August 2009


Via Nathan Pachal at The South Fraser Blog, Jeff Nagel writes up some very bad news in BC Local News.  Right now, Translink gets $15 million a year from a 7% tax on pay parking.  The problem is, that tax is part of the provincial sales taxes that are going to get folded into the HST along with the federal government’s GST.  So it’s unclear that Translink is going to keep getting that revenue.  But suppose Translink and the province could work it out with Ottawa for Translink to get an appropriately-sized cut of the HST, to make up for the $15 million they got from the parking tax.  Problem solved, right?

Wrong.  Translink wanted to either double or triple the parking tax, bring it up to either 14% or 21%, in order to generate more revenue.  Why bump up the tax?  Quoth Nagel:

Tripling the parking sales tax to generate an extra $30 million was one of the identified revenue sources in a proposed funding scenario to generate an extra $130 million a year to keep TransLink on life support and avert deep cuts.

A much more ambitious expansion plan would double the parking tax immediately and move it to 21 per cent in 2015.

But as Nagel reports, “there’s no obvious way a customized, higher amount could be charged on pay parking lots on TransLink’s behalf.”  Super.  That’s just great.

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This Jim Goddard peice from a few days ago is mostly a concise little report on the changes coming to bus service on Granville.  The 98 is getting axed, and people who need limited stop service along the north-south axis of the city are going to have to take the Canada Line.  Fair enough.

But I can’t wrap my head around why the piece ends the way it does.

Some regular 98-B Line users have expressed concerns about the changes.   Some say their commute will take longer thanks to all the transfers required.

I bet some have “expressed concerns”!  And no doubt people who worked on Granville will have slightly longer commutes!  But why write that paragraph without getting reactions from people whose commutes will speed up?  What about the people who work on Cambie?  Nothing from them? And no attempt to get any expert estimates about how many people will see their commutes slow down and how many will see them speed up?  Nope, just complaining.  Okay, then.

We’re not even talking about people who are having a transfer in Richmond added to their trips, like the people on the 600-numbered buses.  But somehow these news stories about how terribly inconvenient the Canada Line is just seem to write themselves.

Not nearly as much fun as it sounds.

This Peter Ladner post from a earlier in the summer has a great little factoid about Toronto:

John Howe, General Manager Investment Strategy and Projects for Metro Toronto’s Metrolinx, said there is solid public resistance in Toronto to all new transportation funding sources, even though congestion is the #1 problem in the region, with an 82-minute average commute.

“Sound familiar?”, Ladner asks.  Indeed it does.  Of course, there’s nothing odd about this at all.  What could be more common than wanting everything, and wanting it all for free?

This, by the way, is what’s so cynical about the province’s review dodge.  Saying that Translink wastes money by being inefficient or paying its executives too much is a way of suggesting that metro Vancouver could get the transit infrastructure we want without having to pay any extra money for it.  (If only Translink were more efficient! )  It’s a way for politicians like Campbell and Bond to direct Vancouverites’ attention away from difficult choices, instead of clarifying those choices for us and helping us to make them.  The review dodge really is politics at its most lazy and most cowardly.

Frances Bula points me to these interesting posts from Clark Williams-Derry and Alan Durning about biking in Vancouver versus Portland.  For all the interest in Portland’s bike culture, Vancouver doesn’t look too bad by comparison.  Williams-Derry points out that Portland has a bit of edge for bike commuters within core cities proper.  Within the city of Portland, 3.9% of commutes are by bike.  In the city of Vancouver, that number’s only 3.1% (warning: big pdf).  But Durning looks at the numbers for the whole metro regions, not just the cities proper.  In the metro Vancouver region, 1.9% (pdf!) of commutes are by bike, but in the Portland region that number’s only 0.8%.

Where does that leave us?  Well, as I’ve said before, I think Vancouver could learn something from Portland about how to make downtown more bike friendly.  (I’d love to see Vancouver copy Portland and put big bike racks in street parking spots.)  But I also think it’s a reminder that, when it comes to Portland and transportation, don’t believe the hype.

And on that note, here’s a video from Copenhagenize about some bike infrastructure I’m ready to believe the hype about.  Go watch it!

A gang of my friends and I braved persnickity ticket machines and the dread forced transfer to take the Canada Line to a wedding tonight out on the river by Aberdeen Centre.  Obstacles overcome, a fun and boozey time was had by all!

This Carlito Pablo story in the Straight is a week old, but I’ve only just now had the time to read it carefully.  It’s about an SFU grad student, Elizabeth Cooper, who’s studied the effects of the U-Pass on students’ transit use.  She shows that, at least for SFU students, the deeply discounted U-Pass encourages more students to take transit.  But maybe more interestingly, she also shows that SFU students who used the U-Pass while in school were slightly more likely than their non-U-Pass using classmates to keep using transit even after they graduate and start paying full fares.  That’s a really interesting finding, and it’s a very good thing that grad students in the region are working on digging up these sorts of useful nuggets.

Cooper’s recommendations are to expand the U-Pass programme in various ways — for example, by making U-Passes available to alumni for a few years after they graduate.  Cooper tells the Straight,

This is important for policymaking because it shows that although the U-Pass costs TransLink a lot of money, it does achieve its long-term goals of creating lifelong transit users, which contributes to increasing the sustainability of the region by reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road.

Indeed.  The problem, of course, is that Translink has no money, and what money it has, it spends on buses and trains that are already very well used.  So why give up revenue to encourage more ridership the system can’t handle?

That question has an answer of course — a good answer actually, even if not one I’ll ultimately accept.  The reason to give up revenue to encourage ridership is to get more people out of their cars.  You could find the money elsewhere, say, by a heavier vehicle levy or more tolls or whatever.  And you could make those taxes on drivers heavy enough to pay for the new buses and rail needed to carry all the extra people using their newly beefed-up U-Passes.  Worried about why students (and seniors, for that matter) should get a deal on transit, but not other low-income metro Vancouverites?  Fine.  Figure out ways to expand the class of people who get discounted fares.  And pay for it by cranking up the price of driving.

That actually seems like a such a good idea to me that I’ve almost talked myself into it.  Almost.  But I keep thinking about gearing up for fights we know are coming — Translink’s proposed vehicle levy, new tolls, and giving up the revenue-neutrality of the carbon tax, so Translink can get a taste of that money.  Those revenue streams are going to be hard enough to put into place when we’re talking about generating relatively modest amounts of money from them. Try to make too much money from them, and we make it more likely that we won’t get any money at all.  So I’m inclined to think, if only for crassly political reasons, expanding the U-Pass programme is something that’s probably going to have to wait.

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