Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cycling in the South of Fraser

Yesterday on CBC Radio One’s Early Edition, reporter Jesse Johnston did a feature on cycling in the South of Fraser. Johnston talked about how Surrey is investing in cycling in a big way, and noted how Township of Langley Council denied increasing funding for cycling infrastructure. I was also featured in the segment and talked about the gaps in cycling infrastructure, and how those gaps are limiting the uptake of cycling. I also mentioned that we need continuous cycling routes, which separated cyclists from motors, as the majority of people won’t cycling unless they feel safe.

He also mentioned my campaign for election to City of Langley council this fall.

I’ve embedded a link to yesterday’s Early Edition in this post. The feature starts at 1:52:30

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Property Taxes in Metro Vancouver

The other day, someone was telling me that taxes in the Township of Langley were lower than in the City of Langley. This was, as they told me, because the residential tax rate was lower in the Township than the City. I knew that taxpayers in the City pay less on average, and decided to do a bit more research.

Local governments in BC use property taxes to fund a great deal of local government services. Property taxes are charged based on the assessed value of a property multiplied by a tax rate. This seems simple enough, but it gets a bit more complex.

When local governments figure out their budget, they find out the expected increase in operating and capital expenses and they figure out what revenue will be needed. Based on the revenue needed, they will adjust various property tax rates and fees.

The tax rate is based on the assessed value of property, for example on my tax bill, the tax rate will go up and down based on the change in property value; even as the total tax collected increases.

The tax rate is more an indication of property value in a community, and is completely useless as a tax comparator. The following graph notes the residential property tax rate, and compares it to the per capita residential taxes paid. It also compares it to the total taxes paid which include school taxes, user fees, Metro Vancouver taxes, and TransLink taxes (to name a few.)

Residential property tax rate compared with per capita total residential property taxes and per capita total taxes in 2014. By municipality. Source: Local Government Tax Rates and Assessments. Select graph to enlarge.

As you can see, when looking at the per capita data, City of Langley residents on average pay less taxes than Township of Langley residents. Also interesting to note is that most communities in Metro Vancouver have similar per capita taxes.

Local governments in Metro Vancouver rely on more than just residential property tax to fund operations.

Total and percent total of different local government taxes in Metro Vancouver in 2014. By municipality. Source: Local Government Tax Rates and Assessments. Select graph to enlarge. Please note that the source document contains a typo re: user fees in the Township of Langley, corrected in the graph. See Township of Langley budget presentation for more information.

The graph shows that some municipalities rely more heavily on business property taxes than other. For example, West Vancouver almost entirely relies on residential property taxes while the City of Burnaby relies more on business property taxes. Of course on top of that, many municipalities charge user fees for things like water, sewer, and solid waste collection. This shifts reliance away from property taxes to user fees.

I did want to point out that the “All Other Taxes” includes School Tax, Metro Vancouver Regional District Tax, and TransLink Tax whose rates are sets regionally.

As you can see, property tax is fairly complex. Looking at residential property taxes is only a small part of the equation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Running for Langley City Council

As you may know, I have decided to run for Langley City Council this fall. In preparation, I have setup an election website with more information about the campaign including information on how to donate or volunteer.

Nathan Pachal in front of Langley City Council Chambers with nomination package.

With summer coming to a close, the campaign for City Council will begin in earnest. On Friday, the City of Langley made available its local government nomination package. I picked up my nomination package today.

Over the coming weeks, I will be sharing some of the exciting things planned for the campaign, in the lead up to the November 15th election.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Property Tax and Transit

Everywhere in BC, the provincial government pays for about half of the total cost to operate transit systems, expect in Metro Vancouver.

TransLink was created at the turn-of-the-century as the province was interesting in getting out of directly funding transit service in Metro Vancouver while the region was interested in get direct control of transit delivery. The original version of TransLink was setup to give the region both responsibility for the operation and funding of transit service. One of the details that needed to be worked out was a new funding arrangement.

In the rest of BC, property owners pay a hospital tax. As part of the new deal for transit in Metro Vancouver, the province agreed to eat the cost of the hospital tax in exchange for getting out of directly funding transit in the region. The region’s municipalities could then use this tax headroom to increase the amount of property tax to fund transit. The province would still contribute to transit projects, but it would be out of the business of paying for the day-to-day operations of transit in Metro Vancouver.

On the surface, it seemed like a win-win. The region would have more control of transit while the province would be able to reduce the amount of money it spent on transit in the region.

Skip forward to today; due to various changes in the TransLink governance model, the province basically controls transit in Metro Vancouver again, but the region pays for all the operating costs. More money is needed to pay for much needed transit expansion, but the province wants the region to pay for transit service expansion with property tax. The region's mayors say that this is unfair.

The province claims that there is still headroom in property tax from the eliminated hospital tax to pay for transit. Is this truly the case?

Coquitlam and Abbotsford are about the same size. In 2013, they both collected $188 million in property tax for local government services (this does not include school, regional district, transit, or hospital property tax.)

In 2013, Abbotsford property owners paid $5.3 million in hospital tax and $3.1 million out of local property tax for transit. This is a grand total of $8.4 million dollars.

Coquitlam property owners paid $12.9 million to TransLink in 2013. Comparing Abbotsford and Coquitlam, it would appear that there is no more headroom to pay for transit. In fact, the headroom was exceeded by $4.5 million.

Transit service frequent and reach is lower in Abbotsford than in Metro Vancouver. Comparing transit service in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria is more useful.

Transit in the Capital Regional District is managed by the Victoria Regional Transportation Commission. Transit governance in Victoria is different than the rest of the province. Transit in the Capital Regional District is funded by fares, property tax, and a regional gas tax, with the provincial government contributing about a third of the revenue. Property owners in the Capital Region still pay the hospital property tax.

The Township of Langley and Saanich are about the same size. In 2013, Saanich property owners paid $7.9 million in hospital tax and $7.4 million in transit property tax. This is a grand total of $15.3 million.

Township of Langley property owners paid about $12.5 million to TransLink in 2013. In comparing Saanich and the Township of Langley, there is about $2.8 million in headroom to pay for more transit.

Langford property owners contributed a combined total of $4.7 million for hospitals and transit while property owners in Port Moody contributed $3.1 million to transit in property tax in 2013.

It would appear that the province is correct that there is still some headroom to increase property tax to pay for transit in Metro Vancouver, though not enough to pay for all the transit service improvements needed.

Right now the mayors in Metro Vancouver have drawn a line in the sand, refusing to increase property tax beyond the rate of inflation to pay for needed transit improvement.

While another source of funding for transit will be required in Metro Vancouver, the region's mayors will likely need to agree to increase the property tax rate for TransLink. The province has basically said that it won’t give the region another funding source until property tax is increased to pay for transit, and it appears that there is still some headroom to increase the property tax to pay for transit in our region.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Willoughby’s Latimer Draft Neighbourhood Plan

When the Township of Langley first planned the redevelop of Willoughby, it was very much auto-oriented with an ample amount of single-family homes and office parks. Over the last five years, there has been a shift at Township Hall to build a more walkable and transit friendly community.

In a community as large as the Township of Langley, there are several layers of planning that occur before an area can be developed. The first layer is the official community plan which presents the aspirational goals of a municipality and general land-use concepts.

The next level in the Township are community plans (like for Walnut Grove, Aldergrove, or Fort Langley.) These plans go into more detail about the types of development the municipality would like to see, plus lay out the general location of major community amenities like parks or community centres.

The final layer is neighbourhood plans. These plans really spell out what will be developed in an area.

The Township recently approved the neighbourhood plan for Carvolth which will see the northern part of Willoughby transformed into a transit village. The Township of Langley is currently working on the neighbourhood plan for Latimer which is just south of Carvolth, along the 200th Street corridor.

Latimer Draft Land-Use Map. Latimer encircles the Langley Event Centre which is the majority of the white space on the map. Select map to enlarge.

As you can see on the map, the Township is planning for mixed-use, walkable nodes where 200th Street meets major roads in Latimer. These nodes will be surrounded by row houses/townhouses with apartments planned along 200th Street.

Beside the pre-existing office park, all commercial and retail development will be mixed-use. The Township will also be requiring that at least 50% of parking be either underground or in a structure. The Township is also requiring that all surface parking be on the side or rear of buildings. The Township is also proposing to require that the majority of surface parking be provided at the rear of buildings. This will enhances walkability.

Map of proposed road and greenway network in Latimer. Select map to enlarge.

In the draft Latimer plan, the Township is proposing to build a fine-grain grid of roads and greenways, as opposed to auto-orientated “spaghetti” roads typical of suburban areas. A grid road network improves accessibility for pedestrians, cyclist, and motorists.

For more information, the draft planning documents for Latimer can be view on the Township’s website.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pie Chart of 2014 TransLink Property Tax

Property tax is a major source of revenue for TransLink. In fact, property tax represented about 40% of the taxation-based revenue that TransLink received in 2013. This money is used to fund both roads and transit service in Metro Vancouver.

The Government of BC collects various statistics from local governments in the province. One of the things that I was curious about was the amount of property tax revenue collected for TransLink in 2014 by municipality. I have presented this information in the following pie chart.

2014 TransLink property taxes by municipality. Select chart to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

McBurnay Lane, lighting, and creating a safer Downtown Langley

Due to my work schedule, I walk through Downtown Langley anytime between 6:00am in the morning and 1:30am in the late night to get between my place near the Nicomekl Floodplain and the Langley Centre Bus Exchange. Over the years, I have become very familiar with the types of activity that occur in Downtown Langley and the surrounding area both during the day, and at night.

Last night, I was walking through the new McBurney Lane in the heart of Downtown Langley. Lighting is a major element of the lane, and at night it truly shines. The bright lighting in the lane not only is beautiful, but also makes the area feel safe.

McBurnay Lane at Night. Select image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, many other parts of Downtown Langley are dimly light including Douglas Park, the bus exchange, and many of the City-owned parking lots. When I have observed unsavoury business going on in Downtown Langley during the night, it is usually in these poorly light areas.

Unsavoury business likes to be hidden in the shadows; people do not feel safe in poorly lit areas. The lighting in much of Downtown Langley was not designed to create a brightly and evenly lit area. Since these lighting system in Downtown Langley were installed decades ago, a good deal of research has been done on lighting and the creation of a safe public realm. The City of Saskatoon has a great guide called “Safe Growth and CPTED in Saskatoon” if you want to read more information about how lighting plays a key role in creating safety.

In order to increases the perceived and actual safety in Downtown Langley, the City really needs to exam its current lighting strategy.

For example, I felt totally safe walking through McBurnay Lane, but when I had to walk through the poorly light Douglas Park, I felt unsafe.

Light pollution is a major concern when upgrading lighting, but new lighting technologies are very good at putting light were it is needed, and blocking it where it is not (like through people’s windows.)

While I believe that good light is key to improving the safety of Downtown Langley, Council has been reluctant to improving lighting in areas like the bus loop. This is ironic considering that installing street lights in Downtown Langley was the reason that the City of Langley was created in the first place.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Brydon Lagoon

Earlier this month, around 500 to 1,000 fish died in Brydon Lagoon. As reported in the local news, and according to information from the City of Langley, the deaths were likely the results of low oxygen levels in the water due to the significant green algae blooms in the pond, combined with the extremely warm temperatures.

The City of Langley commissioned a Pond Management Strategy which was finish back in March 2013. The Strategy focused on Brydon Lagoon, the ponds at Sendall Gardens, and the pond just beside the Langley Seniors Resource and Recreation Centre.

The City of Langley Parks and Environment Advisory Committee, which I am a member of, provided input into the Pond Management Strategy. Based on the report, I wanted to highlight some facts about Brydon Lagoon.

Brydon Lagoon was built in 1963 to serve as a primary sewage treatment facilities for the City of Langley. As it was designed to be a sewage treatment facility, the lagoon needed to be shallow. Today it has a maximum depth of 1.25 metres.

In 1975, the lagoon was decommissioned as a primary sewage treatment facility and turned into a storm water management pond (see image in the post.) The lagoon was meant to help regulate the flow of water from storm water drains and reduce the sediment that would be deposited into the Nicomekl River, when it rains.

Brydon Lagoon - Existing drainage features and location. Source: Pond Management Study. Select image to enlarge.

In 1985, the lagoon and its surrounding area was designated as a wildlife sanctuary and public green space. The two aeration fountains in the lagoon today were installed in 2003 in an attempt to improve water circulation and increase the oxygen levels in the lagoon.

As the lagoon is only feed by storm water, during the summer month, the lagoon water essentially becomes stagnant.

The lagoon has become home to both invasive vegetation and aquatic animals. The dominant plant life consists of Reed canary grass and Himalayan blackberry. The grass at the edge of the lagoon is slowly causing an infilling of the lagoon.

Right now the lagoon is home to invasive fish species introduced by humans. While the lagoon does connect to the Nicomekl River, due to the current design of the lagoon’s outflow, indigenous fish from the Nicomekl River could not enter the lagoon.

So what could be done to improve Brydon Lagoon?

Dillon Consulting recommended that the lagoon would be most useful as a natural/park area. As such, they recommended keeping up with the current maintenance of the aeration fountains, perimeter path, and vegetation control along the path. In addition, they recommended that the City:

  • Install additional signage and lighting to improve the public realm
  • Replace the wooden outlet culvert with a new structure that would also allow fish to pass between the lagoon and the Nicomekl River
  • Install sediment catchers on the storm water inflow pipes
  • Stabilize the south bank of the lagoon to reduce infill
  • Widen the perimeter gravel path to 2m and build a viewing platform.

If the City implemented all the recommendation in the report, it would cost $218,025 and add $6,000 to the City’s operating budget.

To me this is well worth the cost as it would enhance the Nicomekl Floodplain Park System.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Crime and Safety in the City of Langley

One of the top issues that concern residences in the City of Langley is crime. People want the City to tackling crime, but how to tackle crime is nebulous to many people. When people talk about crime, especially at the local level, I believe they are actually talking about feeling safety in their community. How can the City of Langley help people feel safe?

There are two broad areas that must be addressed to help people feel safe. One is the public realm.

Rundown buildings, vacant buildings, empty lots, tagging, and poorly maintained or broken infrastructure (like street lights, sidewalks, roads, and benches) make people feel unsafe. The first thing that the City must do is make sure that the public realm is in a state of good repair. Sometimes this means investing more resources to address years of deferred maintenance, or vandalism. In the end, this will pay off. This is how New York City addressed the perception of crime, and transformed seedy places like Time Square into a major tourist destination.

When it comes to rundown buildings, vacant buildings, and empty lots, the City of Langley needs to work with land owners, local businesses, and the development community to find ways to attract new, and retain current, businesses. It must also work to support well-maintained commercial and residential buildings while also encouraging redevelopment. The City of Surrey, through the Surrey City Development Corporation, actually co-develops property with the private sector; this is something that I would certainly investigate doing in the City.

The second thing that makes people feel safe is when they are around other people. Of course this comes with a caveat; if people are around others that look like they are up to no good, then people feel unsafe.

It is no surprise than that people feel safe in Downtown Langley during the day, but not so much in the evening. One of the first things that the City should do is work with the RCMP to ensure that there are police “walking the beat” in places like Downtown Langley in the evening. This police presence will help discourage activities that make people feel unsafe.

The solution though is to give people a legitimate reason to be in Downtown Langley in the evening. In the short-term, the City could look at partnering with the local business improvement association to support evening events. With the new Timms Community Centre that is being built, the City will also have the opportunity to extend the reach of the community centre into the street.

The real solution is to build a walkable downtown core. This means building more housing in the downtown core that supports local business. It also means redeveloping parking lots into mixed-use residential buildings with ground-level retail. Like I said earlier, the City must also invest in its public infrastructure.

I believe that having a vibrant downtown core, and well-maintained public infrastructure, will make people feel safe in the City of Langley.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Not all residents want bike lanes removed for more parking in Willoughby

Of the things that can make people become irrational, parking has to be on the top of the list. Last Christmas, some people who live in Willoughby got up in arms when the Township of Langley removed temporary curb parking along 80th Avenue. This was part of a planned build-out of that corridor.

You can read more about this on previous blog posts, but the short of it is that there are only a few areas in the Yorkson part of Willoughby where on-street parking is fully utilized, even while much of the off-street parking remains empty. Further, Willoughby has off-street minimum parking requirements that would make suburban California communities blush.

Even though there is an abundance of parking in Willoughby, a small, but vocal group of residents are allegedly bullying both their neighbours and the Township to get even more parking. This small group of residences are demanding that bike lanes be removed to allow for more parking in Yorkson. This would be a big mistake if Township Council approved this in any form.

I was contact by one resident in the area that shared a letter she wrote to Township Council. She is concern about reprisal from her neighbourhoods, so she asked me to not use her name. I would like to share some parts of the letter she wrote.

I understand that we have 2-5 particularly vocal Yorkston South homeowners that insist they are representing those of us who live in the community. I can say with 100% certainty that is not the case. The petition they circulated is highly skewed. They did not only petition the residents along 80th that would be directly impacted by the change in parking regulations, they also spoke to homeowners that do not reside in the immediate area. In addition, their petition simply asked, would you like parking along 80th avenue? If you want a clearer representation of the opinion in the neighbourhood, you need to do a proper census to find out the following, how many people are residing in the single-family homes? How many have extended families and/or illegal suites? How many have illegal personal businesses being operated out of their homes? How many people are actually using the allotted 3 stalls for their intended purpose? These questions were NOT on the petition circulated, thus the information being presented to the Council and members of the community is extremely skewed and biased.

My husband and I purchased our home in April 2012. Never once did the developer or their employees mislead us regarding the parking regulations along 80th Avenue. In fact, my husband and I purposely bought our home, which is on 80th Avenue, due to the fact that we were told there would NOT be street parking but there would be bike lanes. We knew from the beginning what we were buying into, as would be the case for all individuals who purchased Yorkston South homes. People had the option of paying $20,000.00 more for a house on a quieter street that would have allowed them to have street parking in front of their residence. Those choosing not to take that offer knew full well what they were buying into. They made their choice and now they should have to live with it. If they have found they made the wrong decision for their family, perhaps they should move out of the neighbourhood and find one more suitable to their personal needs rather than trying to change an established neighbourhood.

As you are aware, all Yorkston South single-family homes have a double car garage and an outdoor parking stall. I would like to reiterate a major point from my original letter, which is many of the homeowners do not use their allotted parking. Some use their garages for storage and/or personal businesses.

I can offer two good examples. Firstly, [a] resident [on the 21100 block of] 79A Avenue currently owns 5 vehicles and typically uses 1 spot. Where do you suppose the remaining 4 vehicles are parked? Secondly, you will find it interesting that the homeowners located [on the 21100 block of] 80th Avenue are the exception because they actually have 4 spots. A double car garage, a single outdoor stall AND the apron off the garage large enough to accommodate a vehicle.

I am strongly in favour of the time limited parking along 79A Avenue and 80A Avenue. Perhaps you should go as far as including 211th street as well. On any given occasion you can go out and see the same vehicles parked on the street day after day. Time limited parking is a terrific idea and it will force homeowners to actually utilize the allotted parking they have for its intended purpose, not for storage and/or home businesses. The time limited parking will allow for the “visitor parking” certain residents are seeking. The fact that there is opposition to this viable option makes me think that certain residents are merely out for more personal parking rather than visitor parking.

I truly believe that any changes to the 80th avenue corridor to accommodate parking for a handful of residents is a monumental mistake. Langley has very few safe cycling lanes, which is partially why we are a so heavily dependent on our cars. Parking along 80th would entail eliminating the bike lanes along 80th avenue, thus endangering the cyclists who use this corridor. One of the few safe cycling corridors in the city!

If you believe that bike lanes should be preserved in Willoughby, please write or email Township Council today.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Surrey delivers cost-effective, critical services for its residents

Local government plays an important role in the lives of everyone in Metro Vancouver. If all levels of government shutdown for a week, you’d feel the impact first from a shutdown of local government. Local government provides the services that we relying on for our daily lives. Without local government, there would be no running water, working sewer system, or garbage collection. Without local government, there would be no police or fire protection. Traffic lights and street lights would also start to breakdown without the constant maintenance performed by local government workers.

Local government also funds libraries, community centres, recreation programs, and parks. Living without these services would be a real drag. If you want to see the various services that we receive from all levels of government, check out an infographic I commissioned.

All municipalities in BC are required to publish an annual report. This report must contain the audited financials for a municipality, information on municipal service and operations, plus state municipal goals and the progress towards those goals.

The City of Surrey recently release their 2013 annual report. One of the things that I like about Surrey’s annual report is that they have a graph that compares municipal services to other household expenses.

2013 Average Surrey Household Expenditures vs City Services. Source: City of Surrey Financial Services Division. Based on an assessed value of $643,561. Select graph to enlarge.

What is missing from this graph is the amount of money that is contributed to TransLink in property tax. Based on the average residential assessed value of $643,561, $209 would go to TransLink. On the graph, that would slot in between “Telephone – Land Line” and “Engineering & Roads”. People in Surrey pay more per month for their cable, Internet, and cell phone service than for most services provided by local government.

As a taxpayer, I believe that we receives excellent value from the money that we contribute to local government.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The SkyTrain is not the crime train

One of the things that I sometime hear is that rail-based transit brings crime to an area. In fact, many people believe that SkyTrain increases crime and brings “undesirable” people to an area. The association between crime and SkyTrain came from a Master’s Thesis by Jennifer Buckley in 1996 called “Public Transit and Crime: A Routine Activities/Ecological Approach.” Buckley found that 49% of Vancouver Police Department call-outs were within 750m of a SkyTrain station. To some people, this seemed like a smoking gun linking increased criminal activity to the SkyTrain system. While the media certainly had a heyday with the report back in the day, the full story was never told. SkyTrain runs through some of the highest-density areas in our region; it should come as no surprise that where there is more people, there is more crime in general.

Other studies since the mid-90s have come out that show that there is no link between rail-based public transit and crime in North America. While these studies provided good information, there was no study in Metro Vancouver that looked at crime in areas before and after the introduction of SkyTrain. That was until earlier this year.

I found a TransLink commissioned report called “The Changing Morphology of Crime in Communities Serviced by Skytrain” by Linh Riddick. The report was commissioned to see if the introduction of the Canada Line caused an increase in crime in the surrounding Canada Line station areas, and to lay the groundwork to study crime before and after the introduction of the Evergreen Line which is slated to open in 2016.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Lower Mainland Crimes Against the Person, 2008 - 2012. Select image to enlarge.

Riddick found that crimes against people such as robberies and assaults are down throughout the region and that "although some have made the argument that the introduction of new Skytrain stations has caused increases in crime, a comparison of the maps... would contradict this theory."

Lower Mainland Property Crime, 2008 - 2012. Select image to enlarge.

On property crime, Riddick found that:

Although the Canada Line opened in August 2009, the analysis of crime data indicates that the hotspots of violent crime in the areas surrounding these light-rail stations pre-existed the introduction of new line. Similarly, the Coquitlam Centre area which will be the future terminus of the Evergreen Line has also been an area of concentration for property crime in the region for several years.

It would seem that SkyTrain does not cause an increase in crime in an area. I would suggest that it actually causes an area to get better. Just look at all the positive change happening around the SkyTrain stations in Surrey.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Walking Tour near Fort Langley

When near or around Fort Langley, you'll normally learn about the colonial history of the area. If you'd like to explore the full history of the area, the Seyem’ Qwantlen Business Group is hosting walking tours throughout August.

Join tour guides from the Kwantlen First Nation for a relaxing walk over the Bedford Channel and onto McMillan Island to learn about:
-The rich history of the Kwantlen People
-Traditional Knowledge and stories
-Environmental Stewardship Initiatives led by Seyem’ Qwantlen Business Group

When: 7pm-8pm every Thursday evening of August 2014
August 7th, August 14th, August 21st, August 28th
Where: Meet tour guides outside the front doors of lelәm’ Arts and Cultural Café
Route: From lelәm’ Arts and Cultural Café to Sqwalets Channel on Glover Road (total walk is 1km)
Cost: Free
Please Bring: Good walking shoes

This walking tour is funded by Port Metro Vancouver and the Seyem’ Qwantlen Business Group.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Introducing B-Line and express bus service, ridership soars; Trolley bus ridership down.

Yesterday, I posted about TransLink’s first quarter results. One of the things I noted was that generally ridership was up in the South of Fraser and down in Vancouver. I was curious to see if there were any patterns that might provide some insight into these changes in ridership. I look at TransLink's latest Bus Service Performance Review.

The first major pattern I noticed was that people seem to value express bus service. For example, in Surrey the 320, 321, and 394 provided frequent bus service along the King George Boulevard/104th Avenue Corridor. In 2012, these routes had a combined annual boarding of 6,221,000. With the introduction of the 96 B-Line, which is an express bus service that covers this corridor, ridership did drop on some of the local routes, but overall annual boarding along that corridor was 8,224,000. This is a 25% increase!

In Langley, with the introduction of the 555 express bus route that goes between Carvolth Park & Ride and SkyTrain, overall annual boarding on routes between Walnut Grove and SkyTrain increase by 30% of the last few year.

In Vancouver, I noticed that annual ridership continues to climb on the 99 B-Line, which serves the Broadway corridor to UBC, even while ridership on some routes that serve UBC slightly declined.

One of the big things I noticed about Vancouver was that bus routes that terminate or go through Downtown had the largest drops in ridership. In fact, ridership seems to be dropping on all the electric trolley routes more that diesel bus routes. While many bus routes go through Downtown Vancouver, I wonder if there is a connection there. It certainly warrants further investigation.

One of the key take-aways seems to be that people prefer express bus service, even if it means walking a bit further to a bus stop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

TransLink First Quarter Results

With all the excitement around SkyTrain over the last few weeks, you might have missed that TransLink released their first quarter results on Friday, July 25th.

On a good note, TransLink had a $15.9 million surplus in the first quarter. TransLink had budgeted for a slight deficit in the first quarter. According to TransLink, the surplus was mainly due to when it will contribute money to municipal governments in Metro Vancouver to support the Major Road Network.

TransLink revenue, compares Q1 2014 to Q1 2013. Select table to enlarge.

The majority of TransLink revenue comes from taxation. TransLink budgeted for an increase in the revenue it receives from fuel tax and parking tax, and a reduction in revenue it receives from property tax (due the Mayors’ Council decision to remove a time-limited property tax to pay for transit expansion.)

TransLink received $4.9 million more then it budgeted from fuel tax. According to TransLink “the increase is largely attributable to higher commercial diesel sales.” TransLink also noted that the lower value of the Canadian dollar is likely reducing the amount of cross-border fuel purchasing.

TransLink also received $467,000 more than budgeted from the parking tax. This tax is applied when paying for parking in a private lots. Apparently the increase was likely due to some parking vendors pocketing extra cash by not lower their “all inclusive” parking rate when the province switched from HST back to PST.

The second largest source of revenue for TransLink is from fares. Fare revenue in the first quarter of 2014 was short by $6 million. TransLink attributes this to the 2.9% decrease in ridership in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.

TransLink expenses by segment, compares Q1 2014 to Q1 2013. Select table to enlarge.

As part of its quarterly report, TransLink also makes available various non-financial performance indicators.

In the first quarter of 2014, TransLink bus service hours slightly increased, but the amount of kilometres buses travel decreased. In the first quarter of 2013, there were 58.8 million boardings. In the first quarter of 2014, there were 55.8 million boardings, a reduction of about 5%.

Rail transit services hours and kilometres travel decreased in the first quarter of 2014, compared to the first quarter of 2013. There was 28.8 million boardings on SkyTrain and West Coast Express in the first quarter of 2013, and 28.3 million boarding on rail transit in the first quarter of 2014. This is a reduction of about 1%.

Service optimization likely played a role in reduced transit ridership in places like Coquitlam, but I have wonder if overcrowding in Vancouver is discouraging people from taking transit.

As I posted about previous, while transit ridership continues to grow in the South of Fraser, ridership is shrinking in the City of Vancouver where the largest share of bus ridership resides. Besides overcrowding, could Vancouver’s investment in walking and cycling infrastructure be encouraging less people to take transit?

On a different note, TransLink currently has $1.1 billion in active capital improvement projects on the go.

Major project construction that will be starting shortly include:
-Metrotown SkyTrain Station and Bus Exchange Upgrade: $35 million
-Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain Station Expansion: $32 million
-New Westminster SkyTrain Station Upgrade: $9 million.

For more information on TransLink financial and performance data, check out the full first quarter 2014 report.