Frances Bula header image 2

TransLink pressures, cancellations shred unity among regional mayors

April 19th, 2012 · 69 Comments

Divorces rise when the economy is bad. I’d suggest the same dynamic is at play among the region’s 21 mayors, who find themselves being squeezed by demand for more transit from residents, resistance to new taxes and fees from taxpayers, and a province that keeps hacking off more body parts in each go-round to find a solution.

As my Globe story highlighted this week, Langley mayors are deeply unhappy about the announcement from TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis that all the improvements not yet started from the agency’s three-year Moving Forward plan are now on hold.

Although that decision also affects North Vancouver, which now won’t get 15-minute SeaBus service for evenings and weekends, it largely impacts the communities south of the Fraser.

That has Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese even talking about pulling out of Metro Vancouver and joining up with Abbotsford — a move that likely won’t go anywhere for a long time, since Abbotsford’s efforts to leave the Fraser Valley Regional District have been shut down by the province.

The sad part of all of this is that people in Metro Vancouver largely support the idea of having more transit. (That’s in some contrast to where I am at the moment, Los Angeles, where I heard radio-show commentators yesterday slagging the mayor for his efforts to push transit. LA, they said, operates on the car and no one takes transit except for criminals, so why spend all the money?)

But, since the beginning, the agency has consistently found itself stymied in efforts to find funding models beyond ye olde property and gas taxes. Every time a new tax is suggested, the province, freaked out at the thought of a tax revolt, says no. In theory, everyone agrees there needs to be a new model. In practice, no one wants to take the chance.

Perhaps the NDP, if elected, can use up some political capital early by just putting in a substantively different system.

In the meantime, the pressure is causing mayors to splinter off into different groups — some leading the charge against the evil province, saying if only mayors were in charge, things would be better; some saying mayors should stop trying to do something they have no power to achieve; some unhappy about their region getting shafted; a few still hanging in, trying to keep the herd of cats together and headed toward a brighter future.

All such a shame, because any rational person knows that the cities that thrive and prosper in the coming century will be those that figure out how to build healthy city “bodies,” where people and goods can flow where they need to in the region.

That happens through good planning that facilitates people living in areas with easy access to work and the things they need to get to. Inevitably, it means good transit systems, which are like the veins and arteries of the metropolitan body. Building for cars only is like asking for cholesterol build-up.




Categories: Uncategorized

  • mezzanine

    If I recall correctly, the 407 Concession Agreement is a notoriously bad agreement – as it gives the operator free reign on toll increases (unlike, say, the Canda Line agreement where TransLink sets the fares).
    Guest is right, the 407 agreement stands as one of the costliest, stupidest, most short-sighted decisions any government in Canada has ever made…

    on what do you base this on? from what I can gather (1), the tolls are calculated in the short term on congestion. It seems that the concessionaire gets charged a penalty from the govt if there is ++ congestion and travel time slows, i.e., the more people want to access the road, a finite space, the price must go up accordingly until demand meets a balance.

    in the longer term, the concessionaire can extend the highway and add new lanes to defined terms, using toll revenue to fund construction.

    Isn’t that what true road pricing is? I suspect one reason people hate the P3 arrangement is that the concessionaire is more immune to political pressure to keep tolls down.


    I would like what evidence there is other evidence of this being bad policy. Chicago’s
    leasing of its parking concession is a good example of a bad P3 deal, as it did not specify possible future initiatives to reduce surface parking in the future, among other things. efforts of the city to shut down a street for a block party for instance, means the city paying the concessionaire for the lost revenue.

    That’s a bad deal. I’m not sure if the 407 concession is. I’d like to see evidence if there is.

  • gman

    Declan #44,so in your way of thinking we dont owe as much as other countries,even though their economies are collapsing,we should just keep on borrowing. Here is a simple explanation as to why we should have no federal debt at all that most people have no clue about.

  • gman @51

    No, not at all and in fact I suspect I agree with you more than most with respect to your link, am sympathetic to an MMT style viewpoint on government debt and have written against our debt levels in a number of places, including on my blog.

    I was just correcting Roger Kemble’s statement that, “Canadians are the most indebted in the world.”

  • mezzanine @50

    Not sure of the relevance of your link, they seemed to be arguing that tolls in general are a good idea, but that is a separate discussion.

    “I suspect one reason people hate the P3 arrangement is that the concessionaire is more immune to political pressure to keep tolls down.”

    Well, not me, anything that helps make drivers pay the true costs of their driving is OK by me, I just don’t like seeing the public ripped off.

    Granting a private monopoly without any effective provision for regulation of the prices charged is a bad idea in general.

    For more specific evidence of the ripoff, consider that the entire highway was sold by the province in 1993 for $3.1 billion (about $4.2 billion in 2010 dollars), and 10% of the highway sold in 2010 for $0.9 billion, suggesting a value of $9 billion at that point (with inflation of roughly 35% in the interim). So to date, Ontario residents are looking at a loss of about $5 billion on the sale (with 13 years down, 86 to go).

    Many people don’t know that the Harris government actually solicited bids for a 50 year contract and a 99 year contract. Because the private sector discounts anything happening over 50 years from now to basically 0, the two bids were almost identical. When I spoke to some of the purchasers a number of years back, I remember them expressing shock that the government took the 99 year offer (this is the reason most p3 deals don’t go out more than 30, or at most 50 years).

    But it’s not just me saying selling 407 was a terrible decision, use the google, and you’ll find lost of corroboration. For one, George Davies the deputy minister of transportation who was responsible for building the 407, referred to the sale as the worst provincial policy decision (in any province) of the last 50 years.

  • Sorry, 407 was sold in 1999, not 1993.

  • Frank @ #49 . . . et al

    To clarify, and thanqxz for responding. I thought I was permanently in your doghouse.

    Are you talking about Maillardville?” Yes! I was using center in a general metaphorical sense. We had to drive thru a lot of sprawling dross to get there despite the . . . errrr . . . towers . . .

    The core areas of Coquitam, Port Moody and Poco for sure have been significantly densifying over the last 2 decades or so, with many developments reaching up to 4+fsr, all in anticipation of some form of rail rapid transit.

    . . . and all of it at the behest of land speculators leaving a scatological (pun intended) mess wasteful of what meager resources remain after said land speculators have move on with their plunder.

    . . . A sprawling pop of 218,509 is unsustainable on all levels: amenities, work, TX, etc!

    So, IMO your dream of building complete communities in the absence of a transit network is nothing short of a fantasy.

    No fantasy Frank, being an experienced planner, you should know better. Look at LA.

    Indeed, go no further than the Fraser Valley: a veritable sewer of speculators and realtors.

    A suburb with out a fundamental wealth creating employment base (i.e. indeed, present day BC floggin’ its unprocessed raw resources to the first convenient bidders) becomes a dormitory (Google Milton Keynes UK) feeding wealth and prosperity somewhere else.

  • mezzanine

    @Declan 50

    Not sure of the relevance of your link, they seemed to be arguing that tolls in general are a good idea, but that is a separate discussion.

    These are some quotes from the ON Ministry of Transport link in my 50:

    Further, an additional 343 lane-kilometers were added to the 407 corridor since the
    privatization of the highway in 1999. This addition of lane-kilometers to the GTA
    highway network would have taken longer to construct using traditional funding
    mechanisms afforded to the government. Privatization of the highway also precluded
    the government from annual maintenance and operational costs.

    An added benefit of private sector investment is that it has provided the provincial
    government with financial flexibility. Private sector funding for highway expansion and
    upgrades enables the province to otherwise redirect highway funding from Highway 407
    towards other worthwhile endeavors. While not directly related, it is instructive to note
    that the provincial government has made significant commitments to enhancing public

    The toll rates for 407 are market driven, whereas the Reason Institute found that there
    is a considerable political interference in toll setting in US public toll authorities.
    Having the private sector assume financial risks for the facility ensures that toll
    rates strike an appropriate balance between maximizing revenue and optimizing
    road network flow limits and lessens subsidization of toll highway users. Even
    transit vehicles (Go Transit) are not discounted.
    The provincial government was provided with the financial flexibility if it so chooses to otherwise redirect highway funding from Highway 407 towards other sustainable transportation initiatives.

  • mezzanine

    Granting a private monopoly without any effective provision for regulation of the prices charged is a bad idea in general.

    But road building, especially highway building, is a different product. Perhaps you and I can agree that regardless of tolls or P3s, good public policy to limit highway contruction. For me, building a parallel untolled freeway is a non-starter. The route isn’t monopolized, the alternate free route is the surface system of roads. For me the comparison is traffic and travel without the tolled 407, not a tolled 407 *and* a parallel free highway.

  • mezzanine

    WRT the value of the 407 asset, this is a nice link from the text “The Handbook of Municipal Bonds”

    Remember that the 407 was the first barrier-free tolled highway integrated with the road network in an urban environment was novel. Even electronic toll collection was in its infancy and was prone to errors and missed tolls in the first few years. I’m no expert on p3s, but I would assume that the price at the time reflected that risk.

    The value of the 407 obviously is related to revenue it brings in, which is directly related to how they are able to charge and raise tolls, and fund defined expansions. To me the toll is demand based, which to me is fair. If you look at the ontario MoT link, traffic continued to rise annually in the mid-2000s on the 407 despite annual toll increases.

    That being said, I would agree a cap on annual toll increases would increase public approval.


    The above link also touches on the 50 vs 99 year lease term. The text also seems to agree that 50 years would be a more reasonable term. That being said, it suggests that some in the harris government would have preferred to sell the 407 outright (which would be worse public policy) and that the 99 year term was a compromise to that.

  • Dan

    The latest provincial migration statistics show more people moving out of BC, than into, from other provinces. Only international in-migration is driving population growth. So the increased need for transit spending is directly related to federal immigration policy. The main benefactors of this policy seem to be the immigrants themselves and in Vancouver’s case, the above mentioned FIRE industry along with property owners.

    The increase in transit costs for expansion should be born by those who benenfit most: the FIRE industry and property owners. I hope once the NDP win the next election they’ll put a mansion tax in place for all property purchased in the last 10 years valued over $500k.

    That way even drug dealers, tax evaders and border shoppers will do their part to fund transit (unlike with a sales tax or vehicle levy).

  • mezzanine

    @Dan 59

    OK, i’ll bite.

    Why not implement a property tax increase instead to achieve your objectives for translink?

    and jebus, blaming foreign immigrants along with drug dealers for pressures on translink? i try really hard to be diplomatic, but that’s just stupid.

  • Andrew Browne

    @ Roger Kemble (#46) (…and others?)

    Maillardville is not the center of the Tri-Cities, judged either geographically or by importance. In fact, its peripheral at best in respect of geography AND relevance. Any sprawl you would have driven through to get there would have actually been Burnaby (assuming you are approaching from Vancouver, which, I think, is where you call home). Lougheed is Lougheed, no one is pretending its a pinnacle of urbanism. Every community has one. Think Clarke, Knight, Oak (south), Marine (any), Boundary, etc. Proximity to Highway 1 has largely shaped Lougheed, as this is where warehousing and other businesses located before they left for Surrey/Langley due to escalating land costs. Until recent controls on direct-access, Lougheed largely performed a “service road” role for Highway 1 for industrial uses on the river-side, too.

    The Tri-Cities are actually starting on relatively sophisticated station area planning exercises, in some instances to augment and strengthen the underlying form (e.g. PoMo central), in others to totally “reboot” an area in need of transformation (e.g. Burquitlam). Many nodes in the Tri-Cities compare favourably with non-downtown Vancouver for density (Coq. Central, PoMo Central, areas off Austin, etc.). I won’t say they’re yet firing on all cylinders with urban form, though, as the ground experience of the towers near Coquitlam Centre can attest.

    As for access to stations there will be ample “lateral” bus connections, as always. It’s like criticizing all of Vancouver because they’re more than 5 minutes from Skytrain? Tons of people take frequent arterial buses via walking trip from their home, to ultimately connect to higher order transit.

    Anyways I suggest you visit the more northerly-portions of the Tri-Cities as they definitely have changed in the past 5 years, nevermind 20. And, unlike Vancouver (where you can have a 500 sq ft condo or a 5000 sq ft house), there are a variety of unit types available, including -gasp- townhomes.

    Re: employment raised by others (?) – I agree, the variety of jobs in the area is an issue but not one which is solved by less transit. Even major regional centres like Metrotown have issues attracting employers, same with Surrey and New West. Employment clusters are really tough for any portion of Greater Vancouver. It seems clear that downtown Vancouver can’t ultimately absorb all employers, nor should it, and nor should we want it to, but it seems there is a lack of a clear heir-apparent.

  • Thanqu Andrew Brown @ #62 I cannot claim to know the Tri-cities as, apparently, you do.

    Last Easter Sunday, after picking up goodies at Ikea, we went for a joy ride around the “sprawl” before our family Italian Easter Sunday dinner in East Van.

    We saw enough that my 83 year old professional planner’s eyes rebelled: no matter what gadgetry and their connections Tri-Cities are a lost cause . . . are you a planner responsible for the mess? id so you have not a clue as to good spatial creativity . . .

    This conversation, and the simultaneous acrimonious Rize conversation too, go way beyond making excuses for a bad job.

    We do not need more crofter’s cottages, family tending the goat.

    Conventional planning as practiced, zoning, numbers, blame, has run its course.

    Point not taken: the conflict between private space and public amenity at ground level.

    We need less public participation and more public concern for creative input.

    That goes way beyond this conversation.

  • Thank you Andrew Browne for your informed and instructive comments.

  • The above comment should read:

    “Thank you Andrew Browne and several others for your informed and instructive comments.”

  • Elizabeth Murphy

    Property taxes, DCLs, and CACs are the primary means for municipalities to fund their civic responsibilities. The province should look to other mechanisms to fund transit which is a provincial responsibility. Using property values to fund transit is provincial downloading.

    Currently, whenever a vehicle goes through AirCare there is a calculation of the amount of GHG’s based on mileage and vehicle emissions. It would be very simple from an administrative perspective to create a fee based on this number that would be added to auto insurance annually. This would be a reasonable polluter-pay mechanism that I believe most people would agree with. It could raise enough money for transit on a consistent basis to fund operations and expansion.

    Further, the existing Carbon Tax should not be “funding neutral” and subsidizing corporations’ capital improvements. The existing Carbon Tax should go towards public transit and energy efficiency of public buildings.

    Since most rail transit options are decades away from any significant expansion because of costs, we need to look at more reasonable options that can be implemented in the short term. The electric trolley bus system could replace diesel and provide an expanded grid system across the region for a fraction of the proposed amount on a single rail corridor. Electric trolley rapid bus system on key routes would substantially reduce the GHG levels of the region, especially if they are replacing cars and diesel buses.

  • Why not start talking about the truly obvious source of funding for transit, shifting spending away from roadway expansion (new Pattullo Bridge, South Fraser Perimeter Road freeway etc etc etc). I estimate that at least $1billion per year could be re-allocated across BC – see

  • MB

    Elizabeth Murphy 66

    Property taxes, DCLs, and CACs are the primary means for municipalities to fund their civic responsibilities. The province should look to other mechanisms to fund transit which is a provincial responsibility. Using property values to fund transit is provincial downloading.

    I agree with in principle, but other jursdictions like Hong Kong have been very successful in building superb public transit by using their quasi-private transit agency’s development rights near stations.

    Not that we need to replicate HK’s intense densities and transit model, but a variation of this funding mechanism should not be casually flicked off the table in the light of the urban challenges ahead and senior government intransigence over the last half century when it comes to transit.

    Just saying.

    Your other ideas, Elizabeth, I think are very worthy of consideration, and I hope one or two with influence are reading this.

    BTW, I’ve noticed your comments more often on Fabula’s blog. A welcome voice, I must say. Thanks for running in the last election. I hope you consider running again with NSV next time. Contrary to other’s perceptions, I voted for a mixed council, and you were in the mix.

    Bill M., would you reconsider not running again?

  • Elizabeth Murphy

    The polluter-pay system to fund public transit through a vehicle GHG fee, shifting of current carbon taxes and gas taxes could likely cover an expanded electric trolley bus system, including electric rapid bus and some rail lines, all without a huge negative impact on the taxpayers, transit users or communities. We would not need to tap into property taxes or development related fees at all. And it could be implemented immediately.

    I am no fan of the Hong Kong model. Hong Kong is a city-state and what works there will not work here. Using development to fund transit is a complex model and it is unnecessary given that there are other much simpler options that the province could implement under their jurisdiction. No need for complicated regional or municipal agreements. No need to override municipal land use authority. Rather than shooting for the moon and getting nowhere, take a more balanced approach for something that is actually doable.

    Electric trolleys (both regular routes and rapid bus) are an economical way to reduce GHGs and expand transit for the whole City of Vancouver and most of the region. Trolleys are economical, quiet and clean so they do not generate the kind of pushback other forms of transit often do. However, I would even support as a compromise duel fuel electric trolley buses with diesel override for stretches that can’t easily accommodate the wire grid extension for part of the route. And when we can afford it, trams along rail corridors such as the existing Arbutus line can be added over time. Even extension of rapid rail transit to Central Broadway. But we need to think more practically at serving an entire network in an economical way that respects the diversity of communities and is not dependent on the station tower model that does not suit most communities outside of the downtown core.

    Transit should serve communities, not communities serving the transit system.