Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Homework: Complete the Nicomekl River ISMP Survey

After writing 195 posts this year, I will be taking a break from blogging until January 4th.

If you have time over the next week, I suggest that you complete the Nicomekl River Watershed Survey. The survey will take under 10 minutes to complete, and must be completed by December 31st.

The City of Langley and Township of Langley are completing an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan for the Nicomekl River watershed.

Nicomekl ISMP Study Area. Select map to enlarge.

Run-off from streets, farms, commercial businesses, and houses, ends up in the Nicomekl River (or groundwater) eventually. This run-off can contain all sort of contaminants which negatively impact water quality and the environment. Urbanization has also impacted the Nicomekl River watershed. Some of the negative impacts including: poor water quality, loss of streamside trees and shrubs, and low summer baseflows.

The Integrated Stormwater Management Plan will provide solutions to improving the health of the Nicomekl River watershed, and the survey will help guide the development of this plan.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Provincial government recommends building more public transit

One of the things that I’m finding exceeding frustrating these days is the disconnect between the BC government’s own research, and its funding priorities. Earlier this year, I posted about the Province Health Services Authority’s “Healthy Built Environment Linkage” toolkit. Building infrastructure that supports walking and cycling, plus investing in public transit was high on the list.

This fall, the BC Ministry of Community, Sport & Cultural Development & Responsible for TransLink released “Age-friendly and Disability-friendly Official Community Plans”. The guide was created to assist local governments in updating their official community plans to support building accessible communities. While accessibility can have a variety of meanings, in the guide it means “the ability of seniors and people with disabilities or health and activity limitations to get around their community and lead active, healthy, fulfilling and engaged lives.”

So what are the key ways to support building an age-friendly, accessible community?

  1. Outdoor spaces and public buildings are pleasant, clean, secure and physically accessible.
  2. Public transportation is accessible and affordable.
  3. Housing is affordable, appropriately located, well built, well designed and secure.
  4. Opportunities exist for social participation in leisure, social, cultural and spiritual activities with people of all ages and cultures.
  5. Older people are treated with respect and are included in civic life.
  6. Opportunities for employment and volunteerism cater to older persons’ interests and abilities.
  7. Age-friendly communication and information is available.
  8. Community support and health services are tailored to older persons’ needs

A community that supports seniors and people with disabilities is a community that is better for everyone.

The guide contains twelve recommendations for updating Official Community Plans. Here are two of the recommendations:

Guideline 5.6 – Land Use Objectives and Policies
Land use patterns impact accessibility. Complete compact communities with a wide range of mobility options (e.g. transit, cycling, walking) are generally more accessible for everyone, including seniors and people with disabilities, because distances between services, amenities and housing are shorter and easier to travel. These types of environments promote physical activity and provide opportunities for social interaction and inclusion, thereby helping to promote and support vibrant and healthy communities.
Guideline 5.9 – Public Transportation Objectives and Policies
Public transportation is an important option for seniors and people with disabilities who may not be able to drive a vehicle. As with active transportation, access to public transportation options helps to ensure that seniors and/or persons with disabilities are able to safely and comfortably carry out daily tasks such as working, going to school, shopping or attending appointments. Accessible and affordable public transportation is also vital to supporting participation in the social, cultural, and recreational life of a community, thereby decreasing the risk of social isolation.

The irony is that the provincial government has frozen funding for BC Transit, and refuses to show leadership to resolve the funding/accountability issues with TransLink. So while I’m very happy that several Ministries have done some great work around how to create healthly, accessible communities, it’s time for our provincial politicians to actually enable the funding required to move these recommendations forward.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Metro Vancouver: The Prosperous Region

When the Livable Regional Strategic Plan was adopted in the mid-1990s, it was based on the ideal that:

Greater Vancouver can become the first urban region in the world to combine in one place the things to which humanity aspires on a global basis: a place where human activities enhance rather than degrade the natural environment, where the quality of the built environment approaches that of the natural setting, where the diversity of origins and religions is a source of social strength rather than strife, where people control the destiny of their community, and where the basics of food, clothing, shelter, security and useful activity are accessible to all.

This ideal has flowed into the current Regional Growth Strategy. When talking about livability in Metro Vancouver, what kind of local economy we should support hasn’t been discussed as much as other topics. The current Growth Strategy does talk about supporting a sustainable economy, but it is almost entirely focused on land-use policies.

Some people have the notion that a healthy economy and creating a livable regional are conflicting ideals. Of course this isn’t the truth, but this idea still exists in the minds of many.

With this in mind, I was pleased to see that Metro Vancouver has released a new green paper called “Framework for a Regional Prosperity Initiative in Metro Vancouver.

This new green paper presents the idea of prosperity as a way to tie economic development and livability together.

Enabler of prosperity. From Metro Vancouver's new green paper.

Metropolitan areas are the economic drivers of provinces and of Canada. For example, Metro Vancouver had a total GDP of $119.2B in 2013 which represented more than half of BC's economic output.

In Metro Vancouver, there are challenges that are limiting the prosperity of our region. The green paper identifies deteriorating affordability, a shrinking land-base, lack of investment in transportation and transit, and the impacts of climate change as areas where specific action is needed to ensure continued prosperity.

The green paper makes a pitch for the creation of an organization that supports and promotes economic development within the prosperity framework. Examples of other such organizations include the Puget Sound Regional Council and Calgary Economic Development, among others. These organizations enable the private-sector and public-sector to come together to support economic development.

Now that Metro Vancouver has released its green paper, it will be hosting a “Forum on Regional Prosperity” in early 2016. It will be interesting to see if the idea of creation a regional prosperity agency takes hold.

Monday, December 21, 2015

TransLink performance results in: SkyTrain doing OK, bus service on the decline

TransLink recently released its third quarter results. Over the past several years, there has been a decline in transit ridership. One of the reasons that I theorize why transit ridership is dropping is due to TransLink’s “Service Optimization” program.

With no new money to invest in transit over the last few years, an increase in transit service on one route usually results in a service reduction on another route. While the first round of “service optimization” had a generally positive impact for transit customers, each successive round of “optimizations” has resulted in exceeding more disruptive impacts.

For example in the next year or so, TransLink is planning to “optimize” the 502 service in the City of Langley. Instead of me being able to walk 2 minutes from my house to board a 502 in the morning, I will now have to walk 12 minutes. This isn’t a big deal to me, but will be for others in the community.

TransLink's official messaging around its drop in ridership is that it was caused by fare increases. It is encouraging to see that TransLink is now official starting to recognize that cutting transit service results in people taking less transit.

When discussing transit ridership, located on page 18, TransLink notes “we are continuing our program of service optimization; however, there are now fewer opportunities to improve our efficiency while still minimizing impacts to customers.”

Speaking about transit service reduction, in the first nine months of 2014, TransLink provided 4,689,291 hours of service for scheduled transit. In the first nine months of 2015, TransLink provided 4,674,062 service hours.

Compared to the first nine month of 2014, there was a 1.3% decrease in bus ridership. Ridership on SkyTrain and West Coast Express were static. Overall ridership in the first nine month of 2014 was 270,815,000. In 2015, it was 268,835,000.

The opening of the Evergreen Line in 2017 should cause an increase in transit ridership, but if the province and the mayors can’t agree on long-term funding for transit, the quality of transit service in Metro Vancouver will continue to decline.

On the topic of transit service quality, there has been a lot of attention focused on SkyTrain reliability since the meltdowns during the summer of 2014. SkyTrain had an on-time performance of 95.4% in the first nine month of 2013. This dropped to 92.8% in the same period in 2014. So far this year, on-time performance has bounced back at 96.1%.

Because of all the media coverage around every single SkyTrain breakdown since the summer of 2014, people actually think the SkyTrain is less reliable than it actually is.

Bus service on the on-the other hand has seen on-time reliability drop. 82.3% of buses in the first nine months of 2014 arrived within 2 minutes of their scheduled time. That number dropped to 81.7% in 2015. “Service Optimization” and increasing road congestion play a large role in deteriorating bus service.

While people spend a lot of time critiquing SkyTrain, the system is actually performing relatively well. That focus needs to shift to how bus service is being paid for and delivered in Metro Vancouver. As I pointed out last week, the backbone of our transit network in Metro Vancouver is the bus network. Declining bus ridership and service quality is not good for the livability of our region.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Region wants transit, province wants $3.5 billion Massey Mega-Bridge

The federal Conservatives handed out 1.5 billion dollars to build more light rail in Calgary this summer. Around the same time, the Tories announced they would invest $2.6 billion to fund transit in Greater Toronto. The former Harper Government was looking to invest in transit within Metro Vancouver, but because of the BC Liberals’ unwillingness to enable funding required at the local and provincial level, our region was left empty handed.

This fall, Trudeau and the federal Liberals swept into power. One of their biggest priorities is to invest $2 billion per year for transit over the next decade.

So with the region calling for more transit, and the two successive federal governments committed to spending billions on transit, what is the province's top transportation priority? Building a $3 billion $3.5 billion Massey Bridge.

A conceptual design of the new Massey Bridge. Source: BC MoTI Flickr. Select image to enlarge.

The province will only commit to investing $1.75 billion to support the Mayors' Council Regional Transportation Investments 10-year plan. This is not enough to make it happen. $3.5 billion would support the total cost of building new transit service throughout the region including the Broadway SkyTrain extension and Surrey Light Rail!

The Massey Bridge Project Definition Report states that one of the justifications for building a new bridge is that it will support transit. So how is the provincial government going to support transit on that corridor? By ripping up the current bus-only lanes, and replace them with "a continuous dedicated transit/HOV lane between Highway 91 in Delta and Bridgeport Road in Richmond."

Nine northbound TransLink bus routes use the Tunnel during the morning rush. While these buses comprise only 1 per cent of the rush-hour traffic, they carry about 17 per cent of all Tunnel travellers. However, transit is not practical for approximately 70 per cent of northbound weekday drivers through the Tunnel. This includes commercial vehicles, tourists, and commuters travelling to or from areas with limited or no transit service.

Commercial vehicles represent about 5 – 15% of traffic depending on the time of day according to the province's own numbers in the report. Many people drive on the Highway 99 corridor because transit service is not available. The solution to this problem, of course, would be to invest in more transit service. Unfortunately, this is not a provincial priority.

The Massey Bridge will be tolled. According to Christy Clark, the Alex Fraser Bridge will not be tolled. On the Port Mann/Highway 1 corridor, people shifted to the Pattullo Bridge to avoid the toll. In January 2006, average weekday traffic volume on the Port Mann was 119,313. In January 2015, the average weekday traffic volume was 96,900​. People will shift from the Highway 99 corridor to the Alex Fraser Bridge/Highway 91 corridor to avoid the Massey Bridge toll, making congestion even worse for people in Surrey and North Delta.

Investing in improving walking, cycling, and transit infrastructure is the only way to give people a way out of congestion. Sadly, the provincial government is more interested in building a mega-bridge than actually improving the transportation network in Metro Vancouver. The real irony will be if the province keeps the name "Massey Bridge" as George Massey himself thought that a bridge was a terrible idea.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Province says no to local government control of TransLink; Metro Vancouver to use gas tax fund to get voice heard at table

It must have took 30 seconds for the provincial government to reject the latest call by Metro Vancouver mayors and councillors to take back control of TransLink. In 2007, the provincial government removed the TransLink board which consisted of elected local government politicians, and replaced it with an unaccountable board made up of unelected people.

This structure is good for the province because it ensures that the province ultimately controls the transit system in Metro Vancouver while shielding it from any political responsibility. When it comes to transit in Metro Vancouver, there are four things where the provincial government has drawn a line in the sand:

  1. The provincial government will not change the governance structure of TransLink.
  2. The provincial government will only pay for 1/3 of the cost of transit expansion projects.
  3. The provincial government will not invest one cent in the operations of transit in Metro Vancouver (expect what they are contractually obligated to do with the P3 Canada Line.)
  4. The provincial government will not approved a new funding source for transit until it goes to a plebiscite.

No report or recommendation from Metro Vancouver will change the provincial government’s mind on these matters.

While Metro Vancouver’s recommendation of taking back control of TransLink was ignored by the province, the report does make other recommendations which will help local government in our region have more influence on what TransLink does.

One of the recommendations is to create a new Joint Planning Advisory Committee. This committee will have no authority, but will provide a venue for local government, the province, and TransLink to discuss regional transportation matters. Metro Vancouver recommends that this new committee:

  • Include all TransLink Board Directors and Mayors’ Council members.
  • Occur quarterly, or as required, in order to adequately guide and inform the development of key strategies, plans, and policies.
  • Be supported by TransLink staff, and provide opportunities for input by Mayors’ Council and Metro Vancouver staff.
  • Include the Minister Responsible for TransLink as required to discuss the Province’s interests and investments in the context of transportation planning for the region.

The federal government gives back a portion of the gas tax it receives to local government to support local infrastructure project. Back in 2005, that money went straight to TransLink. A new agreement was signed in 2014 which now requires Metro Vancouver board approval before TransLink can spend that money. Over a five year period, it is expect that the total funding will be $652 million.

Proposed Joint Planning Committee structure. Select image to enlarge.

It seems that Metro Vancouver will be using their approval of this fund to ensure that the Joint Planning Advisory Committee is established, and that the discussions that take place on the committee are taken seriously.

Unfortunately, the TransLink governance and financing model is broken. Even with a new Joint Planning Advisory Committee, the funding of major regional transportation projects will remain ad-hoc while the quality of bus service will continue to decline.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

SkyTrain turned 30. Bus is still king in Metro Vancouver

On Friday last week, the first section of the Expo Line between Waterfront Station and New Westminster Station opened 30 years ago from the day. Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain Network is about the same age as me.

In case you haven’t seen, there are three 1980s SkyTrain propaganda films that were release by BC Transit and the provincial government between 1983 through 1985: On Track, Rapid Transit – Rapid Transition, and the slyly named “Goin’ to Town”.

While the videos themselves are really cheesy, they actually didn’t understate the profound impact that SkyTrain would have on the region. The fast, frequent service provided by the driverless rapid transit network has shaped our region’s built-form around transit. This is evident even in the South of Fraser.

While SkyTrian certainly is an important part of our transit network in Metro Vancouver, and has shaped its development, our region is actually one of the least rail-transit dependent of all regions with rail-based transit (I’m not counting Ottawa's small O-Train, or commuter rail in general.)

According to information complied by CUTA in 2013, 57% of all transit boardings in Montreal were on rail transit. In Calgary, 52% of transit boardings werre by rail. 48% of transit boardings in Toronto were on rail transit. In Edmonton, that number was 24%. Metro Vancouver had 25% of all transit boardings by rail transit.

So while SkyTrian's impact on the region's built-form and psyche are significant, it is interesting that bus service is what moves the vast majority of transit riders in Metro Vancouver.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Unreliable transit in Abbotsford due to chronic underfunding

Last month, I went on a bit of a transit adventure in the Fraser Valley. While catching buses in Abbotsford, I noticed that they were never on time. Anecdotally, I was told that this was a regular occurrence. It seemed odd to me that a transit provider would always have its buses running late, so I decided to do a little research. It turns out that Abbotsford's transit system does indeed have a problem with late buses, but that is only the surface of the problems with the system.

Outside of Metro Vancouver and the Capital Region (Victoria), the provincial government pays for about 45% of the operation cost of public transit. The remaining costs are paid for by fares and local property tax. In Abbotsford, about 30% of the operating costs of transit are paid for with property tax.

Communities outside of Metro Vancouver and the Capital Region have a great deal; the provincial government provides the highest operation grants for transit in Canada. BC Transit works with local governments to find out how much transit service should be provided. Basically, BC Transit will match the transit service level with the amount of property tax that municipalities are willing to invest in transit service.

Kelowna and Abbotsford-Mission have about the same population, but when it comes to transit service, these two areas couldn’t be any more different. Kelowna decided that transit was an important part of their transportation network.

In Kelowna, there is a real frequent transit network plus a B-Line style, RapidBus service along Highway 97. According to information posted on BC Transit's website, Kelowna’s transit system had ridership of 4,848,971 with operating costs of $22.06 million.

In contract, Abbotsford Council has decided to fund transit service at a much lower level. The transit system that serves Abbotsford had ridership of 2,347,899 with operating costs of $12.92 million. Because of limited funding, transit service in Abbotsford is stretched to its limits.

I found a report on the City of Abbotsford’s website noting the current state of transit in that municipality.

The Central Fraser Valley (CFV) Service Improvement Review report (Attachment B) identified a number of transit routes in Abbotsford, which have on-time performance and reliability issues. Frequent late bus arrivals are causing significant disruption for both the riding customers and the transit operators.

In September, BC Transit made some cost-neutral changes to modify service on some routes to try and improve service. If my experience in November is any indication, but more work needs to be done. This was even noted by BC Transit.

The detailed review exposed significant reliability or on-time performance issues that are impacting the health and marketability of the transit system. The extensive analysis of the transit system also revealed that-given the resources that would be required to address reliability, congestion and community growth-many of the proposed service changes would require some level of service expansion and/or capital investment.

BC transit also said in the review that the Downtown Bus Exchange in Abbotsford would need to be expanded, as well as the bus garage, to support more transit service.

The transit system in Abbotsford is chronically underfunded. A modest increase in property tax would go a long way to improving service. Unlike Metro Vancouver where every penny comes from local citizens, Abbotsford is able to get free cash from the province to pay for improved transit service. Abbotsford Council should really look to Kelowna as an example of what investing in transit can do to improve a community’s transportation network.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Study finds high-quality sidewalks, streetlights, and transit key to attracting industry to Langley City

The City of Langley recently released a study called “Industrial Business Attraction & Expansion Study.” The study was prepared by Colliers International. The preservation of land that can be used for industrial purposes has been a hot topic lately. Using land for industrial purposes can yield a lower profit for developers, and a lower tax dollar per acre for local governments compared to land used for retail and offices uses.

According to Colliers, the vacancy rate for industrial properties was 4.1% in 2014, and went down to 3.3% in 2015 throughout Metro Vancouver. This seems to fit with the messaging from Metro Vancouver, Port Metro Vancouver, and other groups that are saying we are running out of industrial land. Interesting in Langley, the vacancy rate has increased from 1.8% in 2014 to 2.9% in 2015. Colliers notes that this is because of the new “24,000-square-foot multi-tenant Northview Business Centre facility in Gloucester Industrial Estate.” The vacancy rate is likely to go down as this new development fills up with tenants.

Not all industrial land is the same though. The following map shows less valuable industrial land in green. More valuable industrial land is in red. According to Colliers “industrial transactions in the region occurred within industrial parks along major transit routes, with the exception of Campbell Heights in Surrey, and the Kanaka area of Maple Ridge.” Interestingly enough, places like Campbell Heights have the least valuable industrial land value per acre and are nowhere near good transit service.

Shows the sales of industrially-zoned lands in the Metro Vancouver area since 1999. The sales are scaled by relative size of the subject parcels, and are shaded according to relative price, with green being a lower and red being a higher price per acre. Select map to enlarge.

So what kind of industry should the City of Langley be trying to attract?

Given that larger warehouse operations typically require only 1,000 square feet of floor space per employee, whereas multi-tenant industrial buildings require 800 square feet per employee and flex/office buildings require 600 square feet per employee, the City of Langley could stand to benefit from higher employment if it were capable of attracting more flex/office or multi-tenant industrial tenants. The higher-order uses would also generate more tax revenue.

Unfortunately, the City of Langley hasn’t kept up with investing in the public realm in some parts of the community. “Street-side improvements are aging, often unattractive, and less likely to be desired by [higher-order uses].”

If Langley City wants to attract high-value industry to the City, Colliers recommends that the City improve the public realm in the following ways:

  • Improve streetscape and infrastructure in industrial areas to promote redevelopment and intensification of sites, and the consolidation of office and higher order functions to the city.
    • Sidewalks
    • Streetlights
    • Transit service with bus shelters
    • Increased police patrols and bylaw enforcement
  • Explore a Local Area Improvement Bylaw to enhance infrastructure deficiencies (sidewalks, street lighting, landscaping/street trees).

More recommendations are listed on the last page of the study. While some people think that investing in high-quality, attractive public infrastructure is a waste of money, it actually is one of the best things a city can do to support a healthy local economy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Compass Card How-To Videos

With the Compass Card transition in full swing, TransLink has produced a set of minute-length videos to help people understand how to use the Compass Card. While many of the early adopters of the Compass Card seem to be getting how the system works, these are mostly people who have chosen to use a Compass Card.

December is the last month for people to use paper monthly passes, and in the near future, TransLink will stop selling FareSaver tickets. For people that are still holding onto legacy transit fare products, these videos are more geared towards them.

For example, there is a video on how to tap your Compass Card.

There are also more specific videos on using the Compass Card on a bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express. One video that I think ever transit customer needs to watch is “What if I Can’t tap in?”

These videos are a great way to introduce people to the Compass Card system as they explain the basic concepts on how the system works.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Merging of Langley City committees causes concern in artist community

I currently serve on the City of Langley’s Parks and Environment Advisory Committee. When I first joined, it was call the Parks, Environment, Recreation, and Culture Advisory Committee (PEAC).

The committee’s mandate was overly broad. Langley City has a large parks system which includes the environmentally sensitive Nicomekl floodplain. Almost everything a municipality does, and Langley City is no exception, has an impact on our environment. Given these facts, the vast majority of the committee’s time was spent focusing on parks and environmental topics.

While conversation about recreation sometimes got lumped into broader discussions about parks, very little time was devoted to the cultural component of the committee’s mandate.

Recognizing that parks and environmental topics were dominating the discussion around the table, the City of Langley spilt the committee up. The Parks and Environment Committee, and the Recreation, Culture & Public Art Advisory Committee were formed in 2010.

I was surprised to learn that the City of Langley is putting the two committees back together. The PEAC committee passes the majority of all committee resolutions in the City of Langley, and always has a packed agenda.

I can’t speak to the experience of Recreation, Culture & Public Art Advisory Committee members, but the following resolution was presented to Langley City Council last night:

THAT the Recreation, Culture and Public Art Advisory Committee recommend that Council consider revisiting the decision to remove the Cultural and Public Art components from the new Terms of Reference for the Parks, Recreation and Environment Advisory Committee.

AND WHEREAS the City of Langley stated in their 2012 Terms of Reference for Committees that “The Recreation, Culture and Public Art Advisory Committee is used as a vehicle for achieving certain worthwhile goals and objectives in which such achievements clearly result in a direct benefit to all citizens. Arts and Culture fosters a sense of community identity, spirit and pride and fosters growth of individuals to reach their full potential.”

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that a sub-committee of the Parks, Recreation and Environment Advisory Committee should be created that focuses on Arts and Culture.

Because the new Parks, Recreation and Environment Advisory Committee must include representatives from the Langley Environmental Partners Society, Langley Field Naturalist, and Nicomekl Enhancement Society, I’m not concerned that environmental topics will be off the agenda. Past experience shows that discussion around cultural topics will be limited.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Regional cycling maps not useful for majority of people

Updated:TransLink recently updated its regional cycling maps for Metro Vancouver. These maps are meant to help people choose cycling routes that they feel safe riding on. The previous versions of these cycling route maps weren't the most useful as some municipalities are very liberal in what they consider cycling-friendly. I see that this has carried through onto the most recent version of the maps.

This isn’t TransLink fault. For example, the TransLink map notes that a section of 53/51B Ave and 201A Street in Langley City have bike lanes. While that is technically true, the 53/51B “bike lane” is only about 75cm wide; I won’t risk my life in that lane. The 201A Street “bike lane” hasn’t been maintained since I’ve lived in Langley, and I would be surprise if people even knew it was there. These are just a few examples.

The new maps use a colour coding system. Purple means off-street routes, shared paths, and on-street separated bike lanes. Green means that a municipality has recognized a street as a “cycling route”, and blue means that some hard-core people use these roads for cycling.

One of the things that would makes these maps extremely useful would a clear indication of which routes are safe for people of all ages and all abilities. Using the purple routes would likely be the safest routes to take for most people.

TransLink relies on municipality-provide information. Because every municipality is different in what they consider a “cycling route”, I wouldn’t trust these maps to plot out a safe bike route without first having local knowledge of the area you are traveling in.

Metro Vancouver Cycling Map - Surrey-Langley. Select map to enlarge.

Metro Vancouver Cycling Map - Surrey-White Rock. Select map to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Investing in BC Ferries, cycling, and transit a priority for British Columbians

Every fall, the BC government holds a province-wide public consultation to find out what people think should be priority spending areas, and where people think money could be saved. The theory is that this consultation process will actually help shape the following year’s province budget.

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, which is the legislative committee that drives the consultation process, recently released their Report on the Budget 2016 Consultations. The committee received 375 submissions from both individuals and organizations. So what did people think?

The provincial government asked people to rank three items in order of importance. Consultation participants thought the government’s number one priority should be to “invest in infrastructure, like school, road, and health facilities.” This was followed by implementing tax relief and affordability measures, and finally reducing debt and borrowing.

When it came to spending priorities, participants wanted to see more investment in health care, education, environmental protection, and parks.

The committee made 63 recommendations based on the results of the consultation. These recommendations are summarized at the end of the consultation report.

One of the areas that I wanted to examine was transportation policy. The provincial government is focused on building multi-billion dollar freeways and bridge projects. In Metro Vancouver, we can see this in action. This is also the case in other parts of the province. For example in Kelowna, the province is considering building a second bridge across Okanagan Lake in Kelowna. With all the spending on bridges and freeways, you’d think this was a priority for British Columbians. If the budget consultation is any indication, this is not the case.

People in BC want to see investment in BC Ferries, cycling, and public transit. This is carried through to the recommendations of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. Their four recommendation around transportation in BC are:

  • Undertake a review of changes made to BC Ferries schedules and fares in 2014 to look for opportunities for adjustment based on social and economic impacts.
  • Invest in improvements to expand cycling infrastructure, promote cycling as an alternative transportation model and to increase cycling safety awareness and education among cyclists and drivers.
  • Commit to increased funding for public transit to provide improved service in urban centres and rural areas.
  • Work to secure long-term, stable funding for transportation and transit infrastructure improvements.

People in the province want more travel options. It is disconcerting that current government policy has been to put up roadblocks to transit funding in Metro Vancouver, freeze the BC Transit budget, and cut service on BC Ferries. Hopefully the provincial government will take to heart the recommendations in their own consultation document, and invest in infrastructure that people in our province demand.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Langley City Council drops permissive tax exemption elimination plan

Back in September of this year, Langley City Council asked staff to prepare a permissive tax exemption elimination strategy. Mayor Schaffer and Councillor Storteboom opposed this. At last week’s council meeting, staff presented the permissive tax exemption reduction strategy.

Municipalities in BC are allowed to reduce or eliminate property tax for select properties within their jurisdiction. The City of Langley currently provides $257,537 in property tax exemptions for 29 properties. This works out to about 1% of the $23.6 million in property tax revenue the City collects.

Under provincial law, church buildings and the land directly under them are not permitted to be taxed. The City of Langley also exempts all the other land on church property from tax as well.

The following organizations found themselves at risk of paying property tax to the City:

  • Anglican Parish of St. Andrews
  • Bridge Community Church
  • Church of the Nazarene
  • Global School Society
  • Ishtar Transition Housing
  • Langley Association for Community Living
  • Langley Care Society
  • Langley Music School
  • Langley Community Service
  • Langley Evangelical Free Church
  • Langley Hospice Society
  • Langley Lawn Bowling Club
  • Langley Seniors Resource Society
  • Langley Stepping Stones
  • New Apostolic Church Canada
  • Salvation Army – Gateway of Hope
  • Southgate Christian Fellowship
  • St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church
  • United Church of Langley
  • Vineyard Christian Fellowship

That Langley City Council would even consider eliminating these tax exemptions was ill-conceived. Going after churches and select non-profits to gain an additional 1% in property tax revenue doesn't make sense to me.

As you can imagine, the last Langley City Council meeting was packed. Seeing that moving forward with the elimination of these tax exemptions would be political suicide, Council decided to let the current tax exemptions stay in place.

One of the things that I do believe Langley City needs to do develop is an updated permissive tax exemption policy that is equitable to churches, non-profits and taxpayers. The current policy has developed over the years in an ad-hoc fashion. Creating a comprehensive tax exemption policy would ensure that there is transparency around how these exemptions are approved.