Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mayors' Council Part 2

I thought I was done with the Mayors Council, but then I saw this - more whining from the Mayors

Opposition to the Referendum
  • “Referenda are tools without context and would be divisive to the region.” You have control over the referendum process.  You provide the context or lack thereof.  If you propose solutions that will divide the region, it will divide us. The region supports the LRSP and Transport 2040.  Show us the plan for that.  
  • “Making complex policy by referenda is contrary to principles of good governance.”  You are not making complex policy by referenda.  You are seeking approval of tax increase. 

All this is short for we don’t want to do the work to with the region to increase their taxes and improve their transit.  We want the province to force it on them instead.  How is that good governance and accountability, some of the key points on the Governance proposal?

Project Priorities
  • “Transit and road and bridge improvements need to be coordinated and implemented in a timely and expedited fashion to support the success of TransLink’s 2040, the Provincial Transit Pacific Gateway,”  September 23, 2010. 

So in 3.5 years, all the Mayors have managed to do is affirm they support the Transport 2040 vision.  A vision, even a strategy, is not a plan.  Neither the Base nor Supplemental 10 Year Plans discuss anything about what could or should be done if any of these major sources of funding become available, or how they will move us closer to the Transport 2040 vision.  So the Mayors are asking for new taxation to support a dream. 

I keep hearing the Mayors are unified.  They are unified in only two things – they want the province to increase their powers of taxation and they support the Transport 2040 plan.  Step one level below that though, and the unity falls apart.  Watch what happens when you ask
  • Which comes first – West Broadway or Surrey rapid transit?
  • Surface or grade separated?
  • What form of bike infrastructure should we focus on?

I can see the fur flying from here. 

What they’re asking for the province to give them $200 million more a year to support Transport 2040, with no visibility into how they will do it  Forget it.  That money will get lost, absorbed into operations, and frittered away as the Mayors bicker over what to do with it.  We’ve already seen that with the squabbles over the Millennium and Canada lines. 

Conversely, if they ask us for $200 million more a year from a vehicle levy, a region specific 0.25% sales tax, and a $2 toll on the Pattullo to help us reach Transport 2040 by
  • A subway along West Broadway to UBC  by 2020
  • A skytrain extension in Surrey to Newton by 2022
  •  A commuter rail a la Westcoast Express from Aldergrove by 2018
  •  Addition of 50km of separated bike lanes per year until 2030
  •  Extension of the Evergreen Line to PoCo by 2025
  • Park and Rides at 20 stations over the next 10 years
  • Frequent Transit Network expanded to the following routes....
  • etc

people will get onside.  We all know we need this stuff.  Share how this work will improve life for everyone along the way?   Now we see why of late most transit referenda are passed.  It’s an easy sell, if you’re willing to do the work.  Apparently Metro Vancouver mayors are not.  If you think they can’t sort this out now, wait till they actually have the money. 

Funding Solutions

  • “…the Mayors’ Council is against the use of property taxes as a further funding source…” So the Mayors are unwilling to use the existing tools they have, the tools which they bargained and gainedconcessions in other areas for, but they want the province to force new taxes on us? 
  • “Appropriate funding sources for TransLink will include the vehicle levy in the short term and road pricing in the long term and land value capture;” Sure, just tell us what you’re going to do with it.
  • “Emphasize that TransLink should not meet current budgets through service cuts or liquidation of assets” and “The Mayors’ Council has previously confirmed its view on additional short and long term funding sources" We’re not willing to live within our budgets or use the tools you already gave us to increase funding.
  • “As per the legislation, the Mayors’ Council will consider supplemental plans that include funding proposals with the extension of funding sources being the responsibility of the province in consultation with various parties” You give us the money; we spend it how we want.

Governance Proposal
Everyone agrees this needs to change. 

If the Mayors spent the energy they have fighting the referendum to actually preparing it and getting the people of the region onboard, they’d be halfway done already.  We’ve done enough visioneering:   LRSP, Transport 2040 and its predecessors, and regional growth strategies have been spouting visions out for decades

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Transit Referendum, or Be Careful What You Wish For…

We all have our stories about things we wished for so much, and then once we got them found out it was a burden, not a gift.  Translink would do well to remember this as they seek new governance and more money from the province. 

All of the mayoral complaints boil down to the same thing: “the big bad Province won’t give us what we want.”  What do they want? 
  1. A blank cheque
  2. Complete authority to decide where to spend it

Where does the province fit into this?  They provide item 1.  Then go away. 

The province, rightfully, said hold on, we gave you that authority and changed the funding structure so you could own it 15 years ago.  But all you did was bicker for the first 10 years, fight with us when we offered to pay for major improvements, and blow every gas tax increase we gave you.  So we took control back, but still left you with oversight and final authority.  You want us to go back to the old way and give you more money?

The Mayors should be grateful the province didn’t spit in their face.  To their credit, the province is willing to discuss governance reform and is willing to commit 1/3 of costs to new rapid transit systems as well as the Pattullo replacement as a starting point. 

As for other money the province said
  1. It needs to come from your region (you can’t tax the provinces stuff)
  2. Your people need to agree (hold a referendum)

This is seen as an offence by those who consider the province the rich benefactor.  Those of us who lived here prior to 2007 think it’s not a bad check on their power.  Translink is dysfunctional now?   I remember when the cities were in charge…

A major strike that ended in back to work legislation.  Planning and building systems on funding not yet committed, let alone in place (federal gas tax, vehicle levy), the blaming everyone else when they have to make ‘cuts.’  Every time the province has come with funding for a major system, the board or equivalent fought with the province pushing for their own agenda instead of working with the province. Despite that, they have managed to find and gain significant funding from a variety of sources such as
  • Increased fares, fuel and property taxes ($80 million / year)
  • Increase parking sales tax from 7% to 21%
  •  Expand parking taxes to cover all off street parking $18 million / year (later replaced with more property tax)
  • New Deal for Cities ($60 million / year)
  • Additional 3 cent gas tax
  • Regular property tax and fare increases

As well, Translink did pass the vehicle levy in an attempt to generate additional funding.  But the NDP pulled the rug out from this. 

I think it speaks volumes that all rapid transit in Metro Vancouver has been driven by the province.  Expo Line?  Mid-80’s, transit was fully provincial.  Millenium Line?  Put together by the province just as Translink was being created.  Canada Line?  Shoved down Translink’s throat by the province.  Evergreen Line?  Finally going with the provincially appointed Board of Director’s.  Curiously, most of those were done under Liberal/Socred governments.  All this in a period when the federal government was practically shoving money out the door for infrastructure improvement. 

In short: the region wanted control over transit funding and operations and the province to butt out.  They got it and then some, trading provincial funding for municipal taxes and control over those taxes and operation.   But, surprise surprise, 22 municipalities couldn’t agree on what to do or how to do it.  To their credit, after 10 years the province recognized this and put an end to it.  Enter cries of ‘undemocratic’ etc.

The province is doing what it needs to do. It is responsible for inter-municpal transport, and can’t let the region or province wither while the Mayors bicker.  This is a ‘crisis’ of the Mayor’s own creation.  First by insisting on control, then by failing to manage it, and finally by whining when taken to task for it. 

If anything, this demonstrates why these major transit initiatives and inter-municipal transport should remain with the province.  Translink and the municipalities have shown them incapable of managing it to date. The first step to getting back on track would be to take this referendum as an opportunity.  Stop whining about it.  Todd Stone’s letter calls for the Mayors to define a vision with priorities and costs.  The vision thing is good – we've done that a dozen times by now.  What we need are for the Mayors to hammer out priorities and costs. 

So Mayors - we all want better transit for the region, and I believe most of us are willing to pay for it. I certainly am. But before we cut you the cheque, show us that you can work together as a region.  Show us what you’re going to buy with our money, when we’re going to get it, and how it will improve things for us.  If it’s reasonable, we’ll give you the money.  But if you’re not willing to do that, then you don’t deserve it, and we all will suffer for your pride.