Archive for November 8th, 2009

Rail for the Valley, a necessity whose time has long since come

November 8, 2009

In response to this negative screed by Robert Blacklock, I sent my own Letter to the Editor of the Chilliwack Progress, which I post here:

UPDATE: Published Nov. 10, Passenger rail no fantasy, Chwk Progress

Dear Editor,

Re: Passenger rail line a ‘fantasy’ (Nov. 6, Robert Blacklock)

Robert Blacklock’s Letter to the Editor was certainly a disappointing read. (He almost had me convinced!) 3 hours to get from Chilliwack to Surrey? I completely agree, no one would take that train.

Fortunately, the facts don’t at all square up with Mr. Blacklock’s assertions.

In fact, readers may remember a demonstration service was implemented for 6 months on the Interurban line between Abbotsford and New Westminster during Expo 86, using old Pacer Railbus trains (for $12/round trip). Total travel time was 2 hours, including delays at the Fraser River Rail Bridge, and was highly popular with the public.

Using modern light rail technology, some track upgrading, and construction of crossings where needed, I am confident that today one could travel to downtown Vancouver in even less time, and it would on average be comparable to travel time by car, because trains would not be affected by regular ‘rush hour’ traffic congestion. Such a service could reliably be used by the public for travel throughout the valley, regardless of traffic or weather conditions.

As for cost: what many people do not realize is that the cost of light rail is actually cheaper in the long run than the cost of running buses. This is primarily due to three factors:

1) A single Light Rail Vehicle (LRV) unit (passenger train car) can transport more people than a bus. As well, if there is overcrowding, more units may be added to a train as needed, without the added cost of additional drivers.

2) The lifetime of an LRV is about 3 times as long as the lifetime of a bus, with much lower maintenance costs. This is in large part due to their running smoothly on steel tracks, as opposed to jostling in the midst of traffic on roads.

3) Throughout the world, including Canada, it has been shown time and time again, that people will not get out of their cars to ride a bus but they will get out of their cars to use light rail. The cost of operating a near-empty bus route is far greater than the cost of operating a popular light rail route. In fact, light rail may eventually turn an operating profit. This is seen on many routes throughout the world with similar populations and densities to the Fraser Valley.

The ‘pie in the sky’ picture of light rail painted by Mr. Blacklock is a fiction.

Municipal leaders involved with the South of Fraser Rail Task Force are to be commended for looking beyond these myths, and beginning to take the first steps toward implementing a Valley-wide light rail service.

Rail for the Valley is neither a fantasy nor a luxury. It is a necessity, whose time has long since come.

Dr. John Buker
Founder, Rail For The Valley

From the Vancouver Sun – “Financial review finds TransLink has “significant operational issues” – So, what else is new?

November 8, 2009

TransLink has come off its financial rails!

The province’s financial review was all too predictable, TransLink has problems. Well, for anyone who has tried to deal with TransLink’s bloated and arrogant bureaucracy, this is not news and the report is as I expected.

The problems with TransLink can be summed up as:

1) Building metro (SkyTrain & RAV) on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them.

Result:  Large annual subsidies must be paid to operate the metro system.

2) Operating buses on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them.

Result: Higher operating subsidies for West Coast Mountain Bus.

3) Offering deep discounted ticketing, in the form of U-Pass to university students.

Result: Large subsidies must be paid to offset the deep discounted student passes.

4) Political interference from the province.

Result: The province has forced and continues to force hugely expensive ‘metro’ rapid transit solutions on the region, but without any funding formula to sustain the the heavily subsidized mode.

5) lack of public input, lack of public representation at the board level.

Result: The public is stuck with expensive ‘government sponsored’ transit solutions that they do not want, or want to pay for, nor will not use. 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus to the metro.

TransLink’s financial ills will continue and with the province’s penchant to build metro mega-projects, instead of much cheaper alternatives, means TransLink has become a financial sink-hole.

What is needed is a new approach – TransLink needs to change and maybe a Royal Commission on Urban Transportation is needed before any more taxpayers money is invested on questionable projects.

What TransLink badly needs is an independent, elected transit board made up of a transit commissioner from each municipality, elected at the same time as civic elections. An independent transit board would be directly concerned with transit issues and represent the wishes of the taxpayer. To date, the taxpayer has been seen by bureaucrats and politicians alike as a ‘milch-cow’ forever paying taxes to support projects that seem to built more for political prestige than for the public good.

Financial review finds TransLink has “significant operational issues” – So, what else is new?

By Jonathan Fowlie and Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun

November 6, 2009

TransLink has been plagued by “significant operational issues” and has not worked hard enough to manage its finances, according to a report by B.C.’s comptroller-general Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland.

The report, released Friday, partly blamed TransLink’s woes on conflicting interests and “ineffective communication” with the regional mayors’ council, its board of directors and the provincial government.

It is calling for the mayors’ council to be converted into a transit authority with 20 per cent of members appointed by the province. This council would be given more responsibility on who is hired and fired on the board, how much they are paid, and overseeing the board without assuming a management role.

“Inaction by TransLink and the mayors’ council to maintain a balance between expenses and revenues has brought TransLink to a point at which substantial operating deficits in 2010 and beyond will be difficult to avoid,” Wenezenki-Yolland wrote.

She added TransLink should have taken “earlier actions” to contain its rising debt, which has tripled since 2005. Yet it continued with an “unfunded expansion” of more buses and SkyTrain cars to boost ridership.

The report comes just two weeks after regional mayors approved a $130-million funding supplement to maintain transit services at existing levels. TransLink had sought $450-million per year to expand services.

It also comes one day after TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast announced his resignation.

In her report, Wenezenki-Yolland also looked into B.C. Ferries and called for a joint Transportation Commission to oversee both TransLink and B.C. Ferries.

“A properly resourced, larger Transportation Commission with a broader mandate would be in a position to provide a stronger, more consistent regulatory approach to these vital transportation systems,” she wrote.

Transportation Minister Shirley Bond said the suggestion of a joint commissioner “will warrant some exploring” as will some of the 20 recommendations brought forward to improve BC Ferries and TransLink and ensure taxpayers are getting value for money.

While Wenezenki-Yolland found salaries at TransLink were appropriate as they are only slighter higher than other large corporations, she noted the organization has far too many senior executives.

She also suggested TransLink change its planning structure from 10 years to three to five years to make it easier to get consensus on funding issues from all parties.

The TransLink board and the regional mayors have said they plan to lobby the province for expanded funding sources such as road pricing to help pay for more transit.

But the report noted that TransLink should ensure existing revenue sources, such as property and vehicle taxes, are maximized before looking at other sources of revenue.

“What the reports do not do is recommend a change to the models in place,” Bond said. “The good news is the comptroller-general doesn’t suggest for a minute we start over. This doesn’t mean the work at TransLink has to stop.”

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, head of the regional mayors’ council, said many of the recommendations were in line with what the mayors had been seeking for some time.

“All the stakeholders are needed at the table in order to move forward,” she said. “We still have the issue of funding to resolve. When you don’t have one of the partners at the table, the communication flow is not as good as it could be.”

Former TransLink chairman George Puil said although local municipalities should have a stronger voice, it was “ironic” that the report called for provincial representatives on the mayors’ council.

He noted this notion goes back to the old system when the NDP representative appointed to the board refused to attend meetings, citing a conflict.

“I don’t think the governance structure they have is working; they have too many masters and mistresses, whatever you want to call them,” he said. “We’re going back to square one.”