Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Province is TransLink's Puppet Master

While many people blame TransLink or the mayors for the mess that transit service is in, people should really be looking to the Province. TransLink and the mayors are the puppets while the Province has always been the puppet master.

The NDP created TransLink in 1999 as a way to download to Metro Vancouver regional transportation issues. The TransLink board was basically the Metro Vancouver board. The Province gave TransLink the ability to be funded from gas tax and property tax, plus some of the historic fees from the BC Hydro days of transit service. One other funding source, a vehicle levy, was promised by the Province at that time, but the NDP pulled the plug on that funding source as the party wasn’t doing so well in the polls.

The Liberals swept into power 2001 and not much changed with TransLink. It wasn’t until TransLink and Metro Vancouver voted against the Canada Line that the Province changed TransLink's governance from elected officials to a private board. The thought was that the private board would be better at handling finances and would come up with money to pay for transit expansion via savings and other magic that only private business can perform. As it turns out, there wasn’t much extra money to be found.

At the end of 2010, realizing that there wasn’t a large amount of money to be found within TransLink, the Province and the mayors signed a memo of understanding saying that the Province would work with the mayor to find the long promised, long-term funding to pay for transit. This prompted TransLink to submit the “Moving Forward” package of transit expansion that relied on a gas tax increase, plus a long-term funding source which the mayors approved. The Province approved the gas tax and talks continued on finding a long-term funding source. The mayors recommended a vehicle levy to start with that could be changed to something else like fair tolling.

I was told that the Province, the mayors, and TransLink had the best working relationship in the history of the organization.

All was going according to plan until March 22nd when Premier Christy Clark, seeing that the Liberals were low in the polls, said that “We are not going to find [the money] through a vehicle levy.” Welcome back to 2000.

The TransLink commissioner's report was really the nail in the coffin. The proposed fare hike that the commissioner cancelled would have generated $48 million in new revenue to pay for transit expansion even while the commissioner’s report only found up to $30 million in savings from TransLink’s $1,217 million budget.

New "Moving Forward" Plan

Evergreen Line
11km of SkyTrain from Burnaby to Coquitlam plus an upgraded Commercial–Broadway SkyTrain station which will see the construction of a new east outboard platforms for the Expo Line.

Total Capital Cost: $1.489 billion
Annual Operating Cost: $17.8 million

Highway 1 Bus Rapid Transit Service
Provide peak period frequency of 10 minutes between Walnut Grove, Surrey Central SkyTrain, and Lougheed SkyTrain along Highway 1.

Annual Operating Cost: $7.8 million

King George Boulevard B-Line Service
New B-Line route along 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard to provide 7.5 minute service between Guildford Exchange and Newton Exchange with 15 minute service between Newton Exchange and White Rock Centre.

Total Capital Cost: $3.8 million
Annual Operating Cost: $7.2 million

White Rock to Langley Local Service
New bus route along 200th Street and 24th Avenue linking White Rock Centre and Langley with 30 minute service.

Annual Operating Cost: $1.2 million

Bus Service Hours to Meet Minimum Guidelines
Introduce more frequent bus service in the following corridors to relieve overcrowding:

-Marine Drive (West Vancouver and North Vancouver)
-Lonsdale Avenue (North Vancouver)
-Pinetree Way (Coquitlam)
-Fraser Highway (Surrey and Langley)
-104th Avenue (Surrey)
-Cambie Avenue (Richmond)
-Willingdon (Burnaby)
-East-West Corridor in Vancouver (4th, 41st, 49th)

Total Capital Cost: $5.3 million
Annual Operating Cost: $12.2 million

Bus Service Hours to Accommodate Population Growth
Introduction of additional bus service in 2013 to meet demand for transit service with the purchase of 20 new buses.

Total Capital Cost: $10.5 million
Annual Operating Cost: $8.1 million

Bus Service Hours and Infrastructure on U-Pass Routes
Improve bus service on U-Pass routes to reduce overcrowding with the purchase of 33 new buses and transit priority improvements to the road network.

Total Capital Cost: $30 million
Annual Operating Cost: $8.7 million

Main Street Station Upgrades
Enable the installation of fare gates and improve accessibility.

Total Capital Costs $30 million
Annual Operating Cost: $400,000

Metrotown Station Upgrades
Enable the installation of fare gates and improve accessibility.

Total Capital Costs $30 million
Annual Operating Cost: $400,000

Surrey Central Station Upgrades
Enable the installation of fare gates, improve accessibility, and new B-Line service. Also moves the current off-street bus exchange to an on-street transit couplet road to support Surrey’s Downtown plan.

Total Capital Cost: $10 million
Annual Operating Cost: $400,000

New Westminster Station Upgrade
Upgrade and replaces station infrastructure at end of useful life and fully integrate with adjacent new development.

Total Capital Cost: $10 million
Annual Operating Cost: $100,000

Lonsdale Quay Upgrade
Upgrade the bus exchange to improve operating efficiency.

Total Capital Cost: $5 million

Restores the Bike Capital Program at $3 million annually

Restore the Major Road Network Minor Capital Program to $20 million annually

Looking at the trail of blood, South of Fraser citizens are now stuck with unfair road tolls and poor transit service while North of Fraser residents get gold-plated Evergreen Line.

What’s even more ironic is that the Province is spending tens of millions of dollars building a park and ride in Langley, plus special bus lanes on Highway 1/Port Mann that will now see no bus service. It also puts the Township of Langley's Transit Village plans in jeopardy. In Surrey, the often promised King George B-Line will not see the light of day. On the SkyTrain system, the Province with TransLink has spent over $100 million on fare gates that won’t even be installed at one of the busiest stations in the system: Metrotown.

While it is simplistic to blame TransLink or even the mayors for the transit woes in our region, it has always been the Province in control. The Province has destroyed transit expansion in our region and the Province is the only one that can fix this mess.


Robert Willis - Buzzer blog editor said...

Thanks for the interesting post Nathan. The topic of the future of transportation in Metro Vancouver is an important one. I wanted to add to your post that the projects which are not moving forward at the present moment (indicated via strike out text) are on hold, not cancelled. TransLink is looking for other ways (although challenging) to fund them.

Robert (

Anonymous said...

A solid post, Nathan. Lots of good stuff. A hypthotetical alternative to continued provincial interventions would be a legislative overhaul of TransLink (third time lucky?) to give the regional authority genuine autonomy. If the Council of Mayors launched an open process to design a new model and picked up some public support, the next government might be receptive.

Cody said...

A couple weeks ago, Mayor Dianne Watts was talking about Surrey's own ground-level train solution. She also said that there should be tolls on ALL lower mainland bridges, and none of them above $1.
Has anything been said about that since? The unfair tolling of South Fraser residents needs to stop.
I also recall hearing recently that the City of Surrey refused to participate in Translink's Patullo Bridge planning sessions. Can Surrey secede from Translink?

Joe Zaccaria said...

Sounds like a great to have Cody, but I don't see this realistically flying any time soon. The Province of BC entered into a P3 agreement for the bridge and its long-term funding. Reducing the toll down to $1 means that someone has to pay the private corporation that is footing the bill for this shortfall in revenue. The Province is not in any position to rip up this contract.

Anonymous said...

@Joe mentions a P3. The P3 negotiations on the Port Mann project fell apart, and the Province is financing it in a conventional way. Joe is correct in suggesting that if Port Mann toll revenues are low, the general taxpayer from Kitimat or wherever pays the difference; I guess this is a political calculation.