Transport Action BC

2014, March 21

Tolls and the Transit Referendum

Recent comments by Todd Stone, BC’s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister,  on tolling a new/refurbished Pattullo Bridge further muddy the issue of tolling and road pricing as a TransLink revenue source. He says a tolled Pattullo Bridge “…would seem…” to contradict the province’s tolling policy that a “free” (i.e. taxpayer subsidised) alternative must be available to any tolled structure

The Minister also hints that federal contributions to the Pattullo Bridge project may be jeopardised by proposed tolls as “… the feds have tended not to invest in [tolled] projects…”.  

Both statements are concerning because they contradict earlier indications that tolling was acceptable for the Pattullo Bridge project and, indirectly, insinuate the federal government into the transit referendum discussion.

In 2013 the Minister stated that tolling “possibl[y] … could” fund a new Pattullo Bridge. While not a ringing endorsement for tolling, the Minister’s statement did indicate that Victoria would not be averse to TransLink tolling a new bridge. And certainly, there was no mention of the Pattullo as a “free” alternative.

Concerns that tolls could jeopardise federal participation in the Pattullo project are misplaced.  The federal government is building the Champlain Bridge replacement in Montréal and it will be tolled “to minimise use of public funds”. Similarly, the Evergreen Line project has significant federal involvement and its users will be tolled (through their fares). So there seems to be no reason to assume the federal government will not participate in the Pattullo Bridge project, tolled or otherwise.

So what changed in the intervening months to cause the Minister to re-think Patullo Bridge tolls and also imply the provincial tolling policy also applies to TransLink?

A number of possibilities come to mind.

  1.  Is the Minister laying the groundwork to keep road pricing and bridge tolls out of TransLink’s funding options in the upcoming referendum? But this would contradict statements he made in the Globe and Mail  indicating regional Mayors could include road pricing and tolls in their transportation funding proposal.
  2.  Does his emphasis on the Pattullo Bridge as a “free” alternative indicate that TransLink is expected to provide the “free” alternatives to provincially tolled projects such as the Port Mann Bridge and the new George Massey crossing? Are Metro Vancouver’s taxpayers to be triple-taxed (provincial taxes, tolls, and TransLink taxes) to support purely provincial projects? And if the provincial tolling policy applies to TransLink, what are the “free” alternatives for transit riders who are tolled each time they use public transit?
  3. By limiting TransLink’s funding options on the Patullo project, is the Minister forcing TransLink to seriously consider a smaller replacement bridge – 4 lanes vs. 6 – or even a re-furbished bridge? A smaller Pattullo could increase traffic and revenue on the province’s Port Mann Bridge. This could also drive a wedge between Metro’s mayors. Surrey favours a 6-lane replacement while New Westminster wants only 4-lanes.

These are highly speculative considerations. The likely reason for the Minister’s changing statements is ongoing provincial uncertainty on the entire issue of transit funding, tolling and road pricing and the TransLink funding referendum.

The Liberal promise to hold a referendum on future sources of TransLink funding had a populist appeal during the heat of an election. TransLink was the ideal organisation to bully on the campaign trail; it spends a lot of money, it is perceived as unaccountable and not transparent, and allegations of waste regularly receive heavy media coverage. The fact that its structure is a provincial responsibility was simply ignored.

 However, the referendum discussion has opened the door (Pandora’s Box?) to serious public debate around tolling, road pricing, usage fees, vehicle levies and other revenue sources.  These new revenue sources appeal to the true believers in free market economics, a source of significant Liberal support. Unfortunately for the provincial government, they are anathema to much of the voting public – particularly motorists.

The province may have created a dilemma that will prove difficult to resolve – how to retain support from these two opposing and significant constituencies?

Thus it continues to bob and weave on tolls, road pricing and the transit referendum, with conflicting statements and positions being put forth. The unfortunate lack of provincial leadership on this issue is going to make getting a winning referendum question and winning the referendum much more difficult.

2012, May 31

Public Transit Boosts Local Economies

Filed under: city transit, Rapid Transit, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 8:52 pm

Some intriguing numbers surfaced in media reports on the recent disruptions of Montréal’s Métro. The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal  and the Montréal Economic Institute  provided estimates of the economic impact (lost productivity) of the disruptions.  The Board of Trade estimated the 90 minutes of disruption cost the city’s economy $11,000,000 while the more conservative MEC estimated $9,300,000. Put positively, the Métro generates significant productivity benefits to Montréal’s economy.

Unfortunately, details on the methodology used to derive these numbers are not available. However, the number can be used to calculate an order of magnitude estimate of the value of public transit to a local economy.

Operating conservatively, I‘ll assume the productivity impact [PI] is a high estimate, given the political situation under which it was released.  Therefore, I’ve reduced it by approximately 50% to $5,000,000 per 90 minute time period [MTP]. Also, I’ll assume that most of the productivity impact of the Métro is provided during the peak hours when the system is at its busiest. Peak hours are generally considered as 06:00 – 09:00 and 16:00 – 19:00 or 6 hours / business day which equals four, 90 minute time periods:

  • 4 (90 MTP) X $5,000,000 (PI / 90 MTP) = $20,000,000 PI for 1 business day.
  • 20 (business days / month) X 12 (months / year) X $20,000,000 (PI /business day) = $4.8 billion PI / year.

Thus, Montréal’s transit system has a positive, $4.8 billion productivity impact on the city’s economy each year.

The Société de transport de Montréal [STM], which operates the transit system, has a 2012 operating budget of $1.23 billion. I’ve used the total budget number because the Métro and bus system operates as a network of interdependent modes – customers have to reach the subway somehow. Using the PI / year calculated above, we find that the public investment in Montréal’s transit system, through fares and taxes, generates an annual return of almost 400% in productivity impacts:

  • {($4.8 billion PI / year) ÷ ($1.23 billion STM 2012 operations budget)} X 100 = 400%
  • Eliminating the percentage gives a constant of 4, which I’ll call the TPI [Transit Productivity Impact]

Assuming, and remember we’re dealing with orders of magnitude in this discussion, that TransLink’s transit operations provide a similar boost to Metro Vancouver’s economic productivity, we can estimate the impact of transit using TransLink’s 2012 budget. TransLink forecasts that transit operations will cost $871 million and transit police $29.6 million for a total of about $900 million. I’ve included policing costs in the calculation because their presence adds safety, security and comfort to the transit system, thus encouraging ridership.

  • $900,000,000 (TransLink 2012 transit operations budget) X 4 (TPI Factor) = $3.6 billion PI / year.

Thus, in spite of all the negative publicity TransLink has received lately, the organisation still provides significant economic benefits to the region it serves. Admittedly, this is a very basic analysis based on an unsubstantiated number from a media release in a highly charged environment. However, it should help us move away from the image that public transit is simply a costly drain on taxpayers which only benefits a few (the “loser cruiser” attitude). Public transit must be treated as a valuable, respected, public investment tool that, in addition to social and environmental benefits, also has significant economic ones.

 

2012, February 16

TransLink’s 2013 Fare Increase

Filed under: Announcement, city transit, Ferries, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , — Rick @ 2:50 pm

Transport Action BC has responded to TransLink’s request for a major fare increase in 2013. The following issues were submitted to the TransLink Commissioner for his consideration as part of his review of TransLink’s request.

Our concerns are with the timing of the fare increase and about transit service and ancillary operations. We feel these issues should be addressed as part of the fare review process. We are not, a priori, against fare increases, as long as they are justifiable to maintain and improve service on a system that is already efficiently run.

  1. Timing:

The 2013 fare increase, if approved, would be implemented just prior to the Compass smart card fare system. Item 15 of the Fares Questions and Answers (Q&A) on the TransLink Commissioner’s web site states TransLink plans significant changes to existing fare media with the Compass card implementation, although no details are presented.

This begs the question of why is TransLink proceeding with the 2013 fare increase when its implementation period may be less than a year? There are costs to implementing a fare increase and similar work will be required as part of the Compass card implementation. This could lead to TransLink being questioned on the efficacy of two fare changes in a short time period. From an outsider’s perspective, it would be seem sensible to bundle all fare changes into the Compass roll-out, eliminating one set of fare change costs and reducing public annoyance over back-to-back fare changes, including a significant fare increase.

    2. Transit Service Operations:

TransLink states (Item 4, Q&A), a fare increase is needed to continue existing service levels and maintain the transit system in a state of good repair. However, TransLink should justify that the transit system is currently operating as efficiently as feasible.

 Transit system users will notice that TransLink’s vehicles spend large amounts of time parked at route terminals or waiting at timing points along a route. Anecdotal observation suggests this unproductive time is excessive. Examples are short headway routes where 2 – 4 vehicles may be observed at a terminal or twenty minute headway services where a following vehicle arrives at the terminal before the preceding vehicle has left. Layovers may be necessary for service recovery and shoulder period schedule adjustments. They should not be used as a scheduling convenience or de facto method of providing Operator breaks to avoid the rigours of contractual negotiations with the Canadian Autoworkers Union, WorkSafe BC and / or the Ministry of Labour.

By way of comparison, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) allows its Operators to arrive at terminals 2 minutes before the vehicle’s scheduled departure time. Operator breaks are provided as part of the Operator’s schedule, not the vehicle’s schedule. This keeps vehicles moving and picking up passengers.

A transit vehicle is an investment of several hundred thousand dollars. To have such an investment sitting idle for a significant portion of its working day (up to 20 minutes per trip in some cases) is not an efficient use of an expensive resource.

Additionally, as more frequent services are introduced, do lengthy layover times lead to unnecessary vehicle purchases to provide that service? Excessive vehicle requirements increase space needs for terminal layover space and garage and maintenance facilities. Optimising schedules to minimise lengthy layovers could result in capital and operating cost savings through reduced vehicle needs.

TransLink should state that unproductive schedule time is minimised and schedules are optimised for service efficiency and cost effectiveness. This would support its case that the fare increase is needed to maintain the current system in a state of good repair and ensure service expansion is effectively implemented.

Routing inefficiencies in the system should also be validated and justified by TransLink. There are deviations from grid routing that may have been necessary at one time but should be re-evaluated in terms of ridership served, overall route ridership, and impact on route mileage and service hours to ensure they are still viable.

To its credit, TransLink has initiated the Service Optimization project which has led to service adjustments by re-allocating resources from some lightly used services to areas of overcrowding. This initiative is laudable and should be a permanent part of TransLink’s service operations design. However, the optimizing process and analysis should be more transparent to the public and politicians in order to rigorously support changes, particularly service reductions.

A rigorous, robust and transparent service operations design process enables TransLink to resist political expediency in allocating its limited service resources. The South of Fraser area has received significant increases in transit service, possibly due to political pressure resulting from claims that Surrey residents “pay” much more to TransLink than they receive in service. Future increases to transit service, anywhere in TransLink’s service region, must be based on clear evidence that that is the best use of those resources, not the politically convenient one. Any deviation from this policy must have clear lines of responsibility and accountability published.

Once service is established, TransLink and its subsidiaries should ensure that full use of available technology is made to monitor and regulate service. TransLink has a GPS-based AVL which monitors vehicle location and schedule adherence and allows two-way communication between Operators and a central control facility. TransLink should assure the public that the AVL is being effectively used to ensure transit service is operating as close to schedule as feasible. Controllers should be responding to transit service disruptions (delays, off schedule, surge loads, collisions, etc.) by proactively re-routing service, short-turning vehicles and otherwise adjusting the transit system to minimise passenger inconvenience.    

   3. Ancillary Operations:

 The roles and responsibilities of the Transit Police and Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) Transit Security group should be reviewed and clarified to minimise overlap, maximise co-operation and ensure that each group is truly necessary and making effective use of its resources. We have several questions on this topic.  

  1. Is it necessary to have two separate organisations, within TransLink, doing the same function – essentially checking fares?
  2. Are large, police-special Dodge Chargers an appropriate vehicle for the CMBC Security Group?
  3. The Transit Police seems to have defaulted to being the SkyTrain Police. What is its role vis-à-vis the rest of TransLink’s facilities and service region?
  4. Can the public should be assured that the Transit Police are principally engaged in transit-related duties and not acting as a quasi-regional force dealing with matters more appropriately dealt with and funded by municipal forces?
  5. Where do SkyTrain and Canada Line Attendants fit into the security matrix?

 None of these queries should be construed as stating TransLink’s security services are unnecessary, ineffective or wasteful. What is needed is clarity to and visibility around their functions, effectiveness, funding, and resource utilisation.  

   4. Concluding Remarks:

 We believe the above discussion items are valid issues relevant to the four considerations the TransLink Commission will weigh when analyzing TransLink’s proposed 2013 fare increase:  

  1. Maintain TransLink’s financial stability.
  2. Allow TransLink to provide planned service.
  3. Encourage TransLink to minimise expenses.
  4. Keep fares as low as possible.

 TransLink will have a more effective and supportable rationale for its proposed fare increase, if it publicly addresses our stated concerns. Openness and transparency can only assist TransLink make its case on a sensitive issue such as a fare increase. Formal public presentations and hearings should be considered.

Blog at WordPress.com.