France Bula does an even-handed article – How Vancouver’s Olympic Legacy Is Shaping the Future of Transit – for ULI’s UrbanLand magazine here.
Much of the piece is about the legal and financial structure of the Canada Line that was used to transfer risk from the public to private sectors – or at least the justifications used for the P3. Bula sums it up:
Before the project was built, a TransLink subsidiary determined that the public would save C$92 million (US$84 million) overall, compared with the cost of doing the project the traditional way. That assessment, however, is based on assigning $260 million to all those risks InTransitBc was assigned—risks that may or may not actually cost the company real money. Take that risk premium away, and traditional construction penciled out $141 million cheaper.
Matti Siemiatycki, a University of Toronto professor of geography and planning, notes that P3s often appear on paper to be a better value because of these risk premiums. But he says there often are “no publicly available data to determine whether such large premiums are empirically warranted.”
After reviewing “value for money” reports from Vancouver and other Canadian P3s, Siemiatycki concluded that P3s “are an expensive way of delivering infrastructure.” Then again, cost overruns often made traditional projects expensive, too.
TransLink did accept the risk of ridership: if the Canada Line didn’t draw sufficient patronage, it would have to make up payments for the difference. But because of the line’s success, drawing well over 100,ooo passengers per day, that turned out to be a safe bet.
All the more interesting, then, to see how little debate there is over the risk assumed by such motordom projects as the Golden Ears, Port Mann and now the Massey bridges. Even as more data comes in on the drop in driving and the failure of tolled projects to meet their projections (see, again, Clem 7, etc.), the multi-billion dollar projects still keep rolling out.
So here we are: unquestioned success with transit, failure with motordom. And yet, we will be putting transit at risk with the referendum and, if it fails, plowing ahead with more road-and-bridge projects.
Here’s an easy prediction Even if the referendum includes the Pattullo Bridge in its list of projects to be funded – and the initiative is defeated – the bridge will still go ahead.
Regardless of risk, it’s always Motordom by Default.