Transport Action BC

2016, June 13

Federal Transit Funding – 2

Peter Fassbender, provincial Minister Responsible for TransLink, responded to The David Suzuki Foundation’s open letter to various Metro Vancouver and provincial politicians urging them to come together to ensure Metro Vancouver receives a share of available federal transit funding. Unfortunately, the letter seems more aggravating than conciliatory to the Mayors’ Council.
The Minister re-commits the province’s oft-re-committed $246,000,000 as its contribution to Phase One of the Mayors’ Plan for Metro Vancouver’s transit future. Further in the letter, he states that the province’s “increased funding” (no figures or timing given) will ensure that Metro Vancouver does not miss out on federal funding. Tellingly, he refers to negotiating “bilateral agreements” with the federal government while, separately, working with the Mayors’ Council on local funding details. This seems to be telling the mayors that they are not welcome at the federal table and to let the ‘big boys’ negotiate the major funding agreements while they gather their pennies together.

 
Fassbender also commits the province to work with the mayors, through his Deputy Minister, to investigate how to capture some of the land development benefits (increased property values) that result from transit investments. It should be noted that property value increases are largest along rapid transit lines, which is only one component of the Mayors’ Plan, which includes major increases in bus service and several new B-Line (express) services. Rapid transit construction is long term so any benefits from increased property values are far in the future. How these values can be ‘taxed’ in the near term to support the Mayors’ Plan is not addressed? And in the Lower Mainland’s housing market, how would it be possible to differentiate, for taxation purposes, between increased property values due to transit investment and those caused by market demand.

 
After dictating to the Mayors that the province will handle federal negotiations, that they must deal with a Deputy Minister on taxing future, transit-related property value increases, and that they “confirm details of [their] respective funding commitments.” with him, Fassbender categorically states the province will not change the TransLink governance structure to give the mayors more control over how the agency spends the tax dollars the mayors are mandated to raise.

 
Rather insultingly, he states they can attend TransLink board meetings, as individuals with no voting rights, to “share their views”. Apparently, this could lead to greater confidence that the board is spending tax dollars to benefit the region.

 
None of this augurs well for an early agreement between the province and the Mayors’ Council on the transit funding issue.

 
Minister Fassbender’s letter is attached here – Minister Fassbender Letter to Mayors-2016-05-30.

2016, May 23

Federal Transit Funding

The David Suzuki Foundation  is urging BC and Metro Vancouver’s political leaders to put aside their differences and create a common front to negotiate transit funding with the federal government. The Foundation sent an open letter to various politicians on May 18, 2016. Transport Action BC is a signatory to this letter.
The federal government has started providing funding ($840 million to Toronto; $900,000 to Whitehorse) to other centres so it is urgent for BC’s politicians to work together and put forward a unified stance when dealing Ottawa on the transit funding issue.

The text of the letter follows.

=====================================================================

5/18/2016

The Hon. Christy Clark
Premier of British Columbia
Office of the Premier

Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council

Cc: Hon. Todd Stone; Hon. Peter Fassbender

Re: A call for leadership to invest in transit and transportation in Metro Vancouver

Dear Premier Clark and Members of the Mayors’ Council,

We the undersigned are a diverse group of organizations from business, labour, health, environment and student associations working together to advocate for investment in Metro Vancouver’s transportation system.

We are writing to urge you to act quickly and take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the recent federal budget to improve transit and transportation in our region. As you know, in its budget, the federal government made a commitment to a $370 million “down payment” toward the 10-year Metro Vancouver Transit and Transportation Plan. The federal government has also shown tremendous leadership by agreeing to pay 50 per cent of all capital transit costs provided agreements can be struck with the province and local mayors.

These commitments have changed the landscape for transit funding in our region, but with this opportunity comes a challenge: we need to be ready with regional and provincial funding, or else these federal dollars, collected from local taxpayers, will go to other cities and provinces that are ready. For the good of our economy and the health and livelihood of citizens, this cannot happen. We are calling on the province and the Mayors’ Council to work together to ensure that we are ready to get Metro Vancouver moving again.

Expansion of transit services — especially when they’re electrified — is crucial for Metro Vancouver to improve air quality and health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote economic development and job growth.

A growing number of studies confirm that congestion costs our region more than $1 billion each year due to lost productivity, increased operating costs and lost business revenue and regional GDP. It has been estimated that investment in transit could save the health care system at least $115 million annually, and likely considerably more if the benefits of increased physical activity were also included as part of the cost-savings analysis.

We ask you show leadership by putting history and political differences aside to work together and ensure we are ready to take full advantage of federal support and start improving transit and transportation. Adding new federal dollars is an essential prerequisite for moving ahead with stalled transit improvements so badly needed for the Metro Vancouver region, and for B.C. as a whole.

Lastly, we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the importance of using newly available federal funds to implement the full set of regional transportation improvements outlined in the Mayors’ Council Transportation and Transit Plan rather than a few projects here and there. A regional approach to transportation investments will ensure that Metro Vancouver residents and businesses throughout the region will benefit. Local and provincial governments have the power to help us make history in B.C. and Metro Vancouver through implementation of a world-class provincial and regional transportation plan.

Should you require more information, we would be happy to meet with you or your staff.

Thank you for considering this request.

 BC Federation of Labour
 BC Healthy Living Alliance
 BC Teachers’ Federation
 British Columbia Golf
 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
 Clean Energy Canada
 Connecting Environmental Professionals – Vancouver Chapter
 The David Suzuki Foundation
 Dialog Design
 Disability Alliance BC
 Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association
 Downtown Vancouver Association
 Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association
 Dr. Lisa J. Jing Mu, Medical Health Officer, Fraser Region
 ForestEthics
 Gordon Price, Director of the SFU City Program
 Graduate Student Society at SFU
 Greenpeace Canada
 HandyDART Riders Alliance
 HASTe BC
 Heart and Stroke Foundation
 HUB Cycling
 Offsetters
 Perkins+Will Architects
 Peter Ladner, Columnist, Business in Vancouver Media Group
 Public Health Association of BC
 Renewal Funds Company
Transport Action – British Columbia
 Vanterre Projects Corp
 Victoria Lee MD MPH MBA CCFP FRCPC, Chief Medical Health Officer, Fraser Health Authority

2014, December 5

“BC on the Move” Online Survey Closes Soon

The BC Government’s online survey for its latest 10 year transportation plan closes on Friday, Dec. 12, 2014.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone announced the next 10-year transportation plan (“BC on the Move”) and consultation in October 2014. Consultation documents and details are here. Take the survey here.

SFU’s Gordon Price notes that funding for the planned projects is not subject to voter approval even though Vancouver area transit projects are subject to a “Yes” vote in the upcoming transit funding referendum. According to Price, the plan continues the province’s current highway projects with a bit of a sop thrown to cycling and transit.

The plan does mention rail but only as a mode for moving bulk goods and containers efficiently. Improvements to / support of intercity bus and rail passenger services are not considered.

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.

Blog at WordPress.com.