A response to Laila Yuile’s ‘Why I am voting No’ post

Laila Yuile is a blogger and contributor to 24hrs Vancouver. She wrote a post explaining why she will be voting ‘no’ in the upcoming Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite.

I’m writing this as a response to Ms. Yuile in hopes of persuading her to think about changing her mind and voting ‘yes’. I also hope that this response will persuade some people who are leaning ‘no’ into thinking about voting ‘yes’.

First and foremost, a sales tax increase is a punitive, regressive form of taxation.

I absolutely agree. Sales taxes unfairly punish those who are living in or just above poverty the most. They definitely are regressive. And in BC, in 2011 the poorest 10% paid roughly 11% of their income to sales and commodity taxes (source) while the richest 10% paid roughly 3% of their income. That’s not fair for people making lower-than-average income.

That said, the vast majority of the improvements that will be funded by the 0.5% increase will be to Metro Vancouver’s transit system. Lower-income people are more likely to use transit (source: “The median household income of public transit users is $39,000 while for the population as a whole it is $44,389.”). The Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition states “public transit can reduce transportation costs for Surrey residents with a three-zone transit pass costing significantly less than owning and operating a vehicle.” Without that viable public transit in place, these savings cannot be made. The SPRC is backing the ‘yes’ side for exactly that reason.

There can also be ways to mitigate the regressive nature of sales taxes. In BC, this is partially done by not taxing the vast majority of essential items. Food and housing are major expenses, and these are not taxed under the PST. There is a PST credit for low-income households, and with enough political pressure this could be increased. Seattle is lowering fares for low-income households, which is something that could be done in Metro Vancouver by extending the U-Pass system to lower-income households.

In the end, there are absolutely no guarantees to anything but paying more sales tax- if the province honours the results of a YES majority.

That’s true. This money could go into a general revenue fund. However, that would be political suicide for the BC Liberal party. They’ve set this referendum up for the sole intention of funding TransLink’s expansion plans. And yes, they could very well say that they’re not going to put the 0.5% increase in place even if Metro Vancouver votes 100% ‘yes’. But again, that would be political suicide. There are 24 Liberal MLAs in Metro Vancouver. If the provincial government were to say “sorry, we know you voted ‘yes’ but we’re not raising taxes”, those 24 Liberal MLAs just got thrown under the bus. The plebiscite is non-binding, yes, but only in the strictest sense of the term.

Why does the ballot not include independent audits and public reporting?

It does: “Revenues and expenditures would be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.” Further, Jimmy Pattison will be overseeing the expenditures, heading up a “blue ribbon public accountability committee.”

Why so vague on the specifics of the projects?

This is because the ballot is one piece of paper. The specifics are available on the Mayors’ Council website. There’s 48 pages of specifics, including when each portion of the plan will be implemented and how much each will cost, right down to the individual proposed B-Line routes.

We haven’t even gotten into the fact that this tax increase doesn’t fund the entire cost of any of these projects, and neither the provincial or federal government has committed to dedicating those funds… but trust us they say. Trust us…

Stephen Harper has said that infrastructure money is available from the federal government. However, this money is only available if local money is available as well. Without the money raised from the 0.5% increase, we can guarantee that there will be no federal funds. Remember, they’re typically called “matching funds”, and they’re pretty much like “matching donations” in fundraising campaigns — you need to put the money up first before they’ll be matched.

There is no Plan B.

Fair enough, given this plan is already Plan C. Plan A would have been “province properly funds transit in Metro Vancouver.” Plan B was “Mayorss’ Council proposes carbon tax increase and mobility pricing”, which they did, but that was rejected by the province. So now we’re with Plan C.

Research shows in other cities and countries, that improved transit alone doesn’t cut congestion without road pricing.

Agreed! And the Mayors’ Council agrees too! If you look on Page 36 of their vision document you’ll see that “the Mayors’ Council is committed to implementing time-and-distance based mobility pricing on the road network as an efficient, fair and sustainable method of helping to pay for the transportation system.” This is a longer-term goal though, because “developing and implementing a system that meets the needs of this region and province will likely take five to eight years.” Unfortunately the Broadway corridor can’t wait five to eight years. Unfortunately the Pattullo Bridge can’t wait five to eight years. Unfortunately communities in Surrey can’t wait five to eight years for adequate bus service.

Improving transit isn’t going to improve congestion on its own, you’re absolutely right. It isn’t a cure-all. But it will help, at least a little, unlike not improving transit. Like you say, “transit improvements alone do little to ease congestion, but that paired with road pricing as a dis-incentive to drivers, it will have an impact.” Does that mean that we need to roll out transit improvements and road pricing at the same time, or can we improve our transit first and have a small impact on congestion, then introduce road pricing later to further improve congestion?

As an aside, the mayors point out that road pricing will help shift funding away from current sources of TransLink funding, particularly the fuel sales tax. With road pricing generating $250 million a year, it could easily replace the 0.5% increase at the end of its ten-year plan (or even earlier, depending on how quickly they can get road pricing up and running).

I’ve had enough of the premier and our mayors playing with people’s lives… and livelihoods.

I think the provincial government should be the biggest target of your scorn. They could very easily approve the mayors’ plan. Instead they opened us up to this divisive plebiscite that pits one city against another. Yes, you’re pissed off. I’m pissed off. We shouldn’t even be having this discussion. The provincial government should do what it was elected to do: govern. The mayors are caught in this as well because they’re relatively powerless. The only thing they can do is propose plans to the province.

Frankly I’m very tired of people who live,work and play in Vancouver telling me how this plan will benefit me, when they haven’t even been out to this part of Surrey! There is a complete disconnect. One fellow I know recently took a planning bus tour in Surrey and was shocked to discover how much sprawl planning has occurred.

I grew up in Surrey (Clayton, to be exact). Would I move back? No. Why? Because the transit there sucks and I don’t want to be forced to own a car. Do you enjoy being forced to own a car just because of where you live? It doesn’t sound like it.

With improved transit in Surrey (and I’m not just talking about the LRT, I’m talking more about actual bus routes) more people in Surrey will have another option. Even if you never have to cross a bridge to get to work, transit should be an option for you regardless of what side of the Fraser you live on. Right now that’s an option north of the Fraser, but it isn’t south of the Fraser. With the funding in place from a ‘yes’ vote, leaving the car at home becomes an option. With a ‘no’ vote, there’s no option.

This is probably going to be a crappy analogy, but compare it to the healthcare systems in Canada and the US. The US’s healthcare system sucks (I know, I lived there for eight years). Canada’s is way better. As Canadians we’re pretty smug about it, and can’t understand why Americans got so up-in-arms about their Affordable Care Act. “You don’t know how good it will be!” we said. “Why are you cutting off your nose to spite your face?” when some people tried to get rid of it.

Vancouver has excellent transit (this is the Canadian side of the healthcare analogy). Surrey’s is crappy (this is the American side). When people in Vancouver see people in Surrey saying they’re going to vote ‘no’, they’re dumbfounded. “Why wouldn’t you want to have good transit? It’s actually quite nice!”

Surrey is growing, and growing fast. It’ll soon be BC’s largest city. And Surrey doesn’t want to improve its transit to catch up to Vancouver’s because… Vancouverites are smug?

Ms. Yuile, I hope that since you wrote your post, some of your questions have been answered. A lot has changed in the month since you wrote it, and I hope that you reconsider your position and vote ‘yes’.

Referendum Myths: A ‘No’ vote is a vote against TransLink

At this point in the Metro Vancouver transportation plebiscite, the biggest myth is that by voting ‘no’ you’re voting for a reform of TransLink’s governance structure.

Plain and simple, that is wrong. If you vote ‘no’, you’re voting against the proposed tax. Nothing more.

The actual question posed to voters is

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan?

If you look at the actual ballot, there’s nothing on there about governance or how TransLink has an unelected board. That’s because TransLink governance isn’t on the ballot.

I can understand the frustration out there. TransLink is run by an unelected board. Mayors are only given a nominal role in suggesting action plans. The Ministry of Transportation might play some role, but that’s unclear too. It doesn’t look like there’s anybody captaining the ship, and that’s frustrating.

All of this is laid out in provincial law and, as such, can only be changed by the provincial government. Nobody else has the power to change this, regardless of what Christy Clark might think.

But if you think that by voting ‘no’ you’re sending a message that you’re frustrated, you’d be wrong. This plebiscite is the entirely wrong way to send that message. By voting ‘no’ you’re only voting against the proposed tax increase. In fact, by voting ‘yes’ you’re actually making TransLink more accountable, as the money raised will be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting. The money raised will also be dedicated to the projects listed in the plan, and nothing more, so absolutely zero dollars will be going towards executive salaries, to use a particular pain-point as an example. All of the money will be going directly towards improving our transportation and transit systems.

If you are really upset about how TransLink is run and want to send the proper message, email your MLA. Email Christy Clark at premier@gov.bc.ca. Email your mayor and city council. Get involved in the next provincial election and make sure that TransLink governance is on the agenda.

But by voting ‘no’, you’re not sending this message. It’s not ‘no, but…’, it’s not ‘no, and…’, it’s ‘no, I do not want this tax’. That’s the only message being sent if you vote ‘no’.

So if you want to see improved transportation and transit in Metro Vancouver, vote ‘yes’. If you want to make sure that this money gets spent on improving transportation and transit, and not on executive salaries, vote ‘yes’.

Ads I’d like to see

On the outside of SkyTrains:

Is this SkyTrain full and you couldn’t get on? Vote YES for better SkyTrain service!

On the outside of buses:

Is this bus full and you got passed up again? Vote YES for better bus service!

On the outside of buses:

Waiting 20 minutes in the rain for a bus? Vote YES for better bus service!

On the light-up billboards on either end of the Pattullo Bridge:

Tired of getting stuck in traffic on the Pattullo Bridge? Vote YES for a wider, safer, and less congested Pattullo!

On the light-up billboards on either end of the Pattullo Bridge:

Tired of getting stuck behind an 18-wheeler taking up both lanes? Vote YES for a wider, safer, and less congested Pattullo Bridge!

General:

For the price of an extra-large double-double once a week, all this could be yours! Vote YES to make it happen!

General:

For the price of a grande Caffè Mocha every other week, all this could be yours! Vote YES to make it happen!

Anywhere along the Granville Entertainment District:

Wish you could take a bus home instead of an expensive cab? Vote YES for better NightBus service!

At all of the 99 B-Line stops along Broadway between Commercial and Arbutus:

Wish you didn’t have to stand in the rain to wait for yet another B-Line bus to pass you up? Vote YES for SkyTrain down Broadway!

Along the Fraser Highway between Langley and King George:

Tired of staring at brake lights? Vote YES for rapid transit along Fraser Highway!

Referendum Facts: The Pattullo Bridge

No matter what happens in the upcoming Metro Vancouver transportation referendum, the Pattullo Bridge will be replaced, and it will be tolled.

The Pattullo Bridge went into service in 1937. It was constructed to the standards of the time, which means that today it is too narrow, it’s dangerous, and if an earthquake hits it’s coming down. It’s so dangerous that TransLink closes the central two lanes at night to prevent head-on collisions. Cycling or walking over the bridge is nearly unheard of.

In short, it’s a bridge in dire need of replacement. It will be replaced.

And tolls? In 2008 TransLink announced its replacement would be tolled. That was six years before any hint of a referendum. Tolling the replacement Pattullo is a foregone conclusion. At current traffic levels, a $3 toll would pay off a $900 million bridge in about 30 years, so the tolls would eventually be dropped.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why voting ‘yes’ in the referendum is important for the areas around the Pattullo Bridge:

1) The 0.5% PST increase will fund its replacement.

2) Along with the big capital projects, bus and SkyTrain service will be improved. This means that transit in Surrey, Langley, Delta, and New Westminster will become more attractive, shifting some driving commuters to transit commuters. This will help to slow the increase in congestion around the Pattullo Bridge.

3) The LRT lines in Surrey and Langley will also help shift people away from cars to transit, as connections with SkyTrain from Surrey to New Westminster, Burnaby, and Vancouver will be easier for commuters to make. This will also help to slow the increase in congestion around the Pattullo Bridge.

And here’s what voting ‘no’ in the referendum will result in, around the Pattullo Bridge:

1) Property tax increases will fund its replacement.

2) Because bus and SkyTrain service is not improved, traffic around the Pattullo Bridge will get worse at a greater rate. In fact, keeping funding levels steady means that bus and SkyTrain service could get worse, as operational costs increase. This could shift transit commuters into cars.

Voting ‘no’ means you get a new Pattullo Bridge, have to pay tolls on it, and traffic gets worse.

Voting ‘yes’ means you get a new Pattullo Bridge, have to pay tolls on it, and traffic gets better. And with improved bus and SkyTrain service (and the Surrey/Langley LRT lines) you might decide to take transit and skip paying the tolls altogether.

Vote ‘yes’, not only for a new Pattullo, but for improved bus and SkyTrain service in Surrey, Delta, and New Westminster, and for less congestion over the Pattullo.

On the firing of TransLink’s CEO

Yesterday TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis was pushed aside. This was widely seen as a surprise move, one that is supposed to “restore confidence” in TransLink’s leadership.

The timing is a little suspicious as it comes smack in the middle of Metro Vancouver’s campaign surrounding a 0.5% increase to the PST to pay for a number of transit-related improvements. The ‘no’ side has been using TransLink’s governance and “waste” as a stick, even going so far as to label Jarvis as “the face of the waste”. The ‘yes’ side’s message has largely focused on the benefits of the plan, largely ignoring the TransLink governance issue.

And even though TransLink governance isn’t on the ballot, this move brings it back into the forefront. Politically, it’s kind of odd to do this, because it gives more ammunition to the ‘no’ side.

Here’s one reason they might have made the move now, rather than potentially waiting until after the plebescite is over:

In 2012 Jarvis received $438,700 in total compensation, and in 2013 he received $468,015. While his salary plus transportation allowance increased by less than a thousand dollars, he did receive bonuses based on long-term targets that increased his total compensation. This rankled with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, because, as TransLink themselves say, “the CEO’s base salary has been frozen since January 1, 2013.” While his salary was frozen, he still took home more money because he did a good job, and rewarding performance in this way is apparently wasteful.

The CEO’s bonus consists of two parts: a short-term incentive plan (STIP) and a long-term incentive plan (LTIP). The STIP is based on the previous year’s performance, and can be up to 30% of his base salary. The LTIP was eliminated on December 31, 2012, but was based on targets between 2010 and 2012. This bonus gets paid out over three years, and the first year was 2013 (he received $43,400). He received the same amount in 2014.

Now, here’s the thing: TransLink has to file all of this information for the 2014 fiscal year, and they need to make the information public. They’re looking at all of this information now, and if past years are any indication, the year-end financials get released at the beginning of April. This is smack in the middle of the plebescite mail-in period.

A bombshell in the form of a huge STIP bonus (remember, it could go up to 30% of his base salary, up to $95,773) coming right in the middle of the voting? It makes it a lot easier for the ‘yes’ side to say “yes, and he is no longer collecting that bonus, and the interim CEO is collecting no such bonus, and the interim CEO will be examining executive compensation a lot more closely” than to say “yes, he got it for meeting targets”. A large STIP bonus would also play into the “TransLink is wasteful” myth and offer a huge distraction for the CTF to wield.

Is this what happened? I don’t know. We won’t know until April. But remember that the TransLink Board has a lot more information to go on than we do, and financial information is something they’re privy to that we’re not at this point. We’ll just have to wait until April.

Referendum Myths: “It’ll cost you $258 a year”

The biggest myth being perpetuated by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is that it will cost every Metro Vancouver household $258 every year in new taxes. That is completely incorrect, and here’s why.

First, the CTF’s math. The 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax (which I’ll shorten to CIT from now on) will generate roughly $250 million per year to pay for the myriad improvements in Metro Vancouver’s transportation system. In 2011, the Vancouver census metropolitan area (which is pretty much the same thing as Metro Vancouver) had 891,336 private dwellings occupied by usual residents. That number increased by 9.1% between 2006 and 2011, so assuming a steady increase, that turns out to be a 1.76% yearly increase. That means that in 2015 there are roughly 955,762 households in Vancouver. Divide the $250,000,000 equally amongst all of those households and you get $261.57 per year, which is pretty close to the CTF’s $258 per year.

Now here’s why that number is wrong. The CTF is making the assumption that only households will be paying the CIT. That is wrong. Plain and simple, the CTF’s base assumption is wrong.

Visitors to Metro Vancouver will also pay the CIT. In 2014 Metro Vancouver had nearly nine million overnight visits, and tourism continues to increase (and will get better if the Canadian dollar remains weak against the US dollar). In BC, hotel stays are taxed and one can reasonably assume that the CIT will apply here as well. Total spending by overnight visitors was $4.4 billion in 2006, and if you assume that 75% of this is taxable (food isn’t, but tourists spend roughly 25% of their money on food (at least, domestic tourists in the UK do)), that works out to $16.5 million. Take that number, scale it up by 5.5% per year between 2006 and 2014 and you get about $25.3 million per year.

Okay, so 10% of the $250 million will be paid for by tourists.

What about businesses? They’re going to pay the CIT as well! I don’t have any good numbers, but the Mayors’ Council pegs this at 45%. That sounds reasonable to me, but if someone wants to make the case that this number should be substantially larger or smaller, there’s a comment form at the bottom of this post.

Put those numbers together and you end up with households paying roughly 45% of the $250 million each year, or $112.5 million per year, or $117.70 per household per year.

But! The CTF also says, of the $250 million, “…that’s a tax increase – visible and hidden – of $258 per household.” They try to sneak in this “hidden” cost, assuming that businesses will directly pass on any taxes they pay to people purchasing their products. Here’s a simple example showing that is wrong:

There is currently a gas tax of 17 cents per litre charged in Metro Vancouver. Metro Vancouver does not include the city of Abbotsford but does include Langley, which borders Abbotsford. If this gas tax is directly passed on to the consumer, one would expect that a gas station in Langley would charge 17 cents more per litre than a gas station in Abbotsford. Is that the case?

No. That image is gas prices from January 27, 2015. To the west of the red line is Langley, to the east is Abbotsford. The three gas stations in Langley average to 100.6 cents per litre, and the five in Abbotsford average to 89.9 cents per litre, a difference of 10.7 cents per litre. Either gas stations in Langley are eating six cents per litre or gas stations in Abbotsford are charging an extra six cents per litre. I suspect reality is somewhere between the two.

There are also a lot of businesses in Metro Vancouver that either don’t directly charge consumers (mining companies are a good example) or are national (such as banks) or multi-national (such as shipping companies and large software companies). How does a mining company pass on the 0.5% CIT to Metro Vancouver households? How does Microsoft pass on the 0.5% CIT to Metro Vancouver households? They don’t.

How much will Metro Vancouver households pay in CIT? Probably around $100-120 per year. That’s a far cry from the $258 per year that the CTF says they’ll pay. Again, they’re only interested in fear-mongering instead of presenting facts.

And that they use this as a major part of their campaign? Relying on weak and incorrect math to scare Metro Vancouver residents?

That’s pretty weak.

Referendum Myths: “TransLink is Wasteful”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation released its “No TransLink Tax” platform today, and their second major point is “TranLink is an extremely wasteful organization”. As proof, they offer these six “high waste” examples:

TransLink doesn’t just have one board of directors, it has six – at a cost of $751,589 in annual salary. And after TransLink’s board chair promised executive pay would be frozen “at 2012 levels,” every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013.

TransLink spends at least $1.12 million on an empty building. The SkyTrain union head calls the $60,000/month lease payment “outright waste” and a “poor financial decision.”

Despite crying poor, TransLink kicked in more than $30,000 to put a 7-foot statue of a poodle on top of a 25-foot pole. The Main Street Poodle is nowhere near any major transit station, nor is the poodle symbolic of the neighbourhood.

TransLink took months to fix a glitch that saw its ticket vending machines treat new $5 bills like they were $20s. People would buy tickets and get more money back than they put in.

TransLink spent $523,000 on 13 TV screens at various SkyTrain stations. A year later, a CTF inspection showed only 4 of 13 were working. TransLink refuted that claim, saying 6 of the 13 $40,000+ TVs worked – still less than half.

TransLink spent $30,000 studying a gondola up Burnaby Mountain that neither neighbours nor City Hall supported. As Mayor Derek Corrigan said: “[If TransLink is so broke,] why are they going into additional expenses, like the gondola? It’s never been a priority.”

Let’s take a look at those one-by-one and cut some fat off of TransLink’s budget.

TransLink doesn’t just have one board of directors, it has six – at a cost of $751,589 in annual salary. And after TransLink’s board chair promised executive pay would be frozen “at 2012 levels,” every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013.

To be properly pedantic, TransLink only has one board of directors. However, it oversees a number of companies that actually operate buses and trains and supply policing services: Coast Mountain Bus Company, British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Ltd, West Coast Express, and Transit Police. I can only find boards for TransLink, CMBC, BCRTC, and the Transit Police, though. Apparently the CTF counts the Mayor’s Council as a board, and magically the West Coast Express has one too. Keep in mind that the Mayor’s Council is made up of, well, mayors, and mayors were elected by the people, and the CTF keeps going on about how TransLink isn’t accountable to anybody because nobody overseeing them was elected, except for this Mayor’s Council, which I guess the CTF ignores when it comes to matters of accountability but falls over themselves to include when it comes to matters of waste, but nobody ever accused the CTF of being consistent.

Anyhow, let’s take the CTF at their word. Six boards. Total cost of $751,589. Let’s cut that down to one board to oversee everything. Assuming equal distribution of funds, we’ve just saved TransLink $626,324.17.

And yes, every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013 than they did in 2012. You can see it in the 2013 Financial Information Act Filing and Remuneration Report. In 2013 the seven executives had a total compensation of $2,517,791, whereas in 2012 their total compensation was $2,333,799. Let’s claw back all of that increase, and we’ve just saved TransLink $183,992.

TransLink spends at least $1.12 million on an empty building. The SkyTrain union head calls the $60,000/month lease payment “outright waste” and a “poor financial decision.”

Well shit, let’s dump that! Bam, just saved $720,000 a year. We’re really finding lots of waste here!

Of course, you can’t just break leases like that without incurring penalties. But of course, that’s the real world, and the CTF would like for you to forget about that.

Despite crying poor, TransLink kicked in more than $30,000 to put a 7-foot statue of a poodle on top of a 25-foot pole. The Main Street Poodle is nowhere near any major transit station, nor is the poodle symbolic of the neighbourhood.

Let’s put that poodle to sleep and put that $30,000 in our pocket.

TransLink took months to fix a glitch that saw its ticket vending machines treat new $5 bills like they were $20s. People would buy tickets and get more money back than they put in.

Okay, this is a serious problem. Unfortunately I cannot find any hard numbers (or even soft numbers) about how much was lost here. According to this story it happened four times across the system, and in each case a SkyTrain attendant put the machine out-of-order until it could be fixed. That’s $70 wasted.

TransLink spent $523,000 on 13 TV screens at various SkyTrain stations. A year later, a CTF inspection showed only 4 of 13 were working. TransLink refuted that claim, saying 6 of the 13 $40,000+ TVs worked – still less than half.

Okay, so seven broke. That’s $281,615 wasted.

TransLink spent $30,000 studying a gondola up Burnaby Mountain that neither neighbours nor City Hall supported. As Mayor Derek Corrigan said: “[If TransLink is so broke,] why are they going into additional expenses, like the gondola? It’s never been a priority.”

Mayor Corrigan is right: TransLink shouldn’t do studies on opening up new transit routes, especially to a location that gets snowed in nearly every year, making it impossible for buses to get to. Let’s just say that’s $30,000 wasted.

Well, that’s an awful lot of waste! By my calculations that’s a total of $1,872,001 wasted. Don’t forget that a big chunk of that ($720,000) would come with penalties that TransLink would have to pay. But still, nearly $1.9 million dollars of waste!

But let’s put that into context. TransLink’s expenditures in 2013 were $1.406 billion (which was actually down from $1.430 billion, thanks to identifying cost inefficiencies). $1.872 million out of $1.430 billion is 0.13%. That’s miniscule, and it’s nearly thirteen times smaller than efficiency savings that TransLink already found.

So TransLink is already identifying areas where it can be more efficient. It’s saved $26 million from 2012 to 2013. And the Canadian Taxpayers Foundation is saying TransLink is incredibly wasteful, and their “big waste” items only come to $1.9 million? Really?

Ever heard of the phrase “trying to squeeze blood from a stone”? Or how about “scraping the bottom of the barrel”? Because that’s what the CTF is trying to do. And they’re throwing these numbers out without any context to scare people.

Look at the facts. The facts say that TransLink is already identifying inefficiencies, and there’s not much left to find. Even if all of the identified cruft and waste is trimmed (and that’s not realistic), that only gains you 0.13%, which is miniscule. Put it this way: if you make $25/hr, and you suddenly get a 0.13% raise, do you know how much you make? $25.03. An extra quarter a day.

Does that sound like an “extremely wasteful organization”?

It doesn’t to me. What it sounds like is the CTF is blowing scare tactics all around and hoping that people don’t stop to think. It sounds like the CTF assumes people are stupid and will see EXTREMELY WASTEFUL ORGANIZATION without any context, and then just parrot the CTF’s line.

The CTF thinks you’re stupid and will just eat this up. Show them that you’re not. Show them that these context-free factoids aren’t going to fool you. Show them that we don’t have to listen to their rhetoric.

Regarding Translink’s ‘Fare Not Paid’ Button

On January 6, 2015, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation put out a press release stating

TransLink bus drivers pressed a special button in their coaches to record a “fare not paid” more than 2.76 million times in 2013…

2.76 million times! That’s a lot of button presses and a huge amount of fare evasion! Like Jordan Bateman, the CTF’s BC Director, said:

These bus drivers should be checked for carpal tunnel syndrome from having to repeatedly push that fare evasion button. TransLink executives have turned a blind eye to millions of fare cheats, causing unnecessary financial grief for honest riders and taxpayers.

Indeed! TransLink executives really don’t give a shit about fare cheats. They have no fucks to give about fare cheats. They put up giant signs saying “FARE CHEATS WELCOME HERE” on every bus.

Well, no, they didn’t. That’s hyperbolic. And so are the statements from Jordan Bateman and the CTF.

With no context, 2.76 million presses of the “fare not paid” button sounds like a lot, and it is. But each one of those button presses isn’t someone refusing to pay their fare. If you read the actual document you’ll find this:

A “fare not paid” entry can represent one of a range of fare-related discrepancies. An issue can include: a partial payment of fare; overpayment of a fare into a bus fare box, which cannot dispense change; failure of a passenger to AddFare when travelling across zones; or fare evasion. It is not the intent of this tool to document revenue loss.

So those 2.76 million button presses were not 2.76 million instances of fare evasion. Some of them were because someone paid, but not enough. Some of them were because someone paid too much!

Strangely, the CTF press release makes no mention of that, instead labelling every one of these button presses as caused by “fare cheats” and “freeloaders”.

With no context, 2.76 million presses of the “fare not paid” button sounds like a lot, and it is. But how many people boarded buses in 2013? If it’s five million, then TransLink’s got a huge problem. If it’s 50 million, then TransLink still has a problem with a potential “fare loss” of about 5.5%.

TransLink didn’t have 5 million bus boardings in 2013. It didn’t have 50 million. It didn’t even have 100 million. In 2013, TransLink had 228 million bus boardings (from Page 9 of their 2013 Bus Service Performance Review). Is 2.76 million out of 228 million still a huge problem? It’s 1.2% of bus riders. One point two percent.

That’s what happens when you take raw numbers out of context. You can take those numbers and have them fit your narrative. In Jordan Bateman’s narrative, TransLink is horribly wasteful and not deserving of any tax dollars. Finding “fare cheats” and “freeloaders” is easy to do when you just yell TWO POINT SEVEN SIX MILLION FARES NOT PAID without giving any context whatsoever. Unfortunately, reality tends to illuminate these context-free statements, showing that Jordan Bateman and the CTF are being intellectually dishonest on this issue.

The Boondoggle of Eighth Street

I have a lot of issues with the bus and pedestrian flow on the streets and sidewalks around the New Westminster Skytrain Station. Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s a map:

Because Google Maps is helpful, it didn’t label Eighth Street. It’s the big one that runs between the Old Spaghetti Factory and Ki Sushi.

First issue I have: Driving down Eighth towards Columbia, between Royal Avenue (off the top of the map) and Carnarvon Street, Eighth is two lanes in either direction. After Carnarvon, it’s one lane in each direction. One of the problems is that this isn’t very well marked before Carnarvon. There’s one sign and it’s off on the sidewalk, behind a wide angled-parking section, and it’s easily missed. Eighth, heading downhill, is wide enough for two lanes, and this throws people off.

There’s also a forced-left turn with a central island that’s used for getting into the underground parking at the Anvil Centre. I’ve seen drivers get stuck in this left-turn lane when they didn’t want to, so they cut into the oncoming lane and continue down Eighth.

Both of these confuse drivers in the mid-block of Eighth between Carnarvon and Columbia, and confused drivers are often inattentive while they figure out where they’re supposed to be going. Couple that with…

…my second issue: no crosswalk across Eighth between Columbia and Carnarvon. There used to be one, and people still jaywalk across there. Right under the Skytrain is where one of the station exits is, and if you’re going across the street (say, to Ki Sishi) then you’re likely going to jaywalk. Jaywalking pedestrians, combined with inattentive drivers, leads to potential disaster. Yes, there are crosswalks at Carnarvon and Columbia, but people are lazy.

From Patrick Johnstone’s post back in 2011 about the Multi-Use Civic Facility (now the Anvil Centre):

Before that crosswalk was installed, people walking out of the Skytrain wanting to cross 8th were asked to walk up or down the street a half block, in the rain, to the corner of Columbia or Carnarvon. The mid-block crossing not only provided a more direct crossing, it offered the rain shelter of the Skytrain line. Naturally, people jaywalked, creating a safety hazard for cars and busses before the crosswalk was installed.

With new retail and restaurant activities on the east side of 8th, the pedestrian traffic will only increase. Does the City think the people coming out of the Skytrain will now walk to the corner of Columbia (in the rain), wait for a light (in the rain) then cross, to get to he MUCF from the Skytrain, or from Plaza 88? Of course they will stay under the cover of the Skytrain, and they will Jaywalk, right in front of cars pulling into or out of the MUCF. Conflict will ensue. Someone may get killed.

To fix these two combined issues, I would suggest making the right-hand lane on Eighth before Carnarvon a right-turn-only turn lane with large, visible markings on the roadway, along with overhead signage (specifically R-82R in the Manual of Standard Traffic Signs & Pavement Markings). I would also suggest reinstating the crosswalk across Eighth, but adding pedestrian-controlled flashing warning lights, similar to those outside the library on Sixth Avenue.

My third issue is the bus stops.

Along Eighth there are two, one for the C3 and one for the C4. Both of them turn left off Eighth up Columbia. Here’s a little Google Earth map with some really crappy lines:

Red lines are curbs. The pink lines mark out the loading zone driveway that services the Shops at New West. The red polygon in the middle of Eighth marks out the forced left turn to get into the underground parking at the Anvil Centre. The green line is where passengers line up to catch the C3.

Do you see how the C3 passenger line bleeds into the loading zone driveway? That happens every single day in the evening rush hour, when more than 15 people are waiting for the bus.

It is horrible HORRIBLE design to have the passenger line crossing a driveway. I don’t know who thought this might be a good idea, but they need to be fired. This stop has been situated like this for at least a year with no change in sight. This can be fixed by swapping the C3 stop with the C9 stop, which is located underneath the Skytrain station. Ridership on the C9 is lower than the C3, so the C9 lines don’t get as long and won’t spill into the driveway.

The C3 and the C4 both have to turn left off Eighth onto Columbia. Do you see where the C4 stop is? It’s metres from the intersection. The bus has to cut clear across the right-hand turn lane to wedge itself into the left-hand turn lane. The C3 is marginally better, given it is further from the intersection.

This is incredibly stupid design and is easily fixed by swapping the stops for the C4 and the C8. The C8 turns right off Eighth onto Columbia, so it doesn’t have to cut across the right-hand turn lane to continue on its route. The C4 can turn right off Carnarvon onto Eighth, then easily get into the left-turn lane to continue on its route up Columbia.

I have other issues with Eighth (turn the taxi bay in front of the Old Spaghetti Factory into a passenger drop-off zone, move the taxi bay up around the corner to Carnarvon) but those are the major ones.

So. Four changes to make Eighth Street between Carnarvon Street and Columbia Avenue a little better for pedestrians, traffic, and transit:

  1. Convert right-hand lane on Eighth, downhill before Carnarvon, to right-turn-only.
  2. Reinstate crosswalk across Eighth, adding pedestrian-controlled warning lights.
  3. Swap the C3 and C9 bus stops.
  4. Swap the C4 and C8 bus stops.

Get it done, New Westminster.

Translink vs. Translink

Translink, May 23 2012:

With fare gates coming into operation at SkyTrain and Canada Line stations next year, TransLink has yet to smooth out potential wrinkles in the new system.

One involves a particular benefit enjoyed by riders with prepaid passes. On Sundays and holidays, two adults and four children aged 13 and under can travel on a single TransLink adult monthly fare card or West Coast Express 28-day pass, or an annual employer transit pass.

“All we can tell you right now is that the offering will still be there,” spokesperson Ken Hardie told the Straight by phone. “How it will work—at this point, we don’t have that detail for you.”

Translink, July 30 2013:

After a review of discounts and programs in its tariff, TransLink will make changes that will affect customers. As part of the changes, several programs will be discontinued.

As approved by the TransLink Board, the changes to the tariff include the discontinuation of:

Free travel for family members of monthly pass holders on Sundays and holidays effective January 1, 2014.

Huh.