I finally got a chance over the weekend to dig into Elizabeth Murphy’s argument in last week’s Straight about Translink’s funding.  She’s worried in part about Translink being undemocratic, but I want to leave that aside and focus on her other concerns.  She also argues that Translink shouldn’t be funded by revenue generated by development–presumably by raising taxes on newly-developed, higher-value properties.  Instead, she wants Translink to get its funds from sources like the provincial carbon tax and vehicle levies, as part of a “polluter pays” approach to transit funding.  So far, this is all exactly right.

But I want to pick one nit with her reasons for objecting to funding Translink with development.  She says:

There have been some suggestions that rapid transit increases land values, so the profit from development should go toward paying for transit. In fact, land immediately surrounding rapid transit usually decreases in value because of increased crime, traffic, and noise.

I hear this a lot talking to people around Vancouver–rapid transit actually decreases land value.  People talk a lot about Surrey’s experience with Skytrain stations, and I take it there really was a decrease in land values around some stations.  But as a generalization–rapid transit decreases land value–it’s not at all clear that this is right.

Taking a cursory look over the literature on this question, we find a lot of studies showing that (a) the relationship between rapid transit and land value is complicated, but that (b), contrary to Murphy’s claim, rapid and rail transit tend to increase (or at worst have no effect at all on) land value.  (If you’re interested, look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for studies that point, one way or the other, to those two conclusions.)  To be sure, this doesn’t come close to settling the issue.  But it’s enough to show why we can’t just blithely assert that rapid transit decreases land values.

That said, Murphy’s exacly right that Translink shouldn’t be funded by property taxes on new development, since (as SFU’s Jon Kesselman argued a couple of weeks ago) those higher taxes give people incentives to live farther away from transit and keep their cars.

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