What now for the Pattullo Bridge?

The Pattullo Bridge needs replacing. Built 80 years ago but designed to last 50 years, it desperately needs replacing. River scour is causing foundation issues. The reinforcing steel is corroding. The concrete is degrading. The lanes are narrow and dangerous. It needs to go.

TransLink has a plan for replacing it, with a new bridge planned to open in 2023. In 2014 New Westminster city council did a road tour around to other councils in Metro Vancouver to push for a four-lane tolled bridge — at the time Surrey wanted a six-lane bridge. Surrey agreed that a four-lane bridge would do, as long as it could be easily expanded to six lanes should vehicular traffic volumes dictate it.

In 2016 Surrey, New Westminster, and TransLink agreed that the new Pattullo would be tolled. This is important, as the toll would help to shape traffic patterns (along with the tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges, and on the future Massey Tunnel replacement bridge) and, more importantly, pay off roughly half of the cost of building the bridge.

And then a couple of days ago the BC Liberals said they’d cap bridge tolls at $500 per year. The BC NDP one-upped them, saying they would completely eliminate tolls.

So what does this mean for the Pattullo Bridge replacement? All of a sudden TransLink has lost about $500 million in toll revenue that they were planning on using to pay off their portion of the construction of the Pattullo Bridge replacement. Where does that money come from? The bridge needs to be replaced, that can’t be put off. But an organization with an operations budget of around $1.6 billion can’t magically pull $500 million out of a hat. Do they have to cut operational funding, which means cuts in service? Do they cut other capital projects they were planning, like the Surrey LRT or the Broadway SkyTrain line? Do they raise fares?

All of a sudden the two largest political parties in BC have thrown this planning into disarray. They’ve shown that not only are they willing to ignore the Mayors Council and TransLink, who have worked hard over the past five years to come up with plans to improve transportation in Metro Vancouver despite a hostile provincial government, they’re also willing to ignore decades of studies in transportation planning that show that congestion charges or mobility pricing, when instituted in conjunction with increases in public transit funding and availability, are the best way to fight congestion. Instead they’ve both gone with populist policies that will only serve to get them elected, and will set the region backwards five to ten years.

The BC Liberals and the BC NDP need to tell New Westminster and Surrey how the new Pattullo Bridge will be paid for, and they need to tell us before we all vote on May 9.

Trudeau announces new Kinder Morgan route, Broadway SkyTrain

Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Kinder Morgan is applying for a re-route of their TransMountain pipeline that currently runs from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. He also announced conditional federal funding for an expanded SkyTrain line to be run in a tunnel under Broadway in Vancouver.

“We have heard criticisms over the past few days since announcing the approval of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline, specificially concerning the increase in oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet and tunnelling through Burnaby Mountain. We remain committed to acting in the best interests of Canada, and remain committed to rigorous environmental protections for our lands and waters.

“We have also received applications for federal funding to expand Vancouver’s SkyTrain system to service the Broadway corridor. This region of Vancouver is an important one, not just for the City of Vancouver, but for all of Metro Vancouver. It is an important commercial district, it is an important healthcare district, and students and employees of the largest university in Western Canada travel it every day. Congestion along this corridor causes pollution and reduces the quality of life of everybody who travels it. Easing this congestion with proven SkyTrain technology will help everybody.

“These reasons are why I’m announcing conditional federal funding of a bored tunnel under Broadway that will contain both SkyTrain and the re-routed Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline.”

The SkyTrain will run from Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain Station to Alma Street, where it will terminate at a bus loop. The TransMountain pipeline will be tunnelled under Highway One to Broadway, under Broadway to Alma, then curve north to a new marine delivery terminal at Jericho Beach.

“By building a new marine delivery terminal at Jericho,” Trudeau said, “tankers will avoid the busy Burrard Inlet and Lions Gate Bridge crossing. This terminal will also be located closer to the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station — which I re-opened, you’re welcome — for quicker response to any emergencies.”

“Mayor Corrigan should also be pleased that the pipeline will no longer be going under Burnaby Mountain and that tankers will no longer be sailing via the environmentally significant Burrard Inlet.”

“We have listened to the concerns of Mayors Robertson and Corrigan. We have listened to the concerns of the First Nations. We have listened to the concerns of all citizens of Canada, and we have acted accordingly.”

“We hope they’re happy now,” said Trudeau.

Changes are coming to New Westminster’s community shuttle routes!

If you remember back to October 2015 you’ll remember that TransLink proposed some changes to New Westminster’s community shuttle routes. I was largely in favour of the changes, and a couple of people suggested modifications to the C9 route so that the current C3 stop on Jameison Court wouldn’t be lost.

Good news! TransLink released the Transit Network Consultation report today, and the New Westminster community shuttle routes will be changed to match those modifications, and the C9 route will be re-routed to include the Jameison Court stop!

This is great news. Transit service to Victoria Hill will hopefully be more consistent and reliable. Transit service linking Royal Square Mall and Royal City Centre / Uptown is restored. Jameison Court’s stop isn’t removed, although it looks like the C9’s frequency of service isn’t being increased from it’s currently hourly service, so this is probably a net loss of service to that stop.

All told this looks like a pretty decent win for transit service in New Westminster.

Is SkyTrain outdated?

Last week Global News trotted out a stinker of a news article talking about how SkyTrain technology is outdated and needs to be replaced. They implied that recent system disruptions are an indication of how outdated and unreliable the technology is, and that we’re tied to Bombardier to supply all of the technology in the future, even though it’s outdated and unreliable.

They couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s look at the latest service disruption, which was caused by a damaged power collector on one of the trains. The power collector was damaged by a piece of rail that was stored along the track (standard practice in the rail industry) that shifted due to vibrations of trains passing by. What does a replacement rail have to do with outdated technology? Nothing.

How about the service disruption in May? That one was caused by a bird’s nest catching on fire and damaging communications cables. What does a bird’s nest have to do with outdated technology? Nothing.

How about the service disruption in July 2014? That one was caused by an electrical contractor flipping the wrong switch on an electrical panel. Again, nothing to do with outdated technology.

And as for the assertion that SkyTrain is built on outdated technology? That’s bollocks as well.. Bombardier didn’t stop innovating in 1985, and TransLink has been receiving new SkyTrain rolling stock since then. Bombardier isn’t the only supplier of LIM technology, so the idea that we’re somehow tied to Bombardier is wrong. Bombardier is supplying new SkyTrain technology to Kuala Lumpur and Riyadh, so the idea that Bombardier SkyTrain technology is only used in Vancouver is wrong.

I have to agree with Peter Fassbender when he said that “we have a system that was built to a certain standard” and that “you have to be able to take the next generation of technology and integrate it into an existing system.” Nothing is stopping any of the Chinese or Japanese LIM companies from bidding on new SkyTrain projects. We have a rail standard, we have a platform standard, we have a LIM rail standard, and as long as the manufacturer adheres to those standards, anybody can deliver a train that can run on the existing SkyTrain lines. Nothing is forcing TransLink to use Bombardier.

Are some of the SkyTrain components outdated? Yes, and that’s why TransLink is refurbishing the old Mark I SkyTrains. Is SkyTrain technology outdated? No. Is TransLink locked to Bombardier? No. Is the SkyTrain system a “mistake” or a “boutique system”? No to both.

Proposed changes to New Westminster community shuttle routes

TransLink is blowing up New Westminster’s community shuttle routes. Or, at least, they’re proposing it. Here, in a nutshell, are their proposals:

  • Discontinue the C3 and C8 routes that service Quayside Drive, Victoria Hill, and southern Sapperton, replacing them with a “New J” route that would service Quayside Drive and Victoria Hill.
  • Discontinue the C4 route that services Downtown, Queens Park, and Uptown, replacing it with a “New H” route that services Downtown, Queens Park, Uptown, and parts of Sapperton and Glenbrook North.
  • Reroute the C9 to service Richmond Street.

Here’s why this is awesome:

  • The C3 is always busy during the morning rush hour. It picks up people from Sapperton before hitting Victoria Hill. Anybody who follows me on Twitter knows that this route frequently leaves people behind in Victoria Hill. Starting the “New J” route in Victoria Hill means it starts with an empty bus, so people won’t get left behind.
  • The C3 is always busy during the evening rush hour. When it leaves from New Westminster SkyTrain Station it’s almost always full, so there’s no room to pick people up at the Columbia SkyTrain Station. With only Victoria Hill on its drop-off route, this means fewer pass-ups.
  • The rerouting of the 154 in 2013 led to a less direct route for seniors between the Royal Square Mall and Uptown. Adding the “New H” route directly addresses this, and restores that vital connection.
  • There are no more bus routes on McBride Boulevard, which is always rammed with people trying to get to the Pattullo Bridge. This means improved reliability, as buses won’t get caught in traffic as often.
  • Combining the C8 and part of the C3 into one route makes sense. Yes, the new route is one between residential areas, which isn’t typically good for routes as they end up being under-used, but putting a SkyTrain station in the middle changes things. Both halves of the route can be full towards the SkyTrain station in the morning, and full away from the SkyTrain station in the evening, and everybody’s happy. I hope that the frequency of service won’t change, as both routes are currently at a cadence of every 15 minutes during rush hour.

These proposals aren’t set in stone, mind you. TransLink is asking for feedback on this and other changes, so go look at the proposals and speak your mind before November 6!

What now for TransLink?

So the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite went down in a ball of flames. What now for TransLink? Their CEO said that the upgrades laid out in the Mayors’ Council plan still need to be done, and they’ll get done.

So where is TransLink going to find the money without any new funding sources? After all, by law any new funding source proposals need to be supported by a majority of electors in the region.

I have two ideas.

First: reduce service in municipalities based on their ‘no’ vote proportion. We’re going to mark on a curve here, so Bowen Island Municipality gets no service cuts, as they had the lowest ‘no’ vote proportion at 38.08%. Of the larger cities, Vancouver has its service cut by 12.73% (50.81% voted no, and 50.81 – 38.08 = 12.73), New Westminster gets cut by 16.47%, Surrey by 27.46%, the City of Langley by 34.21%, Richmond by 34.31%, and Langley Township by 36.89%.

Overall, the region should get its service cut by 23.6%. I’m going to use Jordan Bateman math here and say that 23.6% of TransLink’s $1.5 billion budget is about $350 million per year, which is more than enough to fund the Mayors’ Council plans.

(Of course it doesn’t really work that way as cutting 1% of service doesn’t necessarily correspond to saving 1% of budget, but we’re using Jordan Bateman math here — it doesn’t have to be right to make the news.)

My second idea is to abandon the Pattullo Bridge. No, I’m not saying turn it over to the province. I’m saying remove it from TransLink’s jurisdiction altogether by tearing it down and not replacing it. No more $100 million repairs, no more costly studies on what to replace it with, no more South-of-the-Fraser drivers complaining about yet another toll on a bridge. Bring it down and leave it down.

If you really want a car crossing there, buy back the Albion Ferries and bring back the K de K ferry linking Brownsville and New Westminster.

Problem solved. You’re welcome.

Eight thoughts on the transit referendum results

  1. Welp.

  2. Thanks Christy Clark for your stunning display of leadership.

  3. Congrats to the ‘no’ side for winning! But the joke’s on you: nobody wins.

  4. Hello to higher property taxes!

  5. Property near SkyTrain stations just got more valuable.

  6. Time to buy stock in Metro Vancouver road-building companies, car dealerships, and auto mechanics.

  7. Chilliwack people? Hey how do you like that smog that we keep blowing your way? HAVE FUN NOW, SUCKERS!

  8. I’m still glad I voted ‘yes’, and would proudly do so again.

Fun With Statistics, by Michael Smyth

In his most-recent column, Michael Smyth paints TransLink in a negative light, pointing to “surprises” such as Ian Jarvis’s compensation boost, increased administration costs, and Transit Police going over budget. This plays right into his “holy shit TransLink is wasteful” story that people of his ilk eat up with a spoon (just check the comments for good examples).

But you know what? It’s really easy to cherry-pick statistics to suit your narrative like Mr. Smyth has done. Of course he’s never going to mention anything that makes TransLink look good, because that would be balanced and is contrary to anything he stands for.

So let’s try using the same 2014 report he used, and now we can make TransLink look good.

For example, he’s right in that Transit Police cost more in 2014 than in 2013, with expenses up by $3.7 million, or 12.2 per cent. What he doesn’t mention is that this is because of a collective agreement signing going retroactive to 2011, along with filling vacant positions. The agreement will actually result in annual savings of $800,000 because they’ve eliminated some benefits. Of course, Mr. Smyth completely fails to mention this.

TransLink had budgeted $1.506 billion for expenses in 2014, but actually spent $1.427 billion, which is 3.9% under budget. Of course, Mr. Smyth completely fails to mention this.

Corporate expenses were 10.3 per cent under budget. Bus operating expenses were 1.2 per cent under budget. Roads and bridges were 24.2 per cent under budget. Of course, Mr. Smyth completely fails to mention this.

TransLink’s revenues were up 10.2 per cent over 2013, and TransLink brought in $26.9 million more than it spent in 2014. Of course, Mr. Smyth completely fails to mention this.

See Mr. Smyth? I can cherry-pick numbers too, and pluck statistics to suit my narrative. And as the saying goes, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

The astoundingly bad logic of Jordan Bateman

Today BC Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced a ten-year transportation plan for BC. During the press conference he was asked about the Metro Vancouver transportation plebiscite, and if the province is considering reforming TransLink, because this is one of the reasons why people are considering voting ‘no’. His answer?

At this point in time, the province has no plans to make any further improvements to governance at TransLink.

So vote ‘yes’ or vote ‘no’, no matter what happens in the plebiscite the province has no plans to change TransLink’s governance.

And what does Jordan Bateman have to say about this?

Stone killed yes side claim that change will come to TransLink either way. Voting NO the best way to show gov’t we want this fixed.

He’s saying that you should vote ‘no’ so TransLink’s governance will be fixed, using Todd Stone’s statement of “no plans to make any further improvements to governance at TransLink” as support.

What kind of crazy logic is running through Mr. Bateman’s mind? It’s mind-boggling just how bad this logic is!

Seriously, that’s pretty weak, Jordan.

Vancouver tops again thanks, in part, to TransLink

The Mercer 2015 Quality of Living rankings were released today, and Vancouver slotted in at the best place to live in North America, and #5 in the world.

Hooray, Vancouver!

You might be asking yourself how they come up with these rankings. It looks like the exact methodology is secret, but you can get some sense of what makes a city have a high quality of living:

Is your city regionally and globally connected with public infrastructure, transport, and talent flow?

Is your city competitive economically, socially, culturally, and environmentally?

Is your city attractive to foreigners, tourists, and globally mobile talent, for capital investments, and for major multinational companies?

How can you leverage your city’s unique strengths to differentiate it from others?

Look at that first one again:

Is your city regionally and globally connected with public infrastructure, transport, and talent flow?

Put more simply, improving transportation in your city gives it a better quality of living. This allows talent (i.e. workers) to flow better to and from their jobs, making the city more attractive to employees and employers. It also allows goods to flow through your city better, improving on costs to get goods to markets, and improving profits to businesses.

And Vancouver’s doing a bang-up job on this. Vancouver International Aiport is the best airport in North America. Port Metro Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, handling 19% of the value of Canada’s total trade in goods, and TransLink is top of the charts for service efficiency, cost per trip, and cost efficiency when you compare it with its peers.

And here 61% of us want that to change. That’s a shame.