TRANSIT IN VANCOUVER BC, Part 2
As a transportation authority, TransLink is a somewhat typical example of poor accountability to the public, inability to control costs and chronic deficits that require higher tax increases on local taxpayers. Businesses and non-residential property taxpayers bear the brunt. Cuts in bus service deprive mobility to riders who rely most on public transit. Traffic congestion worsens for motorists, and jeopardizes economic productivity.
Ever since the automated light rail transit (ALRT) opened in 1985, SkyTrain has filled critics’ predictions that its financial and ridership projections (upon which the decision was made to approve the project) would not sufficiently materialize.
“Let's look at this business of transit in Vancouver. This is part of the continuing saga of dealing with the big white elephant known as SkyTrain.
“The reality is that you're having to increase all these taxes to pay for a system that is fumbling and that is not carrying great volumes of traffic, that is not doing the job that a mass transit system should do. I am not surprised that the mayor of Vancouver says: "Enough, enough! We in the city of Vancouver will not keep paying for the extension of this monster with its incredibly high capital costs."
“The entire surface system was bent and twisted to feed SkyTrain - the whole system - and you're talking about further extensions out into the valley and to the north side of the river at an incredibly high capital cost for this system from Ontario. This is a system that Ontario has only used in one little suburban snitch - I think it's in the Scarborough area - and it's the area they've had the most problems and highest costs in.
“We opted for this untried system throughout our region, so the penalty is being borne by the automobile people in terms of a higher tax per litre on gasoline, and it's borne by the property tax in the area. The city of Vancouver ends up bearing the bulk of it for a system that doesn't serve the city very well at all.”
— Quote from transcript
of parliamentary debate on the Motor Fuel Tax Act in 1988
SHIELDED FROM ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE PUBLIC
The 2007 reorganization
of TransLink followed heated controversy about replacing the publicly elected board of directors with an appointed board of contracted private sector professionals — accountants, lawyers and engineers — to run the day-to-day operations of the system. Skeptics claim that the agency is shielded
from public accountability and beholden to special interests.
Over the past 23 years, the system continues to grow deficits. TransLink showed a surplus in 2007, but financial projections
are bleak due to continued expansion of its rail system.
To offset the funding shortfall, cost reductions would be equivalent to a 55 percent reduction in bus service. A 10-year financial plan
focuses mainly on rail improvements. Bus riders, bikers, motorists lose in future funding.
TransLink’s main revenue sources
are: (1) fuel taxes, (2) property taxes and (3) revenue from other non-government sources — fares, advertising, property development, and expanding the use of road tolls and parking taxes.
will begin raising property taxes and transit fares by two percent a year indefinitely, starting in 2009. Profits from TransLink’s new real estate division are forecast at $30 million a year by 2030, not enough to closing the funding gap.
LEGITIMATE COST-BENEFIT & COST COMPARISON IGNORED
In 2003, a transit expert analyzed
and characterized Vancouver’s TransLink as “Planning with Loaded Dice.”
o “Any thorough, legimate cost-benefit analysis would show very large negative net present values for this project. The only significant worthy beneficiary of the system would be those users not living on the corridor. The other beneficiaries are planners, engineers, construction companies and political insiders with short-term profits in mind. The costs are much more widespread and enormous than these benefits. Translink and its captive consultants have ignored all externality or loss of amenity costs. For example, what is noise and sight pollution worth? What is the value of the loss of Cambie Boulevard? What would a rigid, fixed link train system do to warp further transit planning and land development options? And so a list runs on, countless questions, orphaned of answers, trampled by Translink's stampede toward a disastrous megaproject.
o “The RAV project will further bleed to anemia a bus system already badly wounded by Skytrain's appropriation of a disproportionate piece of the region's transit budget to provide a small portion of its transit trips. Expanding the Skytrain fiscal vampire's domain southward would add another link to a chain of strategic catastrophes in transit planning.
o “Cost comparisons are illustrative. Buses cost $6,000 a seat annually and its operator gets 50% of this from its user. Skytrain costs $36,000 a seat and gets 10% of that from its riders. The buses per capita statistic in the region has dropped from one bus per 1,200 people in 1983 to one per 1,700 now. Buses are more flexible, cheaper and much more comprehensive than a fixed link train. Yet Translink robs Vancouver of buses and budget to purchase ever more expensive, unprofitable and ineffective trains that destroy amenity values and run inflexibly on the wrong routes.”
A FIELD OF DREAMS
According to a Vancouver Board of Trade report
, only 10% of Vancouver’s transit users are SkyTrain riders exclusively; while 80% of TransLink riders are bus riders exclusively.
The latest of several surveys
in Honolulu similarly indicate that motorists expect others to ride the train. Not “If you build it, we will come.”