Wednesday, March 12, 2014

More on BC Government Roads and Transit Spending

At first glance, funding of transportation infrastructure by the province seems fairly easy to follow in BC. The Ministry of Transportation gets a budget which it then spends on roads, ferries, and public transit. Of course things overall are more complex. Roads and transit are funding by local, regional, provincial, and federal dollars, but even at the provincial level the amount of money that gets spent on transportation is obfuscated by funding arrangements, crown corporations, and authorities.

Back in the 1990’s, the NDP created the BC Transportation Financing Authority to bring perceived accountability between gas tax collected and money spent on transportation. The idea was that the BCTFA would collect gas tax and use that money to fund new transportation projects. The BCTFA would also own all provincial transportation infrastructure. Since the gas tax never got anywhere near the amount needed to fund the BCFTA infrastructure programs, the authority always ran at a loss. At the end of the day, it showed that road costs weren't being covered by user fees (gas tax) as many thought and still think.

When the BC Liberals came to power, they rolled the BCFTA back into the Ministry of Transportation. On paper, the BCFTA still collects gas tax (6.75ȼ per litre), owns, and funds provincial transportation infrastructure. Because BCFTA is only a shell organization and is really just the Ministry of Transportation, it is exempt from the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. Besides BCFTA, Transportation Investment Corporation was created to manage Highway 1 and the Port Mann Bridge in Metro Vancouver.

It is difficult to get a picture of how much, and on what types of transportation infrastructure, the province funds. When factoring in the BCFTA, TIC, and BC Transit, the province is responsible for the following transportation related expenses.

Road Operations: $590 million
Road Capital: $664 million
Highway 1/Port Mann Bridge: $223 million
Public Transit: (Excluding Evergreen Line) $217 million
Evergreen Line: $485 million
BC Ferries: $193 million

The province recovers some of these costs from user fees. For example in 2014/15, the BCFTA will collect $429 million in gas tax and TIC will collect $144 million in tolls. The province also received some funding from the federal government, TransLink, and local governments. Beside the Evergreen Line, the provincial government is heavily biased towards road spending.

I find it interesting that while BC Ferries, BC Transit, and TransLink are heavily scrutinized, oversight for road spending is almost non-existent in BC. Given that the majority of provincial spending is on roads, I wonder why road spending is not held to the same level of accountability as public transit.

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