Thursday, April 17, 2008

Part Three Final on the Conference Board of Canada “Mission Possible” Report

To wrap it up on this report, allow me to bring things close to home. British Columbia was given credit for creating the Greater Vancouver Transport Authority (GVTA) in 1998 (also known as Translink). Many of us may argue over the apparent lack of public oversight and the way management runs and decisions are made over at Translink. As the report points out, regional coordination and management are needed. There must be an integrated approach to transit planning, management, operations, roads and more.

But what do we do about Abbotsford and Chilliwack, as they are not part of the GVRD? Also, what are we to do about Canada’s long period of “public disinvestment” from 1978 to 2000? When you add up in your mind the cost of various infrastructure upgrades across the board that is required in Canada (and including transportation), and then consider what new additions are needed going forward, you begin to understand that the taxpayers are not ever going to be able to fund it all.

Last month, Translink held a public meeting to talk about the taxes they collected, and how these funds should be spent. The discussions included the funding of future projects. The small group that attended made it loud and clear that taxpayers should not be considered as the folks with bottomless pockets. About two days after that meeting, Translink announced the formation of their real estate division that would create Public-Private Partnerships, a PPP or a P3’s, among other solutions. I sent an email of congratulations to the Translink Board of Directors, to applaud their innovation. I also encouraged them to consider rapid design and promotion of Transit Oriented Development to compliment their new real estate venture.

There are bad P3’s and there are good P3’s, and both our provincial and federal governments have supported the creation of agencies to promote this form of investing on massive infrastructure. P3 is used around the world, but it appears to be a bad word in Canada. However, I have lived around the world and have seen firsthand various public-private partnerships work brilliantly. It all boils down to knowing exactly what you want to have, vetting the P3 candidates and then holding them to task and managing them.

Vernon and Kelowna will soon be getting some new hospitals that will be built and leased back to the Province of BC. The government spelled out very clearly in the tender documents exactly what they wanted to see, from extra wiring to facilitate future expansion (up to 100% more) to state-of-the-art equipment and technology that the P3 partner will be required to replace every 10 years as part of this 30 year contract. If the government alone was funding this, how on earth would they afford all the extras and replace all of the technology every 10 years? They couldn’t, and that is why Vernon and Kelowna will have top-shelf facilities and equipment.

We can be closed-minded and struggle to update ourselves as a country, or we can be innovative and creative in managing the process to get what we need as a society; needs that government increasingly cannot afford to provide for us. Rest assured that a good P3 will not invest their money in a loser. We know how many people currently live South of the Fraser and we also know what numbers are expected soon, and some bright City of Surrey staff have already stripped away the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) myth to determine the true density in that community versus Burnaby. But for those of you who may be concerned that there is not enough ridership for light rail in the South Fraser region, or still feel there is way too much rural land for the Interurban to pass through, then I say lets bring in some good P3’s to bid on this rail project. We’ll soon sort out fact from fiction, and I can tell you that some good competition for this light rail contract would lead to some very creative solutions for the much talked about heavy freight logistics problems.

South Fraser OnTrax believes the solutions are there if our leaders and decision-makers truly wish to make this a reality. We’d really hate to see them trying to stuff in light rail after all these new communities are already built. Translink isn’t stupid and that is why they desire to give you rubber and buses in 2030. Just think of it as someone giving you the present Highway 1 from Abby to Surrey as “today’s solution”.

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