Thursday, May 5, 2016

Farming for a property tax break

Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley is home to the best farmland in BC, and some of the best farmland in Canada. Our region also has the highest overall population density in the province, and some of the most valuable land.

In order to encourage farming throughout BC, the provincial government provides a reduction of property tax for land that is used for farming. Municipalities can also provide a reduction in property tax.

Examples of differences in property taxes with and without Farm class. Select table to enlarge.

In order to qualify for the farm property classification, certain requirements must be met. One of the requirements that is evaluated is the amount of revenue generated by farming. The evaluation is based on the following formula:

For farms under 2 acres, $10,000 in sales must be generation from farming. For a farm between 2 acres and 10 acres, $2,500 in sales must be generated from farming to qualify for farm status. For farms larger than 10 acres, minimum sales must be $2,500 plus 5% of the farmland value.

In Metro Vancouver, there are people who own large lots with large estate housing that have “hobby farms”. These farms qualify the large lot, large house owners for a massive reduction on their property tax bill. The thought is that these small scale farming operations do not providing the same sociality benefit as larger scale farming operations. In Metro Vancouver, the $2,500 threshold for land between 2 and 10 acres could be too low.

Metro Vancouver recently released a study it commissioned called “Farm Tax Class: Income Threshold Investigation.” Based on their investigation of farming in Metro Vancouver, the authors of the study suggested the following three items for potential action:

  1. Increase Farm Income Thresholds, and Set a Single Threshold for all Parcel Sizes in Metro Vancouver: This value should be between $3,700 and $7,500.
  2. Consider a Multi-Level Taxation Tool to Further Distinguish between Hobby Farms and Commercial Operations: Commercial and Hobby Farms would be assigned different farm classes, and would quality for different property tax rates and reductions.
  3. Expand the Farm Income Threshold Policy Discussion.

While it is great that Metro Vancouver commissioned this report, the provincial government would be the only order of government that could act on these recommendations.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

More Compass Card Stats and Opinion

Last month, I posted some statistics about the Compass Card roll-out. I wanted to provide a brief update on those statistics. As of mid-April:

-800,000 customers using a Compass Card on a regular basis.
-94% of journeys on our system are made with a Compass Card or Ticket.
-More than 1.3 million taps are recorded every weekday.
-149,000 people loaded an April Monthly Pass to their Compass Card.
-Approximately 363,000 Compass Cards are registered (46%).
-Approximately 91,000 customers have signed up for AutoLoad.

The Compass Card rollout has been rapid, and having only 6% of all trips using other forms of payment in such a short time is impressive. The remaining 6% of trips are using cash on the bus, or old FareSaver tickets on the bus.

One of the original concerns I had was that people wouldn’t have as rapidly adopted the Compass Card, and would run into issues transferring between bus and SkyTrain. In the US, similar transit cards have taken longer to roll out. This could be due to the fact that other transit agencies tried to maintain compatibility with their older fare media during the transition. TransLink didn't maintain backwards compatibility at the faregates. TransLink’s marketing on buses, at bus fare boxes, and at transit exchanges really helped. The clear message was you need a Compass Card if you want to use the SkyTrain.

There are two goals for the Compass Card: making it easier to use transit, and allowing the operation of faregates to reduce fare evasion.

A tweet about TransLink revenue since the introduction of Compass.

TransLink’s new CEO Kevin Desmond says that transit revenue is up 7%. It will be interesting to see the full financial breakdown of this in TransLink's financial update later this year. For example, is the new one zone fare on buses encouraging people to use more transit? It will also be interesting to see if the combined capital and on-going operational costs of the Compass Card/faregate program will have a financially positive or negative impact on TransLink’s bottom line.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

TransLink Ridership from 1999 to Present

TransLink recently compiled annual ridership statistics from the inception of the agency until the end of 2015 for its conventional transit service.

I have created two charts based on this information. The majority of TransLink’s ridership is generated by its extensive bus network. In 2015, around 65% of all boarded passenger trips were by bus. While rail and SeaBus gets lots of media attention, the bus network is really the backbone for transit in Metro Vancouver.

There was a massive dip in ridership in 2001 due to a transit strike. Bus ridership dipped in 2013 and 2014, but is now higher than ever.

TransLink Bus Boarded Passengers, 1999-2015. Select table to enlarge.

Last month, several newspapers ran a story about SeaBus ridership being at an all-time low. These story were not actually based on ridership data. The actual data shows that while SeaBus ridership peaked in 2010, and declined between 2011 and 2014, ridership was up in 2015.

TransLink Boarded Passenger, 1999-2015: SkyTrain, SeaBus, West Coast Express, Canada Line. Select table to enlarge.

West Coast Express ridership which includes TrainBus peaked in 2012. Ridership dipped in 2013 and 2014, but was back on the rise in 2015.

Expo & Millennium Line ridership peak in 2011, with a dip in ridership between 2012 and 2013. Ridership started climbing again in 2014. Ridership on the Canada Line dipped in 2013 and 2014, but was at an all-time high in 2015.

Monday, May 2, 2016

More than 90% of people surveyed do not want to see increased parking at City Park

The City of Langley is updating the master plan for City Park. City Park borders Blacklock Fine Art School in the north, 207th Street in the east, and 48th Avenue in the south.

Map of City Park including current parking. Select map to enlarge.

The two proposed options for the park presented for people to comment on back in February had a substantial increasing in parking within the park. Taking away greenspace in a park for parking vehicles didn’t seem right. The lyrics to the song “Big Yellow Taxi” about putting up a parking lot came to my mind. City Park is a community park, and should serve the needs of people that live in the area.

I was interested in knowing if my thoughts about parking were shared by other people in Langley City, so I conducted a survey.

I sent out a request via Facebook targeting people that live within or near Langley City to ask them to answer a few brief questions. This is what people said who lived in the V3A postal code.

Survey responses. Select chart to enlarge.

179 of the 234 people who completed the survey though that City Park has the right amount of parking inside the park today.

39 people thought that City Park needs less parking inside the park which would create more greenspace in the park. And 16 people though that City Park needs more parking inside the park, even though that means there will be less greenspace in the park.

185 of the 234 people who completed the survey, or 79.1%, visited City Park within the last month.

Some of the comments people submitted include:

I walk through Blacklock and City Park everyday and I don't think there is a parking issue. Speeding in the park zone and on 51B is a major issue though.

I am strongly opposed to increasing parking in city park and putting a through road through the park.

What is the point of creating more parking if you take some of the park away....bad idea!!! It's a diverse ecosystem that needs complete protection and that means every bit of it left as it is....

My backyard backs onto City Park so I have a vested interest into which design the city chooses to adopt. I have yet to see any of the parking lots at City Park full so I question why more parking is even an option for council. Removing greenspace for asphalt and concrete should not be considered an option.

Please don't remove greenspace from this beautiful park. This park is so well loved and used by many of us in this area. It's a gem.

I've never seen the parking lots completely full - The neighborhood doesn't need more traffic either.

Love that park it does have a lot of parking and it is never full. I have lived beside that park for 25 years.

I would not be against more parking as long as it would be secure and locked up at night. As a neighbor of City Park there is already a great deal of drug deals in the lot and cars speeding and doing doughnuts in the lot. It is very noisy at night and not always safe to walk by.

A full 93.2% of the people who completed the survey did not want to see additional parking added to City Park. I will be advocating strongly at the Council table to ensure that additional parking is not added to City Park.