Regional Transportation Commissioner Reports on TransLink’s 2010 Ten-Year Plan

Stephen Rees’s blog

I must admit that it had slipped my mind that Martin Crilly, who is the Ferry Commissioner, was also appointed Translink Commissioner as well. That is until Jim Goddard of News 1130 called me and asked for comments on Martin’s latest report. Of course, I had not read even the press release (not being aware of it) let alone the report itself.

While the Commissioner refers to himself as a regulator, his role is in reality somewhat limited, but he does get to rule on fare increases – so the key point in this report is that when he reviewed the Ten Year Plan “approval is warranted for only the first of TransLink’s four proposed fare increases” – but that is just a preliminary finding.

The
 Commissioner
 observes 
that, 
unless 
the
 Mayors’
 Council approves 
one
 of
 two
 “supplement”
 options 
involving
some
 higher 
taxes
 and
 fares,
 there 
will 
be
 drastic
 cuts
 in
 transit
 service.

 This
 is 
not
 recommended,
 unless
 keeping
 tax 
increases
 of 
any 
kind 
(including
 gas
 taxes)
 to
 the 
absolute
 minimum
 is 
the 
overriding
 consideration.

Well, that’s alright then. The Commissioner is not the one who makes that decision. The provincial government has set things up so the Mayors carry the can, even though the legislation is what creates the real problem.That, and the lack of support from senior governments for operating costs.

The proposed cuts, drastic indeed if made today, would be much less so if TransLink had not, over the last several years, expanded service and invested in capital projects that it knew to be unaffordable under its existing funding constraints. These investments were made with the hope and expectation that senior governments would agree to bear a large portion of the operating costs, which they have not done.

Indeed, the lack of operating support is not unusual in Canada – or North America come to that. Most transit systems have seen a huge increase in demand in recent years, but have had to respond by raising fares and cutting services, simply because they have not have revenue sources adequate to meet the operational cost of the service. Senior levels of government have made significant contributions to capital projects, but no operational support at all. Indeed one of the interesting observations in the report is that if Translink adopts the “Drastic Cuts” approach, then it has to forgo some of its expected federal funding, as it could not operate the new capital equipment without increases in operating revenue.

There is very little new or surprising in the report. But since the “findings rely on an examination of vastly more data and analyses than have been publicly released” I did look carefully for new information. Perhaps the only thing that surprised me was

There is now available capacity—that is empty seats—on much, but not all, of the bus network which can accommodate future growth in ridership.

Really? I suppose that is because the people who experience pass-ups and overcrowding are the ones we hear from. There are always empty seats at some times of day and some directions of course, but overall my understanding is that capacity has not been available where it is needed at peak periods. Perhaps Translink should release some of this data.

It is not just that Translink invested in capital projects of course: it did not have much choice in some – the Canada Line obviously is the biggest one  but also the upgrades to bridges which had been long neglected when in provincial care. And then there is the Golden Ears Bridge, which we are now subsidizing and will be for some time to come. Which was not actually a major priority except that it was one of the few things that could be paid for – eventually – from new tolls. But the point is that it did not chose the best value for money projects in terms of those that would increase the share of trips. As I have often said, ridership increase means nothing if population is increasing. It is the share of the trips that matters. It was supposed to be 17% by now but remains at 11% or thereabouts. Martin Crilly places some of the blame for this on the municipalities, for their planning and but also for the lack of “some form of road pricing (notably on highways in the hands of the Province) and a region-wide, coordinated policy for tighter management of parking (belonging to the municipalities).”

So it hardly surprising, or indeed newsworthy, that an independent, objective view is that we need better co-ordination of transportation and land use, more co-operation between the various levels of government and a sensible way of allocating a scarce resource (road space at peak periods). I just have no expectation at all that any of that is going to happen – or indeed that the byzantine structure we currently have in this region is capable of responding to independent and objective advice. But I am glad that it is being said.

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