Thursday, April 17, 2014

School Site Acquisition Charge to Double in Langley

In March, I posted about how Langley’s School District No. 35 is proposing to change its School Site Acquisition Charge from between $212.00 and $354.00 per new housing unit to between $443.00 and $737.00 per new housing unit. The School Site Acquisition Charge is paid by developers to help cover the cost of new school sites.

The City of Langley and some parts of the Township of Langley are seeing very modest population growth and declining school enrollment. This has resulted in school closures and former school district sites being sold off in these areas. In other parts of the Township of Langley, the School District cannot keep up with the increasing enrollment.

Due to these dynamics, the City of Langley objected to the uniform doubling of the School Site Acquisition Charge within the Langley School District. You can read more details on a previous blog post, but the end result for the City of Langley may be a chilling effects on development and a further decrease in housing affordability in the City of Langley.

The City rejected the School Site Acquisition Charge as proposed by the School District. Due to the rejection, the School District requested that the Minister of Education appoint a facilitator to resolve the differences between the City and the School District over the charge.

The Minister wrote back that the School Site Acquisition Charge, as proposed by the School District, would be the same in both the City and Township of Langley as he believed that the City did not follow due process that would result in a facilitator being appointed under the Local Government Act. Specifically he believe that the City did not:

In writing, do not accept the proposed school site requirements for the school district specifically indicating two things:
-each proposed eligible school site requirement to which it objected; and
-the reasons for the objection.

Of course the City objected to this. As I noted in a previous post, City Council had the option to seek mediation to resolve this difference of opinion between the Minister and City. Instead City Council decided to write another letter to the Ministry of Education requesting again that a facilitator be appointed. On April 2nd, the City received a reply from the Minister which, not surprisingly, stated that his opinion did not change.

At the last City Council meeting, Council had the option to again seek mediation or other legal recourse, but instead decided to do nothing. As a result, the School Acquisition Charge will be doubling in the City of Langley.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Moving in a Livable Region

With the pending referendum on transit coming up within the year, many organizations are stepping up to support increased transit funding. One such organization is Moving in a Livable Region. Moving in a Livable Region is a consortium which includes municipalities, development associations, business associations, transportation advocacy organizations, unions, YVR, SFU, and TransLink.

Moving in a Livable Region’s main goal is to provide fact-based information on transportation issues as well as information on funding options to prepare citizens in Metro Vancouver for the upcoming referendum.

Earlier this week, I wrote a guest post for their blog.

One of the other interesting characteristics of Surrey is that highways actually circle around the community—Fraser “Highway” is something of a misnomer as it is actually a 50 km/h arterial road—leaving increasingly congested arterial roads as the only option for transit, commercial operators, and other motorist to get to locations throughout Surrey. Surrey’s long-term transportation plan is to complete some “missing link” projects and widen some minor roads, but an auto-oriented transportation network alone will not meet the transportation needs of such rapidly growing communities. This is why Surrey is promoting and investing in getting residents to cycle and walk more, and is working with TransLink to promote transit.

Please check out their website which is starting to build a library of information about transportation and funding options for our region. You can also read my full blog post there.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

TransLink Governance and Bill 22

Last month, the province introduce Bill 22 to change the governance model at TransLink. This was a results of the regions mayors asking for more oversight of the agency to provide better accountability to the public. At the end of March, Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart and I were on BC 1’s Unfiltered talking about these changes. At the time, we both had some questions about the proposed changes to TransLink’s governance as there seemed to be pieces missing from the bill.

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation commissioned a report on TransLink’s current governance in 2013. The report’s authors compared TransLink’s governance model to “Leader Regions” and found that our governance model was “unique in the world and not in a good way.” Leader Region, such as London with its Transport for London, have clear divisions of labour between policy and implementation.

The top level is the policy level. At the policy level, elected representatives determine how public policy relates to the overall plans and goals of the transportation agency. The mid-tier management level is responsible for translating these plans and goals into action. This would be the board level. The third implementation level is responsible for the delivery of transportation services. This would be like Coast Mountain Bus in our region.

After the introduction of Bill 22, the Mayors Council had the report’s authors study the proposed changes and report back on their findings. Overall, the authors found that the proposed changes in the Bill have “the potential to move TransLink’s governance closer to best practices. However, it is our view that the new arrangements as proposed by Bill 22 will only take the region part of the way.”

One of the gaps noted by the authors is that Bill 22 does not give the Mayors Council explicit control over the TransLink board. For example under the proposed changes, the link between the long-term and implementation plans which the Mayors’ Council approves, and the annual budget which the TransLink board approves are not clearly defined. If the Mayors Council and TransLink’s board work together and develop a protocol that links the longer-term policies to the annual budget, we will move closer to the governance model of Leader Regions. This is a big if.

One of the things missing from the proposed changes in Bill 22 is the requirement for a single transportation plan in Metro Vancouver. Even with the proposed changes, the province’s transportation goals for the region and local government goals are not required to line up. This means that we could still have the region advocating for tolls to reduce congestion while the province advocates and builds bigger freeways.

For more information, I suggest that you read the full 17-page report.

Monday, April 14, 2014

SkyTrain factory lease saving taxpayers money

It seems that TransLink cannot get a break when it comes to bad PR. Last week, there was a bit of hoopla about the building TransLink is leasing to renovate the old Mark I SkyTrain cars. These cars were delivered between 1984 and 1995. Stories in the media paint a picture of waste at TransLink, but there is more to this story.

Before 1999, transit in Metro Vancouver was delivered by the province through BC Transit. Today, BC Transit delivers public transit outside of Metro Vancouver. When the responsibility to deliver transit service was given to the region via TransLink, the province still retained control of some parts of the transit system. The province created Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd to deliver the Millennium Line.

BC Transit and Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd own land, some SkyTrain and West Coats Express equipment, and the Expo and Millennium Line SkyTrain guideways. The provinces, through these crown corporations, granted TransLink the ability to use this infrastructure under a long-term lease. The lease currently requires a payment of $1 per year.

As part of the Millennium Line project, the province gave Bombardier the contract to build SkyTrain cars for the line. One of the requirements of the contract was to have “built in BC” components in the cars, so Bombardier built a $15 million factory next to the SkyTrain operation centre. With the Millennium Line complete, Bombardier sold the site in 2004. Subsequent SkyTrain vehicles purchased by TransLink would be made in Mexico due to lower costs.

The original Mark I SkyTrain cars are coming to the end of their useful life. TransLink was going to spend $262 million on new Mexican SkyTrain cars to replace this aging fleet. Due to the lack of funding for transit in the region, TransLink decided to refurbish the old SkyTrain cars for $37.9 million to extend their useful life by 15 years instead. Included in the $37.9 million is the cost to lease the old Bombardier SkyTrain factory. Once the SkyTrain cars are refurbish, TransLink will have no further use for the old factory.

TransLink never owned the SkyTrain factory nor did it have any control over its construction. When Bombardier sold the site in 2004, TransLink would have had no use for the building. If the agency did buy the building, it would have been accused of wasteful spending. If the province purchased the building, it would have also been accused of wasteful spending. If there is any blame, it would be that the provincial government of the day required “built in BC” SkyTrain cars for political purposes.

Of course if this didn’t happen and the factory was never building, refurbishing the SkyTrain cars would have at least doubled in cost. So in the end of the day, TransLink ability to lease the facility is actually saving taxpayer’s money.