Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TransLink and the Federal Gas Tax Fund

As you may know, TransLink receives 100% of the Federal Gas Tax Fund for Metro Vancouver. The federal program delivers about $2 billion annually to local governments in Canada. Metro Vancouver and TransLink receive about $122 million per year. The federal program does come with some strings attached; it can only be used for capital projects of regional significance which apparently excludes bike lanes. The Metro Vancouver board is encouraging local governments in the regional to write to their respective MPs to allow for the federal fund to be used for cycling improvements as well.

The Metro Vancouver board is also looking into whether or not the federal government would entertain using the gas tax fund to pay for ongoing operational costs as well. I have a feeling that the federal government has no desire to be funding transit operations and I don’t think anything will come of that. I do believe that we need a federal transit program that looks at funding a percentage of capital and operational costs, but I don’t think that is a priority for Harper and his Conservatives right now.

So as it currently stands, the Federal Gas Tax Fund will be used to replace aging buses in the TransLink fleet. Since the program started in 2005, TransLink has purchased 729 new conventional bus, 101 new community shuttles, 136 new HandyDART buses, 14 new SkyTrain cars, and 1 new SeaBus. The fund has also allowed for the refurbishment of 114 SkyTrain cars, SkyTrain and bus facility expansion, Expo Line power system upgrades, and the purchase of Compass Card equipment for buses.

Between 2013 and 2015, TransLink proposes to purchase 426 new conventional buses, 331 community shuttles, and 505 HandyDART buses with the Gas Tax Fund. This would result in TransLink having the most modern fleet in North America.

The big challenge with the Federal Gas Tax fund is even though we get a pretty good chunk of federal funding to pay for capital projects, these projects cannot increase operating costs. This basically takes transit expansion projects off the table currently as there is an impasse between the Province and local government on how to fund the operating costs at TransLink. Being able to spend some of this funding on cycling infrastructure would certainly be helpful because at some point we are going to run out of old buses to replace.

1 comment:

OctaviusIII said...

Why not invest in bus infrastructure that maintains or decreases operating costs? Bus-only lanes, freeway bus pads, signal priority, queue-jumping lanes, bus bulb-outs...

If all these small projects are lumped into a large Transit Improvement Plan it might qualify as a "major" capital project. Investments in cycling infrastructure, especially along more rural routes, is a better plan, but I'd hate for the money to start to go to waste.