Thursday, March 21, 2019

Record ridership drives increased revenue for TransLink, even as fuel tax revenue declines

TransLink is in the process of releasing its year-end reports for 2018. As part of that process, the organization is presenting its 2018 Statutory Annual Report to the TransLink board tomorrow. One of the items in that report is its consolidated statement of operations.

2018 TransLink Consolidated Statement of Operations. Select table to enlarge.

TransLink received about $1.46 billion in revenue from Metro Vancouver via direct taxation and fares in 2018. About 44% of that direct revenue came from fares (and other revenue such as transit advertising.)

There are two things that stand out when it comes to revenue that TransLink received. The first is that fuel tax continues to be an unstable, and slowing declining, source of revenue for the agency. Fuel tax revenue was $7.1 million below what was budgeted in 2018. As noted in the report, “this was as a result of record high fuel prices in the first half of 2018 as a result of a refinery shut down, which caused consumers to look outside the region to purchase fuel.”

Fuel tax will need to be replaced with another revenue stream over the next decade as people continue to drive less due to better walking, cycling, and transit options, due to the cost of fuel, and due to people switching to electric vehicles. The Mayors’ Council and TransLink are studying replacement options.

Due to one of the largest increases in transit service in our region, transit ridership increased a record 7.1% in boardings and 6.0% in journeys between 2017 and 2018*. This delivered an additional $32 million in revenue beyond what was budgeted for 2018 which more than made up for the dip in fuel tax revenue. It seams that if you build it, they will come.

TransLink’s expenditures cover more than just the delivery of bus and rail services, but I wanted to focus on these two items. Rail service usually receives the majority of attention, but it is bus service that is backbone of our transit network. Of the close to $1.03 billion that is invested into delivering transit service, 70% of it is for bus service.

Financially, TransLink had a positive year in 2018.

*a journey represents a complete transit trip and does not count transfers. A boarding is counted every time a passenger enters a fare paid zone, including transfers. More information is available on TransLink’s website.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Transit Update: Bigger buses proposed for Fraser Highway. Expo Line to Langley next steps.

Since the municipal elections last fall, there has been some changes when it comes to the future of public transit along Fraser Highway. Fraser Highway hosts some of the busiest and most overcrowded bus routes in the South of Fraser.

One of the major changes was the switch from building light rail along Fraser Highway, 104th Avenue, and King George Boulevard, to expanding the Expo Line to Langley.

Proposed alignment for Expo Line extension to Langley. Select map to enlarge.

In a recent report to the TransLink board, the following facts about the proposed Expo Line extension were presented:

  • The preliminary cost estimate for a 16-kilometre SkyTrain extension from King George Station to 203 Street in Langley City is $2.9 billion (2017)
  • 14.3 kilometres of the extension will be in Surrey and 1.7 kilometres will be in Langley
  • There will be 8 stations:
    • Two stations between King George Boulevard and the Fleetwood area
    • Two stations in the Fleetwood area
    • Two stations in the Clayton area
    • One station in the Township of Langley (Willowbrook)
    • One station in Langley City
  • There is $1.6 billion available to build SkyTrain to Langley, leaving a gap of $1.3 billion

TransLink is currently projecting that the following work will be completed by the spring of 2020 for the Expo Line extension:

  • Finalize requirements gathering
  • Final reference design
  • Updating capital and operating cost estimates
  • Updating ridership forecasting and other project benefits
  • Confirming the procurement and delivery strategy
  • Confirming scope that can be delivered for approximately $1.6 billion
  • Public and stakeholder engagement
  • Environmental review and studies
  • First Nations reviews
  • Municipal support agreements
  • Business case development

Once these items have been completed, it will allow for the securing of funding approval from the federal and provincial governments, plus the Mayors’ Council. If all goes well, construction of the Expo Line extension could start in 2021/22.

One of the major challenges for the Mayors’ Council will be to secure the additional $1.3 billion to build SkyTrain to Langley.

If timelines don’t slip and funding is secured, SkyTrain to Langley could open in about six years from now. That means that for the next six years, something needs to be done to improve transit along Fraser Highway. Originally, there was going to be a Fraser Highway B-Line. This was cancelled due to the switch to SkyTrain. Even with this cancellation, TransLink and municipalities are looking at ways to address the overcrowding and reliability issues caused by congestion along Fraser Highway.

In Langley City, we are investigating building bus-only lanes along certain sections of Fraser Highway, 203rd Street, and Logan Avenue. I’m hopeful that the same conversation is occurring in Surrey to build some transit priority measures, such as bus-only lanes, along sections of Fraser Highway.

TransLink is also investigating bringing B-Line style buses to Fraser Highway, and improving the current B-Line along King George and 104th Avenue.

As stated in a recent report, “With the recent cancellation of the Fraser Highway B-Line, there will be changes to the roll-out of the new B-Line Program. The 96 B-Line, once slated for cancellation in favour of rail, will now be upgraded. [TransLink] is considering changes to the very busy Route 502 Fraser Highway, including deploying articulated buses.”

We are in exciting times when it comes to building better transit in the South of Fraser. If funding can be secured, we will finally be getting the transit service required to give people a way out of congestion in Surrey and Langley.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Langley Youth and Family Services: A free program to help youth with disruptive behaviour problems

Over the past few months, Langley City council has been receiving presentations from city departments, programs that the city funds, and other non-profit organizations as part of the orientation process of the new council term which runs from the start of November 2018 to the end of October 2022. One of the presentations that we received recently was from Langley Youth and Family Services.

Langley Youth and Family Services is a unique program that is funded jointly by the Township of Langley and Langley City to help young people in our community reduce their interaction with the criminal justice system, and improve their mental health literacy.

The program’s scope is as follows:

  • To provide counselling to children and youth (ages 5 – 17) who are identified by Langley RCMP because of involvement in delinquent or pre-delinquent behaviours.
  • To provide counselling to children and youth (ages 5 – 17) who are identified by Langley community partners because of disruptive behaviour problems.
  • To include parents/guardians in the counselling for the purpose of supporting and assisting their role in creating a positive, responsible lifestyle for the children.
  • To liaise and collaborate with Langley RCMP and Langley community partners in order to enhance and develop crime prevention strategies, policies, and services for the Langleys.

If you or someone you know could benefit from this program, they can be referred via a school counsellor, family doctor or pediatrician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional. People are also referred via the RCMP. Information about the referral process is available online. This free program is only available to people who live in Langley.

The program has been running since 1977. Currently, there are only a handful of communities in British Columbia that have similar programs. Ted Leavitt, who is the program manager, noted that about 80% of the people that go through the program do not show up in the RCMP system within a six-month period. He also mentioned that the Langley program is used by other communities as a reference.

By helping young people early on, this program supports them in becoming more positive and productive members of our community. This is good for that person, society in general, and our municipality as it means less calls for service from the police and other municipal services which ends up saving money.

Monday, March 18, 2019

My experience catching the 562. Improving the customer experience at rural bus stops.

During the course of the year, I board well over 1,000 transit vehicles as I use transit to get to work in Downtown Vancouver from my home in Downtown Langley. Due to the number of times I take transit, sometimes I have a negative experience on transit. These negative experiences as far and few between; I can count them on one hand. Last week, I had a negative experience.

Last Wednesday, I was invited to speak at a meeting in Fort Langley in the evening. I decided to take the 562 which provides transit service between Langley City, Fort Langley, and Walnut Grove. This route is special because it is one of only a few transit routes in Metro Vancouver that isn’t operated by the publicly-owned Coast Mountain Bus Company. Its operation is contracted out by TransLink to First Transit which is a private corporation.

Unlike Coast Mountain Bus Company, the 562 lacks a key feature of other routes, real-time information. Because the 562 is a bus that runs every hour past 6pm, and is known to be inconsistent, there is always a bit of anxiety when the bus doesn’t arrive at its scheduled time. The route’s transit operators also don’t have the full communication system like Coast Mountain Bus Company operated routes.

An example bus stop in the Township of Langley (208th Street at 82nd Avenue.) Select image to enlarge.

I was waiting to catch the 8:11pm 562 at Wright Street and 88th Avenue. The bus was running late, but I didn’t know that because there was no real-time information. This section of 88 Avenue is poorly lit. There was no lighting of any sort at the bus stop. Given that this is the first bus stop after a long stretch of rural road, and due to the lack of lighting, I figured that there would be a high chance that I would be passed up.

When I saw the bus coming down into Fort Langley, I started waving my phone around. The transit operator did pass the stop, but luckily saw me at the last second, and pulled over past the stop to let me board. I was told by the operator, who was not very happy with me, that I wasn’t being visible enough.

This situation shouldn’t have happened. It was the result of design decisions that can be corrected.

Bus stops in rural areas need to be designed differently than bus stops in urban areas which generally have good street lighting. Ideally, there should be lighting at rural bus stops. As a younger, able-bodied male, I felt uncomfortable waiting at a dark bus stop. I told my friend who used to live in Fort Langley about this bus stop, she told me that she would never wait for a bus at night there because she felt unsafe.

If lighting a bus stop is not possible, adding reflective material to the bus stop sign and sign pole would help make the stop more visible. In Seattle, you can press a button at some bus stops which causes a light to flash above the bus stop sign.

If the transit operator had the more advanced communication system like Coast Mountain Bus Company operated routes, they would have been reminded that a bus stop was coming up.

A few changes to rural bus stop design could make for a better customer experience. Waiting for the 562 should not be a harrowing adventure.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

March 11, 2019 Council Meeting Notes: City Park renewal project and other project updates, plus advocating to the province

Today will be my last post on Monday night’s Langley City council meeting. I’ve previously posted on the approved 2019 budget, the City’s new citizen-led task groups, and updated door-to-door canvassing policy.

While memories of large quantities of snow is likely on most people’s minds, it actually has been a mild winter. This means that various projects have been moving forward in our community. Council received an Engineering and Parks update about what is in the works at the meeting.

City Park is undergoing a phased renewal. The first of several phases is being worked on right now. The following drawing shows the scope of work for this current phase.

City Park current-phase renewal project scope. Select map to enlarge.

There were several trees that were removed recently from the park. The majority of the removed trees were part of the approved plan, but six trees were removed that were not on the original plan (which I learned about post removal). At Monday’s meeting, council was assured that many more trees will be planted than were removed. As per the approved plan, the former conifer trees are being replaced with deciduous trees.

City Park Renewal Project: In-Progress Photos. Select image to enlarge.

It is expected that this phase of the City Park renewal will be done by the end of May.

Other projects on the go include:

  • Condor Park trail renewal
  • LED streetlight renewal which is scheduled to be completed this year
  • New vandalism-resistant boxes to protect city-owned wiring
  • Michaud Crescent corridor renewal planning and upcoming public consultation
  • Grade Crescent corridor renewal planning and upcoming public consultation
  • Glover Road corridor renewal and cycling planning
  • 203rd Street renewal between Fraser Highway and Logan Avenue
  • Various projects to renew water mains throughout the community
  • Updating the Subdivision and Development Bylaw

One of the ways that local governments can pass ideas onto the provincial government for consideration is through the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) and Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM). These organizations present a united voice for local governments in our province. Langley City council approved forwarding the following motions for consideration:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

March 11, 2019 Council Meeting Notes: Pickleball, Environmental Task Group, Arts & Culture Task Group, and Door-to-Door Canvassing

Monday night’s Langley City council meeting was a full house with members of the Langley Area Pickleball Dinkers. Pickleball has become a popular sport in Langley City in recent years. The sport “combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis.

Members of Langley Area Pickleball Dinkers at Monday night's council meeting. Select image to enlarge.

When pickleball is played outdoors in Langley City, it is played on the tennis courts in Douglas Park. Client Davies, who represented the Langley organization at the council meeting, requested that the City repair the surface cracks on the courts and repaint permanent lines to support both tennis and pickleball. He also noted that there will be a pickleball tournament in Langley between July 5th and 7th, with proceeds benefiting Douglas Park Community School.

Council passed a motion to have staff investigate options to repair and repaint the tennis courts in Douglas Park.

As I noted yesterday, later during the meeting, council gave final reading to the 2019-2023 Financial Plan. Council also gave final reading to the Advisory Planning Establishment Commission Bylaw which I posted about previously.

Council also approved the terms of reference for our new Environmental Task Group, and Arts and Culture Task Group. These task groups will run until the end of this year, and could be extended by council for another year if required.

The Environmental Task Group “will evaluate and recommend to City Council bylaws and policies related to the protection and enhancement of the environment.” The membership of this task group will include: two members of council, a member representing the Langley Field Naturalist, a member representing the Langley Environment Partner Society, a youth member, a member from a post-secondary institution, and a member from the community at-large.

The Arts and Culture Task Group “will evaluate and recommend to City Council initiatives and programs related to the furtherance of arts and culture in the community.” The membership of this task group will include: two members of council, a member from the Langley Arts Council, a member from a local multicultural organization, a youth member, and two members from the community at-large.

Council also approved an update to our Door-to-Door Canvassing Policy. People who go door-to-door in our community to fundraise for registered charities are subject to this policy, and should receive approval from council for canvassing activities.

The policy’s principles include that canvassing should only occur between 9am and 8pm, Monday thru Saturday (excluding holidays), and that any one organization can only canvass for one month per year. Information about groups that are permitted to canvass are sent to the RCMP, and the policy states that all canvassers must carry proof of authorization at all times. As a note, this policy is not meant to apply to children selling cookies for a club that they belong to.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting about the remaining topics covered at Monday night’s council meeting.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Langley City council unanimously approves 2019 budget

Last night, Langley City council unanimously voted in favour of approving our community’s 2019 budget (Councillor Wallace and Storteboom were not at last night’s meeting.) This means that the City will be moving forward on some significant projects and programs that will improve the quality of life for people in our community.

I’ve posted about the budget previously as follows:

A complete set of budget documents is available on the City’s website. I’ve also updated my Langley City Solutions Tracker 2.0 which shows how the approved 2019 budget aligns with the commitments I made to residents during the fall 2018 election.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Gaps in transit access in our town centres. Transit corridors, office space, and building an accessible region.

One of the long-term goals of Metro Vancouver and its residents is to create complete town centres where people can live, work, and partake in social and recreational activities. These town centres help preserve our greenspace. Our town centres were to be connected by high quality, frequent transit.

Building vibrant town centres in a “sea of green” has been envisioned since 1966 with the adoption of the first regional growth strategy. How successful has this vision been? The square footage of office space is one of the key metrics that is used to measure the success of this policy. It is recognised that while many people will choose to live in town centres, many people will not. It is also recognised that industrial uses are not necessarily appropriate for town centres.

About 68% of all office space is in town centres. This includes places such as Downtown Vancouver, Downtown Surrey, and the Langley Regional Town Centre to name a few. The following map shows the location of town centres and office space.

Inventory of office space in Metro Vancouver. Map highlights town centres. Source: Metro Vancouver.

One of the interesting facts is that not all town centres have frequent transit service throughout them. For example, while Downtown Langley has frequent transit (every 15 minute or better service most of the day), 64th Avenue does not. These areas are both within the Langley Regional Town Centre.

About 4% of office space in town centres is not accessible by high quality transit, focused in areas such as South Surrey, Richmond City Centre, and Willoughby. For town centres to function properly, they need frequent transit throughout. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed in our region.

Increasingly in our region, planners are seeing the value of also concentrating office growth along corridors that are serviced by high quality transit which connects our town centres together. Some examples of these corridors include Fraser Highway and Broadway.

When accounting for these high quality, frequent transit corridors, around 88% of all office space in our region is either in town centres or along frequent transit corridors.

The remaining 12% of office space by square footage is in business parks which would mostly be associated with sprawl. These sprawling business parks are concentrated in Burnaby, Richmond, and North Vancouver (City and District.)

The good news is that building transit inaccessible office space is not popular, but nonetheless, as a region we need to ensure that we are only building offices in our town centres or along transit corridors. We also need to make sure that our town centres have frequent transit service including in town centres in Langley, Surrey, and Delta.

For more information, please read the “Office Development in Metro Vancouver’s Urban Centres” report from the Metro Vancouver Regional District.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Dealing with toxic social media and defending their records. Recently re-elected councillors share experiences from the campaign trail.

Inspired by SFU City Conversations, four first-term councillors from municipalities throughout the region had an idea to bring important city-building conversations out from the confines of the City of Vancouver, to the rest of the region.

They held a series of in-person Metro Conversations in 2017, and launched a 6-episode podcast series in 2018. The topics focused on housing, transportation, and equity. The series was paused due to the fall 2018 municipal elections.

With elections over, and all four councillors now serving their second-term, Metro Conversations is back.

Four special election-edition podcasts have been released where councillors Nathan Pachal from the City of Langley, Kiersten Duncan from the City of Maple Ridge, Mathew Bond from the District of North Vancouver and Patrick Johnstone from New Westminster talk about their experiences during the fall 2018 campaign including what the hot topics were, other candidates, and the politics of their communities.

“These were fun interviews to do, and I like that we ended up with four very different conversations,” said Councillor Johnstone. “We may all have similar politics, so we all laugh at the same cues, but these interviews show how diverse our communities are and highlight how our connected region is often impacted by politics that are hyper-local.”

Season 1B is also available on:
iTunes: http://itunes.convo.city
Google Play: http://play.convo.city

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Metro Vancouver study finds oversupply of on-site parking at apartments

Back in the summer, and again in the fall, I posted information about the Metro Vancouver Regional District’s on-going research into the utilization of on-site parking at apartment buildings throughout Metro Vancouver. Even in the South of Fraser, they found that on-site parking at apartment buildings was underutilized.

On-street parking on 204th Street near 54th Avenue in Langley City. 

The regional district compiled a series of key findings from its long-term parking study which was started in 2011 as follows:

  • For both rental and strata buildings, apartment parking supply exceeds use across the region. In strata apartment buildings, parking supply exceeds utilization by 42 percent, while in rental apartment buildings, parking supply exceeds utilization by 35 percent.
  • Apartment parking supply and use is lower for buildings closer to frequent transit (bus or rail).
  • Transit use is generally higher where apartment parking use is lower, especially for rental buildings.
  • Street parking is complex in mixed-use neighbourhoods. Some of the factors contributing to street parking use include: visitors to non-residential land uses in the evenings; apartment visitors on weekends, holidays, and special occasions; and some apartment residents parking on a nearby street.
  • The design and capacity of bicycle parking facilities in apartment buildings appear to discourage use by many residents.

I live in an apartment building, and there is never a time when I see our parking lot full. This seems to support the findings of Metro Vancouver’s study.

One of the comments that I heard from people, and see myself, is that in certain parts of Langley City on-street residential parking is harder to find. The Metro Vancouver study found that the worse time to find on-street parking in their study areas was on Saturday evening, where at 17% of the sites, on-street parking exceeded 85% utilization. 85% is the number at which it becomes difficult to find parking.

Again, this confirms my observation in Langley City where there are only certain areas with apartments where on-street parking is heavily utilized.

Comparison of parking supply and utilization at market rental sites. Select chart to enlarge.

The Metro Vancouver study did note that where on-site parking is included as part of rent, there is a slightly higher utilization rate of on-site parking. Where on-site parking is a paid optional component of rent, there is slightly higher on-street parking usage by residents though the study found that “street parking utilization on average does not approach 85 percent” outside of the City of Vancouver.

In Langley City, it found that on-street parking utilization was 67% on Saturday evenings, when on-street parking utilization is highest, at their study area around 19899 55A Ave.

Anecdotal observations from several peer municipal staff in Metro Vancouver suggest that there is a correlation between on-site visitor parking utilization and whether or not the nearby streets have regulations (i.e. where apartment sites tend to have lower facility utilization if the nearby streets are unregulated).

Langley City is in the process of starting a comprehensive parking management strategy for our community. I look forward to seeing its results and recommendations especially around on-street residential parking.

On-site parking is expensive to building, an underground parking spot costs around $20,000 $55,000. If on-site parking is underutilized, there is an opportunity to reduce the cost of building apartments. It also means that there is an opportunity to use less land for parking which helps create more affordable and environmentally sustainable communities.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

$1,000 Aboriginal Youth Mentorship Award

I received the following information which I thought I would pass along from Longhouse Consulting which according to their website is a local business in our community that is “a 100% owned aboriginal business [that] strives to incorporate the same values as the Metis Nation of British Columbia.”

They are accepting applications for their Aboriginal Youth Mentorship Award which includes $1,000 plus workshops at their office on web design, digital advertising and graphic design “that will aid any entrepreneur in their future endeavours.”

The criteria for the award are as follows:

  • Be an Aboriginal Youth of or between the age of 17 and 25
  • Be seeking to enter a career in entrepreneurship, technology, marketing, photography/videography or graphic design
  • Preference will be given to local applicants of aboriginal ancestry, however, in the absence of quantity or quality of applications applicants from anywhere in Canada and of any background may be considered

For more information about the award, and to apply, please visit their website.

Monday, March 4, 2019

A list of TransLink’s proposed transit, road, walking, and cycling improvements that are unfunded

In November 2016, phase one of TransLink’s three-phase, ten-year vision was approved by the Mayors’ Council. Phase two was approved in June 2018. For more details about the projects, service increases, and new funding for road, walking, and cycling infrastructure in this vision, please visit TransLink’s 10-Year Vision microsite.

A TransLink representative presented an update about the 10-Year Vision at the most recent Mayors’ Council meeting and Metro Vancouver’s Council of Councils. The results of phase one transit improvements are in: overall service has increased by six percent between 2016 and 2018, resulting in ridership increasing 15 percent in the same period. Our region has seen one of the highest growth rates for transit ridership of any major region in Canada or the US.

A TransLink representative presenting at Metro Vancouver Council of Councils meeting. Select image to enlarge.

This high growth rate means that transit service is still overcrowded. Phase two of the vision is in the process of being rolled out, but the final phase still is not funded. The following table shows the proposed transportation improvements currently in the final phase of the ten-year vision.

Rail Improvements:

  • Upgrades to Expo, Millennium, and Canada Line stations
  • Purchase 10 West Coast Express cars
  • Upgrades to Canada Line systems
  • Surrey-Langley Expo Line extension

Bus Improvements:

  • 7% service increase for conventional bus transit
  • 8% services increase for HandyDart transit
  • Five new B-Lines
  • Service expansion to two areas that are underserved today
  • Upgrades to 9 transit exchanges

Road Network, Walking, and Cycling Improvements:

  • $100 million for road network safety upgrades
  • $71.5 million for road network structures and seismic upgrades
  • $12.5 million for walking infrastructure
  • $43 million for municipal-controlled cycling infrastructure
  • $13 million for TransLink-controlled cycling infrastructure

The current provincial government has shown that it is willing to work with the Mayors’ Council on getting transit built in our region. I’m hopefully that this cooperation continues to get phase three funded. The transit referendum that was forced upon our region set transit expansion back many years; we cannot afford these types of delays going forward.

Even with phase three fully funded, more transit service expansion will be needed. TransLink is in the process of developing a new long-range regional transportation strategy which will feed into a new mid-term vision to expand transportation options in our region.