Friday, July 29, 2011

SFU & City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program

The City of Surrey and SFU will once again be offering the transportation lecture program. It runs from September 14, 2011 to November 16, 2011. You can find out more about the program and apply on their website. They put together the following promo video with some highlights from last year's course.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

TransLink Strategic Transportation Plan 2000 - 2005: Road Improvements

Over the last few days, I've been looking at the TransLink Strategic Transportation Plan 2000 - 2005 (STP). While we're still waiting for many of the transit improvements promised in the STP, the road building part of the plan was more sucessful. According to the STP, the plan was to establish a capital budget of $15 million in 2000, rising to $60 million in 2005 for the provisioning of road improvements.

As it turns out by 2005, TransLink spent $39.6 million annually on roads. By 2010, TransLink spent $96.7 million on roads.

Major projects identified in 2000 included:

South Fraser Perimeter Road - In Progress
North Fraser Perimeter Road (United Boulevard extension) - Cancelled by New Westminster
Fraser River Crossing (which will replace the Albion Ferry service) - Done
Stormont-McBride Connector - Cancelled by New Westminster
Fraser Highway widening - In Progress
Highway 10 widening - Done
Dollarton Bridge and Highway realignment - Done

STP Potential Major Capital Projects. Select image to enlarge.

The irony of this is that with the $800 million Golden Ears Bridge plus other road projects, TransLink has spent more money improving roads in the South of Fraser than transit.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

TransLink Strategic Transportation Plan 2000 - 2005: Transit Improvements

Yesterday I had a look at some of the overall statistics about TransLink, comparing when the TransLink Strategic Transportation Plan 2000 - 2005 (STP) was released to now. Today I'll be looking at some of the proposed expansion plans for transit in the STP. Sadly, most of the plans have not come to past.
Express Bus Improvements. Select image to view full size.
Four new express bus routes were to be introduced connecting the following regional town centres: Richmond Centre and Metrotown, Richmond Centre and Surrey City Centre, Surrey City Centre to Coquitlam Centre, and Langley Centre to the new Braid Street SkyTrain Station or Downtown Vancouver. The Surrey/Langley buses were proposed to go over the Port Mann Bridge by 2005. Today none of these express bus services are in operation.
B-Line Bus Improvements. Select image to view full size
TransLink was also going to introduce a Downtown Vancouver/UBC B-Line, Downtown Vancouver/SFU B-Line, and Surrey B-Line bus service by 2005. None of these B-Lines are in operation.

When It comes to the Evergreen Line, it has been the number on priority since TransLink has been around.
The SkyTrain project currently being built by the provincial Rapid Transit Project Office is comprised of parts of two of the lines identified by both the Province and the GVRD as high priority. These are the New Westminster to Coquitlam Centre line and the Central Broadway to Lougheed Mall line and together are referred to as the ‘T’-Line.

The completion of these two lines, particularly the connection to Coquitlam Centre, is critically important to the achievement of the goals of the Livable Region Strategic Plan. While there is a funding agreement in place to complete the line to Coquitlam, there is not yet a design or final timeline, and the legal agreement between the Province and TransLink has not been finalized.
The Canada Line also had a different plan back in 2001 as TransLink was going to "work with the City of Vancouver and Canadian Pacific Railways to preserve the Arbutus railway corridor for transportation purposes."

Dues to the decade long fight about how to fund transit in our region, service improvements have not come anywhere close to what was originally planned. The recently proposed 2-cent gas tax increase is a step in the right direction to funding transit, but even the gas tax increase will not be enough to pay for the level of transit service that everyone claims to wants.

Tomorrow I'll look at the road improvements that TransLink proposed back in 2000.

Monday, July 25, 2011

TransLink Strategic Transportation Plan 2000 - 2005

I used the WayBackMachine on the Internet Archive to download one of the first plans that TransLink put out when it was formed about a decade ago. Called TransLink Strategic Transportation Plan 2000 - 2005 (STP), it set out the agencies goals for improving transportation in the region. Over the next few days, I'll highlight different parts of the plan. Today, I'll look at some of the statistics.

Adult Fare Prices in 2000
1 Zone: $1.75
2 Zone: $2.50
3 Zone: $3.50

Adult Fare Prices in 2011
1 Zone: $2.50
2 Zone: $3.75
3 Zone: $5.00

Many people in the region have been complaining that transit users aren't paying their fair share into the system. Adult fares have increased about 70% over the last decade. Since 1999, TransLink has received 58% of its revenue annually from taxation. This ratio has not change in over a decade. Looking at these numbers, I can't see how anyone can say that TransLink is targeting one group of transportation users (ie: the driver). Improving transportation costs money, plain and simple.

Looking at system statistics, according the STP, in 2005 there should have been 6.21 million hours of transit service with a bus fleet of 1,640. There was about 5 million hours of transit service in 2005 and it wasn't until 2010 that we surpassed the 6.21 million hour mark with 6.4 million hours of transit service and a bus fleet of 1,525. TransLink missed the mark on improving service because one of its key sources of funding never came to be.
Vehicles charges - introducing a charge on motor vehicles averaging $75 per car, with the structure of the charge to be determine after public consultation, effective October 2001, increasing at 5% per year after 2002.
Tomorrow, I'll have a look at some of the transit plans that we're still waiting for and some other plans that never came to pass.

PS: The 2010 stats are from TransLink's 2010 Annual Report.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Innovative Infrastructure Financing Mechanisms for Smart Growth

One of the challenges facing local government is to find new ways to pay for infrastructure without rising the general taxation level to much. While the mayors' support of a 2-cent gas tax in an election year is a bold move to pay for transit, there is still more transit that we need and politically I don't see to many more moves like this. We also have other infrastructure issues like upgrading road, water, and sewer systems.

Back in 2008, Smart Growth BC commissioned a study call Innovative Infrastructure Financing Mechanisms for Smart Growth. The report almost seems more timely today than when it was first released. It looks at fairer ways to pay for infrastructure that supports sustainable city building. Right now local governments in BC do not have the authority to use many of the tools presented in the report. The provincial government would need to change the Community Charter. Some of the tools in the report are summarized below.

High Occupancy/Toll Lanes
Unlike standard HOV lanes, HOT lanes are accessible to Single Occupancy Vehicles that pay a toll, while vehicles with two or more occupants continue to use them for free.

Sector and Density Gradient Approach to Development Cost Charges
Development Cost Charges (DCCs) are fees imposed by municipalities to recover the capital costs of the off-site infrastructure required to service new residential or commercial development. Under the sector approach, DCCs are lower in sectors near the urban core and higher in those in the periphery.

Parking Site Tax
A parking site tax is applied to nonresidential parking lots, including parking for shopping centres, offices, and commercial parking lots.

Land Value Taxation
Land Value Taxation (LVT) is a specialized form of property tax. It is a value-based tax that is levied only on land and is independent from the value of any improvement on the land

Stormwater Utility Fee/Credits
Some municipalities have stormwater utilities that collect user fees independently of water and sanitary sewage utilities. Property owners earn stormwater fee credits by implementing stormwater best management practices.

Fuel Tax Transfer
Fuel tax transfers are an example of intergovernmental tax revenue sharing. In Canada, both provincial and federal governments collect fuel tax and in some cases share a portion of the fuel tax revenues with a local government agency.

Tax Increment Financing
Tax increment financing is the name given to the practice of financing capital
projects through the increase in future property tax revenues due to the increased value of property from the infrastructure investment.

Tax Base Sharing
Tax-base sharing is grounded in the idea that communities experiencing growth should
share the benefits with other communities in the same urban region.

Vehicle Registration Surcharges
A vehicle registration surcharge is a tax applied to vehicles registered to addresses within a particular jurisdiction.

Commuter Tax
Commuter taxes are payroll income taxes paid by people employed but not residing in a given jurisdiction. The main idea underlying commuter taxes is that, in their absence, people who work in but live outside a given jurisdiction get a “free ride”.

Tax-Exempt Tax Revenue Bonds
A bond is a type of loan which the borrower promises to repay (including interest) by a specific date. In the case of tax-exempt bonds, the income earned by the bondholder in the form of interest is exempt from federal and/or provincial income taxes.

Local Option Sales Tax
Local-option sales taxes are a special-purpose taxation mechanism. The tax usually takes the form of a small premium (between 0.5% to 1.0%) on top of other sales tax, applied only within a particular local jurisdiction.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CBC’s Early Edition: Faregates

This morning I was on CBC’s Early Edition speaking about faregates and the new smart card system that TransLink is installing. TransLink is bundling the smart card system and faregate into the same package. I think there was some confusion because on the radio this morning, I got the distinct impression that many people think that the installation of faregates is needed for the new smartcards. This is not the case. Take a quick trip to Seattle and you will see that all they have are smartcard readers at station platforms which you tap when you board a train and tap when you get off the train. Our bus system will be getting smartcard readers as well. Smartcards are a great addition to our transit system and will make it easier to use as well as giving TransLink new and better ways to collect fares and track usage.

Smartcard tagging station on light rail platform in Seattle.

On the subject of faregates, I think that it is a total waste of money. In December 2005, TransLink’s board rejected fare gates after a report from its staff found it wouldn’t come anywhere close to paying for itself. In 2007, after a visit to the London Underground, then Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said that faregates will be added to SkyTrain and that the province will be picking up the tab. As it turns out the province will be paying $40 million, the federal government is paying $30 million, and TransLink $71 million for the faregate/smartcard system. What’s funny is that according to TransLink’s own document, it will cost $9 million per year for the system while fare evasion is pegged between $3 - $7 million a year. Also, faregates do nothing to solve fare evasion on the bus system and people will find their way around faregates like they do in every other city with them. I don’t see how installing faregates will help TransLink’s bottom line or us fare paying users. In the nine years I’ve been taking transit in Vancouver, only twice has a transit police officer checked my fare on the bus. I’m checked at least once a week on SkyTrain.

In Downtown Portland, the sidewalk also serves as a cost-effective light rail station.

Most rapid transit systems built after 1979 use an honour system because it’s a cheaper and more flexible system. Faregates require expensive stations and not even all of the Expo Line will have them. Main Street Station and Metrotown stations for example, will need to be rebuilt and right now TransLink does not have the money. At the end of the day we are getting faregates, but it’s too bad that we couldn’t have used the $100 million for much needed transit expansion in the South of Fraser.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The “A” Word – Amalgamation in Langley

Like rain in the winter, talk of amalgamating Langley will never go away. The latest effect to reunited Langley comes from the Langley Reunification Association.

Langley Prairie, 1940s. Langley Centennial Museum
Back in 1955, the City separated from the Township because the farmers in the rural part of Langley didn’t believe the urban core should have street lights. The Langley Reunification Association believes that the original reason for separation is no longer valid and the two Langleys should become one.

In response, last night the City of Langley released a report “Feasibility Study of Amalgamating the Langleys: Is there a Case?” and City Council passed a resolution that the City is not prepared to support or to fund an independent study on the feasibility of reunifying the City of Langley and the Township of Langley as one municipality.

The report argues that there is no cost savings from amalgamation as we already have region agencies that take care of water, sewer, major roads, and transit which is where the power of big comes in handy.
However, if one were to use cost savings from the reduction of bureaucracy and elimination of duplications of services as criteria from measuring success of amalgamation, we would have to conclude that amalgamation has been a failure for the citizens of Toronto. In 1997, the Harris government predicted that amalgamation would produce cost savings of $300 million per year by eliminating personnel and services. However, City budgets have swollen from $4.2 billion in 1998 to $7.8 billion in 2007, with a deficit of about $575 million projected for 2007.
One of the other reasons cited for amalgamation is that too many local governments are bad because it hurts cooperation on regional issues. The reality of course is different. Compared to other regions in Canada, we are in much better shape when it comes to provisioning of regional services and inter-government cooperation. Toronto, which is one municipality, has been arguing about transit expansion for the last decade and recently thew out their whole light rail program and is back to step one.

Toronto is the perfect example of how amalgamation can go wrong. The suburban areas in Toronto felt that they were hard-done-by urban Toronto and voted in a mayor to “punish the downtown elites”. This is not healthy and has resulted in an us-vs-them toxic government.

One of the other things that gets lost with larger government is access and accountability. Right now, I can call the mayor in the City and he will return my call. It’s not because I’m special but because the size of the City allows for that level of access.

I’m unsure of what benefits could come from an amalgamated Langley expect for maybe some efficiency in the parks department. Where I grew up, there was the larger Vernon and smaller Coldstream that merged their parks and recreation departments together. Maybe we should be talking about that instead.

Besides the warm fuzzy feeling of having one Langley, I’m not sure of any good reasons to amalgamate. If Langley City was called Innes Corners, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You don’t hear much about New Westminster and Burnaby amalgamating.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Overpasses in Langley

If you’ve driven up 200th Street lately, you’ll notice that there is a beautiful pedestrian overpass at 68th Avenue. It replaced a previous surface crosswalk because people did not stop for pedestrians. A traffic engineer told me that pedestrians tend to avoid overpasses whenever possible because of the work involved in climb up a bunch of stairs or a ramp; it's easier to cross at the surface. I wondering how successful this overpass will be. Los Vegas is the perfect example as they had to construct barricades to prevent people from cross at street-level.

Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard.
Surrey is another good example as they removed a pedestrian overpass at King George Boulevard and 152nd Street a few years ago. I’m not saying that this overpass is a bad idea, in fact, it's probably needed to help kids who need to get to the school which is on east side of the structure.

Speaking about overpasses, it looks like the 204th Street Overpass is having some negative externalities. I hear that one of Langley's larger employers may be looking to relocate due to the access issues created on Duncan Way which is now under the overpass. This follows the trend of other business that have left the area. While the overpass certainly helps move traffic along, this overpass like all overpasses, tend to create areas of blight. This is why I’m always a bit leery of their construction. While Langley is firmly committed to the construction of overpasses due to the rail line, I have to wonder if its fair that we are sacrificing parts of our community for the sake of moving stuff from China for Eastern Canada.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Evergreen Line Update

Well, I was happy to heard that Premier Christy Clark is supporting the mayors in funding the construction of the Evergreen Line. Earlier this week, she had a different point of view. According to the Global and Mail, Clark wrote a letter dated June 13th to the Mayor's council that said the council "has thoroughly reviewed available options and has chosen an option you believe best balances the interests of taxpayers and the need to improve transit services,"

The whole Evergreen Line process is like a relationship in a bad soap opera. It's on, then off, than on again. I think that is will take a shovel in the ground before I'll believe that the thing will be finally built.

Of course if the province wasn't so obsessed with SkyTrain, we could have built the Evergreen Line as it was originally proposed -a light rail system- for $953 million, not the current $1.4 billion. The two-cent gas tax that the mayors are proposing could have been used to build rapid transit in the South of Fraser.

Another fun fact, the $953 million version of the Evergreen Line was suppose to open this year. Fail!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Christy Clark and the Evergreen Line

I have to say that I was a bit shocked to learn that after finally coming up with a way to pay for always promised and never delivered Evergreen Line, Premier Christy Clark is having second thoughts. According to the Global and Mail:
“When British Columbians say that they’re not really excited about paying more gas taxes, I get that. Because my focus as Premier is how do we make life more affordable for people rather than less affordable,” she said.

Last week, after meeting with Mr. Lekstrom, the mayors were celebrating the end of a two-year-long stalemate with the province. “It’s really great for us to be acting in concert with the minister,” said deputy chair Pamela Goldsmith-Jones at the time.

Mr. Lekstrom was not available for comment on Monday, but Ms. Clark said she’ll give the mayors more time to come up with a funding proposal that fits with her preference to cap or lower the tax burden on B.C. families.
I wonder how the Premier thinks that we are going to pay for this project and other transportation projects in the future. Higher fares, road fees, property tax? It all costs money. As far as I can tell, there are two options to pay for improving transit: a regional tax/fee/charge or a cheque from the province. The other option is no transit improvements at all and that is no option at all. If the Evergreen Line doesn't get built, don't expect any transit upgrade in the South of Fraser. This is very depressing indeed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Langley building suburbia in the ALR

Last year I wrote a report about the Agricultural Land Reserve in the South of Fraser. One of the things that I noted was that it wasn’t really block exclusions from private developers that were reducing the ALR, but death-by-1000-cuts non-farm-use application approvals. I was looking over the agenda for a Township of Langley council meeting and came across on of these applications.

Amend the Rural Plan and rezone 4.46 ha (11.02 acres) of
land located at 4386 – 216 Street and 21696 and 21846 –
44 Avenue to a new Comprehensive Development Zone
(CD-86) to permit development of twenty-one (21) single
family residential lots.
Last night, council was giving third-reading to a bylaw that would allow the construction of houses on about half-acre lots in the ALR. The proponent of this development tried to exclude this land from the ALR in 1993, 2003, and 2009. The Agricultural Land Commission at all points denied the exclusion request, but it 2009 allow the subdivision of some of the land to allow suburbia. What is tricky about this whole process is that instead of just removing these lots that will clearly never be used for farming again, the ALC is basically excluding the land in principal but not of paper which doesn’t seem right to me.

According to the staff report,
The development will also serve to provide a buffer between the urban area of Murrayville and abutting Agricultural Land Reserve lands to the south and provides for enhancing agricultural viability in the Township of Langley through contributions to the Langley Sustainable Agriculture Foundation (LASF).
While this may be the case, I remember a discussion about urban/rural interface at a planning convention four years ago and if it was really necessary. Of course one thing that really stuck out was a comment about why it was expected that land in the ALR should be the buffer and not the land outside the ALR.

I do not think that it is the intention of the ALC, Township staff or even council to destroy the viability of the ALR, but while this application on its own is small, when combined with all the other ALR exclusion and non-farm-use applications, it results in the slow and steady reduction of the ALR in Langley.

Monday, July 11, 2011

McBurney Lane gets a face lift

McBurney Lane - Picture from Vancouver is Awesome
A few years ago the “Welcome to Downtown Langley” sign at McBurney Lane was set on fire. Since that time, McBurney has started to show its age (and not in a good way.) At Douglas Park, a new cenotaph is being installed in time for Remembrance Day. Also, Park Avenue will be beautified as part of the new condo development on Douglas Crescent. With all the sprucing up on the south side of McBurney Lane, the City will be updating the north plaza. The City of Langley will be hosting an open house on Thursday, July 21, 2011 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to present the new plan for McBurney Lane on site.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Paying for TransLink - Gas Tax

As you are probably aware, TransLink's Mayors Council and the province have come to an understanding on how to pay for the Evergreen Line and future transit improvements. The resulting 2 cent per litre increase will cost the average drive $2 extra per fill. While many people understand that public services cost money, I’m still amazed at the people that want better public transit, hospitals, schools, and roads but don’t understand that these things cost money. Of course perennially whiner Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan was up in arms about paying for transit because his city already has two SkyTrain lines and good bus service. I guess he forgot that the region paid for his city’s transit system. According to the South Delta Leader, Burnaby, White Rock, North Vancouver City, Anmore and Lions Bay did not suppose paying for building the Everygreen Line. It’s a good thing that the other 16 mayors are team players.
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who helped broker the initial understanding with the province as mayors council chair last year, said the additional improvements are important.

"This is not just about the Evergreen Line," he said. "It also has significant other benefits to the rest of the reigon and especially south of the Fraser."

A King George Boulevard express bus, a new Langley-White Rock route, RapidBus service on Highway 1, more frequent SeaBus service and generally enhanced transit service are some of the add-ons.

"I would not have supported just the gas tax for the Evergreen Line," Fassbender said.
Gas tax is not a good long-term solution to pay for transit, but at least now we can get the 20-year delayed Evergreen Line underway and allow the region to find a long-term funding solutions for transportation. I would expect that a long-term funding solution will be something that will be talked about after the municipal elections this year.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Transit Funding

Today the mayor’s council will be meeting and possibly coming up with a solution to fund the missing $400 million to build the Evergreen Line. The Evergreen Line has been in an almost ready for construction state since 1995. The construction of the original Millennium Line was supposed to include the Evergreen Line bits, but it was decided to loop back to New Westminster as there was an upcoming election and the government of the day wanted something completed. Then the line was supposed to be built as a phase two, but of course the Canada Line trumped that. We are still waiting. It has become a hot potato along with transit funding in general. If I was a cynic, I’d say that TransLink was created as a way for the province to get out of having to make a full commitment to transit and download the cost to local government.

Even if the mayors and the province come to a funding solution for the Evergreen Line today, there is still billions of dollars in unfunded transit expansion that is needed for the South of Fraser. I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to wait another 20 years for it if the timeline for the Evergreen Line is any indication. The federal government really need to have a stable and long term transit funding program like in the US. The province already has the provincial transit plan which includes $12 billion for public transit improvements. Our local government will need to find a stable source of funding for transit since I doubt the province is interested in taking back the responsibility of providing transit in our region. While tolling roads and charging gas tax are good ways to pay for capital projects, they are unstable funding sources. Property tax in the most stable funding source that I know of in the region and would be the best source to provide stable funding for TransLink’s operating costs. Of course, the mayor has dug their heels in and said there will be no property tax increases for TransLink.

Maybe today’s the day that all our transit funding woes will be solved. I not holding my breath.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Regional Growth Strategy Update

Back in March, all municipalities in the region signed on to the new regional growth strategy except for Coquitlam. In order to resolve the conflict, the province sent Metro Vancouver and Coquitlam to a non-binding resolution process. So far meetings have been held on June 14, 16, and 29. The next meeting is scheduled for:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 12:00 – 5:00 p.m., Metro Vancouver Board Room, 4330 Kingsway, Burnaby

The meeting is open to the public. What will be interesting is if the parties will come to an agreement today. Coquitlam's main concern seems to be that the plan has special study areas of which Coquitlam has none.

Click Map to Enlarge
Special study areas allow for the change of regional land use with a 2/3 majority of the Metro Vancouver Board instead of basically rewriting the growth plan. While many may see special study areas as a way to short-circuit the growth plan, I can't see how. It still requires 2/3 majority voting plus public hearings. It don't think that places like Langley, Surrey or West Vancouver will be able to pull a fast one.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cake Cutting, Ribbon Cutting, and Plaques – TransLink opens upgraded Surrey Transit Centre

Today TransLink official opened the newly expanded Surrey Transit Centre.

According to Doug Kelsey, TransLink’s chief operating officer, the facility is meant to accommodate the growing needs of Surrey well into the future with the help of another new transit centre that is currently being planned for the region. The expanded facility includes over $12 million dollars in upgrade. One of the key green aspects of this project is the installation of a waste-water treatment plant that will reduce water consumption by up to 80 percent.

The expanded facility will be able to handle 300 buses including 50 articulated buses. I asked Doug Kelsey if TransLink has any plans to introduce articulated buses in the South of Fraser anytime soon. He said that they do plan on added service in the near future, but first funding needs to be secured for transit expansion. Right now TransLink is in a holding pattern and speaking to others at TransLink, they are hoping that in the next few weeks the province and mayors will come to a funding agreement to keep the momentum of the last several years going.

Over the past decade, $3.3 billion from senior levels of government has been invested in transit expansion in the region and that has resulted in record ridership since 2004.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Don't Drink and Drive

Happy Canada Day!

With Canada Day as the launch of the summer season, now is a good time to remind everyone that police will be out in full force looking for impaired drivers at roadchecks across the province this summer.

If you're going to drink, make the smart choice and plan your way home before you go out:

-Take transit
-Choose a designated driver.
-Refuse to ride with drivers who may be impaired. Ask to be let out of the car if necessary.
-Set an example: your smart driving decisions can have a significant influence on others.
-Take a stand and don't let people drive if they have been drinking alcohol.
-If you see an impaired driver, call 911 and report it to your local police.
-Talk about the issue with your family and friends.