Thursday, October 19, 2017

Built it and they will come: transit ridership up in Metro Vancouver

TransLink has seen a surge in ridership across most of its system so far this year. Information posted to the Buzzer Blog a few days ago shows that September transit boardings are up significantly.

TransLink as well as other public transit agencies throughout Canada and the US report ridership data to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In the US, transit ridership has dipped -2.8% in the first six months of this year. In Canada, transit ridership has increase by 0.6% in the first six months of this year for all agencies that reported data. This includes major regions in Canada.

TransLink Ridership
January thru June
 2017 2016 % Change
Bus 122.55 million 119.56 million 2.50%
SkyTrain 73.94 million 66.1 million 11.86%
SeaBus 2.74 million 2.59 million 5.79%
West Coast Express 1.17 million 1.25 million -6.40%

TransLink’s growth in ridership is significantly higher than the national average as reported in the latest ridership report released by the APTA. This is not a surprise as the Evergreen Line came online late in 2016, combined with record-level investments into bus service in our region.

One area where ridership has decreased is on the West Coast Express. This is not surprising as two of the West Coast Express stations are now directly served by SkyTrain. West Coast Express fares are also 1.5x more than regular fares. The shift to SkyTrain was fairly modest, and shows that the vast majority of West Coast Express riders value the premium service to Downtown Vancouver.

Ridership on the SeaBus was declining for several years. It looks like that trend has also reversed which is again not surprising as TransLink has increase service levels on the SeaBus. A strong economy combined with new investment in transit service really proves that if you built it, they will come.

On that topic, with bridges now toll-free, it will be interesting to see what impact there will be on transit service, especially on routes like the 555, 595, and the West Coast Express.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Langley City has lowest per household municipal tax and fees in Metro Vancouver

The provincial government’s new Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing just released its 2017 Local Government Tax Rates and Assessments reports.

When people look at municipal taxation, they often just look at property tax and overlook user fees which are charged for water, sewer, and other services provided by a municipality.

So how does Langley City stack up with the rest of the region? The following graph and table show the per household municipal property tax and users fees collected in 2017 based on the latest census data.

Per Household Municipal Revenue (2017). Select graph to enlarge.
Municipalities Property Tax per Household User Fees per Household Households
Langley City $2,163.37 $732.29 11,840
Surrey $1,890.18 $1,014.94 169,965
City of North Vancouver $2,392.84 $616.11 24,645
Vancouver $2,671.65 $376.95 283,915
New Westminster $2,250.70 $913.41 32,705
White Rock $2,125.17 $1,173.67 10,005
Coquitlam $2,699.87 $601.60 51,325
Maple Ridge $2,521.72 $806.87 30,265
Burnaby $2,717.73 $653.05 92,200
Bowen Island $3,017.71 $662.75 1,495
Pitt Meadows $2,744.96 $958.14 7,195
Port Coquitlam $2,873.19 $912.40 21,750
Langley Township $2,960.90 $835.10 41,985
Belcarra $2,629.92 $1,171.98 255
Anmore $2,641.28 $1,340.68 690
Port Moody $3,067.36 $934.98 12,975
Richmond $2,828.77 $1,326.37 73,460
District of North Vancouver $2,989.30 $1,628.61 31,115
Lions Bay $2,837.34 $2,196.44 495
Delta $3,722.16 $1,368.86 35,760
West Vancouver $3,944.17 $1,845.50 16,935

I should point out that businesses also pay property tax. The calculations used in this post divide the total property tax and user fee revenue collected from both businesses and residents, by the number of households in a community. Most municipalities in our region with a health business community collect around 50% of revenue from business and 50% from residents. Commuter communities like Anmore get most of their revenue from residents. What this means is that people in communities like Langley City, with a health business community, generally pay less tax and fees per household.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Responding to the overdose crisis in Langley

Throughout British Columbia, there is an overdose crisis. This year around 1,000 people in our province will die because of overdosing on illicit drugs. In Langley City and Township, 20 people have died so far, and that number is expected to be 34 by the end of this year.

Fraser Health statistics on overdose deaths in BC. Select image to enlarge.

When people think about overdose deaths, they likely think of people who are living on the street. While people living on the street are dying from overdoses, in Langley around 70% of people are dying from overdoses in their private residence, 20% at other inside locations, and 10% outside.

Fraser Health along with other partner organizations hosted a public meeting last night at Timms Community Centre about this crisis, and their response.

Fentanyl and its derivatives are what is causing the rapid increase in overdose deaths. Langley City’s Fire Chief Rory Thompson spoke about why it is easy to overdose on fentanyl. The following picture shows an example of what illicit pills with fentanyl look like, substituting fentanyl with blue-coloured sugar.

An example of how illicit pills can have inconsistencies. Select image to enlarge.

Because there is no quality control, one pill can have a lot more fentanyl than another in the same batch. One pill could kill you, one wouldn’t.

While the immediate response is getting people naloxone, addressing the stigma associated with drug use, and the systemic barriers to getting treatment, was front and centre at last night’s meeting.

Deb Bailey told the story of her daughter Ola. A bright girl and athlete who died due to a drug overdose. CBC has an article that tells Ola’s story, but Deb summed up what were contributing factors that led to her 21-year-old daughter dying.

Ola was generically vulnerable, and struggled socially to find a group of peers to belong to. She also had documented difficulties that indicated that she needed support, but requests for help were often ignored. Once she became addicted, she faced systemic barriers to getting help including a fragmented health system that wasn’t using the best evidenced-based treatment to help people suffering from addiction. A tainted drug was what ultimately led to Ola’s untimely death.

Deb Bailey talks about how stigma costs us all. Select image to enlarge.

Deb talked about the shame and stigma associated with drug addition, and how that causes people to not get help. People don’t get help because they don’t want others to judge them as “junkies.” Deb told the story of a nurse that didn’t want to get help because she heard how some other nurses talked about people who are suffering from a drug addiction.

The vast majority of people who are addicted to illicit drugs are young men with jobs and a home. Fraser Health and its partners are now starting to reach out to trade unions and other organizations to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction, so that people will feel less shame, and be more likely to seek help.

At the same time, Langley doctors are now able to prescribe suboxone as a treatment for drug addiction without having to refer people to special addiction doctors.

Our health system is not serving people who are suffering from drug addiction well. It seems that the province is now starting to take this issue seriously, and is making it easier for people to access treatment which seems to be key to reducing the number of people dying from overdoses in our province.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Metro Vancouver’s expanding Urban Containment Boundary

One of the roles of the Metro Vancouver Regional District is to provide a regional growth strategy. Provincial legislation requires that a regional growth strategy work towards incorporating the following goals:

  • Avoiding urban sprawl and ensuring that development takes place where adequate facilities exist or can be provided in a timely, economic and efficient manner.
  • Settlement patterns that minimize the use of automobiles and encourage walking, bicycling and the efficient use of public transit.
  • The efficient movement of goods and people while making effective use of transportation and utility corridors.
  • Protecting environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Maintaining the integrity of a secure and productive resource base, including the agricultural land reserve.
  • Economic development that supports the unique character of communities.
  • Reducing and preventing air, land and water pollution.
  • Adequate, affordable and appropriate housing.
  • Adequate inventories of suitable land and resources for future settlement.
  • Protecting the quality and quantity of ground water and surface water.
  • Settlement patterns that minimize the risks associated with natural hazards.
  • Preserving, creating and linking urban and rural open space, including parks and recreation areas.
  • Planning for energy supply and promoting efficient use, conservation and alternative forms of energy.
  • Good stewardship of land, sites and structures with cultural heritage value.
  • A regional growth strategy can cover a good deal of ground, and our region’s strategy covers many of these goals.

Two of the tools used in our regional growth strategy to accomplish these goals are regional land-use designations and an Urban Containment Boundary. The primary purpose of the Urban Containment Boundary is to limit sprawl, and preserve green-space and employment lands.

All municipalities must submit Regional Context Statements to the Metro Vancouver Regional District board for approval. These Regional Context Statements show how a municipality’s Official Community Plan aligns with the regional growth strategy.

The Township of Langley’s Regional Context Statements were subject to a dispute resolution process which completed in October 2016. It was the last municipality to have these statements approved. In addition, there has been other minor amendments to regional land-use designations in other municipalities.

The regional district is now moving forward with updating the land-use maps included in the regional growth strategy.

The following is the current regional land-use map for the South of Fraser.

Current Regional Land-Use Map for the South of Fraser. Select map to download. 

The following is the proposal regional land-use map.

Proposed Regional Land-Use Map for the South of Fraser. Select map to enlarge.

As you can see, there is not much difference. The Urban Containment Boundary does change around Campbell Heights, Trinity Western University, and Murrayville.

Urban sprawl happens slowly, parcel by parcel. The Urban Containment Boundary helps hold the line. Earlier this year, the regional district asked member municipalities if the current regional growth strategy was effective. The generally consensus was that it is effective.

The current update to the regional growth strategy maps does show the Urban Containment Boundary being pushed out, but it was a long process for that to happen. While no plan is perfect, the current regional growth strategy appears to be working well in limiting sprawl.