Thursday, October 3, 2013

Transit ridership down in Metro Vancouver

2012 was a bad year for sustainable transportation and transit users in Metro Vancouver. Ever since TransLink was formed in 1999, funding has been a challenge for the organization. A vehicle levy which was supposed to be a major revenue source to fund transportation in the region was never implemented by the NDP government of the day or the proceeding BC Liberal government. This led to a steady increase in fares, property tax, and gas tax to fund the system. While this was not ideal, it did allow TransLink to expand the transit network and grow ridership.

In 2010, the BC government and TransLink Mayors’ Council signed a memo of understanding to find and implement a stable, long-term revenue source to fund sustainable transportation options in the region. As a gesture of good-faith, the Mayors’ Council approved a temporary property tax increase to allow the continued expansion of the transit service while a long-term revenue source could be found and implemented. At the same time, the BC government increased the gas tax in Metro Vancouver to help pay for the Evergreen Line. All seemed to be going well until early 2012. The BC government decided unilaterally that TransLink would not get any new funding source and ordered an audit. The Mayors’ Council responded by axing the temporary property tax increase. Around the same time, the independent TransLink Commissioner denied TransLink a fare increase and released its own audit of the organization.

Both audits did not find much fat in the organization, and ironically suggested cutting transit service as a way for the agency to become more efficient. Sure some high-level positions at TransLink were eliminated, but the elimination of those positions barely funded a new bus route.

TransLink has seen a steady increase in ridership over the last decade with double-digit growth occurring during and after the Olympics in 2010. This can be backed up with statistics from the American Public Transit Association (APTA). This growth came to an abrupt halt in 2013.

In December 2012, TransLink started to implement “efficiencies” in the transit system which has resulted in a reduction of service in the region. If these were true efficiencies, there would be a reduction of spending with little to no impact on actual service delivery.

Not since the transit strike in 2001 has TransLink seen a reduction of overall ridership on the transit network in Metro Vancouver. The latest numbers from the APTA show that transit ridership is down 3.26% for the first six month in 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. During the same period, transit ridership increased 8.9% in Edmonton and 6.49% in Calgary. Both these communities that are investing in transit.

While one organization continues to crow that more efficiencies need to be found within TransLink, the cold, hard stats show that TransLink has been force to cut at muscle and not fat. The reality is that without a new revenue source, transit service will get worse in the region. Combine the sorry state of transit with the BC government’s obsessions with building toll bridges, and people in the South of Fraser will have to fork out more money to get around in a car as they won’t have transportation options. The end result is that Metro Vancouver will become a less livable region.


Stephan Wehner said...

That's too bad!

Tim said...

Falling gas revenues as well