions, and a plan to reduce the number of people who are homelessness.

Yesterday, the 2017-18 federal budget was released. I wanted to share some of the highlights of the budget as it relates to local government infrastructure, transit, and housing.

For public transit, the federal government is still committed to investing $3.4 billion over the next several years, and $20.1 billion over the next decade.

The federal budget calls out the Vancouver Broadway Subway as an “ambitious transit project.” The funding formula for transit investment will now be based on ridership (70 per cent) and population (30 per cent) for transit services area. This is good as it ensures that the federal government doesn’t cherry-pick projects. This is also good news for our region's 10-Year Transit Vision.

The feds announced a Canada Infrastructure Bank last fall. In the budget, it states that this new bank will invest at least $5 billion in public transit systems.

The federal government is also still committed to investing $5.0 billion over five years and $21.9 billion over the next decade for water, wastewater, and green infrastructure projects that will help local governments and communities.

Another key part of local infrastructure is cultural spaces like performing art centres. The federal government is committed to providing $300 million over 10 years to support the construction and renewal of these spaces. This is a continuation of the funding announced in the 2016-17 budget which was originally limited to just two years.

The federal government is also launching its new $5 billion National Housing Strategy. The feds have committed to investing $11.2 billion over 11 years for housing in Canada.

Much of the new funding doesn’t start until later budget years. This year’s federal spending plan is about staying the course set in last year’s federal budget.

I am happy to see that there are no cut backs to last year’s budget when it comes to investing in local government infrastructure, transit, and housing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hunter Park restoration moves forward

Last fall, the City of Langley learned that the trees in Hunter Park had Laminated Root Rot. Because of the nature of this disease, most of the trees in the park had to be removed.

While the removal of these trees was sad, their removal did offer an opportunity to rethink the future of Hunter Park. City council recently adopted a new task force model to engage residents in helping shape their community. A Hunter Park Task Force was formed with local community members to help guide the restoration of Hunter Park.

In late February, the City hosted an open house to get feedback on potential features to be included in the restored Hunter Park. Did people generally prefer a more passive park with walking trails and nature, or a more active park with a sports court, additional playgrounds, and picnic shelter?

The clear feedback from the open house was that people wanted to see a more passive park with deciduous and evergreen trees, and native plantings. Along the border of the park, people wanted street trees. There was a strong desire to enhanced the pathway network in the park, and include some more park benches and tables around the current playground area. People also wanted to see some small open grass areas.

Based on the feedback received, the Hunter Park Task Force received a draft design from City staff to further refine last night.

Some design elements being proposed for the restored Hunter Park. Select image to enlarge.

An example of trees that may be planted in and along the border of Hunter Park. Select image to enlarge.

The City design also includes low-barrier, wood fencing along the perimeter of the park which will act as a vehicle barricade. The design includes an iconic entrance. This entrance and proposed benches will be made from wood of the trees that were removed from the park. An interpretive sign with park history, and the retention of some stumps will serve as a reminder of the former urban forest.

There was good discussion among members of the task force and City staff. Based on the recommendations of the task force members, the design of Hunter Park will be further refined. The task force will have one last look at the design in a few weeks’ time, before it goes to council for approval.

Some task force members and City staff reviewing a draft design for Hunter Park. Select image to enlarge.

The goal is to have the park restoration work completed by the end of the year.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March 20th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: New liquor store building approved along the Bypass, plus unused lane closure

Yesterday’s City of Langley council meeting started off with a Committee of the Whole to allow people to comment on a proposed development application for a new building that will house a liquor store along the Langley Bypass.

The proposed building is to be located at 20670 Langley Bypass in the strip mall that currently houses La-Z-Boy, Visions Electronics, and Cora.

Site plan of 20670 Langley Bypass including proposed liquor store building. Select image to enlarge.

The following renderings show what the proposed building will look like.

Renderings of proposed liquor store building at 20670 Langley Bypass. Select image to enlarge.

There were no comments from members of the public about this proposed building. I asked the architect of the building if the glass that fronts the Langley Bypass will be transparent, so you can see into the building. I was told no. I also confirmed that there will be bike parking as the Langley Bypass is a cycling route according to the Ministry of Transportation. As the proposed building conforms to the zoning and development guidelines of the area, it was approved by council.

Later during the meeting, council approved the removal of a small 55.3 sq. metre piece of land that was originally supposed to be used for a turn-around for a lane-way near the intersection of 204 Street and Park Avenue. This turn-around is no longer required, and the removal officially closed this “highway” to traffic by removing its “highway” dedication.

Plan for closures of a section of unused lane-way near the intersection of Park Avenue and 204 Street. Select image to enlarge.

There were no other items that required council action on the agenda of last night’s meeting.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A detailed look at Compass Card revenue: DayPass revenue up 260%, system breaks-even in 2016

The provincial government decided in 2007 to install fare gates to reduce what they perceived as massive fare evasion on the TransLink system. The end result was the $186.8 million Compass Card program which became fully operational in the spring of 2016. TransLink also eliminated zoned-fares for buses at the end of 2015.

While the stated goal of the Compass Card and fare gate system was to reduce fare evasion, there were two other goals: making the transit system easier to use, and collecting more detailed information on how people use the transit system.

TransLink now has more accurate data on how people use their system. The Compass Card makes using transit easier, you simply tap your card, and the system figures out the correct fare. You can also load money onto your card both online and at vending machines, plus purchase Compass Card fare products at hundreds of retailers throughout the region.

What impacts has the Compass Card and fare gate system had on revenue? I requested detailed information from TransLink about fare revenue over the last three years, and want to share that information.

When it comes to monthly passes, fare revenue has been flat between 2014 and 2016. The Compass Card system has had little impact on the purchasing of unlimited-use monthly passes.

Revenue from monthly pass fare products in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

Single-use tickets, FareSavers, and stored-value on Compass Card are cash-like fares; you pay per use. Between 2014 and 2015, cash-like fare revenue grew 4%. Cash-like fare revenue grew 8.6% between 2015 and 2016. There was around a 6% jump in cash-like fare revenue starting in the second quarter of 2016 compared to the same quarters in 2015. This jump works out to about $10 million. The fare gates were closed at the start of the second quarter of 2016.

Revenue from cash-like fare products in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

One of the biggest changes in revenue is from DayPasses. Revenue for this fare type grew from $3.7 million in 2014 to $13.4 million in 2016, a 260% increase!

Revenue from DayPass fare product in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

In 2016, the Compass Card system cost $8.4 million to operate and $2.8 million to maintain. The amortized yearly capital cost of the Compass Card and fare gate system over 20-years is $9.3 million. For 2016, that works out to about $20 million for capital and on-going costs.

The Compass Card and fare gate system has had a positive impact on revenue, customer convenience, and data.

While the system has resulted in increased revenue, the cost of building, operating, and maintaining the system means that at the end of the day, new revenue that can be reinvested into new transit service is modest. This isn’t surprising given previous research TransLink has done.