VANCOUVER, B.C. - TransLink is moving ahead with a plan that will see $1.9 billion injected into the Greater Vancouver Regional District's (GVRDs) roads, bridges and public transit system. This despit...
VANCOUVER, B.C. – TransLink is moving ahead with a plan that will see $1.9 billion injected into the Greater Vancouver Regional District’s (GVRDs) roads, bridges and public transit system. This despite suggestions from the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) that TransLink should reconsider some of its high price-tag items.
The spending was approved Dec. 10, just days after public consultations were completed – and the BCTA’s concerns were largely ignored.
That came as little surprise to the trucking association, which has pretty much resigned itself to the fact these decisions are often made long before the public consultations are even concluded.
“Essentially, TransLink has already decided what it is they want and they consult with a bunch of people and ask what they think and then TransLink goes ahead and do what they want,” a frustrated BCTA president, Paul Landry, told Truck West. “It’s kind of a drill now. It’s a routine we’re in here. Nonetheless, we feel obliged to express our concerns and tell them what we think. We knew going in that…basically the report is probably developed well in advance of any public consultations.”
Also announced Dec. 10 was the method of raising the funds – higher transit fares, a new parking fee and increased property taxes in the GVRD. TransLink is expecting to raise about $100 million per year through the new fees and tax increases. What the BCTA finds disconcerting about the funding plan, however, is that much of the planning was based on funding from the federal government.
“If this money is not forthcoming, TransLink will have to look to local taxpayers and/or the provincial government for support,” the BCTA said in a members’ news bulletin. “TransLink may also re-consider the ill-fated vehicle levy, which BCTA successfully lobbied against in 2000 or a system-wide road toll, which has also been touted.”
The BCTA was one of many groups that criticized TransLink’s transportation plan during the public consultation. The association condemned the regional transit body’s more expensive plans, such as its $370 million contribution to a transit line linking the Richmond-based airport with Vancouver.
TransLink chairman, Doug McCallum, acknowledged not everyone was happy with the plan.
“We have parts of the plan that people don’t like and we need to work with those people as we go over the next few years…to listen to their concerns,” said McCallum. “I think it’s a historic day for transportation in our region, that we’re going to move ahead now.”
Vancouver Coun. Fred Bass, who sits on the TransLink board, agreed with the BCTA about the RAV (Richmond Airport-Vancouver) line and voted against the plan.
“To push through a plan that incorporates the biggest public project ever to be done (in the Lower Mainland) and to not have the money in hand, not know where it’s coming from, and to spend all our money on RAV and roads is wrong,” Bass told local media.
Roads will be a benefactor of the new spending, with about $105 million earmarked for major roads in the Vancouver region. Minor roads will see $60 million in improvements. The new Fraser River crossing will proceed, with the bulk of the $600 million tab to be covered through the collection of tolls. Also, rehabilitation of the Pattullo, Knight St. and Westham Island Bridges will occur at a cost of about $54 million.
While the BCTA has always been in favour of TransLink spending more on road infrastructure, it has labelled the latest outlook as a “recipe for disaster.”
“While we agree on many of the principles enunciated in the Outlook, BCTA feels that the strategies chosen to deal with some of these issues are likely to fail,” the association said in its submission to TransLink. “Basically, BCTA remains concerned that TransLink’s plans are a recipe for rising taxes and debt, only modest improvements in transit’s ridership share and, except for targeted corridors, heightened levels of system-wide congestion.”
Also of concern is that TransLink’s annual expenditures are expected to rise 85 per cent by 2013 – from $640 million to $1.2 billion. The transit authority has said it will run out of money by 2006 without raising taxes. Running out of money isn’t an option, since it’s legislated that TransLink must carry a balanced budget. The BCTA says the entire province may be on the hook for TransLink’s expenditures if federal funding isn’t forthcoming, making it a truly provincial issue.
While much of the BCTA’s advice went unheeded, here are some of the suggestions contained in the association’s report to TransLink:
Don’t emphasize expensive and inflexible solutions: Rather than building an RAV transit line, the BCTA suggested using buses in exclusive transit lanes to transport people between the airport and Vancouver. It also suggested TransLink abandon plans to buy expensive trolley-buses and instead to opt for more cost-effective diesel buses.
Make more use of the private sector: BCTA feels TransLink should outsource some services (such as maintenance) and should give more consideration to private companies who can offer products and services in a mores cost-effective manner than existing contractors. “TransLink should be looking at ways to increase opportunities to use the private sector rather than reducing private sector involvement,” the BCTA says. “Indeed, given the public frustration with transit costs and service levels, it behooves TransLink to seriously consider the potential for a fully privatized public transit system.
Invest more in roads: Since a significant portion of provincial fuel taxes collected from road users are handed over to TransLink, the BCTA feels more of that money should be redirected back into the infrastructure. “TransLink needs to do more to reduce congestion for road users who cannot use transit as an alternative means of transportation. For example, TransLink should consider developing corridor plans that provide priority for goods movement, transit and high occupancy vehicles,” the BCTA contends.
TransLink should not increase taxes: While the TransLink plan did involve tax increases, the BCTA got its wish on this one – well, sort of. The BCTA urged TransLink not to increase fuel taxes or implement the vehicle levy that was considered in 2000. “Increasing fuel taxes or imposition of vehicle levies in conjunction with higher congestion costs would be a toxic mix for the Lower Mainland economy,” the BCTA cautioned. While increased property taxes were approved by TransLink, at least trucking won’t have to shoulder an unfair portion of the costs as it would under a fuel tax increase.
All in all, the BCTA feels TransLink’s vision is quite flawed, and that it’ll become quite clear over time.
“We still feel that we’ll be found to be right and at the end of all of this, we’ll have nothing but substantially higher taxes, a substantially higher debt load and very modest changes in terms of congestion,” said Landry. “There won’t be any reduction in congestion, but what might happen is the increasing levels of congestion might be mitigated slightly.”