To better understand what bring the Mayors council plan (called “expansion plan” below), we ignore the spin and prefer to compare it with the Translink 2014 base plan (what is ensured to happen disregarding of the “plebisicite” result)

Congestion and gas tax

Fiat striking point: both plans estimate exactly same revenue for both the gas tax and parking tax. That is an implicit recognition that the Expansion plan will have no traffic impact, and per extension congestion impact (or if it does, it is mainly by the introduction of the Pattullo bridge toll): something we have already mentioned before.

Capital investment: $7 Billion above the $3Billion already included in the base plan

The $10 billion Capital funding is expected to be financed as below:

capitalfund

(*) The Pattulo bridge revenue is estimated from the 2024 operating budget ($50M/year) [3].
Notice that the figure doesn’t include debt service:

The “Congestion Improvement Tax” (CIT) finances ~22% of the capital funds needed.

Funded Operation (including debt servicing)

Revenue stream

FundedOperation20142024

Base numbers (e.g. “Transit revenue”) are presented for the the base plan, and increment numbers (e.g. “Inc. Transit revenue”) represent the additional revenu provided by the Expansion plan. the bump in 2017 is due to the sale of the Oakridge transit Center (planned in the base plan…but forgotten in the Expansion plan)

The original Expansion plan was targeting to raise $2 Billions over the next 10 years from a new tax to be triggered in several stage. The mayor having elected a 0.5% PST, will allow to raise ~2.7 Billions [1] over the next 10 years, creating lot of room for a more aggressive implementation that originally envisioned.

That said, at the end of the 10 years period, it looks like the PST revenue align with the original plan forecast.

Transit operation: $1.5B added on 10 years

In the next 10 years, the plan is apparently to put 400 more buses on the road, that is increasing the bus fleet size (actually ~1400) by ~30%…to increase service by 25% -it could be an issue here we will certainly revisit.

This, and other rail expansion services, will translate into an additional $1.5B of operating cost (including Transit police and Translink corporate overhead), generating $237M of additional transit revenue [2] as computed on 10 years : The new CIT tax, and additional senior government contribution (UPass) is expected to cover the $1.3B shortfall

Expanded Transit operation represents a relatively marginal increment on the base plan, but mainly funded by tax

Expanded Transit operation represents a relatively marginal increment on the base plan, but mainly funded by tax

The farebox recovery ratio of the added service is anemic [2]:

fare box recovery is expected to go up to 62% in the base plan. it will be 53% in the Expansion plan, thanks to an anemic 17% farebox recovery on the added transit services

Operation vs Capital Investment
In the first 10 years, nearly 50% of the expected CIT revenue will be devoted to operation (it could have been much more in the original plan). The partition look like below

nearly half of the CIT will be dedicated to operate the added service

In 2024, more than 70% of the CIT will be devoted to operate the added transit services, which will have a disastrous 17% fare-box recovery in 2024. That could even compromise the ability of Translink to pay back its debt, according too the CIT variation (inherently very sensitive to the economic climate).

It is possible that, some expanded service could pick-up steam in the years following 2024. If not, it looks those expanded transit are not sustainable in the long term, and will keep Translink on a train wreck course

That said, it is possible that our assumption on the PST growth rate is too conservative (the growth rate of the Metro Vancouver PST tax base is probably greater than 4%, but we have no solid number at this time)


[1] we assume a growth rate of 4% for the PST revenue. That is a conservative estimate, the PST growth rate province wide has been ~5% since 2008.

[2] we haven’t included the provincial contribution to the Students pass program

[3] the $1 billion figure represents the amount of debt which can be reasonably reliably financed by the Pattullo bridge toll. The Pattullo toll revenue forecasts are much more reliable than in the Golden Ears bridge, since it is an infrastructure upgrade

The mayor issued a referendum question draft on December 11th, 2014, and one will find an account of it on the Stephen Rees’s blog. On December 18th 2014, the Province issued its “tweaked version“, to be mailed on March 16th 2015.

left: Ballot proposed by the Mayors council - right: version "amended" by the Province

left: Ballot proposed by the Mayors council – right: version “amended” by the Province

It appears that skeptic people on the outcome of the said referendum could be right: The Province reworded the referendum:

  • Out is the PST, in is a new whole tax which could be as different to the PST as the PST is to the GST. The exact wording is
    A new Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax would be applied
    as a 0.5% sales tax on the majority of goods and services that are subject to the Provincial Sales Tax and are sold or delivered in the region

It is not hard to fathom that the car dealer will escape to the “Congestion Improvement Tax”, the gas station probably too…

Anyway, it looks to open a whole new can of worm generating ever more red tape (and damaging the main argument in favor of the sale tax: equal on a broad tax base)…That is not good!

The name of the tax: “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax”

Do transit investments “improve” congestion?

That is a meme repeated ad nausea: I am not sure people sitting in their cars on Oak bridge share this view.

Let’s dispel the myth: Transit investments never “improved” congestion, and will not magically start to do it tomorrow. they improve mobility choice, and people movement (allowing the economy to continue to growth): that is already a lot, but cars and trucks will still sit in traffic as they do right now.

The tax is certainly misnamed: the only known way to reduce congestion is road pricing.

LRT vs Skytrain?

With the referendum, we could have thought the very nasty debate on technology choice as behind us: Not at all! The Province clearly re opened it:

I had previously noticed many cautious words from the Province such as “The Province will contribute on transit project on a case by case basis, provided a strong business case exists”. When comes transit in Surrey, a recent joint study MOTI/Translink reads:

    The BRT and RRT [skytrain]-based alternatives were most cost-effective overall in achieving the project objectives due to greater relative benefits (RRT) or lower costs (BRT). LRT 1 and LRT 4 [chosen by the mayors] performed the worst in this account, due to higher costs and minimal benefits, respectively”

Today the Province changed not only the tax but the wording of the suggested investments:

  • Out is the Surrey LRT. In is an unspecified “Rapid Transit” link,
  • For good measure, same apply to Vancouver (but here there is a strong business case for a subway)
  • …Number of B lines becomes unspecified too..

Suddenly, lot of clarity, on what we gonna pay and what we gonna get for the money, has disappeared…that doesn’t bode well either.

Referendum vs Plebiscite?

Curiously enough, the referendum is replaced by a plebiscite: the words could be interchangeable..or not. An apparently accepted definition (pretty much as worded by Prime Minister Mc Kenzie in 1942) is:

    “The plebiscite is an expression of opinion by the people on a general course of action proposed by the government. The vote is not legally binding on the government, although there may be a political and a moral obligation to respect the result.”

It doesn’t matter the viewpoint, you see only vagueness on every aspect of the renamed “Transit plebiscite”: That is not necessarily the good recipe to get the “Yes” vote “out”.

On another hand, the Mayors council doesn’t need a referendum/plebiscite to increase the Translink property tax, so it is not like if it was no “plan B” to finance Transit in the region.


(*) I had in fact first posted them as a comment on the Price tag and Frances Bula’s blog