Thursday, August 29, 2013

Leap Ahead transit plan, debrief

It has been a whirlwind week for me since Paul Hillsdon and I release Leap Ahead, A transit plan for Metro Vancouver. The plan received a good amount of coverage in the regional media. On Tuesday, CTV ran a great piece about the plan. CBC also has comprehensive coverage about the plan including both raw video of me explaining the plan, and my interview on Tuesday morning’s Early Edition in the article.

While there will always be some people who oppose any sort of tax increase, most people appear to support using a regional 0.5% sales taxes increase to funding expanding rapid transit in Metro Vancouver. In fact even the Province newspaper, which published an opinion piece with a lukewarm response about using a 0.5% increase in PST to fund transit, couldn't find much issue with the plan. The main reason I’ve heard why some people have reservations about the small proposed 0.5% PST increase is that they believe TransLink is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars. This is simplify not the case.

Both the TransLink Commissioner and Auditor General could not find any significant areas of savings within TransLink. With no new funding, there is simply no money to fund much needed transit expansion. For example, if the agency could be run without any staff or administration whatsoever, the region would still need to find more than $200 million per year to fund transit expansion.

The other concern that I've heard is about the affordability of a 0.5% increase in the PST. 35 cents per taxpaying person, per day is less than the cost of a cup of coffee. A young family with two paying adults would contribute around $4.90 a week. Many families have multiple vehicles. According to the CAA, the average cost of owning and operating a vehicle in Metro Vancouver is more than $10,000 per year. With the Leap Ahead plan, a family will be able to spend less money on driving or even get rid of one vehicle, saving them thousands of dollars per year.

Paul and I released this plan because we were tired of the continuous inaction around finding a funding solution that could actually be supported by the public, fund rapid transit expansion throughout the region, and win in a referendum. I’ve received several emails from local politicians, city staff, and private citizens who are excited that the Leap Ahead plan has started a productive dialogue about a practical funding solution that will finally allow our region to get a rapid transit system that will provide a least $15 billion return in economic benefits.

I believe that using a small 0.5% increase in the PST to fund transit expansion could win in a referendum as long as the public is guaranteed that every cent collected is put directly into funding transit expansion. TransLink also needs to work on improving its image and show the public that it is a well-run organization.

There is a coalition called Get on Board BC who are gearing up to be the pro-transit voice as we move closer to the 2014 transit referendum. If you want to become more involved, I suggestion you check out their website.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Advocates unveil transit expansion plan funded by 0.5% sales tax

Transit advocates Paul Hillsdon, founder of Metro604, and Nathan Pachal, founder of South Fraser OnTrax, have unveiled Leap Ahead, a transit funding plan for the region. Based on over a year’s worth of research, the Leap Ahead proposal provides a clear path forward on stalled transit expansion plans. If implemented, Leap Ahead would unlock $15 billion in economic benefits and provide rapid transit to every part of Metro Vancouver.

In line with regional and provincial priorities, Leap Ahead would fund the immediate construction of significant transit infrastructure including:

  • UBC SkyTrain
  • South Fraser LRT & B-Line
  • Expo Line Upgrades
  • SFU Gondola
  • Marine Drive (North Shore) B-Line
  • Hastings B-Line
  • 41 Ave B-Line
  • Hwy 7 B-Line
  • Hwy 1 B-Line
  • Hwy 99 B-Line
  • 200 St B-Line

The Leap Ahead plan concludes that a 0.5% regional sales tax is the most comprehensive and affordable solution to fund the region’s share of the plan. Voter-approved regional sales taxes have been successfully introduced in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Denver for similar transit expansions. With a 2% decrease in the federal GST and 0.5% decrease in the PST over the last decade, there is room for the proposed sales tax. A 0.5% regional sales tax would amount to just $0.35 per day, per resident.

The Leap Ahead plan will:

  • Provide $21.5 billion in economic returns and produce a net benefit of $15 billion for taxpayers
  • Support 234,000 jobs over 30 years
    • 33 times more than the $1 billion South Fraser Perimeter Road
    • Nearly 4 times more than the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline
  • Expand the system from 65 to 138 rapid transit stations
  • Introduce rapid transit to every part of the region including Surrey, White Rock, Langley, Maple Ridge & the North Shore

“Do not - repeat, do not - junk-click this document,” said Gordon Price who is the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. “This one you want to read. I've seen enough of these proposals to know that Pachal and Hillsdon and have a pretty realistic sense of what kind of transit system might make sense for our future, and an idea for funding that might have a realistic chance of passage.”

“Whether you care about the future of Metro Vancouver or just the short-term politics of transit funding and referenda, Pachal and Hillsdon have some ideas worth considering,” Price continued. “At this point, they may have the only ideas worth considering, since everyone else seems to be waiting for somebody else to lead. And they have.”

Learn More:

The entire plan, including additional benefits, history, and route maps, can be downloaded from the document archive.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

History of Road Pricing in Metro Vancouver

Next week, I'll be releasing an important report about the future of our transportation system in Metro Vancouver. In the meantime, I though I'd tease you with a section that didn't make it into the final version.

There has always been the recognition in British Columbia that major transportation projects should be paid for with a combination of general tax revenue and user-fees, based on the premise that those who get the most benefit from a transportation project should pay a portion of that cost directly. It was recognized that general tax revenue alone should not and could not pay for the entire cost of these massive projects, leading to the introduction of tolls. Tolls were first implemented on the Depression-era public works project, the Pattullo Bridge, at its opening in 1937. In the 1950s, the Province entered a period of large-scale highway expansion, with tolls paying for much of this infrastructure. During this time, tolls were in place on the Lions Gate Bridge, Oak Street Bridge, Second Narrows Bridge, and the George Massey Tunnel. Tolls were eventually removed from all road facilities in the province by the late 1960s and it wasn’t until the Coquihalla Highway opened in 1986 that tolls were once used to pay for a significant road facility.

In the 2000s, it was recognized that there would be significant cost to renew road infrastructure in the region and that tolls would likely play a part in future funding. In 2003, the province introduced a new tolling policy stating that tolls would only be used for major projects and only when a reasonable, free alternative route is available. The new Port Mann Bridge was the first facility to be tolled under this new policy.

In the 1999, TransLink was formed with the mandate to build and maintain road facilities of regional significance (not under provincial control) and was granted the ability to toll its facilities. The Golden Ears Bridge was the first toll facility built by TransLink. There is currently tension between the Province and TransLink as some of the free alternative routes used to justify the Port Mann toll may be subject to tolling by TransLink.

Tolling can serve a dual purpose. It can be used to pay for the construction and maintenance of the road network and it can also be used to manage the demand on road facilities and reduce congestion. For most of its history in British Columbia, tolls have only been used to help pay for the capital cost of road infrastructure.

Another form of road pricing - the motor excise fuel tax - has a long history in the province. The gas tax has been used by government for decades to help pay for transportation, although it was historically remitted directly into general revenues.

Between 1993 and 2004, a separate entity - BC Transportation Financing Authority - was in place to bring accountability to the motor fuel tax and show the link between the tax and the financing of road facilities. Today, the Authority is now the project funding arm of the Ministry of Transportation, collecting the motor fuel tax and is responsible for building provincial transportation facilities on paper. It also owns all provincial transportation facilities and associated land plus all land owned for future transportation facilities in the province.

Today, in Metro Vancouver, the Authority receives 6.75ȼ per litre in motor fuel tax, while the province collects 1.75ȼ per litre for general government revenue; 17ȼ per litre in motor fuel tax is collected for TransLink, which is responsible for the regional road network; 6.67ȼ per litre in motor fuel tax goes towards the revenue neutral carbon tax.

Starting in 2011, both TransLink and the BC Transportation Financing Authority saw a reduction in motor fuel revenue which is linked to the overall North American trend of reduced vehicle miles traveled. A fixed motor fuel tax may no longer be a reliable way to generate revenue to pay for transportation facilities. In 2011/12 the Authority collected $447 million in dedicated motor fuel tax and had $983 million in expenses.

Further Reading:

Transportation Act, [SBC 2004] Chapter 44. n.d.

BC Transportation Financing Authority. "BC Transportation Financing Authority Annual Report 2001/02." Crown Agencies Resource Office. June 18, 2002.

BC Transportation Financing Authority. "Consolidated Financial Statements of Transportation Financing Authority Year ended March 31, 2012." Ministry Reporting Service Plans, Annual Reports and Financial Statements. July 17, 2012.

Bill 3. Build BC Act, 1993 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 35th Parliament. n.d.

British Columbia Ministry of Finance. "Bulletin MFT-CT 005, Tax Rates on Fuels." Revenue Division - Ministry of Finance Forms, Publications and Legislation. October 16, 2012.

Gillen, David. "The Role of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) in Implementing Road Pricing for Congestion Management." Centre for Transportation Studies, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia. October 30, 2007.

Province of British Columbia - Office of the Premier. "Backgrounder - Coquihalla Highway." Province of British Columbia Newsroom. September 26, 2008.

Province of British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Highways. "Frontier to Freeway: A short illustrated history of the roads in British Columbia." Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Publications. August 15, 2002.

Province of British Columbia. "Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure 2011/12 Annual Service Plan Report." BC Budget Annual Reports. July 18, 2012.

Province of British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. "Guidelines for Tolling - April 2003." Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. April 22, 2003.

South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority. "TransLink 2011 Annual Report." TransLink Annual Reports. May 28, 2012.

State Smart Transportation Initiative. "Motor vehicle travel demand continues long-term downward trend in 2011." State Smart Transportation Initiative. February 20, 2012 .

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Coulter Berry Building Ground-breaking Ceremony in Fort Langley

Sometimes, I get a bit disappointed when I see some of the development projects that are being approved and built in the Township of Langley. While the community has a Sustainability Charter and in theory believes in the transportation hierarchy of walking, cycling, transit, then driving, far too often development projects are still being built for cars and not people in the Township. The perfect example of this is the mixed-use projects around 202nd Street in Walnut Grove that front the street with large surface parking lots.

Last night, I attended the ground-breaking ceremony for the Coulter Berry building project in Fort Langley. This is one project that excites me. This project is truly mixed-used with commercial and residential units. More importantly, the building has ground-level retail the fronts the streets and very minimal surface parking tucked away in the back of the building (the vast majority of parking is provided underground.) The project is designed to put people first. Further, I believe that the Coulter Berry Building will help reinforce Fort Langley as a people-oriented village and strengthen the traditional “Main Street” feel of the commercial core of the community.

One of the things that I was encourage to hear (if not a bit ironic considering Township Council’s track record of approving auto-oriented projects) was to hear Mayor Jack Froese talking about how impressed he was with the Coulter Berry building and its commitment to LEED Gold, street-front retail, and underground parking. I hope that the Coulter Berry building will set the bar higher for development projects in the Township, and that Council will require more projects to put people first in the community.

I took a few pictures from the ground-breaking ceremony which are included below. I look forward to seeing this project completed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More port expansion

If you look at most of the road infrastructure built in the South of Fraser over the last decade by the provincial and federal government, most has been built to support Port Metro Vancouver and commercial goods movement. The new South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) will, for example, connect Highway One to Fraser Docks and Deltaport. In fact, most of the land removed from farm-use in the sub-region has been to support various Port projects. The SFPR itself removed 90 hectares of land from farm-use in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), plus rail expansion for the port removed a further 21 hectares. As part of the Tsawwassen First Nation treaty, 216 hectares of land was removed from the ALR and is now zoned Industrial to support Port-related businesses. All in all, the Port has had a major impact on the South of Fraser. All of this infrastructure and land-removal is likely to support the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal Two expansion.

I was reminded about the Port’s impact in the South of Fraser when I received an email about another project that they are working on. As part of the expansion of the current port facility in Delta, Port Metro Vancouver is increasing road and rail capacity on its land. The latest project that has started construction will include:

-An overpass on the existing Roberts Bank causeway that will separate road and rail traffic
-Reconfiguration of rail track and additional container handling equipment within the Deltaport Terminal
-Rail improvements within the existing railway right-of-way and within a portion of the Option [TFN] Lands west of Arthur Drive
-Road improvements on Deltaport Way to improve the movement of container trucks at Deltaport

You can read more about these infrastructure projects on the Port’s website.

One of the things that I find interesting is that public money is used to support the Port and has gone unchecked. There has been little in the media about the massive spending and impact the Port is having in our region. It is interesting because the Port is a public body with no direct accountability, just like TransLink. Yet if TransLink changes from 1 to 2 ply toilet paper, it becomes a scandal. It makes me wonder why.

Monday, August 19, 2013

New McBurney Lane Revealed

On Saturday, I visited the Arts Alive Festival which was put on by the Downtown Langley Business Association. The festival is basically a sidewalk sale combined with live music, theatre, and visual arts. The festival was well attended with the one-way section of Fraser Highway, the parking lot between Frostings Cupcakes and evolutions yoga, McBurney Lane, and Salt Lane closed to vehicular traffic.

It was good to see (while not 100% complete) the renovated McBurney Lane open for the festival. The old version of McBurney Lane was getting long in the tooth, and was in need of replacement. While the North section of the lane has been pedestrian-only for a long time, the South section of the lane was a parking lots. The original plan for McBurney Lane called for the full plaza to become a car-free area, but some of the merchants feared that the loss of parking would have a negative impact on their businesses. The long and short of the story is that the City of Langley updated the plan, making half the South section of the lane open for parking with design elements that give a cue that the South section is a pedestrian-priority area. The design also allows for the South parking area to be easily closed and converted to full car-free use. I decided to snap a few pictures of the newly renovated McBurney Lane.

 North McBurney Lane, looking North. Click image to enlarge.

 North McBurney Lane, looking South. Click image to enlarge.

 South McBurney Lane, looking South. Former parking lot. Click image to enlarge.

One of the ironic things that I noticed at the festival were comments from some people enjoying the new McBurney Lane wondering where people would park their cars. I find this interesting because the well-attended festival required the closure of all the parking on the one-way section of Fraser Highway and several surrounding parking lots. In fact when I was walking to the festival around 11:30am, the ugly parking lots that the City of Langley expanded was half empty. I support on-street parking and would never advocate for its removal, but events like Arts Alive show that Downtown Langley has an amply amount of parking; I believe too much off-street parking. I look forward to the day when McBurney Lane can be fully car-free as originally envisioned, and many of the surface parking lots in the area giving way to businesses.

Downtown Langley has a sufficient density of housing around it to allow the area to become pedestrian and cycling focused. One of the ways that Downtown Langley can distinguish itself from auto-oriented commercial areas will be to embrace the vision of it becoming a traditional Main Street. This will attract customers, and events like the Arts Alive Festival prove it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Faregate Fiasco

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how TransLink was ending some of their discount fare programs, including the Employer Pass program (which I thought was a poor decision.) TransLink also announced that it was phasing out the FareSaver discount ticket program. While I understood that the FareSavers were being replaced with a new discounting program as part of the Compass Card rollout, many transit riders and the media thought that TransLink was effectively killing all discount programs.

I remember being on the bus the next day and hearing pretty much everyone talking about how TransLink was ending all discount programs; people were really upset about the FareSaver tickets going away. Of course lost in the noise about the ending of some discount programs was the note that new discount fare programs would be rolled out with the Compass Card.

I've known for some time that if you pay a cash fare on the bus, you would not be able to transfer onto SkyTrain once the faregates are turned on. TransLink claims that this is because not many people (6000 riders) transfer between the bus and SkyTrain daily, and the $25 million dollar cost to add single-use smart cards to all bus fareboxes was not justified.

The interesting thing is that having a integrated transit system is what make our system more accessible than most. In 2009, New York Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan called out fare system the “golden ticket”, and was envious of our integrated transit system. I feel that this break in our transfer system is a small step backwards.

Yesterday, the media found out that cash-only bus fares won't work on SkyTrain and as they say, shit hit the fan. While the Compass Card system will actually give more people more convenient payment options (and will even allow you to pay for your bus fare with credit card in the future), people are now all excited about the lack of cash-only bus fare transfers which impacts an even smaller amount of people than the cancelled Employer Pass program. More bad PR for TransLink.

Interesting enough, this whole faregate fiasco could have been avoided. First, TransLink could have programmed their ticket vending machines to accept bus transfers and spit out a single-use Compass Card transfers with the same expiry time. Second and more practically, TransLink could have ordered some of the new faregates with the optional magnetic ticket reader which is noted on the vendor of TransLink's faregates website. This is what I've seen in pretty much all systems with faregates that I've been on in North America and in the UK.

Last week, I posted that TransLink has a bad brand. It is foot-in-mouth things like the transfer issue that further reenforce this bad brand. It is a shame because I've travelled on many transit systems throughout the world, and I have to say that we have one of the better systems. TransLink needs to really work on its PR and needs to evaluate how its decisions will look when it comes out in the media. There will be a referendum next year on transit funding, and I'd like people to vote for improved transit service.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Agricultural Land Reserve under threat due to core review

“We’re going to look at some sacrosanct things, like certain agencies. We’re going to look at the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission,” Bill Bennett, minister responsible for the core review, said Wednesday.

That quote sent a shiver up my spine when I read it in a recent article in the Vancouver Sun.

The provincial government launched a review of the services government provides at the end of July. According to the provincial government, the review will:
-Ensure ministry programs and activities are focused on achieving government's vision of a strong economy and secure tomorrow.
-Confirm government's core responsibilities and eliminating programs that could provide better service at less cost through alternative service delivery models.
-Ensure public-sector management wage levels are appropriate.

Recommendation will be due in December 2014 and will be incorporated into the 2014-15 budget. What scares me is that it appears that some politicians in the provincial government have a basis against the preservation of farmland.

In 2010, the Auditor General found that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) —which looks after the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)— was having a hard time meeting its goal of protecting farmland due, in part, to insufficient funding. A recent follow-up from the Auditor General in 2012 noted that the ALC, under direction of the Ministry of Agriculture, was working on finding new funding sources to help the ALC meet its goals. Some of the funding options examined were increased application fees, service fees, monitoring fees, and auditing fees. In the meantime, the provincial government provided $625,000 in temporary funding for fiscal year 2011/12, a further $975,000 in fiscal 2012/13, and another $931,000 in fiscal 2013/12 to help the ALC as it transition to a more self-supporting model allowing the agency to better meet its mandate of protecting farmland.

It is a bit mind-boggling that one part of the provincial government seems to be committed to strengthening the ALC while other parts (as Bill Bennett’s comment suggests) want to weaken the ALC and its ability to protect farmland. I’ve heard other local MLAs say that they have issues with the ALC and regional land-use planning in general.

Farmland is an important part of our local economy, protects floodplains, and keeps urban sprawl in check in Metro Vancouver. A temporary weakening of the ALR in the 1980s caused an explosion of golf course. The provincially mandated removal of land from the ALR in Delta is the reason why the Tsawwassen First National can now build one of the largest shopping malls in Canada. Also, the reason that Barnston Island is still rural is because the ALC preventing an industrial park from being built.

While a core review of government services is something that I can support, I get concerned when the person in charge of the review has a bone to pick with the ALC and the preservation of farmland in Metro Vancouver.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Asphalt Alley - City of Langley's Civic Centre

Earlier this year, I posted about how the City of Langley is buying up property in what is called the Civic Centre area in Downtown Langley. So far what the City has done after purchasing properties is tear down the buildings and put up parking lots. In what seems like a fit of 1960’s urban renewal, Downtown Langley’s core is now flanked by the large Cascade Casino parking lot and the newly expanded City-owned parking lot. While the Casino parking lots has a negative effect on the walkability of Downtown Langley, at least it has a landscaped buffer between it and the street. The expanded City parking lots has absolutely no landscaping, and when combined with the Timm Community Centre site, the Civic Centre is now looking like an urban wasteland. I took a few pictures of what this area now looks like today.

Former site of Timm Community Centre

Newly expanded City-owned parking lots at Fraser Highway and Glover Road

Now both the Timm Community Centre site and the parking lot will be redeveloped in the future, but I’m concerned that even two more years of this “temporary” parking lot and torn-down Timm Community Centre will continue to have a negative influence on the walkability and viability of Downtown Langley.

Surrey pop-up park. Part of PARKit project. Image from City of Surrey

One of the interesting things that Surrey did near the parking lot at Surrey Central SkyTrain Station is put up a temporary pop-up park. There is more information about this on Surrey’s website, but this would certainly be something worth considering in Downtown Langley. It would bring life back to the area and is a better alternative to bare asphalt.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Our transportation system and its impact on human health

One of the legislative requirements for TransLink is to complete a 30-year long-term transportation strategy that must be updated every five years. In an ideal world, this long term plan guides TransLink’s annual base and supplemental transportation and financial plans. The last long-term transportation strategy, Transport 2040, was released in 2008. An update is due for the long-term plan, and TransLink has be busy putting it together.

One of the interesting things about this long-term plan update is that TransLink has put together a series of detailed research papers on key issues that impact livability in relation to our transportation system in Metro Vancouver. Early last month, I posted my thoughts about the research paper TransLink put together on parking requirements in the region. Today, I’d like to highlight the research paper that they commissioned from the Health & Community Design Lab at UBC.

As noted in the research paper, 41% of the annual provincial budget is dedicated to health spending with less than 10% spent on preventative healthcare. According to the research, “a significant portion of this budget is related to preventable chronic conditions, including obesity, which currently produce more than $860 million in direct and indirect health care costs in each year.” Health spending continues to increase, so business as usual is not sustainable. One of the areas that has received little attention over the years is the link between our built form (land-use and transportation) and health outcomes. The following graphic shows the link between these two.

Built Environment & Health Linkages

Our built-form can play a larger rolling in making a healthier population and reducing health related government spending.

Right now our current auto-oriented transportation system presents a quadruple-threat to human health. Auto-oriented transportation systems have been shown to increase rates of obesity. Vehicle emissions have been linked to causing premature death in venerable populations, such as those with respiratory illness, seniors, and children. The high-volume, and high-speed of vehicles in auto-oriented communities cause an increase in fatalities from collisions. There is even “mounting evidence that cardiovascular health is harmed by exposure to traffic noise.”

It’s not all bad news though, because communities that are designed around active transportation and transit have a quadruple-benefit to society and human health. According to the research paper “an individual's travel behaviour is one of the most telling indicators of physical activity levels given that different travel modes inherently require different amounts of physical activity.” For example, people who take transit regularly get about eight more minutes of moderate physical daily activity than people who drive to work. This eight minutes a day can actually result in weight loss and lower the risk of getting a chronic health condition. Walkable neighbourhoods have also been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. When you reduce the amount of vehicles on the road and the speed at which they are traveling (as a result of prioritizing other modes of travel) collisions and harmful emissions are also reduced.

One of the thing that frustrates me is that there is a mountain of evidence that shows that how we are building communities, currently, is bad for human health, economic return, and the environment. It seems silly to me that the Ministry of Transportation has an infrastructure program that actually increases health spending in the province.

One of the recommendation in the report is that local governments, Metro Vancouver, TransLink, Regional Health Authorities, The Ministry of Transportation and The Ministry of Health, work together on built-form policy. Maybe as part of every local, regional, and provincial land-use and transportation plan there should be a section on how it will impact human health and health spending?

TransLink has a series of other research papers on their website as part of the RTP process which are worth checking out.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Future transit plan for Abbotsford and Mission

Last weekend, I took transit to Abbotsford. This got me thinking about what was happening with transit planning in that community. Abbotsford and Mission have an underfunded transit system for a region of its size in Canada, and their transit system is the least funded system per capita in BC. This City of Abbotsford and Mission are slowly trying to correct this, and in 2012 increased transit service hours provided. At the same time, they began working with BC Transit to lay out the short, medium, and long term goals for transit expansion in their communities.

Inter-Regional & Regional 25-Year Vision. Click map to enlarge.

One of the first thing that I noticed about their future transit plan is that there is a large focus on inter-regional transit with planned service to Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, Surrey, Langley City, Langley Township, and even Burnaby. Getting service from Abbotsford to Chilliwack, and to Carvolth Exchange are short-term priorities.

Abbotsford 25 Year Network Vision. Click map to enlarge.

Medium term priorities for the Abbotsford transit system include implementing a phased rapid transit system along the South Fraser Way/UFV corridor. At the same time, the frequent transit network would gradually be implementing over the 25 year period of the plan.

Of course a plan is useless without funding. Just like in Metro Vancouver, Abbotsford and Mission need to make some hard funding choices and will need the support of the Provincial government to implement their vision.

In the short term, the region will be relying on property tax increases to fund transit expansion, but in the future they are considering:
-A 1ȼ to 5ȼ per litre fuel tax.
-A $1 to $2 per month utility levy (Like the BC Hydro levy in Metro Vancouver).
-An annual $12.50 to $25 vehicle levy.

Abbotsford also plans to look at land value capture tax which would allow the city to capture some of the windfall profit that comes when land value goes up near rapid transit lines. They will also being look at commercial revenue opportunities.

The largest potential future funding source that they are looking at is providing every household in Abbotsford and Mission with one annual, mandatory transit pass for $135 to $270 per year. The fee would be included in the annual property tax bill. This would be similar to the former TransLink community pass program that the 3,000 residents of UniverCity on top of Burnaby Mountain were part of.

I am excited about the future of transit in Abbotsford and Mission, but given the history of limited action on transit, I wonder if local politicians will be willing to spend political capital to implement the funding measures needed to transform the transportation system in their communities.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Does TransLink have a bad brand?

In a little over a year, people in our region will have the chance to vote in a referendum about the future of transit. While the question and referendum framework are still unclear, it will likely be focused on a new revenue source to fund transit expansion in Metro Vancouver. This has me a bit scared. I’m not scared because people will have a choice about funding transit expansion, I’m scared because they will have a choice about funding transit expansion under TransLink.

TransLink has a tarnished brand. When I speak with people about transit, most tell me how they would be willing to pay for more transit. In the next breath, they say that TransLink is a mismanaged, bloated bureaucracy. With HST, most people in BC actually supported the tax, but didn’t like how the BC Liberals implemented it. We all know the fate of the HST. In a similar vein, I wonder if people who actually support more funding for transit will vote against expansion as a way to show their displeasure for TransLink.

TransLink has been audited twice last year, and several times in the past. The results of the audits have been that the organization is well run, but TransLink does not seem to be reminding people of this fact. As the media and some politician relentlessly beat up TransLink, it seems that the organization just stand there and takes it. The most ridiculous story about TransLink “mismanaged” was about how it buys locally-source coffee for its office. Instead of responding to the story, TransLink just dismissed it.

Dismissing these stories might be OK if you didn’t need public support, but TransLink needs public support to win the transit referendum next fall. TransLink needs to crawl out of its shell and start telling its story instead of letting others do it for them. TransLink needs to start telling people that we have a well-run, world-class transit system.

TransLink needs to build goodwill in the region because I believe that next fall’s referendum on transit will be a referendum on TransLink. If people don’t feel good about TransLink, I believe that we may not get the transit expansion that our region needs.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is Aldergrove's Core Rotten?

This weekend, I headed to Abbotsford on transit to attend a friend’s wedding. A transit trip to Abbotsford means stopping in Aldergrove. I’ve been to Aldergrove a handful of times, but this weekend I decided to spend a bit of time and actually walk through the community’s core. When driving through Aldergrove on Fraser Highway, you might think that it has a small, but successful core similar to the City of Langley. When walking, I noticed that there were many closed-down businesses, businesses that looked like they were on the verge of shutting down, and bordered-up buildings. As a pedestrian, I also noticed that there was more parking lots than actually buildings which hinders walkability.

On the topic of walkability, I noticed that there is a lack of market-priced medium and higher-density residential housing in the core. This lack of sufficient housing density and the abundance of surface parking lots are certainly a few of the reasons why the Aldergrove core appears to be on life-support.

I also know that Aldergrove has a negative reputation that is often association with crime. The amount of empty and boarded-up commercial buildings further reinforce this reputation of the community.

While the Township of Langley has a great plan for the Aldergrove core, Council approved development projects in the community are working against revitalizing the core. Township Council has approved strip malls along the edge of Aldergrove and has approved housing projects at the fringe of the community which further draw business and people away from the core.

I know that the Township is hoping that the $50.4 million Aldergrove Community Centre will kick start redevelopment in the community, and while Aldergrove certainly deserves community amenities, I know that the Newton Wave Pool in Surrey didn’t cause a major transformation of Newton’s core.

You need a combination of businesses near a sufficient density of people within walking distance to have a successful walkable core. I good example is Fort Langley and Bedford Landing.

I don’t think that all is lost in Aldergrove though. Aldergrove has a large, mostly abandon mall in the core of the community. This is a prime location to lay the groundwork for revitalizing Aldergrove. As identified in the Aldergrove Community Plan, this site would support medium and high density residential with ground-level retail units that would front the street.

Many municipalities, including Surrey, have created development organizations that partner with the private sector to jump start revitalization projects. These development organizations build seed projects that attract further private-sector investment in the community.

After spending some time in Aldergrove, I believe that the redevelopment of the Aldergrove Mall site will be paramount to revitalizing Aldergrove’s core, and will send the signal that Aldergrove is open for business. The redevelopment of the mall site may need support from the Township of Langley through a private-public partnership.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

2013 Surrey Transportation Lecture Program

I attended the first joint SFU/City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program back in 2010. The lecture series is now in its 4th year. I you have the time, I highly recommend that you sign up for the program. I received the following announcement from the program.

About the Lecture Program

The Surrey Transportation Lecture Program is co-sponsored by the City of Surrey and SFU City Program. This annual course is a comprehensive introduction to transportation in the Lower Mainland, with a particular focus on Surrey. You’ll learn about a range of transportation issues, including corridor planning, the relationship between transportation and land use, and the operation and management of our transportation systems.

Guest speakers include senior staff from City of Surrey, TransLink, Metro Vancouver, ICBC and others. The program also features several field trips, including site visits on a chartered TransLink bus as well as an interactive walking tour of City Centre. A course overview is attached to this email.

Classes are on Wednesdays, September 11 through November 13, from 6:30–9:30 pm (no class on October 16). There is also a half-day site visit on Saturday October 19 from 9 am–1 pm.

Application Process, Registration & Tuition

Complete the online application form on SFU’s Surrey Transportation Lecture Program webpage.

Please note that the 2013 application deadline is August 15.

Tuition is $63 including GST, provided that you attend 80 percent of classes. We ask that participants provide a $100 cheque made payable to City of Surrey; this cheque will be destroyed if you attend 80 percent of classes. City of Surrey residents are eligible for a 50 percent discount on tuition.

More Information

For more information, I invite you to visit