Is it time for the Valley to ditch TransLink? Would it lead to better regional transportation?



Martin Crilly’s report on TransLink came as no surprise, TransLink is in deep financial trouble and needs a major infusion of cash to keep it in operation. The question should be asked: “Should the Valley Municipalities walk away from the transportation agency and let the chips fall where they may?”

TransLink, despite all the revisionist history, was cobbled together by then GVRD Chairman George Puil and the Glen Clark NDP as a last ditch attempt to secure a SkyTrain Millennium Line. The icing on the cake for Mr. Puil was that the province would pay two thirds of SkyTrain only construction West of Commercial Drive. Translation: Puil secured an agreement for expensive subway construction on Vancouver’s West-side at the expense of the region.

Now fast forward to 2009, the RAV/Canada Line, the first of Vancouver’s desired subways has opened; the Evergreen line to the Tri-Cities is in deep jeopardy; and there is ever increasing talk of a $4 billion UBC subway or the ‘Campbell Line’. TransLink needs vast sums of taxpayer’s money to complete its pie-in-the-sky metro and subway planning, which now may come in the form of road pricing or congestion charges. Again, Greater Vancouver politicians see Fraser Valley taxpayers as a ‘milch-cow’, or rustic rubes with deep pockets to pay for Vancouver’s grandiose subway plans.

Vancouver’s politicians and planners are flirting with bridge tolling and road pricing; trouble is, road pricing and/or congestion charging will only success if there is a viable public transit alternative and buses are not a viable public transit alternative, nor are three truncated metro lines. But one doubts that our band of civic politicians will sacrifice their political careers advocating road tolling or bridge tolling and the same can be said for their provincial counterparts, especially when one sees what has happened to English politico’s who supported road pricing, in the UK.

Projects like Rail for the Valley’s ‘return of the interurban’ need funding, but no funding will be made available for the projects unless the ‘valley‘ ditches TransLink and forms its own tax base to fund its own transit projects. Let Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and Richmond taxpayers fund expensive SkyTrain or RAV  metro and let the valley taxpayer fund much cheaper light-rail. I would wager that the Tri-Cities would abandon the SkyTrain Evergreen line in a shot, if they were offered (or should I say their taxpayers were offered) much cheaper light rail projects.

The TransLink model for regional transportation planning is broken and TransLink’s planners are stuck in the 1950, planning for more subways and expensive metro systems. Roads must be kept clear for the car and ‘rubber on asphalt’ transportation planning reigns supreme. The provincial government, abetted by the ‘roads lobby’ happily forces new metro construction on regional taxpayers and its time for Fraser Valley mayors to stand up to TransLink and the provincial government and say “Enough is enough, we are leaving TransLink and forming out own Valley Transportation Authority, investing in transit projects that meet our needs.”

Let Vancouver taxpayers pay for expensive subway projects forced upon them by ex-Vancouver mayors!

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11 Responses to “Is it time for the Valley to ditch TransLink? Would it lead to better regional transportation?”

  1. viewfromthe44 Says:

    Quick point of fact: Puil secured an agreement for expensive subway construction on Vancouver’s West-side at the expense of the region.

    Vancouver’s west side starts at Main St. Before the Canada Line, there exactly four Skytrain stations west of Main, but they were all downtown. The Canada Line gave the west side its first Skytrain.

    Zweisystem replies: you are being far too picky, Puil was looking into the future, for an extension of the Millennium Line to Arbutus St. A subsequent transit study put the cost of on-street LRT at about $50 million/km. and subway was about $150 million/km.; under the NDP TransLink agreement, the agency would pay $50 million or less per km. for LRT with the province picking up the rest of the tab. Thus for the cost of “TransLink’s LRT”, the city could get a subway!

    Overseas transit experts scoffed at the cost of a proposed Broadway LRT as “stuff and nonsense”, but transit planners in Vancouver held it as gospel.

    Here lies the reason for today’s posting, TransLink is to far mired in the Vancouver’s anti-LRT political/planning nonsense to be of any use for the Fraser Valley and it maybe high time to ditch TransLink! Just think of Vancouver residents paying their fair share of subway construction; that will cause a revolution in transit planning.

  2. viewfromthe44 Says:

    I’m not sure it’s too picky to distinguish between “looking into” and “actually building”, since the former basically comes for free and politicians and planners can do as much of it as they want. The distinction is certainly going to seem very real to students trying to get to UBC for 8:30 classes on Wednesday.

    But I take your point about the main thrust of your post. I’ll have to give some thought to your question about whether the Valley would be better served by its own transportation planning authority. On one hand, having Translink give up responsibility for the Valley would make its job much, much easier. Since the Valley is lower-density than north of the Fraser, Translink would lose some of its tax base, but would also give up responsibility for a lot of land. Making the area Translink’s responsible for on average denser would make its job a lot easier.

    But if I understand your point correctly, you’re arguing that on its own the Valley would have a large enough tax base to pay for a good LRT network. It’s a good question.

    Zweisystem replies: In just a few years, Surrey will have a greater population than Vancouver, in fact the Valley may have a larger tax base than Vancouver/Burnaby/New West/Richmond.

  3. Jim Says:

    I like what you’re saying, but the Valley does have it’s own transit system, Valley Max, it starts at the end of Metro Vancouver, and it hasn’t been building anything other then bus stops from what I know… At least, though, we aren’t paying for skytrain and translink… But if were were to join with other Fraser Valley municipalities, I’d wager to guess the eastern and northern (mission) would end up paying mainly for transit development in Surrey. It would be nice to see all the municipalites get together and get in some real transit though…

  4. David Says:

    I have a perhaps more realistic question: would Campbell allow the valley to walk away from TransLink?

    I get the feeling that legislation requiring Abbotsford to join TransLink is closer to reality than Surrey or Langley being permitted to leave. Campbell simply has no fear of losing votes in the valley. Wally may have lost, but Kevin Falcon was re-elected by a landslide. it would take a miracle for the South Delta situation to be repeated on a widespread basis, especially when the result would be an NDP government. In many ridings there is simply too much fear of the NDP for grassroots campaigns to ever gain traction.

    As Jim notes the focus of valley transit would be Surrey and I can’t see people in Abbotsford being any happier about funding rail in Surrey than they would be about funding rail in Coquitlam.

    Zweisystem replies: If it was unanimous decision by valley mayors, Campbell would have one hell of a fight on his hands. It’s all about perception and if Valley politicians conveyed the message to their electorate that their tax money was being spent on politically prestigious metro projects in Vancouver instead of much cheaper light rail, the political fallout would badly effect the Liberals. In Delta South, the largely Liberal electorate defeated a ‘star’ Liberal candidate. In politics, anything can happen.

    With a LRT option for the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford taxpayers would be funding Abbotsford LRT.

  5. viewfromthe44 Says:

    Zweisystem – I “just a few years” is optimistic for Surrey’s population to overtake Vancouver’s, but population and tax base considered on their own isn’t what’s important. What’s important is the ratio of taxpayers to land that needs public transit (however we end up wanting to measure that). And Vancouver’s more than four times more dense than Surrey. It means, e.g., that it’s much, much easier to locate nearly everyone in the city within a 10 minutes walk of a bus that runs faster than once every 15 minutes.

    Zweisystem replies: Quote: “It means, e.g., that it’s much, much easier to locate nearly everyone in the city within a 10 minutes walk of a bus that runs faster than once every 15 minutes.” This is an absolutely meaningless statistic, dreamed up by TransLink to further bamboozle politicians. Buses do not attract ridership, especially buses that run every 15 minutes.

    Point of logic here: If LRT can be built for 1/4 the cost of SkyTrain or RAV, then your density issue become moot. We have had 30 years of the SkyTrain lobby inflating LRT construction cost to such a point the Rail for the Valley doesn’t want TransLink any where near the project!

  6. viewfromthe44 Says:

    Zweisystem — I’m pretty sure Translink didn’t come up with the idea of a Frequent Transit Network, although their ten-year plan does adopt the idea as a goal. And to be clear, the idea isn’t a network of transit where all routes run at 15 minute intervals. You’re certainly right that that wouldn’t attract riders. Rather, the idea is a network where all routes — regardless of mode — run at least as fast as every 15 minutes. So the slowest, least frequent buses in the network run every 15 minutes at 11:30 on a Sunday night. On Monday morning, everything runs a lot more frequently.

    But more to the point, I get that LRT is a lot cheaper than light metro (which is why I think LRT is a very good idea for many parts of the region). But that doesn’t really have anything to do with the fact that the denser a region is, the fewer kilometers you need the transit to cover, and the more you can spend your money in increasing frequency — of buses and light rail.

    Zweisystem replies: Back to basics. Light rail is built because it becomes cheaper to operate than buses when ridership exceeds about 2,000 persons per hour per direction on transit route (The threshold for Tramtrain is even lower, about 400 persons per hour per direction), metro are built to handle passenger loads of excess of about 15,000 persons per hour per direction. There is overlap of course. Density is a man of straw argument because you can have all the density you want but if the transit system doesn’t go where people want to go, they will not use it.

    About the same time the industrial lands near Royal Oak SkyTrain station were rezoned to high density housing, the Knight Street Bridge became a bridge with almost equal North/South traffic flows through out the day. Even though SkyTrain serviced the high density housing developments, the jobs were in Richmond and Fraser/Delta, necessitating an auto commute. Even with the opening of RAV, it still does!

  7. viewfromthe44 Says:

    Zweisystem — Sorry to keep coming back at you on this, but I want to make sure I’m getting your view correctly. You say:

    Density is a man of straw argument because you can have all the density you want but if the transit system doesn’t go where people want to go, they will not use it.

    Are you saying that people can choose to live in as low-density communities as they please, and then, depending on the amount of ridership along the various corridors, cities should build buses, LRT, or metros out to wherever the people have bought their houses? And that’s how public transit gets its ridership?

    Zweisystem replies: the density issue has been vastly overplayed in the region. Has anyone ever stated what density is needed for ‘rail’ transit? No and the reason is simple, there is no accurate measure of density that translates into transit use. The real issue of density is up-zoning of properties, giving windfall profits to landowners, with the excuse; “we need higher densities to justify rapid transit construction.”

    In fact in Europe, light rail has been used to control densities, providing cost effective ‘rail’ transit preventing over densification in sensitive areas!

    If transit satisfies the needs of the consumer, then the consumer will use transit; when transit use reaches a certain point, then light-rail is more cost effective and if ridership reaches 400,000 persons a day or more then a metro is built.
    If anyone states, “We don’t have the density for rapid transit.” You should ask, “Then what density is needed for rapid transit.” I’ll wager no one will have an answer.

  8. Taxpayer Says:

    Of course, again, you are totally wrong, something which you excel at. If you actually bothered to look at the plans, you would realize that the UBC Line is not scheduled to be completed until 2020, meaning that the increased funding that that TransLink needs over the next few years will not be funding that project.

    Don’t forget that $1.2 billion extension of the SkyTrain in Surrey is also in the Transit Plan. This could be used for light rail instead.

    You conveniently forgot that the first SkyTrain Line was built to serve people who live in the valley that commute to Burnaby and Vancouver. One billion of the transit plan is for more SkyTrain cars, which people from the Valley will use. Two billion is for Expo Line upgrades which again will benefit people from the valley.

    There will also be significant improvements in bus service in the valley as well. I suspect if you really did your homework, you would realize that especially with the investments in roads made by TransLink and the province in the Valley, that the Valley is actually receiving more than its fair share of transportation dollars.

    Zweisystem replies: The SkyTrain lobby loves to warp facts and distort the truth to suit there own ends. SkyTrain was built in a crass political deal with the Bill Davis Conservative Government in Ontario to secure the then famous “Blue Machine, to help Bill Bennett to win the next political election. Ontario got to sell an unsellable ALRT (renamed ICTS) light metro from the provincially owned UTDC. For the same cost of planned LRT to Lougheed mall, Whally and Richmond Centre, we got ALRT to New Westminster. The $1 billion upgrade does nothing for Fraser Valley residents nor will a $1.2 billion extension in Surrey.

    For the cost of the SkyTrain upgrade; Evergreen line, and Surrey SkyTrain extension (about $3.5 billion), we could build a deluxe Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban; new Fraser River Rail Bridge, stand alone LRT lines in the Tri-cities, Surrey, Abbotsford, including a connection to YXX; and TramTrains to Whiterock, Richmond and North Delta.

    Taxpayer, I suggest you read a book on the subject because you are way out of your depth.

  9. Jim Says:

    Quoting David, “I get the feeling that legislation requiring Abbotsford to join TransLink is closer to reality than Surrey or Langley being permitted to leave. ”

    I don’t see this happening, it is the position of the Abbotsford Mayor and Council that they do not want to be part of Translink, and I think that most of the residents here would back them up…

    I think the only people who feel it is a good idea to make Abbotsford join Translink is the people in Langley, they say we’re being gouged, gouge Abbotsford so you can gouge us a bit less… I doubt the people in Vancouver even think about where a lot of the money comes from.

    Zweisystem replies: Quote: “I doubt the people in Vancouver even think about where a lot of the money comes from.” They would if the money taps were to be turned off!

  10. David Says:

    Some of us in Vancouver have interest in this subject and know full well that we wouldn’t have 3 metro lines without a lot of help from people who live too far away to make much use of them.

    Given the dire financial position of TransLink, the provincially ordered review and all the bad press right now it would be very difficult even for GC to bring up the subject right now, but give it time. There will be a solution to the crisis that makes the bad news disappear from the mainstream media. Then Abbotsford can be promised highway upgrades (the mayor certainly seems to prefer them over LRT) and poof, the organization previously known as TransLink adds another municipality to the party. GC didn’t get to be a 3 time Premier without knowing how to play politics.

  11. Jim Says:

    I bet that is true!, you should run for an office that will allow you to get the planning done right.

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