extract of the Mayors plan submitted to vote: financial figures have never been updated with the proposed .5% PST tax
The voters gave a big resounding NO to the Mayor’s Transit plan. This plan was a draft which financial figures had never been finalized, what is against the South Coast British Columbia Transportation authority act, and could not have been approved in that form by the Council of Mayors for this very reason. In fact, even with the 0.5% pst increase, it was still not yet fully financed and was not sustainable in the long run . The lack of business case for some proposed services, starting by the Surrey LRT, could have cost so much tax $ in operating subsidies that not only a sunset clause for the tax was ruled out, but a new funding source could have been required before the end of the plan: The voter voted against that unsustainable path, knowing that anyway, there is always a Plan B, as alluded by the Surrey’s mayor.
Beyond the plan and the question on ballot, is the referendum framing. The referendum was asking to approve a Translink budget: In democracy, a budget vote is a confidence vote in the authority in charge of the said budget. Forget the “No” side leaded by Jordan Bateman and the CTF, it is the region’s mayors which have called for Translink audits, Translink reforms…and fired the Translink CEO in the mist of the campaign, clearly putting translink governance at the heart of the Referendum. On the Translink vote of confidence, the Council of mayors largely echoed the Jordan Bateman‘s message: “Translink is broken”, so ditto!
The stunning “No” side victory makes a Translink reform unavoidable. While, its Governance can certainly be improved, that will not rhyme with a better service. What can be done?
The Zurich precedent
In the 70’s, in Zurich, like in Vancouver, the voters have say “NO” to a grand and expensive Transit plan, and still Zurich has became the posterchild of efficient Transit.
Eventually as Vancouver, a “No” vote was not a No vote to Transit. In fact Zurich said “YES” to measures able to improve Transit efficiency, speed and reliability (“Transit first plan”). A Measures such as bus only lanes and signal priority can go a long way to improve service without breaking the bank, and help to build a solid business case for heavier rail investment.
As an example, a newly painted bus lane on Seattle’s Battery street, has allowed to increase bus speed by 20%, and reliability by much more, what makes Transit less expensive to operate (bus driver are paid by the hour, not the mileage) which generated 20% additional ridership, hence increasing revenue: all these decrease the tax burden.
Thanks to the still on-going federal gas tax program, bigger buses, be in the form of bi-articulated buses, like in Zurich, or longer articulated buses like introduced on Los Angeles’ Wilshire Blvd and in countless cities around the world, can also help to address overcrowding while keeping operating cost under control.
All these don’t require as much money as political will from the mayors, whose are responsible for the streets used by buses. Will, which has been sorely missing in the region and especially in the city of Vancouver where bus service is clearly neglected by the current council but where also Translink spend 50% of all its bus budget. That doesn’t need to be.
Translink has also been too nice… for too long. It is time for Translink to be more assertive about its needs to operate efficient transit:
- Transit optimization need to be much more aggressive by going beyond shuffling bus around:
- City of Vancouver charge organization like car free day, to recover its policing cost…It is time for Translink to do the same and recover the cost of bus disruption involved by street closure from the responsible of those disruptions
We have already exposed many ideas of Transit network optimization on this blog, and we will continue: Those can be a tough sell, but as we have already noticed, period of fiscal constraint are a window of opportunity to introduce network rationalization, and so build a solid fundation toward the expansion of Transit.
In conclusion, the No to the referendum is an opportunity to rationalize our Transit network and to emulate the Zurich model.
See Metro Vancouver: A look at the Mayors’ plan Capital investment, January 26, 2015