Liz James Sings The TransLink Blues

Liz James is one of the few columnists in the region that has taken the times to research our local transit fiasco and she has well demonstrated that she understands the issue. Unlike the mainstream media, which collectively have not done much research on the issue (some even believe that no builds with LRT anymore!) and seem to take their ‘marching orders’ directly from TransLink, Ms. James confronts the TransLink and transitAi?? issues squarely on target.

Hand TransLink pain back to province

“The silos in which [the region's] land planning, economic development and transit functions operate are symptomatic of the problems many cities in the world face. . . . We need to be working on the same page.”

Richard Walton – June 20, 2013

In our recent exchange about his presentation to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton said he shares a concern expressed by several of his colleagues – “TransLink is (required) to plan for the future as part of its mandate, but the funding levers necessary to implement the plan lie with the province.”

Clarifying his reference to the three silos, he said that while land planning is the responsibility of Metro Vancouver, economic development is done by 23 separate communities in the absence of any central co-ordination.

As for the third silo – TransLink – Walton did not need to tell me that today’s dysfunctional agency is a direct result of that lack of co-ordination, coupled with under-funded interference from Victoria.

Instead, more diplomatic than I, Walton said “effectively, the province controls the levers but will not engage in the process.”

The problem with being diplomatic is that nice guys often finish last.

For 15 years, various costly incarnations of TransLink boards, committees and councils have tried to negotiate an appropriate funding model. They tried to no avail with both NDP and BC Liberal administrations.

So if those committees find it difficult to take the next step, let me stiffen their resolve: Your decade-long reluctance to stand up to Victoria, to say you “ain’t gonna take it anymore,” has brought TransLink to its financial knees.

People have had enough – to such an extent that many view the governance of TransLink as being part of the problem.

For validation of those opinions, we need go no further than the executive summary of a March 2013 report on the TransLink governance commissioned by the mayors.

The summary quickly came out of its corner with a right hook to the chin on transportation governance which it said is: “less than ideal in relationship to the six major criteria of accountability, transparency, responsiveness, clarity of purpose, advocacy and productive relationships.”

“The most critical of these,” the report stated, “is accountability to the population being served, which is almost completely missing .”

That point isn’t new. People have been saying that since the Glen Clark days.

The governance we have endured since 1998 is an international embarrassment. At least, that’s what I gathered from the next two paragraphs that say our “arrangements” are “unique in the world and not in a good way.”

Regardless, we cannot allow the victims of a failed and expensive governance model to be further penalized for driving their vehicles when no workable transit option is available.

TransLink has been on a wild ride, hampered by provincial decisions like the $2.4 billion Canada Line but left without dollars for its basic obligations.

For their part, most regional politicians have lacked access to the impartial technical expertise on transit required to challenge Victoria’s dictates and have had little option but to go along.

International experience with light rail, trams and shared-track systems demonstrates that popular, affordable transit technology is available. Open minds among our decision-makers would enable TransLink to do more – and do it superbly – with less. And that accounts for my specific interest in the merits or otherwise of using congestion pricing as a means of raising additional revenues to support vital TransLink initiatives.

Walton told his colleagues that, despite its detractors, the funding model is meeting its objectives in Stockholm.

So in an effort to determine whether it would work in Vancouver, I asked whether ‘Metro Stockholm’ had a robust transit system in place before congestion pricing was implemented.

“Yes, they did,” Walton replied.

“I rode their rapid transit system in 1968 and it had been around for at least a decade before that.”

That answers one question – when congestion pricing was imposed in Stockholm, drivers at least had a functioning transit alternative available within their 360 degree commuting perimeters.

But as Walton said in his presentation, “[Stockholm's] centric model would not fit Vancouver’s traffic patterns . [our] traffic flows in different patterns.”

To my last question: “Do Stockholm residents pay transit-related taxes in addition to the congestion pricing?” Walton’s answer disappointed.

“My understanding is that property tax goes to the federal government,” he said.

“But income tax in Sweden is used for transit in cities, among other sources.”

Clearly, we need more definitive information before we even think of congestion pricing in this region. It may well be that, overall, the Swedes pay far less than the significant total of gasoline, carbon, and other transportation-related taxes people already pay in Metro Vancouver.

Be that as it may, every North Shore dollar sent to TransLink for little direct return on investment is a dollar councils cannot spend on other essential services we expect.

Walton is right when he says the reason many parts of Northern Europe have developed better integrated planning models than us, is because the political systems there produce a constant need for coalition groups to work together.

But if we can’t work together, for now, the only way we can force Victoria to “engage in the process” and to be accountable for its behind-the-scenes decisions, is for TransLink to be returned to the hands that control “the funding levers” – the provincial government – and, yes, I am suggesting we do just that.


One Response to “Liz James Sings The TransLink Blues”
  1. eric chris says:

    “Unfair and additional road pricing” will unleash a huge backlash from drivers and is a very bad idea (or a good idea to anger taxpayers enough to string up the swindlers at TransLink). Road pricing already exists with the gas tax at 17 cents per litre. Many residents here pay TransLink over $600 annually in the many taxes used to fund transit. For anyone to contemplate additional taxes for transit is obscene.

    We have 500 staff at TransLink and they cost us $100 million annually. No one at TransLink is technically competent and nobody at TransLink is a process engineer who is able to design an efficient transit system. We have buffoons driving up the cost of transit here and all they do is spend money to run extra buses to make sky train work.

    Transit by the TransLink “bumblecrats” has failed and has no hope of succeeding in the future. My suggestion is to fire everyone at TransLink and to hire consultants on an as needed basis to design and engineer the transit network here around trams. Per capita, transit based on sky train here is the most inefficient and costly in North America and possibly the world.

    Based on population, TransLink moves about the same percentage of people (plus or minus a few percent) as any other city in Canada. Due to the sky train system requiring extra transfers to distant sky train stations, the ridership is high in Vancouver but the number of bodies moved is relatively low compared with other transit networks based on trams or LRT.

    The scammers at TransLink would have been fired long ago if they weren’t so good at duping the mostly clueless politicians and media (with charts showing exponential transit ridership even though the buses are mostly empty, most of the time). The fraudsters at TransLink really belong in jail and that’s where some of them will likely end up one day.

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