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One more take on what the TransLink commissioner had to say

September 4th, 2009 · 34 Comments

The (relatively) new TransLink commissioner, Martin Crilly, issued his first review ever of TransLink plan’s yesterday and all media piled on, but it was interesting that we all got something a bit different out of it. I ended up focusing on his analysis that TransLink is not going to be successful in the future by just building capacity and hoping riders will pile on — he says you need stick approaches to get drivers out of their cars and onto transit.My story is here.

The Province highlighted the fare increase he approved and the apparent death of immediate Evergreen Line construction.

And the Sun put the spotlight on TransLink’s problems with getting money from the parking-stall tax, due to the HST complications. I’m told by TransLink that that issue is actually being worked out with the province and they’re not too alarmed about it.

An object lesson in how complex transit funding is, with any analysis generating all kinds of interesting side topics of discussion. Anyone wanting to read the actual report themselves (it’s actually relatively readable) can go here.

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  • spartikus

    This article from the Guardian, on how the French fund transit and transit infrastructure, is quite interesting.

    Via Stephen Rees

  • Otis Krayola


    Interesting article. Imagine the howls of protest from Vancouver-area businesses if this were implemented here.

  • Evil Eye

    Came across this on another blog……” golden rule; that if you build metro on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them, costly subsidies must be paid. When costly subsidies are paid, there is less money available to be invested in the transit system.”

    Wonder if there could be some truth to it?

  • Blair

    Translink will continue to see low ridership and a commensurate low prestige in the outer communities until it acknowledges that the “suburbs” are communities in their own rights and not merely satellites of the City of Vancouver. The transit system is designed around trips into/out of Vancouver. As a resident of North Langley if I want to get to Richmond I have to go into town and then back out. The hub system doesn’t work for us and we won’t be willing to pay for it until it serves us as well.

  • Otis Krayola

    @ Eye,

    Course it’s true. And it doesn’t apply only to rapid transit. If it’s axiomatic that density drives infrastructure, the corollary is that giant suburban lots translate into heavily-subsidised buses running regularly every full moon or so.

    A classic example is Surrey, which for years thumbed its nose at the thought of Livable Region/Town Centre planning in favour of auto-dependent shopping centres and spacious subdivisions. Now Dianne Watts complains about dismal bus service in her municipality.

    Boo hoo.

  • IamFrench

    this french tax (Versement Transport) has been put in place in the 60′ at a time the transit system was mostly conceived to carry blue collars at work…not to ensure people mobility.
    due to this assumption transit service are almost inexistant on week-end and night in french provincial cities and even Paris suburb…while usage pattern of transit has considerably evolve since the 60′ so tax the employer to provide transit to go to Olympic game or go to “play” make total nosense!
    In addition, tax revenue is dependant of payroll not number of employee, so city with high wage get luxury transit service for white collar, while other blue collar cities continue to ferry worker in antic bus.

    at the end 1.75% of tax is eventually not too much in a country taxing wage overall 80% or more, but in fact it is still 1.75% too much…and problem of transit is not a tax problem it is a problem of subsidiarization of other transportation mode. stop it (means introduce road pricing), and you will not need to invent new taxes!

  • Otis Krayola


    “…and the problem of transit is not a tax problem it is a problem of subsidarization of other transportation mode.”

    Absolutely correct. And the subsidy auto users have enjoyed has led us to pave the Fraser valley. It is perverse.

    The political problem of imposing road taxes is obvious. Maybe a non-elected body like TransLink could bill every auto owner a staggering sum for past road usage and then waive the invoice with the understanding that drivers will henceforth be charged for what they use.

  • jimmy olson


    “Each and every day 500,000 people ride their bicycle to work or school in and around Copenhagen. This blog highlights who they are, why they do and how it was made possible.

    Forty years ago Copenhagen was just as car-clogged as anywhere else but now 55% of the population choose the bicycle to get to work or school. 37% in the Greater Metropolitan area. Copenhagenizing is possible anywhere.”

    vancouverities had better get ready for _big_ changes a’comin

  • Bill Lee

    Tranport enthusiasts might read

    Ego City: Cities organized like human brains

    Changes? See Kovenhavn’s tax system and the car prices with taxes. Easier to bike it, in a very flat city designed with 5 radiating suburbs.

    Vancouver and area only grew with cars. See the various tranport maps or even the Millenium maps of Burnaby at:

  • Shane

    @ Blair

    Question: If easy access to Richmond is important to someone, they probably shouldn’t live in North Langley.

    Blair’s comment (which I actually think is just hypothetical) proves that the “stick” approach is needed; nobody will take personal responsibility for their choices until it hits them in the pocketbook.

  • Shane

    @ Evil Eye

    This theory is why the Evergreen Line should be low on the priority list.

    The next SkyTrain extension should be the extension of the Millennium Line to meet up with the Canada Line at Cambie.

    That would be building public transport where the demand already exists. I heard a stat (can’t source it though) that the #9 and #99 already carry as many people as one of Portland’s LRT lines.

  • gmgw

    “Question: If easy access to Richmond is important to someone, they probably shouldn’t live in North Langley.”

    If only everyone else’s major life decisions could be as simplistically easy as they are for you, Shane. With your proclivity for telling other people what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their lives, maybe you should be in the personal counseling biz, hmm?

  • T W

    If you were a politican and you were faced with one of two decisions, which would you choose.

    One decision, subsidise Greyhound to keep rural comminities viable, or subsidise urban transit. Which one would you choose and which has the better political pay out (the answer is fairly obvious on an electoral basis)

    You choose.

  • “Question: If easy access to Richmond is important to someone, they probably shouldn’t live in North Langley.”

    Seems like good advice to me.

  • Evil Eye

    @ Shane

    Portland’s MAX carries 118,000 passengers a day, not including the streetcar system. Portland has very low density compared to Vancouver, but it’s MAX LRT has an all zone fare of CAD $2.50;

    5 lines and it services many more destinations than SkyTrain. It also has seen a modal shift of over 40% from car to rail, something TransLink can only dream of.

  • Blair


    Richmond is only one example. Try to get from Langley to Cloverdale? Even more absurd, try to simply go down 200th, the biggest north-south vehicle corridor in Langley yet the bus goes down it once an hour. Try to get down Broadway to UBC and a bus runs every 2-5 minutes. Try to get “across” town instead of “down” town and you are out of luck. Look now at the population densities and who is paying the freight for Translink. Those of us who pay over 30% of Translink’s total budget get a bare afterthought in their service.

    The best suggestion is the “parking stall tax”. You charge businesses that need parking because the buses don’t run in the area to subsidize service on Broadway where the merchants don’t need parking because the transit service is so extensive.

  • ” Try to get down Broadway to UBC and a bus runs every 2-5 minutes.”

    I wish. Also, those buses are full to the gills most of the time. Can we say the same about suburban services?

  • @Blair … not sure how you define “low ridership”: TransLink carried over 300,000,000 trips in 2008 in a metro region with 2.1 million population. But yes, you can go from North Langley to Richmond without going into downtown Vancouver (I assume that’s what you mean by “into town”). During rush hours, Monday-Friday, you can take the #388 to 22nd St. Station, then the #410 or other Richmond bus into Richmond; the C62 can take you to Langley Centre where you can transfer to the #501 to Surrey Central and then SkyTrain to 22nd St. and the Richmond bus … or maybe, given the speed of SkyTrain, the run into downtown Vancouver and back out again isn’t so bad after all.
    Shane’s follow-up comment points to an issue we’ve been working on for years: development in areas where there is no — or very limited — transit service, leaving people to wonder when the buses will come. It’s frustrating for all concerned.
    But if you look at the documents relating to our Transport 2040 vision and the South of Fraser Area Transit Plan (available at, you’ll see that we are, indeed, basing current and future planning on the premise that more and more trips are beginning and ending within the South of Fraser Area.

  • Evil Eye

    There is an old Hungarian saying: When Gypsies knock at the front door, rush out the back door and stop them stealing your chickens.”

    When TransLink offers statistics, beware, unlike most other transportation agencies in the USA or Europe, there is no independent audit of TransLink.

    They can claim what ever they wish because they know full well no one checks up.

    The auditor General of BC should do an complete independent annual or bi annual audit of TransLink but of course the Libs. will not give him the funding to do it.

    To quote Gerald Fox, noted US transit consultant and expert, commenting on the Evergreen Line business case: “It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analyzed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.”

  • Otis Krayola


    I’d be interested to see where TransLink spends the money it gets; I’m sure there’s a disparity but not at all sure it’s as wide as you suggest. While I know we’ve been addressing transit on this thread, and TransLink’s the agency that provides (or doesn’t) transit, it needs to be stressed that TransLink also provides shiny new bridges from burb to burb. Check out who maintains and upgrades 200th for all those cars. Probably TransLink.

    Anyway, take heart. Drew Snider (official TransLink mouthpiece) says you can look for improvements in transit South of the Fraser. By 2040.

    If they can find the funding.

  • Evil Eye

    Quote: ” Drew Snider (official TransLink mouthpiece) says you can look for improvements in transit South of the Fraser. By 2040″

    For everyone’s great delight, the Evil Eye will be dead by 2040!

  • Shane

    @ Evil eye:
    My only point was that those buses carry more passengers than one of Portland LRT lines.

    And, I’m not interested in the “railforthevalley” urban sprawl project. If you live in the valley, you should probably work in the valley.

    I support building public transport where it is needed to facilitate life and trade for citizens and businesses who make smart choices. The easier it is to live and work in an urban centre, the more people will live there and the more fertile land is saved for growing food instead of big box stores.

    @ Blair:
    I suggest that we can’t expect public transport to support us wherever we choose to live. Citizens need to make better choices.

    I also believe municipalities have been making some pretty terrible development decisions as well and often entice citizens and businesses to make poor decisions.

  • gmgw

    Chris said:
    “Also, those buses are full to the gills most of the time. Can we say the same about suburban services?”

    Ah yes; another person who hasn’t a clue what it’s like to live in a suburb. Also someone who’s never had the experience of having to stand on the 351 all the way from 6th & Granville to White Rock Centre (don’t dash off to your nearest bus stop just to have the pleasure; as of Sept. 7th, that heavily-used line has been done away with by the brilliant minds at Translink).

    Short answer to your question: During morning and evening rush hours at least, you’re goddamned right they are. And there’s a lot fewer of them in off-hours than are available for us pampered inner-city folk.

    Try waiting for an hour in freezing rain on a December Sunday night at 16th & 128th in south Surrey, for a bus (inexplicably delayed) headed for downtown Vancouver, before you pass any more judgments.

  • Yes, I’ve never had to wait for a bus in the suburbs. Not. Nor was I passing judgement on anything.

    #9 and #99 are busy all day every day FWIW.

  • Andrea C.

    @Evil Eye:

    Both my parents grew up in Hungary, and I have never heard the use of such an expression in my life. But then again, my parents don’t have a problem with Roma. My mother grew up in a neighbourhood adjacent to a Roma settlement, and has never said a bad word against them.
    P.S. You are about as funny as a hernia.

  • Blair


    Let’s look at your suggested trip: #388 takes 1 hour 26 minutes for the first leg then a 14 minute layover before another 53 minute trip turning my quick trip to Richmond into a 2 hour and 30 minute journey, Odysseus would ask whether the trip was worth it. Using the Skytrain with the connectors is still over two hours, so for a return trip on a workday you would expect to spend over 4 hours. Try and get to the Olympic oval for an event and the trip planner responds that the trip is too long or has too many transfers to be practical.


    Translink did not supply us with a ‘shiny new bridge’, our bridge is a P3 that I pay for in a toll every time I cross.


    You write “I suggest that we can’t expect public transport to support us wherever we choose to live.” well my response to that one is simple: if public transport isn’t willing to support us then why should we be expected to support it with our Translink levy. I’d be happy to take all the money the folks in the valley pour into the relentless maw that is Translink and pool it to provide road and transit service out here. The only problem with my plan is that since the Valley’s tax base is supporting your Cadillac transit system in town I’d have to read more stories about the “bus rider’s union” whining that they have to pay even more based on your Chevy tax base in town.

  • Otis Krayola


    There’s clearly a disconnect here. You say you pay for the Golden Ears bridge when you pay your toll to cross (and imply that it’s not part of TransLink’s purview).

    TransLink’s web site extolls the wonders of the Gateway program and has a page devoted to ‘your’ bridge.

    Who’s wrong?

    Maybe you think that, when you pay your fare on the bus that the bus now belongs to you.

  • Blair


    The quick answer is you are being misled and TransLink is being a bit disingenuous with their web site.

    Our benign overlords and the contractor forked out the original outlay, but only with the understanding that they will get their investment back in spades. It is something akin to your bank bragging on their website about providing you with a new home when all they did is give you a mortgage that you still have to pay off….with interest.

    Bus fare is different, you never pay off the bus, with your fare, the outlay for the capital investment for the bus is covered by the regional levy and your fare only pays to maintain the bus and pay for the driver. If you charged the equivalent of a toll on your average bus trip you’d pay 3-10 times as much per trip (depending on bus type and route).

  • Otis Krayola


    You don’t have to convince me about the structure; I understand firsthand about that. Decades.

    But, I submit that none of that matters, given the present political master, namely TransLink.

  • Otis Krayola

    Except, how can anything be political (ie, How We Decide), when those who decide aren’t the elect?

  • Shane


    That is B.S. If you chose to live in an obscure cul-de-sac in Aldergrove and commute to West Vancouver, you should pay through the nose for transportation both for the distance travelled, and for the extra subsidy required to serve you in such a remote low-ridership location.

    The vehicle levy may not be fairest system, but they have to work within the current system.

    Soon, I we will be moving to distance-based highway tolls, vehicle insurance and TransLink fare structure – that will ensure that those who are the biggest users are the ones who are paying.

    And, then people will better consider their choice of residence and stop demanding that TransLink meet their every need.

  • Blair


    Who said I live anywhere near Aldergrove? I live in Walnut Grove and commute, by foot, to my work, but even then I pay through my nose for a transit levy and get virtually no service for it. I can’t go down the major north-south corridor to where the best shopping is located, I can’t get to a regional court, hell it is faster on most days to walk the distance to the major recreation center (which is on a bus route) even though I live mere minutes from the local “transit hub” because the service is so limited, then, TranLink suggests a “parking stall tax” where companies, like mine, that are not served by transit, are expected to pay for our parking stalls because we need parking to let people come and go meanwhile the folks who have ALL THE TRANSIT SERVICE don’t pay a cent because, oddly enough, they don’t need parking spaces .

    What really peaves us off, is we pay for your gold-plated transit and then get treated like rubes by ignorant folk like you who have no clue what vibrant communities we have. Langley has a net positive employment, that means more people COME HERE for work than leave the community. We don’t commute to the north shore, they come here. Look at traffic at 5 pm any workday and check out where the traffic is most backed up, the answer (as you don’t know) is westward.

    TransLink is like some bizarrely shaped cow, it is fed on the levy’s from the area south of the Fraser, is milked in the Metro core and s…ts on the northeast. Well we are tired of providing the fodder that keeps you fat off the teat.

  • Otis Krayola

    I’m going to repeat myself, as the message doesn’t seem to be getting through.

    People have the mistaken notion that TransLink is only bus/SkyTrain/SeaBus. Translink also is responsible for regional roads, bridges and tunnel.

    And anyone who thinks that we enjoy a ‘gold-plated’ transit system lives a lot further away than Walnut Grove.

  • Shane

    @ Blair

    I was giving an extreme example.

    I lived in Langley for many years actually so I am familar with its “vibrancy”.

    The problem is that most suburbs have low density and/or spaghetti-style street layouts (like Walnut Grove) that are difficult to serve efficiently and cost-effectively.

    Plus, even if the service was there at the levels you desire, most people would continue to choose their private vehicles – because that is why they live in the suburbs to begin with; it is the culture of the suburb.

    Most are uber-committed to their cars because they own at least two of them, and their suburban home’s grandest feature is its two-car garage.

    I agree the vehicle levy isn’t perfect, but until we get distance-based vehicle insurance and tolling, it is all TransLink has. Blair, you should be a huge promote rof distance-based tolling/insurance etc – it sounds like you’d be a big winner because of your lifestyle.

    And, regarding your rant about the martyrs South of Fraser… if I were King of the city-state of Vancouver, I’d start charging the SOF residents for the opportunity cost of allowing you to live on land that we should be using to grow food.

    Hmmm…perhaps I’d assess my charge using a vehicle levy.