Metro Vancouver Transit Funding’s Ongoing Saga – May 2016


Okay, let’s start by looking at some of the numbers being bandied about in the news.

First off. There’s the one constant in this picture. Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals have promised to pay for 50% of the funds for infrastructure projects across the country.

Here’s what the other two levels of government have offered.

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Surrey LRT – Support and Funding

The conversation for expanded fixed rail transit in Surrey continues to roll along. Metro Vancouver’s second largest municipality by population and largest by land area is still trying to push forward after the failed transit plebiscitie/referendum of 2015.


A few things have happened in the past year that may help Surrey get its long-desired LRT.

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UBC-Broadway & Surrey Rapid Transit


Is it just me or does transit news only ever get released on Fridays?

On Friday, the papers were abuzz again about the UBC Broadway Rapid Transit corridor.  A KPMG report prepared for the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia pushes for a fully underground rapid transit line connecting UBC to the Broadway-Commercial area.  Outside of Downtown Vancouver, the Central Broadway Corridor is the second largest employment centre in the region.  UBC is the largest transit destination outside of the downtown core.  So in terms of need, the UBC-Broadway corridor should have top priority.

It’s not a very pretty map, but it illustrates how the Central Broadway area is home to the most jobs next to Downtown Vancouver.

Of course, life is not so simple when politics and public funding are involved.  The case for a UBC rapid transit line is convincing and I think few would argue against the need for rapid transit along West Broadway.  Vancouver already benefits from the Expo, Millennium, and Canada Lines.  The Tri-Cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody are about to get the Evergreen Line.  The most neglected area for transit in general is South of the Fraser.  Surrey currently is served by 4 stations along the Expo Line.

Surrey may not be the second largest employer in the region, but it is the fastest growing municipality in Metro Vancouver.  It has a definite need for transit, but in a very different form.  The City of Surrey is looking to create an light rail transit (LRT) line.  The TransLink site has some possible design alternatives.  The LRT 1 alternative probably covers the most ground with a rail option.


The need for both rapid transit projects is clear.  The UBC-Broadway line would serve a pre-existing and heavily used transit corridor.  The Surrey LRT would help the fastest growing city in Metro to grow in a more transit oriented fashion.  Both are important to the health and sustainability of Metro Vancouver.

It comes back again to funding.  Who is paying for these projects?  TransLink is caught between the city and provincial level.  The province doesn’t want to look like they are taking money from the rest of B.C. to pay for “Metro Vancouver” projects.  The cities are adverse to raising property taxes any further to pay for expansion and operations of TransLink.  Mayors like Delta’s Lois Jackson are ready to pull out of Metro because her area is under-served by transit.

There have been calls for a national strategy for cities.  The US and many other nations have such strategies, but our federal government has not done much in terms of these overriding national strategies in urban issues, housing, and transportation.  There is absolutely no national plan for any of those issues. Again, it’s the funding hot potato that keeps being bounced from government to government.

The likelihood of projects like the two aforementioned rapid transit projects are not very likely to get off the ground.  Many people talk about the need for such projects, but governments and taxpayers alike are not very willing to put their money in these important projects.  Until then, our infrastructure deficit will continue to grow and we’ll still be driving all around Surrey or crushed like sardines on the 99 B-Line along West Broadway.  And that’s quite a shame.

VanSun says “Transit taxes odious but necessary…”

Transit taxes odious but necessary for growth of city — Vancouver Sun, July 13, 2011

Skytrain in the Grandview Cut

It’s not everyday that I agree with editorial from the Vancouver Sun. The Vancouver Sun weighs in after Christy Clark “throws Blair Lekstrom under the Evergreen Line.

It’s nice to see for once a mainstream newspaper supporting transit initiatives and funding for transit in general. The Vancouver Sun makes a few good points about the proposed 2-cent a litre gas tax.

But taxes should never be considered on their own. The first question has to be whether we want to proceed with the Evergreen Line and the other improvements that are part of the plan now being put out for public comment.

If we don’t want or need the improvements, there is no necessity for any new or increased taxes. But if we agree that we want transit improvements, and the consensus now among the mayors who are elected to represent the views of the constituents in their respective municipalities is that we do, then we have to pay for them.

The editorial staff at the Vancouver Sun are actually looking at the big picture instead of just focusing on the tax itself.  We all want to be able to get around better in this region.  The Evergreen Line will help ease some of the traffic woes in the Northeast Sector and open up more transit travel in and out of the area.

Provincial politicians have been able to appear to side with taxpayers while dodging any responsibility for the consequences of failing to provide the infrastructure necessary to keep up with growth.

We can have a useful discussion about what form the taxation will take to pay for transit and what segments of the travelling public should pay what share.

What won’t help is to pretend we can continue to build cities with a premium quality of life with no additional costs.

Yes, please. Let’s continue to stick our heads in the sand and demand transit without figuring out how to pay for it.  Previous provincial administrations have already shot down the previous vehicle levy and parking stall tax proposals without providing viable funding alternatives for TransLink.

James: TTC teeters on the brink of expansion –

James: TTC teeters on the brink of expansion –

St. Clair West - southbound

It pains me to see what has happened in Toronto.  In the previous municipal government, there was the Transit City plan, which would have spread light rail across the city proper.  There would have been 8 light rail lines, running on surface, that would have covered most of Toronto.

Now with the new Rob Ford administration in charge of Toronto, the light rail plans have been shelved for fewer lines with a higher cost per line. Just read some of the comments from Royson James article in The Toronto Star.

James points out some of the glaring deficiencies of the new transit plans:

They are pursing a subway along Sheppard — only because the new mayor has ordered them to; and they’ve relented, despite the better judgment and wishes of transit staff. Meanwhile, a fully-funded light rail line along Sheppard has been shelved.

The lone transit project running through the city’s poor northwest region along Finch Ave., through priority neighbourhoods Branson, Jane-Finch and Rexdale, has been mothballed to pay for the Sheppard subway dream and the expanded and more expensive vision on Eglinton.

David Gunn, a former TTC boss, says the following:

Stations on the Spadina line extension are unnecessarily expensive, he says. Metrolinx’s plan for a the Eglinton light rail subway is “crazy” and “insane” as it uses a different track gauge than the rest of the TTC, and uses a car that is twice as costly as a subway but with less capacity.

Then there’s the Presto debit card issue:

Transit users don’t know what to believe on basic transit matters. A year ago, the former regime was hell bent on avoiding the province’s Presto debit card fare payment system rolled out with other transit bodies across the GTA. Now, the Ford backers are in bed with Presto. Was former chair Adam Giambrone correct in his claims Presto was not flexible enough and will doom the TTC to a technology other transit bodies are moving away from? The customer does not know whom to trust.

Oh Toronto.  How I feel for your transit woes.

“Mayors” recommend gas levy to pay for Evergreen Line

Mayors recommend gas levy to pay for Evergreen Line.

Port Moody Evergreen Line Station

Rendering of Port Moody Evergreen Line Station with adjacent West Coast Express platform (image from BC Ministry of Transportation)

The Province of BC has recommended a 2-cent gas hike for the Fall of 2011 to raise $40 million in funding for TransLink.  I say the province instead of the mayors because the mayors did offer other alternatives to the gas hike.  The Province newspaper’s headline is misleading.

The mayors offered up taking money from the carbon tax and the vehicle levy as a couple of alternatives in previous meetings with the Minister of Transport, Brian Lekstrom.  However, the minister says that those funding methods require changes in legislation.  However, I think they would be better alternatives.

The BC Liberals made the carbon tax revenue neutral.  Revenue neutrality has a nice ring to it, but the carbon tax could be so much more.  Moving money from carbon intense activities to fund carbon-low or carbon-free activities just make sense.  Transit projects in general qualify as carbon-low.  The carbon tax could help fund new capital costs like the Evergreen Line.

Then there’s the vehicle levy.  This was one of the original funding tools proposed when TransLink was created.  However, the BC NDP government of the time feared public opposition and canned the idea.  I still like the vehicle levy.  Think of it as a way to pay to maintain our bridge, road, and transit infrastructure.  Instead of paying per use like a toll, you could pay the annual vehicle levy that covers your travel through the region.  If you are driving a smaller vehicle, you could pay for less of a vehicle levy than your larger vehicle compatriots.  For those who run a business with a large vehicle, we could knock their fee down a level as a discount because they must drive for work.

I just think the carbon tax and vehicle levy should be seriously looked at as funding alternatives for TransLink.  Don’t forget that TransLink also operates and maintains many road and bridges in the region including the Knight Street Bridge, the Patullo Bridge, and the Dollarton Highway.  TransLink is more than transit.

LRT in Waterloo-Kitchener – growing region


PM announces improvements for tri-cities commuters – Prime Minister of Canada.

It’s not everyday that I take my blog fodder straight from the Prime Minister’s office.  Most of the time, I would say I disagree with most of what our current Prime Minister does.  This one of the few projects that I can say that the Federal Tories have gotten right.

Unfortunately, the press release from the PMO is short on details.  The project website’s press release is a little more forthcoming with numbers.

The Government of Canada will provide one-third of eligible costs, up to $265 million to support the construction of the Region’s rapid transit project. Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to Waterloo Region today to make the announcement.

In light of the Federal government’s funding commitment today and the Province of Ontario ’s commitment of $300 million, the Region can now move forward with the planning of the project’s scope, design details, cost and Regional funding options.

This kind of funding structure looks consistent with what we deal with here in BC when trying to get our projects moving. It’s the every level of government pay one-third for a transit project formula.

It’s exciting to see another Canadian region get rapid transit.  So Montreal and Toronto have had their subway systems for quite some time now.  Then Edmonton and Calgary both built LRT.  Vancouver got SkyTrain in 85/86.  Ottawa has their O-Train + Busway combo (now being converted to LRT).  So add Kitchener-Waterloo to the big leagues of Canadian transit.

With a regional population just around 500,000, it is definitely not a heavyweight in terms of population compared to all the other cities.  Even Mississauga has more people than the Waterloo region.  However, the Waterloo region is definitely growing in importance on the Canadian landscape.  The University of Waterloo has been a fixture in Waterloo for many, many years and is considered one of the top universities in the country.  I knew them first as the creators of the Canadian Mathematics Contests for Grades 8 – 12.  And I’m sure everyone knows somebody with a Blackberry.  Research In Motion hails from the Waterloo region and has taken advantage of the university population of the area.  Even Google has set up an office in town.  So no wonder even Stephen Harper has jumped on the transit bandwagon for the Waterloo region.

Route Map December 2009

Waterloo LRT map

The green portion is Phase 1 of the planned LRT.  It starts in the northern part of Waterloo at Conestoga Mall and makes it way southeast past the University of Waterloo, Uptown Waterloo, Downtown Kitchener, and ends at Fairview Mall.  Then a BRT line continues from Fairview Mall to serve the eastern parts of Kitchener and the city of Cambridge.  This latter BRT segment may be turned into LRT at a later time.

Now that funding is in place, chances of construction starting in 2012 as advertised is pretty good.  I would say that it is more likely that the Waterloo region LRT will be finished before the Evergreen Line gets its finances in order.  Although maybe Stephen Harper will feel more giving with rumours of a federal election in the air.

TransLink plans – expand, maintain, or cut services

The Tri-City News – TransLink plan leaves room for province to sign on, charge new tolls.

This is probably the best piece of news that summarizes the current situation that TransLink finds themselves in and the options they are considering.  So instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll link to the article.  Jeff Nagel does pretty good writing for one of our local papers.

There’s also a video with the article.  The video is of Tom Pendergast, TransLink CEO, explaining their situation.

1982 on building SkyTrain (aka ALRT)

VIA Architecture: The case to abort LRT, October 21 1982.

Old Province article on ALRT (now SkyTrain)

What a great post about the problems that the GVRD faced when SkyTrain was first planned and built.  Somebody at VIA Architecture dug up this beauty of an article.

Huge parallels between then and now.  The lack of provincial government funding is present yesterday as it is today.  Even though they were the ones who decreed what the technology would be, they aren’t willing to put their money behind their choices.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  To which wise person can I credit that saying?

How will we pay for the transit system we NEED?

A matter of LIVABILITY >> Vancouver Sun, June 19, 2009

[Like I said on a previous post, I’m totally behind.  This has been sitting in my drafts for a couple weeks.]

An apt title in the Vancouver Sun for how are we going to live in the future.  That will be decided by our transportation plan in the next couple of decades.  We need a lot of transit if we are going to change we move around this city.

I purposely live within walking distance to a SkyTrain so I don’t have to drive everywhere.  Obviously, everyone doesn’t want to live as close to the train as I do, but that’s my choice.  If we have more choice, especially buses, maybe more people will make that choice.

A frequent bus network that requires a bus every 15 minutes is not frequent enough for me, but it is a huge improvement to a bus every 30 or 60 minutes.  That’s already double the service.

However, we have to pay for it somehow.  There is only one taxpayer.  Most of our taxes do not go to our cities. They go up to the provincial and federal level.  My property tax is piggly compared to what I give to the upper levels of government.  The provincial and federal governments have already taken our cash and they should siphon it back into a decaying infrastructure, including our transit system.

I’ve heard it over and over again that TransLink hasn’t the funds to do their work.  Even maintaining the status quo is costly.  The province, through two different political administrations, has always handcuffed TransLink since its inception.  It has the mandate to build, improve, maintain and run our road and transit system in Metro Vancouver; however, it has never been given the full funds to carry out its mandate.  Now, it has to go through silly exercises in consulting the public on how best to take money from them.

TransLink has gone so far as to devise a board game, called It’s Your Move, for use by Metro Vancouver residents. The game allows people like Anderson to set their priorities and then choose how to pay for them — for example, through increased property and gas taxes or a vehicle levy.

Each option has a point value attached, so that at the end of the game, players can see if they can afford their transit priorities using their revenue-raising choices.

According to statistics from those already playing online, most people believe TransLink needs another $450 million annually and, if they must support some form of increased taxation, a differentiated vehicle levy — one that has a higher fee for gas-guzzlers like SUVs– tops the list, Hardie said.

Raising property taxes — which is opposed by Metro’s 21 mayors — appears to be out of the question for most people.

Hmm… maybe TransLink can make some real coin by creating a blockbuster transit board game that they could sell.  I’d buy it.  I’m already a big fan of the Ticket to Ride board game series.  However, to make the game a competition, they’ll need to introduce rival transit companies to compete with TransLink.

Even with my cynicism about such exercises, they do sometimes flesh out some interesting results.  Most participants are in favour of the vehicle levy that was shouted out many years ago.  I still think the vehicle levy is a good idea.  Of course, my family owns a small car so we have less at stake here.  However, up to $275 is pennies compared to what a SUV driver already paid for when they purchased the vehicle.

My other comment about cars and levies is that we have plenty of room to raise prices on car related things like tolls and levies.  Sure, nobody likes to hear about an increase in their cost of living.  However, we in North America are very forunate (or unfortunate depending how you look at it) to have car ownership within easy reach.  Many countries charge a premium for owning a car.  Car ownership in many places are at least double what it costs here.

Imagine buying your lowly, but noble, Toyota Corolla for $40,000.  Yikes!  Ah.  But it makes you think twice about owning a car, doesn’t it?  The only problem is, we need to redesign our cities so that we can get around with a car.  The mantra again is that land use and transportation go hand-in-hand.  A concept that many city planners and powers-that-be still don’t seem to grasp.