Governance & Politics
November 1, 2018

Where the Buck Stops — McCallum’s Surrey Skytrain

Despite the Mayor’s Council and its 10-year transportation plan that’s been around for a while now, along with a bunch of hard-to-get Federal and Provincial money, Surrey’s new mayor Doug McCallum wants to change it.

Mayor McCallum wants transit, but on a new route in Surrey to new destinations, using different (Skytrain) technology. Blow up the Mayor’s Council’s 10-year plan, and blow up the City of Surrey’s Community (Land Use) Plan.

And it’s sort of late in the game. More background HERE and HERE.

Not surprisingly, there has been reaction from several parties to this development:

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Like 15 other Metro Vancouver munis, the City of Surrey has a new Mayor — Doug McCallum. He’s also an old Mayor, having held the post from 1996 to 2005.  He and his party ran on two main issues:  replace LRT with Skytrain and Law n’ Order (replace RCMP with local police).

Mayor McCallum intends to cancel the LRT project on November 5, at his first council meeting.  He’s setting the wheels in motion.

So let’s look at the LRT vs. Skytrain thing.  It’s by far more fun than the other.  And has a lot less to do with technology, and a lot more to do with the fundamentals of city making.

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From the CBC:

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson questioned why the provincial government couldn’t get federal funding for the Pattullo Bridge replacement as well.
“Normally major infrastructure projects have a large component of federal financing. So we have to be concerned that B.C. rushed into this alone, and missed out on almost a half billion dollars of federal infrastructure funding,” he said.

 
Do tell us how much the federal government had committed to the Massey crossing when it was pulled out of the air by Premier Clark in 2013.  Or whether in subsequent years the Feds ever committed a loonie to its construction.
And while you’re at it, please explain:

  • What regional plan included the construction of Massey?
  • How many Metro mayors in the region supported it?
  • What provincial transportation plan prioritized it?
  • Why the previous transportation minister, Kevin Falcon, had rejected it as a pointless project?
  • Why the Liberals imposed a referendum requirement only for transit and not for Massey or any other major highway project?

Do tell.
 

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The Sun editorial board continues its thoughtless, lazy attack on mobility pricing in one of those fatuous editorials that has no other purpose than riling up public opinion (tax grab!) – including a gratuitous reference to bike lanes causing congestion.  Its suggestion: have another referendum – and good luck with that.
The American states, meanwhile, pursue research and demonstration projects, knowing that with the accelerating decline of the gas tax, alternatives are imperative and inevitable..
Here’s a summary of recent progress.
From Governing.

Congress included $95 million in grants in its last five-year highway funding law for states to study mileage-based fees and other alternatives to the gas tax. States must match the federal grants 50-50. In the first two years of the program, the Federal Highway Administration has doled out money to eight states …

The states’ work varies greatly. Minnesota is exploring the idea of imposing taxes on transportation companies like Uber and Lyft, rather than individual drivers, with the idea that individuals may be less likely to own their own vehicles as ride-hailing, car-sharing and autonomous vehicles become more common. Colorado, where gas tax rates have remained the same for 22 years, recently wrapped up a four-month test with 150 drivers that explored different ways of tracking mileage for motorists. Missouri explored adjusting its vehicle registration fees to reflect their fuel efficiency, and it is now getting public feedback on equity and data security issues.
Some of the most intriguing work comes from California. The state conducted its own test-run of 5,000 vehicles a year ago, the largest experiment of its kind in the country. Its test run lasted for nine months through March 2017, and it included trucking companies along with motorists from every county in the state.
California gave participants seven ways to track their mileage, including odometer checks, permits for a set number of days, permits for a certain allotment of miles, plug-in devices, smartphones and in-vehicle telematics like OnStar or Acura Link. The various methods were meant to give users options that protected their privacy – one of the biggest stumbling blocks in selling the mileage-charge systems to the public. But 62 percent of the participants in California’s study chose options that tracked their location anyway.
The state’s report on the pilot found that the options with the best privacy protections – like odometer checks – would also be the hardest to enforce. The most reliable methods for tracking mileage were plug-in devices (that fit into a ports in vehicles that are often used by mechanics to diagnose mechanical problems). But those devices are also likely to be obsolete by the time any widespread mileage fee could be imposed. …
One idea is to have connected vehicles pay the fees through a “wireless handshake,” when the vehicle pulls up to get gas, an idea that Honda and Visa have explored for traditional gas purchases. But the agency wants to do it without having to retrofit every vehicle or every fuel station in the state. …

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 More here.

 

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Price Tags: The Georgia Straight helpfully provided the full text of Attorney-General David Eby’s speech: “Housing and trans-national money laundering: an update on what I’ve been doing as AG to address the housing crisis in BC”.

Here are some highlights:  . . It is clear, in my opinion, that the previous administration was aware we had a serious and growing reputational issue. It is also clear to me that they evaluated the costs of cracking down on white collar crime, on fraud, on money laundering, and determined that the benefits of inaction outweighed the costs of action. …It is hard for me not to speculate that some may gone further and seen a lax approach to money laundering, fraud, corporate transparency, land title registry transparency, as a competitive advantage, or a budgetary advantage, for the province.
But, of course, nobody wrote this down. I’m just speculating.
If anyone did see a lax approach to white collar crime, tax evasion and money laundering as a net benefit to B.C., they were dead wrong. The chickens have now come home to roost, and our international reputation is on the line.
I do not make this assessment lightly. …
I was sat down by members of B.C.’s Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch. One of the members of the public service said, “Get ready. I think we are going to blow your mind.”
He was right. …
In response to this startling report from the police about the need to increase enforcement, the Province of B.C., under the oversight of then minister Responsible Rich Coleman, defunded the policing team, shutting it down. …
This was not the first report received by the then finance minister on the problem, there were countless red flags from regulators, just the most explicit. It is important to note that this same period was a period of exceptional growth in the province’s gaming revenues.
Although the activity behind the scenes in government was remarkable, in the legislature, you would never have guessed there was a problem.
A month after receiving that report about the significant increase in the legitimization of proceeds of crime through B.C.’s gaming facilities, the former finance minister (Mike de Jong) told the legislature, on April 4, 2016, quote “I can tell you this. We take very seriously the obligation that we have to British Columbians to ensure that the activities that take place within regulated and lawful gaming establishments are being conducted with proceeds that are not—I repeat not—the result of criminal activity.”  … The previous administration’s lax attitude towards this issue means British Columbia has apparently developed its own, internationally recognized, model of money laundering.

This has a major and serious consequence for our international reputation, and also for the encouragement of whatever illegal activity might be generating these proceeds of crime. …
Why criminal organizations might consider locating in B.C.
…. with fewer than two percent of penalties and fines collected, and limited criminal charges going ahead, the message is obvious to those who might wish to participate in white collar crime.
You’ll have a better chance to get away with it in B.C.
… A final and more notorious benefit to an individual or corporation seeking to avoid the law and accountability in British Columbia is the fact that you can put your money into housing here without having to give up your name or identity.
There is a growing outrage among people in the lower mainland that their housing market has transitioned from one that is rationally connected to local incomes, to one that has no connection to local wages. …
The question that flows from this economic reality is quite simple.  Where is the money coming from? …
Others have pointed out that for luxury and commercial properties, transfer taxes are avoided through a non-transparent transfer of trust benefit rather than a sale of the property itself. Such a transfer results in no change in ownership being registered in the public registry. …
But the previous administration was well aware of these issues. … And the consequences of not acting are very apparent now.

  • Our own internationally recognized model of money laundering.
  • Articles in the New York Times outlining a cozy and opaque tax break program exploited by an alleged transnational criminal organization,
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A long time ago in a boardroom far far away, the TransLink Mayor’s Council set out a 10-year transit plan. In it was a series of relatively small improvements (Phase 1: the “first round”), in addition to tech planning on the glitzy big-dollar items like Broadway Millennium Line expansion, Patullo Bridge replacement and Surrey-Newton-Guilford light rail.  The Feds promised funding; so did the Provs.  But local Gov’ts were working on new funding sources.

Feds             $ 370M (capital expenditures)
Provs           $ 246M  (capital expenditures
“Regional”  $ 600M (capital expenditures)
.                    $ 800 M (10-year operating costs)

Today, we have a part of the picture, possibly bringing in $20M per year (subject to Provincial enabling legislation and TransLink board approval).
With thanks to Rattan Mall in VoiceOnline.com.

. . .  a new development cost charge (DCC) for transit investment. The charge will be set in a way that it can fund transit expansion without influencing housing prices.
DCCs are a one-time fee that would apply to new development to help fund growth-related infrastructure costs. . . .
TransLink will target the new DCC to raise about $20 million per year. TransLink is proposing setting residential rates between $1,200 and $2,100 per unit of new development. Non-residential rates could be set between $0.50 and $1 per square foot. Final adjustments to the rates will be made in 2018 in consultation with stakeholders.

Phase One Plan   (updated July 27, 2017)
Regional Funding Overview
(*) today’s announcement

  • (*) Introduction of a new region-wide development fee for transit and transportation.
  • Gradual annual increases to transit fares of about 5 to 10 cents on a single fare and $1 to $3 on a monthly pass.
  •  Adjusting property taxes to better reflect the impact of growth and development in the region.
  • Use of TransLink’s existing resources, including through the sale of surplus property  (note the windfall here from the Oakridge Transit Centre sale)

Deliverables Overview

  • Increase conventional bus, HandyDART, SeaBus, SkyTrain, and West Coast Express service – the largest transit service increase since 2009.
  • Upgrade transit stations and exchanges across the region.
  • Expand the length of the Major Road Network for the first time since 1999.
  • Provide municipalities with expanded funding for walking infrastructure, cycling infrastructure, and upgrades and seismic rehabilitation of the Major Road Network.
  • Prepare for future transportation investments, such as the Millennium Line Broadway Extension, South of Fraser Rapid Transit, Pattullo Bridge Replacement, and Upgrades to Existing Rail Infrastructure.
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There are two things that make a great city public transit system exceptional-having an accessible, clean transit system (preferably with washrooms)  and having that easy to use system operate throughout the night. Chicago, New York City, Barcelona, London and Paris do offer some rapid transit 24 hours a day.
But not Vancouver, and that fact makes it very hard for people leaving the downtown late, especially with the shortage of available taxis. BCTV disclosed that after all the years that TransLink said that it could not run a system late, surprise! Now they say they can, suggesting that SkyTrain may be able to run longer, “at least on weekends…The surprising revelation came from Matt Doyle, director of railway infrastructure, who oversees the overnight track maintenance that ensures trains can operate on schedule come rush hour.”
The public is normally told that maintenance crews need access to rails and switches to perform inspections and repairs at night. But since trains start service later on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the opportunity exists to run SkyTrain longer into the previous evenings. “Obviously 24-hour service or late-night service is successful around the world, so it is feasible,” Doyle said. “We don’t know what that would look like; it’s something that would require a significant amount of time, effort, planning and investment.”
That is good news as TransLink has always been positional about not offering late night service using the track maintenance excuse. However there was no comment on how Detroit, which has the same trains as TransLink, maintains service until 2 in the morning with no detrimental impact to needed track maintenance. And TransLink keeps trains runing during snowstorms to keep the tracks clear  Of course offering longer transit service will increase costs, but it would also keep night-time workers and  partiers going home on a safe reliable service. And that is how longer rapid transit  hours shape a city by offering more sustainable transportation at times when people need and use it.

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It was one of the most prudent decisions of the new Provincial government.  Instead of implicitly accepting the proposed ten lane bridge and decommissioning the Massey Tunnel, the new government declared they wanted to know why an overbuilt bridge on the floodplain with the most arable farm land in Canada was the preferred option. They also wanted to figure out why every member of the Mayors’ Council nixed this concept except for Delta, who stood to gain mass 20th century industrialization of the Fraser River if  the bridge went ahead.
As reported by the CBC an engineer with experience consulting on public infrastructure projects is the contracted person leading the technical review of the multi billion dollar proposed bridge. Stan Cowdell, the president of Westmar Project Advisors Inc., is expected to report back in the Spring of 2018 with his findings. Mr Cowdell was also involved in the W.R. Bennett floating bridge in Kelowna which was a private sector partnership to design, build, finance and operate the bridge.
Earlier  Claire Trevena the Transportation Minister  stated that this review would examine whether the ten lane bridge, a smaller crossing, or  different tunnel configurations would be the best option. The review will look at the existing tunnel’s  lifespan, congestion and safety concerns. All the previously produced information will be reviewed and the need for more technical work may be identified in the course of the work.
The independent technical review is expected to culminate in a report by Spring 2018.

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The Province Images
In the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department, double salary dipping Provincial MLA Ian Paton thought he had a very good idea. A newly minted Liberal MLA and also  happily continuing the strange conflict of interest of being on Delta City Council,  Mr. Paton still is representing Delta’s one hand clapping for the new Massey Bridge. Instead of productively working with the new Provincial government which is overseeing an evaluation of the Massey crossing options, Mr. Paton had the time to go the Massey Tunnel and hammer in some political billboards. Seriously.
Instead of those billboards saying something constructive, those billboards contain  one-sided tired 20th century political rhetoric. Those billboards don’t say that a multi-billion dollar overbuilt bridge on the sensitive Fraser River delta is being re-evaluated, that the lack of public process and the lack of buy-in of the Mayor’s Council on the size and the location was a concern. Oh no. They embarrassingly tell drivers that they are stuck in traffic because of the current government.  The signs are also placed on property not surprisingly owned by Ron Toigo of White Spot fame, who of course would greatly benefit if his farmland was rezoned industrial due to the location of a ten lane bridge. It’s all so transparent.
As Mike Smyth in The Province observes Andrew Weaver of the Green Party notes  what many others are thinking of these billboards: “It’s hilarious. I’ve had dozens of people contacting me to say, ‘Thank you for stopping the reckless path of an unreviewed bridge that was promised out of nowhere by the Liberals.’”
It’s really time to stop thinking of the Massey crossing as a political boondoggle and evaluate it for what it truly is. No one is disputing the need for better, more efficient access across the Fraser River. Bullying tactics don’t work~and future generations living in Metro Vancouver may inherit a prudent crossing that is respectful to the existing Agricultural Land Reserve and sensitive delta conditions, or a ten lane crossing that will speed up  the industrialization of the banks of the Fraser River. It’s our choice and we need to take the time to make the right decision for future generations.
 

 

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You can learn a lot about the previous Provincial government’s Massey Bridge process by looking at how other observers view it. This article from the Windsor Star compares the Gordie Howe International Bridge project connecting the Windsor and Detroit regions to the halted George Massey bridge project in Metro Vancouver.  That six lane international bridge is estimated to cost two billion dollars and is a public-private partnership, with a suggested opening for 2022.
A community advisory group member of the Gordie Howe Bridge project noted  that the “scuttling” of that bridge could occur without sound financial backing, drawing a comparison to the George Massey bridge which ” was scrapped on the eve of construction despite years of planning, plus $66 million spent on site clearing and other preparatory work.”  
While the Windsor article describes the  Massey Bridge ten lane crossing as being built to ease metro Vancouver commuter traffic, it also describes the intent as replacing “a crumbling, four-lane tunnel feared to be at risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake”,   that had a poor planning process and a lack of support from impacted communities. The article also states that local mayors were critical of the Massey Bridge which would increase congestion by throttling traffic into a four lane road.
Local Member of Parliament Peter Julian (NDP — New Westminster-Burnaby), weighs in calling the Massey Bridge plan “as “back of the napkin” thinking despite the large amount of money spent and preparation work completed.“Maybe it was a large, expensive napkin, but you had 10 lanes going into four lanes,” Julian said Friday. “There was no out (for traffic). It was absurd. It wasn’t well thought out and you had municipalities rejecting the idea.”
Ontario Member of Parliament Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor-West) for the Windsor and Detroit bridge said the two bridge projects appear eerily similar “on the surface,” but in reality are not. “One is an international bridge, the other was a provincial initiative that posed problems for a lot of municipalities which opposed the idea to begin with,” he said. “There seemed to be a lack of consultation, while we had full community consultation as part of a long public process.”
The Massey Tunnel/Bridge Crossing will be re-examined by the Provincial Government, with an expected study completed by late 2018.
 

 
 

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