From Pat Gooch, PT reader:
From PT commenter Nevin:
My advice to the Yes Campaign is this:
Even though it is not on the ballot, defend TransLink . There is plenty of evidence that it does a reasonable job with its funds and that wastage accounts for no more than 1%. See the following for ammunition:
Defend our transit system. While not perfect it is among the best in North America.
While this video has had a lot of play (for good reason; it uses humour), it nonetheless does the No side’s job: it reinforces, right at the beginning, the meme that TransLink (and political leaders) are despicable.
And therefore, unintentionally, justifies a no vote.
UPDATE: Further to Nevin’s link, more from Daryl Dela Cruz (one of Surrey’s most amazing 19-year-0lds):
From Peter Ladner:
Former CEO Pat Jacobsen on Plan B (phone interview for my next Business in Vancouver column):
“A No vote will do nothing to improve TransLink. It will be very difficult to find a new [permanent] CEO. TransLink will be unable to maintain its aging physical plant. It will continue to lose public confidence, and it will spiral downwards.”
McGarrigle said Metro Vancouver can’t “afford” to lose the vote to the No side (where) “we buy into a future where all taxes are bad, where public services are starved of funds, where our roads aren’t upgraded and where transit can’t keep up. And we can give into a future where the gloom of cynicism descends over the region like a stifling blanket while congestion increasingly costs us all more time and more money and more expensive choices down the road.”
– Gavin McGarrigle, Co-chair of Better Transit and Transportation Coalition and provincial director of Unifor, in NRU (Feb 10, 2015)
Iain Black is President and CEO of The Vancouver Board of Trade. And despite the title, he gives one of the best reasons for voting Yes: an end to ‘Plan B’ parochialism.
Voting “NO” a bridge to nowhere
“More stuff” is the most compelling argument as to why this referendum should pass. Simply, for the first time in Canadian history, we have an opportunity to direct our tax dollars to a very specific list of expenditures (with legislated transparency and auditability) to, in this case, produce meaningful improvements to our transit and transportation network. 400 more buses (from 1800 or so to 2200), 129 more passenger cars for SkyTrain, 10 more cars for the West Coast Express (plus an extra locomotive!), a 50% increase in SeaBus service… The list goes on and on. …
Meanwhile, the “NO” arguments have emerged and, predictably, are either out of context, or grossly oversimplified. One of my personal favorites, though, is the suggestion that voting “NO” will force the appearance of a mysterious “Plan B” to emerge as to how to move the region forward in transit and transportation planning.
Actually, “Plan B” is not a mystery at all. It’s called “the status quo”. …
This is the “Plan B”: a return to an uncertain list of transportation priorities, with each one subject to parochial bartering by mayors tempted to focus on the interests of their own municipalities instead of the broader interests of the region, and no certainty (and a separate multi-year political process needed) as to how the municipalities will fund their portion. The status quo leaves citizens and business owners standing by helplessly as investments in transportation fail to get out of the starting blocks, and it’s why our goods don’t move properly, and why we have gridlock now – before the 1 million additional people arrive over the next 25 years.
Alternatively, we have in front of us an unprecedented, laudable, agreement from the current Mayors Council on a 10-year transportation and transit plan – a clear commitment as to their priorities. Further, by identifying in advance the funding source for the municipal portion of the plan, it will be easier to attract the funding from the crucial senior government partners.
Voting “YES” is the only rational choice to meaningfully move the region forward past decades of paralysis and dysfunctional decision making. Beyond the long list of new hardware, with a “YES” vote we can put the status quo behind us, and actually bring an end to the horror movie.
A blunt-talkin’ Millennial from SFU. Three good reasons to reprint this from Burnaby News:
7 Reasons Millennials Should Vote Yes on the Transit Referendum
Tax hike? F*ck no. That is pretty much the central intellectual argument put forth by Jordan Bateman, and his loyal penny-pinching minion’s at the right wing think tank the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. They cloak their general aversion to taxation of any kind, by focusing their campaign of anger on Translink and its perceived, and in some cases, real, inadequacies. What Bateman fails to relay is that Translink is not the ballot question. Transportation expansion, congestion reduction, and how fund to fund these goals, is. Here are six reasons why voting yes will be in your best interest for the transit referendum.
1. 80% more night bus service
Anyone from the burbs who’s partied downtown on the weekends and missed the last Skytrain knows the night bus service is infrequent, over packed, and in desperate need of expansion. By voting, yes, you’re also endorsing a plan by the mayor’s council to increase services by 80%.
2. More cycling paths
For all the cycling enthusiasts, if the Yes side wins get stoked for 2700km of new bikeway paths in the Metro-Vancouver region.
3. Reducing congestion for drivers
You don’t need to take public transit to feel the benefits of increased transportation options. Increased transportation options don’t merely take people out of cars but will also relieve congestion in Metro-Vancouver by 20%.
4. Surrey Light Rail Line
A yes vote will help ensure Surrey will receive a light rail service that will extend all the way to Langley.
5. A Broadway Subway Line
Voting yes will green light a tunnelled sky-trainline down the Broadway corridor in Vancouver.
6. New Pattullo Bridge
The Pattullo Bridge is rapidly deteriorating and frightening to drive on. If the transit referendum succeeds a new bridge can begin construction.
7. The reality of voting no will be much scarier than a slight increase of 0.5% in the sales tax
Without necessary funding after taxpayers in Washington State rejected a similar regional proposal, their transit provider was forced to cut up to 25% of services on individual routes.
Zachary Paradis is a third-year SFU student working towards a major in Political Science and minor in Communications.
Cities with better transit have fewer traffic fatalities: study
Vancouver has about one-tenth the traffic fatalities as an automobile-dependent city like Houston, Texas
If you want to reduce your risk of dying in a car accident, then you should live in a city with lots of public transit and high transit ridership.
That’s the conclusion of Todd Litman, an urban planner who specializes in transit and is the executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. He recently published his findings on transit and safety in the Journal of Public Transportation.
“Vancouver has a much lower fatality rate than most North American cities, and you could essentially say it’s because Vancouver has committed to multi-modal transportation and smart-growth development patterns,” Litman said, referring to planning decisions to boost the number of pedestrian, bike and transit trips and build higher-density residential buildings near transit.
“Vancouver has about a tenth of the traffic fatality rate as in automobile dependent cities.”
Cities that have increased transit have higher ridership, and also fewer traffic fatalities. Source: A New Transit Safety Narrative by Todd Litman
From “a whole minute”:
Whether you drive or not, you are paying a sales tax for parking amounting to about 1% of all your retail purchases.
I have long wondered: When I shop, how much am I paying for the parking lot? A supermarket lot is usually as large as the store itself, if not larger. That land doesn’t come cheap. Even plain asphalt has construction costs too. The only way the retailer can recoup that investment is by increasing prices. Free parking therefore amounts to a subsidy from non-drivers to drivers. But is it significant? Can it be calculated?
Calculating the Cost
The largest costs for operating a retail store are typically stock, staffing and rent. According to the Business Development Bank of Canada, rent amounts to approximately 8.5% of all costs.
The cost of rent is proportional to the cost of developing the building in the first place. This includes parking, regardless of whether it is in a parkade (spaces typically cost $40,000 and up) or surface parking (where costs are closer to $10,000 per space). The Victoria Transport Policy Institute cites 10% as the proportion of development costs that go parking for the typical building development.
If, on average, rent is 8.5% of costs, and parking is 10% of rent, then parking is 0.85% of the retailer’s costs. The retailer covers those costs by passing them on to the consumer. You and I are paying that 0.85% …
It’s a Tax
This subsidy is like a tax, as governments require developers to build parking. For consumers the effect is the same as if the government collected the tax and built the parking itself. This is effectively a privately administered sales tax.
As a result, drivers are being subsidized by those who walk, bike, or take transit. When you walk to your supermarket, 1% of what you spend is going to those who drive instead. …
Claims by the pro-TransLink tax campaign that a NO vote will cause cancer, dementia and strokes, shows how desperate the YES campaign has come, the No TransLink Tax campaign said today.. UBC professor Kay Teschke made the claim yesterday to News 1130, after TransLink YES campaigner Gordon Price posted her statements to his blog.
- A very recent study done in the Seattle area (attached) showed that those who use public transit regularly get about 15 minutes more overall physical activity per day (~4,000 minutes a year).
- Other studies have shown that getting your daily exercise in transport trips is easier for people to maintain than special exercise programs like going to the gym.
- Larry Frank and others have studied the relationship between transit, walking, driving and body weight, and found those who have to drive more are more likely to be overweight.
- The World Health Organization oversaw a scientific literature review (attached) called “Global Burden of Disease Study 2010”. It names high body mass index (overweight) as the number 2 risk factor for disease in Canada and the US, physical activity number 5, and particulate air pollution number 14.
- It lists the following diseases as outcomes of overweight: esophageal cancer, gallbladder and biliary tract cancer, kidney cancer, uterine cancer, colon and rectal cancer, diabetes, ischemic and many other types of heart disease, stroke, vascular disease, osteoarthritis, and kidney disease (p. 2231)
- It lists the following diseases as outcomes of physical inactivity: breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and stroke (p. 2231)
- It lists the following diseases as outcomes of particulate air pollution: lower respiratory infections, lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (p. 2227)
- The evidence on dementia is indirect in the Global Burden of Disease report, via the strong link between dementia and diabetes. But dementia is also related to inactivity directly. A recent British study assesses health gains from active transportation and ranks the gains for each of several diseases (Table 8). It concluded that dementia was the disease with the 3rd highest benefits from active transportation.
Table 8: Click to enlarge
- Finally, the health issue that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves is the great traffic safety record of transit. Todd Litman summarizes the evidence: one-tenth the injury rate in transit travel compared to driving. This results in one-fifth the per capita traffic injuries in transit-oriented communities compared to auto-oriented ones.
PT asked “Human Transit” blogger and transportation consultant Jarrett Walker if he had any thoughts on the referendum. Of course he did – with comments applicable to such votes on either side of the border.
Here’s his first piece on the subject:
Basics: should I vote for a transit tax?
In the United States, but occasionally in Canada too, voters are asked to decide whether to raise their taxes to fund transit improvements. I’m often asked whether I support these things. I don’t like telling people how to vote, but I can point out some predictable patterns in the arguments, and some universal facts about transit that you need to keep in mind.
1. In growing urban areas, transit needs grow faster than tax revenues.
This problem is mathematically inevitable.
As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America. This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit.
In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population. Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing, but indepedently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service. Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.
However, existing revenue sources are usually growing, on average, no faster than population. The various tax streams that support transit have a range of differences, but they are not going to grow massively faster than the population is growing.
So if the city is growing denser, transit needs are growing faster than transit revenues. This is nobody’s fault. It’s a mathematical fact about the geometry of transit and density.
If transit and roads were thought about together, you would not see this expontential growth in total transportation spending, because as populations grow denser, they need fewer highway lanes per capita — precisely because they’re using transit, walking, and cycling so much more. But we usually don’t think about those things together, unfortunately.
2. As transit demand grows, you sometimes need a major project.
As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel. Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses. I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles, Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.
Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed. In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight. In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.
These big projects require huge lumps of money. So as transit demand grows, its revenue needs don’t just grow faster, they grow in a lumpier way, with big chunks of money needed at once.
3. Not all rail projects are about improving transit.
Note, however, that not all rail projects are intended to solve capacity problems and increase the mobility of large numbers of people. Some are designed to stimulate development. (Many do a mixture of both, but the degree of mixture matters because the reasons to support them are so different.) For example, a proposed transit line may connect major destinations, or it may head off into an area where few people live now, solely to trigger development that will put more people there in the future.
Stimulating urban development can be a very good thing, but when you see those arguments you may want to ask these things:
- Do we really need this project, or would development happen anyway? The claim that rail is needed for development is impossible to test and extremely debatable. What’s more, because it’s a claim about current attitudes in the real estate market, the right answer yesterday may not be the right answer tomorrow.
- If developers and landowners are making big money off of this rail line that doesn’t seem to be serving the existing city very well, are they also contributing to the cost? Sometimes they are, though various kinds of local assessment districts.
- Does the proposed development have enough affordable housing that it will help build a diverse and complete city, or will it only attract the wealthy? If low-income people will be priced out, and forced to live in suburban areas where transit is much more difficult to provide, then the project could even have a net negative impact on the overall usefulness of transit in the city. You may also be forcing low-income people to buy more cars, which is bad for the city and also helps keep them poor.
Again, these questions apply only to a big project whose evident purpose is predominantly to stimulate development, rather than to serve the city as it is.
4. Who is for and against? (But don’t overreact!)
Everyone looks at this, and it’s a big source of hysteria.
All tax measures will have opposition from the political right. In most US contexts, for example, you can write off anywhere from 25% to 40% of the vote if you are proposing taxes for anything at all.
You will also hear lots of dark tales about the supporters. Your proposed measure is probably supported by engineering firms, urban real estate interests, transit labor unions, and anyone else who’s going to be personally enriched if the measure passes. This is normal and boring and should not affect your vote. Never vote no on a measure just because people are supporting it for partly selfish reasons. Those motives are in play in any campaign for anything.
Likewise, you should never vote one way or another because of how you feel about the campaign. Campaigns are thrown together quickly, work under immense time pressure, and usually make mistakes. The campaign will be over soon, but the effects of your vote will last much longer.
But here is one thing to watch for. You should be alarmed if there is a significant argument against the measure coming from people who usually support transit taxes. Opposition by environmentalist or progressive transportation policy groups should be a yellow flag. Unlike the political right, these people really want measures they can vote yes on, so if they’re voting no there is probably something wrong.
I don’t mean, of course, to give every self-proclaimed transit advocate a veto. As in any business, some of them are crackpots. But this opposition should be concerning. Notice it if it exists, or if it doesn’t.
5. But the transit agency looks so wasteful …
This is a tough one, because I can’t promise it isn’t true.
But be suspicious of what the anti-tax folks point out. Many things that look like waste make sense in another light. Your transit agency may also have tried something that didn’t work out well — they make mistakes, like anyone. They’ve probably spent money on things that are easy to ridicule from certain quarters, like public art or maybe driver restrooms that someone thinks are too grand, though often these are the result of complex agreements that help get a transit project built.
6. But the managers have such big salaries!
You’d better hope they do. These are complex jobs with appalling responsibilities. Many of the people in them could go to the private sector and make ten times as much. The best of them are in this business because they believe in it.
People expect transit executives to do impossible things every day — like run buses on time in wildly variable congestion, or cut labor costs without setting off rebellion in the workforce, or run service wherever anywhere anyone feels entitled to it no matter what the cost. The political pressures on them are off the charts. You may think you could do the job better, but you probably couldn’t. Not every transit executive deserves that compensation, but in those cases the problem is usually the executive, not the compensation.
In any case, executive compensation is trivial in the context of transit agency budgets. It’s the compensation and management of the whole labor force, especially bus and train drivers and mechanics, that determines how efficient the agency is, and how much service you’ll have. I am not defending every executive perk or unnecessary management position; I’ve seen plenty of waste in my career. But cutting executive wages will not unlock much money for better service.
My own view is that transit executives — indeed, all transit staffs — should be paid very well and should face very high expectations, especially for clarity about what the real issues are. You have a right to clear and transparent communication from your transit agency that helps everyone understand the choices are facing your community, how they’re being addressed, and what to do if you disagree.
Maybe your transit agency isn’t like that. Maybe you’re really mad at them.
Well, if you don’t like the management of your water department, does that mean you don’t need water?
Voting no on urgently needed things is a poor way to protest waste and inefficiency in government. Instead, get involved in fighting those issues. Send your elected officials a letter saying “Don’t you dare read my vote for this as support for that!” Find other ways to keep up pressure if you think it’s warranted. These communications always have more impact than most voters realize.
7. If you’re still confused, vote yes.
Why? Because most people do the opposite. They vote no if they don’t understand, which is why it’s hard to get anything done. If you vote yes, you’re no more likely to be wrong than the no-voter is, and in a world where government often can’t seem to do anything, you’re voting for doing something. That sends an important signal in itself.
As a transit advocate, I’ve voted no on a couple of transit measures in my time, always with great regret as well as frustration. But usually, even if the plan contained something I object to, I’ve voted yes. Even a project that achieves its outcomes inefficiently usually achieves something. Even a project that’s solely designed to trigger condos for the very rich will at least get more rich people into the inner city, where they will then start caring about transit and supporting the kinds of transit a rich and vibrant city really needs. And while the failure of a ballot measure may be because of public objections to how the money was to be spent, lazy jouralists and elected officials often treats it as a no to transit itself, so it often takes years to get another measure going.
But if confused, it comes down to this:
All the other confused people are voting no. So vote yes.
“In those cities that have high-quality transit, the average household is spending $500 to $1,000 less per capita on transportation, plus these very significant reductions in traffic fatality rates and public health and parking cost savings. …
A reprint of my Business in Vancouver column from October 2013:
Building better Metro Vancouver transit is the key to revitalizing the region’s major malls
Like any fast-growing community, Surrey has choices when shaping its future. And you can see a pretty good indicator behind which door that future will unfold at 104th Avenue and 152nd Street.
The intersection is home to Guildford Town Centre with its almost-finished $280 million redevelopment. Part of the redesign included the entrance – the architectural statement that says, “Here we are, come on in” – and that door faces the parking lots off 152nd Street.
This six-lane arterial leads directly to an upgraded interchange on Highway 1 just east of the Port Mann Bridge, allowing Guildford to more easily reel in all those consumers south of the Fraser. So naturally, there’s lots of free parking out front, with additional space added on the roof of Wal-Mart and in multi-level garages – a necessity given that anchor tenants insist there be five spaces for every thousand square feet.
You’d suppose that the owners of the mall, Ivanhoé Cambridge, would be just fine with this. Shopping malls, after all, are a product of the automobile age: the “downtowns” of post-war suburbia. But, in fact, what mall owners see on those acres of asphalt is lost opportunity. They would like nothing better than to convince their retailers that no, you don’t need all that parking; we have a much better idea – namely denser development – and it doesn’t include accommodating the peak demand just before Christmas, especially when structured parking costs $60,000 a space.
But to do that, they first need one key thing: transit – especially on rail lines leading right to their door. In this case, a door facing 104th Avenue.
Graeme Silvera, Ivanhoé Cambridge’s western VP for retail development, knows what a difference transit can make: his portfolio includes the redevelopment of both Guildford and Oakridge shopping centres, the latter also going through redevelopment.
The Canada Line is doing for Oakridge what Highway 1 did for Guildford, but it allows for a very different kind of redevelopment: the creation of a truly mixed, truly urban town centre.
Silvera’s job is to get the parking ratio down to the lowest realistic number he can – ideally 3.5 spaces per thousand square feet.
If that piece of the puzzle can be achieved, the company can then more than double commercial and office space at Oakridge, and, better yet, increase residential development to 2.7 million square feet from 50,000 – also without having to develop an excess amount of parking.
Silvera notes that owners, retailers and developers are not doing this because of a close reading of the vision statements in regional plans; it’s because they’ve seen the numbers.
After the Canada Line started to deliver customers to Oakridge, Ivanhoé was amazed to see a significant drop in car traffic even as retail sales stayed buoyant at one of the best-performing properties in Canada – a high-fashion mall whose customers, one might think, would not be choosing to come by transit. But one would be wrong.
The most convincing case for transit was empty asphalt without empty cash registers.
“Malls are living organisms,” said Silvera, and they need to be refreshed or they die. Oakridge is being rebuilt because of transit, Guildford because of roads. But, according to Silvera, if light-rail transit was built down 104th Avenue, “we would start replanning the mall the next day.”
Ideally, the train would be integrated right into the fabric of the centre, meaning a new entrance – and that door would be facing 104th.
Brentwood, Lougheed and Metrotown are also being rebuilt into more transit-oriented centres, becoming the high streets of new residential communities, with new public spaces connecting to the transit lines which feed them. But without the prospect of transit south of the Fraser, its future will be car-dependent.
Malls are the indicator species of the communities that surround them.
They too can be refreshed by transit to handle growth – or we can build bigger roads, vaster parking lots and more sprawling suburbs. That’s the choice of futures facing the region with the upcoming referendum on transit funding.
We can face 152nd or we can face 104th. •