Archive for July, 2009

Rail for the Valley blog has topped 3,660 visits for July! Congradulations John!

July 31, 2009


When John Buker asked me to add some items for the fledgling Rail For the Valley blog, I don’t believe he thought I would such a stormy Petrel. As I write this item, the blog has now recorded over 3,660 visits for the month of July, which I believe is very good. The blog is a mixture of items pertinent for the Rail for the Valley Campaign, current transit news from here and abroad; technical stuff; and personal opinion and I think it is a good mix.

Zweisystem does get a little cranky at times and certainly will point out that certain opinions are stuff and nonsense. I have told John and it is my firm belief that there will not be any consideration for the return of the interurban until the provincial government and TransLink enter the 21st century and plan for proven and affordable light rail instead of forever planning for ‘pie-in-the-sky’ light-metro in the guise of RAV and SkyTrain. SkyTrain to Langley by 2030 or 2040 is just not good enough!

I would like to remind everyone that all comments are welcome and if there is a leap in logic, well I’ll point that out.

Rail for the Valley would also like to congratulate John Burker on his forthcoming wedding this weekend and wish bride and groom happiness and good health – cheers!

The many faces of tramtrain; how soon will the Fraser Valley see one?

July 31, 2009
Diesel LRT in Ottawa

Diesel LRT in Ottawa

It has been a long established transit maxim, long ignored by TransLink and BC Transit before, “use existing rail routes first“.


Because existing rail routes are much cheaper to build and install light rail, rather than going ‘greenfields’ construction.  Of course, SkyTrain and RAV are the epitome of ‘greenfields’ construction!

TramTrain in the snow in Germany

TramTrainGermany The in the snow in Germany

The cost to build a Vancouver to Chilliwack SkyTrain would be in the neighourhood of $9 billion to $10 billion!  It is suffice to say that there isn’t the ridership on the line to justify such an expenditure.

The cost of an electric LRT service from Vancouver to Chilliwack, using existing rail routes, would be in the neighbourhood of $1 billion, ($1.5 billion including a new Fraser River Rail Bridge) which is a manageable sum, especially when compared to the $2.5 billion RAV/Canada line.

With Diesel LRT, the cost of a basic Vancouver to Chilliwack service, using existing tracks, could be as low as $350 million for an hourly service. $350 million is about the cost of 2 km. of SkyTrain!

In a time of financial icebergs looming at TransLink, should not TransLink’s planners be thinking of much cheaper transit alternatives, instead of their grand SkyTrain and RAV lines, that despite their massive costs ($8 billion+) serve a region that only 11% of trips are made by transit, a number largely unchanged for over a decade.

It’s time for TransLink and all levels of  politicians to think Light; think Rail; think affordable Transit.

TramTrain on the mainline in France

TramTrain on the mainline in France


TramTrain in Spain

TramTrain in Spain

From the LRTA blog: LRT, very user-friendly & tourist friendly transit!

July 30, 2009

1 Geneva tram

On the eve of RAV/Canada Line operation, with it’s premium fares to Vancouver International Airport (YVR), one reads with interest the following posting from the LRTA blog site. Now could it be, if the ‘powers that be’ opted for much larger, yet less costly light rail network instead of the  now almost $3 billion RAV/Canada Line metro, TransLink could also offer tourist friendly fares as well?

Something else to mull over. The cost of a downtown to airport limosine  is $39.00; a cab fare from Vancouver to the airport is $30.00 (direct hotel pick-up to YVR), while there will be a $2.50 RAV surcharge on a two zone ($3.75)  TransLink fare. To get to the RAV/Canada line, a potential passenger must take a cab to a RAV/Canada line station with a minimum fare of $5.00 not including tip. The minimum cost of trip via RAV to the airport is $11.25, with one transfer. But if one splits the fare, two or three ways or in the case of a limousine, six ways, the cost by taxi/limousine could be comparable too or cheaper than using RAV/Canada Line!

Watch for a $10.00, one way, (based on four persons per Limo) Limousine airport to hotel shuttle service to commence, very shortly after RAV opens!

From the LRTA blog………..

Earlier this week I visited the Swiss city of Geneva, and as I was about the leave the baggage reclaim hall I noted a ticket machine offering ‘free travel’ tickets.

Apparently these are for arriving air passengers and offers them an 80 minute ride-at will ticket for anywhere within the Geneva area. As is normal with ‘standard’ tickets in many Swiss towns and cities these allow break of journey, interchange between modes etc, the only difference is that they are free of charge and that the passengers must retain proof that they have just arrived by air (boarding pass, etc) in case they encounter a roving ticket inspector.

But thats not all… oh no…

When people check-in at hotels, camp sites, youth hostels etc in Geneva they are also given a complimentary ticket which allows free travel throughout the city for the whole duration of their stay – and back to the airport too!

These tickets are valid (within Geneva) on all transports including trams, single / double articulated trolleybuses & motor buses, water boats, and of course the mainline railway – many of which link in with major towns and cities throughout Switzerland.

From a British point of view it boggles the mind that a city should wish to do this, after all it effectively means that the tourists do not even contribute towards the cost of the transports (the burden falls on local people, etc).

As an aside, whilst there I saw some major works installing new tram tracks in the city centre. What would British politicians, the Treasury, etc think if anyone even suggested similar here?

How other countries see light rail and appraise light rail investments? From the Light Rail Transit Association

July 29, 2009


Article from the March 1999 edition of Tramways & Urban Transit

As anyone involved in a British light rail scheme knows, the appraisal system is rigorous and, many feel, fatally flawed, oriented as it is to short term and financial criteria rather than a properly broad social cost-benefit analysis. It is now also heavily influenced to favouring projects which are attractive to private companies under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and public-private partnership requirements which though they may well be the Nineties version of the Emperor’s new clothes, are certainly the the flavour of the decade in the U.K.

Tramways & Urban Transit is pleased to publish a summary of the report prepared by Prof. Carmen Hass-Klau and Dr. Graham Crampton of consultants ETP (Environmental and Transport Planning). This article is a for a DETR Project on the examination of the appraisal methods and financial support mechanism used for light rail outside Britain. The full report studied the appraisal methods in France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the United States.


Advantages and disadvantages of Light Rail

Among the aspects discussed were the advantages and disadvantages of light rail in comparison to other public transport modes. The main disadvantage of light rail is that investment in light rail is more expensive than running buses along the same corridor because for buses the basic infrastructure – the roads – are already there. However there is quite a wide variation in the cost per km of light rail.

One of the advantages of light rail versus buses is that a typical light rail vehicle carries between 144-188 people (units with two or three carriages could carry 288-465 people) whereas an articulated or double-decker bus is only able to carry 80-160 people.

On the Continent, public transport experts believe that modern trams are perceived by the public to be a superior transport mode to buses. This appears to be in contrast to Britain where the run down trams of the 1950s and 60s left negative memories in the minds of many people.

Buses may have to use bus bays and make other sharp manoeuvres, as well as suffering engine vibration and road surface unevenness. Modern trams in contrast normally have a smoother and more comfortable ride.

As many trams have their own right of way, often established a long time ago, they are more protected from congestion and are normally faster than buses. Furthermore the same tram corridor can often also be used by buses. Even if bus lanes are available buses have problems with parked cars, which is not the case for trams as tram corridors are mostly in the middle of the carriageway. However at junctions delays can occur if cars are allowed to use the same right of way as trams.

Normally trams blend in better with the built environment of a city centre and other historic parts of the urban area. In practice the construction of a tram line can be used to redesign large parts of the city centre into a more pedestrian-friendly environment. With modern on-street running, there is no separation between the tram track and the rest of the carriageway. Pedestrians and trams mingle especially well together. Streets with trams can be designed much more attractively than streets with bus lanes. In Britain, the ugliness of overhead cabling is often an issue, whereas on the Continent, firstly people are used to it, and secondly it is normally designed to a high standard. Some tram routes have trees on both sides and/or lawn track beds. In the city centre similar pavement as in pedestrianised streets is used. Increasingly the traditional design of having tram beds looking like railway tracks has been abandoned.

Whereas underground rail is not visible to the public, surface trams have a strong marketing effect in favour of public transport. Zurich or Strasbourg trams have become a tourist attraction and are featured on public relations material for the cities, like the red buses in London. In contrast, elevated systems such as the VAL or the Docklands Light Rail are difficult to integrate into the urban environment; they are mostly too intrusive.

Environmentally, trams are much cleaner than normal diesel buses but increasingly local authorities are switching to earth-gas buses which have very low emission values. Trams are quieter than buses but this is not always the case.

Trams can be attractively designed, representing a futuristic image of a public transport mode as in Strasbourg. Buses have so far not been able to change their design significantly.


Conditions for successful running of light rail

The success of light rail is dependent on many factors, of which population and the employment density of the light rail corridors and the frequency of service seem to be the most important aspects. Trams which run at low headways (high frequency) can gain a significant number of passengers. The higher the frequency of a public transport mode the more passengers will use it (or the more additional passengers can be won). However, the operators have to weigh the higher operational cost against the advantages of a high frequency. In many cases there is not even a choice, because the capacity to increase the frequency is not available.

In the past transport experts believed that the speed of the public transport mode was one of the major features to attract passengers. Again, there is little established evidence of this. Today we know from surveys carried out that speed itself is not the crucial factor. Passengers prefer ‘seamless’ journeys or short interchange times with immediate connections.

Even so, speed is still important. Many light rail lines in Europe have priority at traffic lights which can increase average speed and therefore give trams an advantage over cars.

We know little about how other factors like design and the comfort of the vehicle generate passenger growth.

The success of light rail is also dependent on the administrative and operational structure of which light rail forms a part. Competition between public transport modes is not particularly helpful in creating a successful public transport infrastructure.

An overview of the operational structure of public transport in some of the European countries shows great differences in the ways in which public transport is organised, with the Netherlands having the most centralised approach and Britain having in most cases no transport authority at all.


The financing of light rail

Light rail investments have been funded by German governments since 1971. A specified percentage from national petrol tax revenues is awarded to urban public transport systems.

In previous years, up to 60% of the cost of urban rail investment has been paid by the Federal Government, up to 25% by the Länder and the rest by the local authorities. Since 1992, the Federal Government maximum funding percentage has been increased to 75% in West Germany and up to 90% in East Germany.

With the constitutional changes which introduced a new regional rail transport law in 1994 an amendment permits the Länder to receive even more petrol tax for those parts of the railway network which are defined as `regional’ rail transport (in practice the local rail network). This will also affect those light rail modes which run on traditional rail track like the ones in Saarbrücken and Karlsruhe.

Since 1992 all French transport regions with more than 20,000 inhabitants have the right to demand a public transport tax which can only be used for public transport investment but also helps to pay operational costs. Every employer with more than 9 employees who is located inside a transport authority may be asked to pay between 0.55 – 1.05% of its total payroll as Versement Transport to the authority.

The local transport authority can decide, following agreement within the Communes, how they want to spend the money, as long it is on public transport. However the upper limit can be increased if new public transport investment is built, and since 1990 this upper limit in provincial France can be 1.75%. In the Paris region the variation lies between 1.3 – 2.2%. However, there the employers also pay half of the cost of travel cards for their employees. This is in addition to the Versement Transport.

At the beginning of 1995, of 190 transport regions about 90%, which had the right to collect this tax, actually used this opportunity.

The Federal Government of the United States spent about $18.5 billion over 1980-95 on discretionary grants for new rail starts and extensions, contributing between 50-80% of the construction costs for these projects. This funding made it easier to initiate projects, and often made up funding shortfalls when projects ran over budget. Critics have argued that the whole capital grants program is discredited and the Federal Government has no business in funding new rail public transit systems at the local level at all. Others conclude that the main focus of any reform of the process should be to remove discretionary control of the funding, which has proved to be an easy target of misuse. The 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) launched the first major re-structuring of the US’s surface transportation programs since Interstate Highway construction began in 1956. It embodied a Surface Transportation Fund, which includes roads amounting to $120.8 billion over 6 years. Within this was included a Mass Transportation Fund amounting to a $31.5 billion mass transit program over 6 years, with its 80% Federal share for capital programs and 50% for operating expenses.


The evaluation of light rail investments

When studying the financing and evaluation methods in the various European countries and the United States, the political dimension of any method to justify light rail investment becomes apparent. Generally speaking, investing in light rail is seen by most politicians as being a good cause.

In Germany a traditional cost benefit analysis is used to justify the funds which come from the Federal Government. (This method is also applied in Switzerland, Austria and parts of Italy). One of the most important factors is the time savings to the public transport customer if a new line is installed. It is normally assumed that with each 1% time saving, additional demand of 0.75% for light rail service is created. It is further assumed that the transfer is made by the car users and not from any other mode. In reality, there is little evidence on how many people actually switch from car to public transport. Neither the public transport operators nor the Federal Government seemed to be interested in this question.

Although comprehensive traffic studies are normally carried out by the French transport authorities, no cost benefit analysis is demanded by the Central State. The British reader may find this surprising but this was also the case in Germany until 1982. Most major investment decisions regarding German light rail and underground were all made before this date. One of the reasons why the French may not require such an evaluation method may lie in the relatively low financial participation of the State in providing funds for light rail (only a maximum of 30% is funded). Funding of the rolling stock is not included in France but is in Germany. But the Versement Transport provides a significant proportion of the funds needed for light rail investment.

A very different approach is carried out in the Netherlands. Here the integration between land use and transport appears to be a very important factor. A traditional cost benefit analysis is combined with a multi-criteria approach, consisting of 20 different criteria. They include hard and soft measures and each of them is valued and weighted. This creates a balance sheet where the cost side is financial and the benefit side non-monetary. The results are provided as a benefit-cost ratio. Yet, independent of these calculations a high quality factor seemed to be decisive.

The Swedish studies allowed relatively little insight into their procedures but in the past a more traditional cost benefit analysis has been applied. This approach is questioned and new methods are being discussed that are similar to the Dutch appraisals.

The Federal U.S. Government does not seem to work with a cost benefit analysis as a decision device for the funding of light rail projects. But this does not imply that for an individual State that wants to obtain funding, cost benefit analysis is not carried out. In the past the decision making was highly political and more based on an equal distribution between the States than on a strict evaluation method. This may have been a deliberate choice because if such a method had been used the eastern States with their higher population and employment densities might have got most of the funding.


Complementary measures

Apart from the operational and technical aspects and the location of the lines the role of complementary measures may be decisive for the degree of success of light rail investment. Whether a system is characterised as successful or not depends on the indicators used. If the success of light rail is measured in passenger growth since the start of operations then most newly built light rail lines are thriving. There are only very few exceptions known among experts, though unfortunately Sheffield’s tram is one of them. However, if success is measured by the extent to which car drivers are lured out of their cars, then most light rail lines are not as successful as they could be, possibly because there is a lack of policy measures that could be used to strengthen the role of light rail.

Complementary measures are defined as all those measures which are not connected directly to the operation of light rail for instance restraint policies (pedestrianisation, closure of town centres to through traffic), ticketing and marketing. Complementary measures can be divided into hard and soft. Measures which support light rail in order to ‘force’ a transfer from car to tram are called hard measures. Some authors prefer the word ‘stick’ instead of hard. In contrast, all those methods which primarily try to persuade car drivers to use light rail are soft measures such as marketing or comfort improvements. Ideally a combination of soft and hard measures should be used. Hard measures have to be sold well politically, otherwise people may not be willing to accept them.

The full report can be purchased from ETP, 9 South Road, Brighton BN1 6SB, Tel. 1273-540955, Fax 1273-508791, E-mail:



Prof. Carmen Hass-Klau has a Professorship in Engineering and European Public Transport at the University of Wuppertal, Germany, and has also set up and directed Environmental and Transport Planning, a consultancy based in Brighton, England. She was also a member of the DETR Expert Committee advising on the preparation of the 1998 Transport White Paper.

Dr. Graham Crampton is a Lecturer in Economics at Reading University, England, and works for Environmental and Transport Planning on transport policy research projects.

NEWS FLASH – Province launches review of BC Ferries and TransLink – From News 1130

July 28, 2009


Of course the province and Transportation Minister, Shirley Bond will not look at the real reasons of Translink’s financial problems: building light-metro (RAV & SkyTrain) on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them. It seems the newly announced combined GST/PST (now known as HST) and potential massive new TransLink taxes and auto levies has raised the publics ire. But, unless the province employs BC’s Auditor General or engage an accredited organization such as the UK’s National Audit Office or NAO to look at TransLink, the review will be nothing more than self serving bumf, justifying Gordon Campbell’s inept and extremely expensive transit initiatives forced upon Translink.

Review will be completed by September 30th

Connie Thiessen / Mike Hanafin VICTORIA (NEWS1130) | Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

VICTORIA (NEWS1130) – The provincial government is launching a review of BC Ferries and TransLink, the publicly funded, independently regulated transportation authorities.  The Finance Ministry and Transportation Ministry say it is to ensure customers and taxpayers are receiving maximum value for services.

Finance Minister Colin Hansen says that during challenging economic times, they must ensure that services are provided in a way that is financially sustainable and provides maximum value for people in B.C.  “Both BC Ferries and TransLink have been mandated to provide vital transportation services for millions of people, and we must ensure the governance arrangements are operating as efficiently as possible and the authorities are meeting their service objectives.”

The review was requested by transportation Minister Shirley Bond and are to be completed by September 30th.  The province says they’ll look at all aspects of the operations, from regulatory environment to
corporate structure to financial performance. A final report containing recommendations will be made public.

Bond says, “It has been six years since BC Ferries became a private operation, and two years since TransLink’s governance model was revised. It is important we ensure both organizations are
meeting their financial and service expectations that came about with the new models.”

The review will specifically look at:
* The division of responsibility between the Province and the respective
* The size, composition, appointment process and compensation for the
board of directors.
* The regulatory environment, including responsibilities, authorities and
powers of the Ferry Commission as well as the regional transportation
commissioner and Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.
* The operating costs and service delivery models, including the
company’s efforts to reduce costs using Alternate Service Providers, and
actions to increase productivity and quality customer service.
* A review of options available to the Province that are consistent with
the entities’ independence under generally accepted accounting principles
(GAAP) and which would ensure that existing and future independent,
regulated, publicly created authorities such as BC Ferries and the South
Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority are effectively
structured to:
o Protect ratepayers’ interests with minimal administration costs,
including hard caps on compensation levels for senior executives and
board members.
o Protect clearly mandated customer service levels.
o Improve transparency and public accountability for decisions and
performance levels.

What is guided bus? Is it B-Line BRT?

July 28, 2009

Guided buses are buses steered for part or all of their route by external means, usually on a dedicated rights-of-ways, though not to be confused with a busway. This track, which often parallels existing roads or railways, excludes all other traffic, permitting the operation of reliable schedules on heavily used corridors even during peak hours.

Guidance systems can be either physical, such as kerbs;

1 guided-bus-adelaide

or remote, such as optical or radio guidance;

1 Phileas-bus-Endhoven

or by rail, making the guided bus a hybrid rail/monorail vehicle, retaining the ability to operate independently of the ‘rail’.


On kerb-guided buses (KGB) small guide wheels are attached to the bus, and these engage vertical kerbs on either side of the track-way. The bus is steered in the normal way away from the guide-way. The start of the guide-way is funneled from a wide track to the normal width. The track-way allows for high-speed operation on a narrow guide-way.

Only a few examples currently exist, but more are proposed in various countries. The longest guided busway in the world is the O-Bahn Busway route in Adelaide, South Australia, which has been operating reasonably successfully since the mid 1980s.  Sadly, operating performance of the Adelaide KGB has not met expectations and no more KGB is to be built and modern LRT is now the preferred choice to provide urban transit to the city.

As reported earlier…….

……..  the wire guided Dutch Phileas guided bus has also had operating problems in Turkey and the ‘rail-guided’ guided buses operating in Caen has had severe teething problems. The real problem for guided bus is that its installation costs are only slightly less (about 20% less) than light rail, which has much more operating benefits. Due to higher construction costs and operational problems, guided bus has become a niche transit mode, which does not compete with light rail, but with more conventional trolley buses!

From the BBC – Wales Southwest: The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, the first public railway that ended as LRT!

July 27, 2009

A little history lesson today: The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, the first public railway which operated from 1807 to 1960. Starting from horse drawn converted rail carriages, the Swansea and Mumbles Railway ended up as a light rail/interurban line, using rather large double-deck electric trams.

S & M 2 

Early Days of Mumbles Railway


From a four-wheeled dandy attracting international visitors for a “novelty” ride, to scenes when its passengers narrowly escaped being bombed – the history of the railway is intriguing and varied.

Even today the Mumbles Railway is held in remarkable affection by local people as historian Carol Powell now recounts in a series of features about its history and development.

 Steam trains and bank holiday daytrippers

On 25 March 1807, the very same day that the British Parliament passed a Bill to outlaw the transatlantic trade in slaves, Swansea took its place in history with the inauguration of the world’s first passenger railway.

The carriage, initially a four-wheeled horse-drawn dandy, wound its way slowly from the Brewery Bank adjacent to the Swansea Canal in Swansea, around the wide sweep of Swansea Bay to its destination at Castle Hill (near the present-day Clements Quarry) at the tiny isolated fishing village of Oystermouth.

The line had originally been built in 1804 to transport limestone from the quarries of Mumbles to Swansea and thence to the markets beyond.

In March 1807, Benjamin French, one of its shareholders paid £20 to the Tramroad Company, so that he could run a wagon on the line for a year to convey passengers. By 1813, the booklet ‘A Description of Swansea and its Environs’ noted that the fare was two shillings, (which would have been only affordable by the select few).

Some years later, ‘The New Swansea Guide’ of 1823 quoted one shilling – perhaps because of anticipated competition from the new toll road, which was due to open alongside in 1826.

The line continued for a while, but the horse-drawn buses made it economically unviable to operate the railway and the service had been withdrawn before 1830.

However, by the 1860s, the line was once more in business. On 17 August 1877, steam trains were introduced, but as the ownership of the line was in dispute, a situation was created whereby horse-drawn and steam trains competed on the same track at the same time, until the horses were phased out in 1896

In the late 1890s, the line from Blackpill towards Oystermouth was transferred from the roadside to the seaward side of the houses and was extended from Oystermouth across Horsepool, past Southend to reach the newly-constructed pier, the route that many of us remember.

Years leading up to the Great War

For many years, the Horsepool had been a natural harbour for the skiff owners to lay up and repair their boats.

This area was filled in when the new railway extension was built across it and instead a large wooden breakwater, which came to be known locally as ‘The Piles’ was constructed on the shore opposite the Antelope Public House-a move not very popular with the oyster- and fishermen.

At first, a fairground which included a figure-of-eight ride was set up on part of the infill, on what became known as the Ballast Bank, but today the area is occupied by the tennis courts, bowling green, Cornwall and Devon Places and Promenade Terrace.

The years leading up to the Great War were undoubtedly the heyday of the line with immense numbers of holiday-makers and daytrippers visiting the village, a fact amply illustrated when on a fine August Bank Holiday in 1913, some 48,000 passengers arrived on the train to enjoy a visit!

On 2 March 1929, a gleaming new fleet of red electric trains superseded the steam locomotives and these operated even throughout the war and on through the 150th anniversary of the line in 1954, until January 1960, when for many reasons, the powers-that-be decided that the days of the world-famous Mumbles Train were over.


S & M 1


B.C. Rail, C.N. Rail & Gordon Campbell – Why it is important for ‘Rail for the Valley’ to understand the current situation.

July 27, 2009


The following item on David Berner’s blog……

……is well worth a read, to understand the politics of TRIANGULATION, including Mr. Campbell, his family and the hierarchy of CN Rail.

It seems that the Premier regards ‘rail’ transit issues as a political plum, for his own amusement, phony environmental claims and multi billion dollar reelection metro construction. Rail for the Valley doesn’t want to get involved with “legal matters before the court”, but when CN Rail operates trains on part of the interurban route, one must worry that the Gordon Campbell Liberal government will forever drag its feet in allowing a Vancouver to Chilliwack service to operate.

One final question: Has the consulting firm, doing the Fraser Valley Rail Study, included diesel light rail? If not, then the study is not worth the paper its printed on.

TransLink mired in political standoff – Francis Bula, Globe and Mail

July 25, 2009


Ten years on, and TransLink remains stuck on the road to nowhere

Frances Bula


“Premier Gordon Campbell and Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon unveiled a $14-billion public transit plan to be completed by 2020 today. It is a key measure in the province’s greenhouse gas reduction plan, touching every region of the province.”

Those were the opening lines in a government news release distributed to reporters on Jan. 14, 2008, while the Premier stood amid charts and displays demonstrating the utopian future of transit in Metro Vancouver. With maps covered in a web of coloured transit lines, the plan included the Evergreen Line in the northeast sector, a 12-kilometre extension of the Millennium Line to the University of British Columbia, a six-kilometre extension of the Expo Line in Surrey, and herds of new clean-energy buses and SkyTrain cars.

That was then. Eighteen months later, the plan is mired in what has become a familiar standoff in British Columbia: the perpetual tussle between the province and a regional transportation agency.

In the latest chapter, TransLink says it can’t possibly pay for its part of the Premier’s ambitious plan without getting money from some new taps besides beleaguered transit riders, now paying as much as $5 for a single trip, and residential ratepayers, now paying an average of $235 a year for transportation.

The province, channelling its message through rookie Transportation Minister Shirley Bond, is insisting that the agency fulfill the promises the Premier made while balking at TransLink’s suggestions for new revenue sources. They include a vehicle levy of up to $200 a year, a share of the carbon-tax revenue, and road-pricing mechanisms such as tolls, distance charges and fees that would allow single drivers to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

What’s perplexing to almost everyone is why the province and TransLink, which is responsible for transit and roads in the Lower Mainland, have been locked in conflict almost from the day the agency was created by an NDP government in April of 1999. Today it’s the 10-year plan. A couple of years ago it was the province’s dissatisfaction over how TransLink handled approving the Canada Line, which led to a restructuring that took most decision-making power away from local politicians. And back when TransLink first got started, it was the vehicle levy that they parted ways over.

“The problem for TransLink is that while it is an innovative structure and it got the revenue tools, it never got the revenue streams,” says Pat Jacobsen, the former Ontario deputy transportation minister who was TransLink’s CEO for seven of its 10 years. “It’s the only authority I know of that has to fund 100 per cent of its bus capital, 50 to 70 per cent of its rapid-transit capital and all of its operating costs from local sources.”

The bill ends up being paid disproportionately by property taxes. According to a 2007 City of Edmonton study, transit costs account for 7.4 per cent of a Metro Vancouver resident’s tax bill, while just 4.5 per cent of the average Torontonian’s taxes go to fund that city’s system, which serves more than twice as many riders. The numbers are likely even farther apart now, since TransLink pushed through the maximum allowable property-tax increase last year.

That comes partly because provincial politicians of all stripes have been fearful of paying the price for introducing any new taxes.

During this year’s election campaign both the Liberals and the NDP refused to consider letting carbon-tax revenue go to TransLink.

“I get that you cannot ask a politician to go out and commit political suicide,” says former TransLink director Gordon Price, a passionate transit advocate. But with local mayors saying they are willing to take the heat for a vehicle levy, with the public saying it’s willing to pay more for transit, and with the need to do something to stop environmental degradation, Mr. Price says it’s time for the Premier to stand behind his plan.

But that leads to a second political dynamic at work – the fact that TransLink has always been a bit of an unloved child for the B.C. Liberals. They opposed its creation, and even though they essentially took it over two years ago by creating an appointed board, still don’t see the agency as truly theirs.

“I just don’t think Gordon Campbell ever wanted TransLink. And they’re always afraid of Vancouver getting too much,” says George Puil, a veteran former Vancouver city councillor and TransLink’s first chairman.

Mr. Puil has never been known as an NDP supporter or a green freak, but he can’t understand how the province thinks TransLink can come up with the $450-million a year – a 50-per-cent increase over its current budget – needed to fund the Premier’s dream plan if it isn’t given new revenue sources.

From the BBC – “Drivers ‘distrust’ road tax spend”. Will regional mayors ‘here’ impose the auto levy?

July 24, 2009

And TransLink wants to add more taxes on cars. Local politicians take note.

A note added re comment, as the title states, this article comes from the BBC.

1 27862-hi-traffic

Motoring taxes have been handled so badly that drivers no longer trust what ministers say the charges pay for, an MPs’ report says.

Inconsistency over justification for green taxes “tarnished their image”, according to the transport committee.

Ministers should also abandon the link between unpopular congestion charge schemes and transport funding, it adds.

The government said billions had been spent on public transport and it was committed to improving travel options.

The cross-party committee concluded that road users remained “an important source of revenue” but needed to be treated “fairly and with openness”.

Voluntary road pricing schemes – such as allowing drivers to pay charges related to distance, time or congestion instead of car tax or fuel duty – could be an option, its members suggested.

They said drivers needed “clearer signals” about how their taxes were being spent to reduce congestion and pollution.

The report said: “Fuel duty has been presented, at different times, as a tool to reduce carbon emissions, a source of general revenue, and a means to fund transport investment.

“We are concerned that motorists are mistrustful of the government regarding taxes.”

Chairman Louise Ellman added: “The government handled a phased set of increases to Vehicle Excise Duty (car tax) so badly they tarnished the image of environmental taxes.”

Taxing drivers according to how much they use their cars remained the fairest method but the amount raised could be limited by the economic climate, she said.

Instead, the committee recommended the government develop other measures to address congestion.


The committee said proposed city-centre congestion charge plans had proved “unacceptable” in many areas.

Manchester and Edinburgh have rejected congestion schemes in recent years while plans to further expand the scheme in London were dropped last year.

Ms Ellman said distribution of money from the government’s Transport Innovation Fund should no longer be tied to such schemes.

But she believes individual drivers might be willing to pay road charges if they could offset them against road and fuel duties or get other incentives.

She said a scheme in Oregon, in the US, which linked charges to duty rebates and the offer of insurance and entertainment services, had proved successful.

Other suggestions the committee makes are for locally-funded transport improvements and tolls for foreign-registered lorries.

It also says car parking charges must be “proportional” and local authorities should not be charging excessive prices to pay for non-related services.

Although it said it had no evidence this was happening, the public was concerned about the issue.

Similarly, it says penalty fines must not be used as a “blatant” tool to raise money from motorists and councils must spend more of the revenue raised on creating more parking spaces and improving signs.

The Department of Transport said it had no plans to change the Transport Innovation Fund but stressed councils would still continue to receive funding if they did not pursue congestion schemes.

As well as increased investment in buses, trains and cycle routes, it said widening roads, extending hard shoulders and improving junctions would help tackle congestion.

“We are committed to implementing innovative and far-reaching measures to improve the transport options available,” it said.

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said drivers were given “no clear explanation” of what they got in return for around £45bn paid in taxes each year.

AA president Edmund King added that the public had lost trust in all political parties on motoring issues.