Governance & Politics
August 25, 2017

The Green Position on Toll Removal

Here’s Andrew Weaver’s release on today’s announcement:
Weaver statement on government’s decision to remove bridge tolls
VICTORIA, BC – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green caucus, issued the following statement today in response to the government’s removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges.
“It’s unfortunate that the government has decided to proceed with this reckless policy,” said Weaver.
“There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern. However, this policy is high cost and low impact. There are lots of good, high return-on-investments decisions that government can make, such as education, student housing and child care. It is disappointing that the first major measure that this government has taken to make life more affordable for British Columbians will add billions of dollars to taxpayer-supported debt. Moreover, making such a massive addition to our debt risks raising interest on all debt, which ultimately prevents government from being able to invest more in important social programs.
“Tolls are an excellent policy tool to manage transport demand. Transport demand management reduces pollution and emissions, alleviates congestion and helps pay for costly infrastructure. That’s why, at the negotiating table when preparing our Confidence and Supply Agreement, we ensured that a commitment was included to work with the Mayors’ Council consultation process to find a more fair and equitable way of funding transit for the long-term. We look forward to that commitment being met so that British Columbians can have an evidence-based, truly fair approach to this file.”
 
As one commentator noted, the NDP may well have won the election as a consequence of their promise to remove tolls on the Port Mann.  It may have secured the needed ridings, particularly South of the Fraser.
But Weaver’s points are good – and deserving of a major policy debate in the House, particularly with respect to the implications for future decisions on road pricing.

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On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.
Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?
Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.
Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.
What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.
There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.
The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.
JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.
Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.
When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.
 
A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”
JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.
She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.
 
Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation
People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.
“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”
“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it.

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“Leaders in the Shadows: The Leadership Qualities of Municipal Chief Administrative Officers” is the title of a recent book by David Siegel, a Professor of Political Science at Brock University. Yes, it’s about city managers – those who stay out of the limelight, but who directly influence the decision-makers, making recommendations that they are then charged with implementing, hence influencing both the inputs and the outcomes.  All very ‘Yes, Minister.’
It’s a perfect phrase for those whose names you didn’t read about or may not even know, but who must have influenced the Premier in her decision to announce the building of the Massey Bridge as a done deal, prior to the transit referendum in 2014.
These Leaders in the Shadows have contacts up, down and across the decision-making apparatus, notably those in the Gateway initiatives.  They then have to provide the justifications for a policy or project, even if the stated reasons aren’t actually the ones that determined the decision.  (Which in the case of Motordom is sometimes just the need to keep feeding the machine with multi-billion-dollar projects on a regular basis.  See ‘Sunshine Coast Connector.’)
The Massey Bridge proposal had no relationship (or even mention) in the regional transportation plan, or for that matter in any of the current provincial transportation plans. The previous Minister, Kevin Falcon, had even ruled it out.  But the LitS can come up with a new set of justifications.  Hey, it solves the worst congestion in the province!  Plus whatever other arguments are needed to justify a $4 billion exercise in excess. (Sure, throw in another lane; we can get this sucker up to at least ten.).
So far they’ve been able to avoid having to explain just how the decision-making actually worked and what factors went into the process – or did not.  Here’s an obvious one:

Did you take into account the possible impacts of new technologies and new ways people will be using vehicles – whether automated vehicles, car-sharing or Uber-like ride-sharing? If so, do share the results.

With respect to the impact of automated vehicles, we can be pretty sure that no serious work was done, if other jurisdictions are any indication – as noted in this piece from today’s New York Times:

Self-Driving Cars May Get Here Before We’re Ready

Even though fully autonomous cars could be ready for the road within the next decade, only 6 percent of the country’s most populous cities have accounted for them in their long-term plans, according to a study from the National League of Cities, an advocacy and research group. …

Google, Uber, Tesla and a host of automakers have been moving at full speed to develop driverless technologies. Although the federal government has expressed support for autonomous vehicles, it has so far left regulatory decisions to state and local governments.

“Paradoxically, despite a lot of cities’ thinking this technology is coming, very few have started to plan for it,” Mr. Mitchell said.

 

In the case of Massey we can reasonably conclude that it is being planned in spite of whatever technology might bring or the consequences of road pricing and the ability to regulate traffic volumes through market mechanisms.  But shovels have to be in the ground by the time the 2017 election rolls around.
Prediction: the Massey Bridge may be one of the greatest boondoggles in a province that historically has had no shortage of them. Read more »
Good news out of the Emerald City – from the Seattle Times: .

… the biggest winners in Tuesday’s election appear to be Seattle’s urbanists — its advocates for more bicycling, transit and density. Candidates they backed have won or are ahead in every race as ballots continue to be counted.
And the Move Seattle transportation levy they championed is all but certain to pass, as well. …
Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Transit Blog, Seattle Bike Blog and Seattle Subway, urbanist-type organizations that endorsed in the council election, are getting their way. No council candidate endorsed by any of those groups is currently losing.
“This election is a huge win,” said Owen Pickford, executive director of The Urbanist, a Seattle-based organization and blog. …

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Meanwhile in Vancouver, Sun columnist Don Cayo (congrats on winning the Bill Good Award at the Websters!) contrasts the  dilemma of our situation:

An influential think-tank says Vancouver can’t solve its traffic problems without some kind of road tolling system.
The case for road pricing — in Vancouver this would probably mean a comprehensive system of tolls that go up or down depending on traffic volume — is clear.
What remains muddy, however, is how to overcome a unique obstacle preventing implementation of this sensible solution to Metro Vancouver’s traffic woes.
This obstacle is Premier Christy Clark and her turf war with municipal leaders. Clark holds the hammer in terms of legislative authority and control over revenue, and she uses it to insist — despite counter-productive examples of plebiscites on both the HST and TransLink funding — on holding another vote if/ when the region decides it wants to use tolling as a tool to rein in congestion. …
But how Clark’s own government collects and spends money? On this, the voice of the people matters to her not so much — leaving her free to, among other things, unilaterally decide to spend $3 billion or so to replace the congested Massey Tunnel south of Vancouver with a bridge that may or may not be tolled.
Still, she has no qualms about hobbling municipal leaders by imposing a vote that, history suggests, will be influenced more by strident populism than thoughtful analysis. …
Of course, comprehensive, variable tolling for the region was proposed almost five years ago by a senior group from the Ministry of Transport, TransLink and the cities of Vancouver and Surrey. The regional mayors, who have weak powers to oversee some aspects of TransLink, have renewed this call from time to time.
But Clark keeps saying No — or she sets the bar so high that any proposal is near-certain to fail.

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