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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »
“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.

Read more »

Via Architect This City

Guest Post: For whom the road tolls?

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For those of who were following Architect This City during the Gardiner Expressway East debate here in Toronto, you might remember that Darren Davis (transport planner with Auckland Transport) wrote a guest post called, Three minutes that rule the world – Will demolishing the Gardiner East actually make traffic worse?

It was an incredibly popular post at the time, so I’m thrilled that Darren volunteered to do another one on road tolls. This is a topic that I’m very interested in and have written about a few times. Road pricing, as you’ll see below, puts us in a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. But sooner or later I think we will need to get our head around it, as will many other cities.

(Edited version.  Full article here.)


In a world where time is money, we are constantly berated about the economic costs of congestion. In 2011, the Toronto Board of Trade estimated that congestion in the Toronto region alone cost the regional economy $6 billion a year, rising to an estimated $15 billion in 2031 should no action be taken. More recent research by the CD Howe Institute pegs this figure at up to $11 billion.

Given these sorts of eye-watering figures, one might be tempted to think that car drivers, and in particular the goods industry, would be flinging their wallets open at the chance to buy their way out of congestion. And in fact Toronto has the 407 Express Toll Route which has elements of variable road pricing. However, while the 407 ETR carries around 350,000 vehicles per day, price increases have been matters of controversy. …

Similar stand-alone efforts to address congestion in Metro Vancouver with tolled routes, such as the Port Mann Bridge on the Trans-Canada Highway and the Golden Ears Bridge, have fallen well short of their projected traffic volumes, while nearby untolled bridges such as the Patullo Bridge are heavily congested. We have a similar experience in New Zealand where our two tolls roads, with car tolls of $2 and $2.20 respectively, experience diversion rates of up to 30% to the alternative but substantially longer and slower free routes.

This brings up a fundamental paradox: Congestion costs the economy a fortune and congestion is a top-of-mind frustration, yet people seem reluctant to pay even comparatively small amounts to bypass congestion. …

The very few cities that have actually had significant success at reducing traffic congestion – notably Singapore, London and Stockholm – have done this through cordon-based congestion pricing wherein if you pass the cordon, you pay the congestion charge. …  The latest Travel in London report states that “Over the 10-year period from 2003, total trips have increased by 11.4 per cent …  Car driver trips decreased by 12.7 per cent over the same period.”  …

Stockholm has experienced a permanent reduction in traffic of about 20% across the toll cordon and congestion decreased by 30 – 50% – which demonstrates that traffic volume reductions have a disproportionately positive impact on congestion. About half of the “disappearing” drivers changed to transit, the rest to other alternatives such as different departure times and destinations and taking fewer trips.

For more on Stockholm, I suggest reading the Tools of Change case study on Stockholm Congestion Pricing.

Before and after congestion charge photos of traffic levels in Stockholm

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While this sounds very promising, congestion charging has significant equity implications and requires upfront investment to provide people who either choose to or can no longer afford to drive with transportation alternatives. Both Stockholm and London invested very heavily in public transit in advance of implementing congestion charging.

And this brings up a big issue for Toronto.

For congestion charging to have a meaningful impact on congestion without stifling economic activity or impeding people’s ability to move around, the core capacity of Toronto’s transit system would need to be addressed first. In particular the Yonge Line capacity enhancements, Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail and most likely the Downtown Relief Line would need to be in place to provide both capacity and choice for people who either needed or wanted a travel alternative to any congestion charge.  

Read more »

” … people get frustrated by traffic congestion, which costs them considerable time and inconvenience. They demand that ‘government’ fix the problem — just don’t raise their taxes. Someone else should pay. When it comes down to forking over their own money, people display a remarkably high tolerance for congestion. If they have to pay for it, they’ll usually opt to plug in their iPod and put up with an extra ten minutes of driving.”

James Bacon, Smart Growth for Conservatives

Read more »

From CTV Vancouver News:

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The idea of enticing drivers to use the new Port Mann Bridge is being panned by transportation analysts and critics a day after CTV News learned the crown corporation in charge of bridge tolls is considering an incentive program.

“In this case it looks like we’re going to be in the business of subsidizing sprawl,” said Gordon Price, Director of SFU’s City Program. “In order to feed the bridge, we’re going to give incentives so that people will drive more and further out to cheaper land.”

The idea appears to go against a regional growth plan to make the Lower Mainland a greener, less car-dependent region with multiple options for transportation that include driving, transit, biking and walking.

The Transportation Investment Corp’s vice-president of tolling, Max Logan told CTV News Monday that the crown corporation was considering a frequent flyer-type rewards system for regular bridge users.

“I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what we said we wanted to do,” said Price.

New numbers released last week showed Port Mann Traffic has fallen below levels seen before the new crossing was built as drivers opt for the aging Patullo Bridge, which has no toll.

“We’ve got a bill now of $3.6-billion for a bridge that nobody’s using,” said NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena. “They’re using any other option except the Port Mann, so this is something the government has got to find a solution for pretty quickly or else it’ll never pay off this debt.”

According to Price, car use peaked in North America 10 years ago and that wasn’t taken into account when building the new Port Mann, which was overbuilt.

“I think it’s going to be looked upon like the Granville Bridge. It was a huge structure for its time in the 50s but we never needed to build a bridge that wide, that many lanes and we can’t fill it up. Now we can take two lanes out,” he said.

Price fears the same sort of planning is occurring with the 10-lane replacement for the George Massey Tunnel that will not include any major transit improvements, nor does it take into account disruptive change of technology and decreased car ownership.

Regardless of future plans, the government still needs to come up with a plan to recoup the more than $3.6-billion it owes on the Port Mann.

Currently the bridge is losing $80-million per year.

Read more »

Pete McMartin critiques the PMB in The Sun:

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Port Mann Bridge: It’s better at racking up debt than carrying commuters

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Oops. Another shiny new tolled multibillion-dollar bridge, another fiduciary horror story. The twinned Port Mann is better at racking up debt than traffic. …

Not only are traffic numbers headed in the wrong direction, so is the Port Mann’s indebtedness. The Transportation Investment Corp., the Crown corporation responsible for the bridge’s construction, is projecting a debt of $3.61 billion. That single, singular sum is equivalent to 48 per cent of Trans Link’s entire panoply of transit initiatives that Metro Vancouverites will consider in the upcoming plebiscite.

(Plus a quote from the post I did here.)  .

There are some instructive lessons here to be learned. Some of them can be applied to the plebiscite, which, as I have stated repeatedly, I support. These are:

1. Stuff costs money. Making life easier for cars especially costs money. That’s why the bridge was tolled. But drivers still expect a free ride, as if driving a car was somehow different than any other public utility. Those days are over, or soon will be.

2. We need a comprehensive plan, not stopgap measures like the Port Mann. Tolling, of the pick-and-choose variety we have here in Metro Vancouver, does not work. A more comprehensive strategy, like universal road-pricing, will come eventually, but not in the immediate future.

3. Comprehensive road-pricing is, at the very least, a decade out, and probably more because of the reluctance of our provincial government to embrace it, and because of the costs of megaprojects like the Port Mann, which have to be recovered. That takes time.

4. In the meantime, the Trans Link plan is the best alternative to get us from here to there — that, or we can face growing gridlock as our population explodes in the Metro area. To vote no out of anger with the Trans Link executive or on the misinformed notion that there’s nothing in it for your part of the city or because British Columbians are taxed to death (we aren’t) will only end up costing taxpayers more, not less.

5. The entire predicament we are in, transit-wise, has been engineered by the provincial government, although it likes to pretend it’s had nothing to do with it. It wrested local control of Trans Link away from the municipalities and installed the present governance model; it insisted upon a plebiscite before O King the Trans Link plan; it set the terms of the plebiscite and set the ridiculously short time limit for Metro mayors to come up with a comprehensive 10-year plan; it restricted the forms of revenue production Trans Link could use to fund its plan, refusing to consider road-pricing or other forms of revenue that trespassed on its bottom line; it has refused to campaign for the plan so as to distance itself from a popular tax revolt, à la the HST.

Meanwhile, our premier wants her bridge built to replace the Massey tunnel, without going to plebiscite because, well, she can. Cost? A rumoured $3 billion. Reasoning? Purportedly, to relieve traffic congestion, though, incidentally of course, a bridge will do away with that pesky tunnel, which, once gone, will allow deep-draught oceangoing freighters and tankers up the river for the first time, which will lead to the industrialization of the lower Fraser, which is quite the coincidence, don’t you think? Where will all that uncontested traffic go once it hits the Oak Street Bridge? Good question.

Will it be tolled? Without doubt, since one study showed — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — an untolled bridge would attract too many commuters looking for a free ride.

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By Michael Mui in 24 Hours – curiously, one of the only papers to high-profile this.

The tolled Port Mann Bridge is seeing a decline in the number of drivers using the span as the province holds its breath for traffic volumes to “mature.”

But while government waits, Transportation Investment Corp. — the Crown corporation overseeing the bridge — reports projected debt levels for this year have reached $3.6 billion, and its deficit is expected to reach $459 million by the 2016/17 fiscal year.

Dermod Travis, executive director for Integrity B.C., said it’s taxpayers taking a hit as government waits to receive revenues from the Crown corporation.

“They’re saying the traffic is coming back now that people can see they’re saving so much time — well they’re not coming back because traffic is down in 2014 compared to 2013,” he said.

“They have dampened their goals every year — they’ve increased taxpayer exposure to the bridge.”

The bridge replacement was intended to be funded by public-private partnership, but it was announced in late February 2009 that the province would build the bridge under a fixed-price contract of $2.46 billion.

The project was always going to lose money at the beginning, but the plan was for the debt to be paid off using tolling revenues.

In 2012, according to the B.C. government’s budget and fiscal plan of the time, which details revenues from Crown corporations, the province had anticipated revenue shortfalls of $125 million between 2012/13 and 2014/15, to “reflect operating losses during the construction phase” — expecting those to change to “net income as tolls are introduced.”

But by the time of the 2014 budget and fiscal plan, those forecasts had been significantly changed, now showing a $240-million revenue shortfall for the same years, with more losses predicted ahead.

In the document, government was also less optimistic on when TI Corp. would begin generating net revenues, saying TI Corp. would start turning a profit “as traffic volumes mature.”

But it doesn’t appear traffic volumes are growing. In 2006/07, according to a statement from TI Corp., the average weekly summertime “peak” traffic numbers were around 127,000 vehicles per day.

In August 2013 — the highest average daily figure for that year — traffic volumes were at 112,700 per day. In August 2014, which was also the busiest month that year for Port Mann, the figure fell to 110,600.

TI Corp is blaming transit:

“These volumes are lower than the 2006/7 number because of a number of factors, such as the 2008 recession, drivers avoiding the corridor during construction, as well as the popularity of the new ExpressBus service, which all occurred after the original traffic forecast were developed during the PMH1’s design phase,” reads a statement from TI Corp.

The corporation said a revised forecast has now been developed.

TI Corp. says its new forecast confirms its ability to meet financial obligations without taxpayer support, and expects to pay off its debt by 2050.

And then, in a poll below the article:

 

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As I don’t have to remind PT readers, Sightline was on to this years ago, as part of their “Dude, Where are My Cars” series:

Just one of many examples of ‘Motordom Fail’ in traffic forecasting, documented here.

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Motorist response to Port Mann – still current, as the above poll indicates – confirms that tolls create behaviour change.  Assumptions about increased convenience and time saved are not a reliable basis for making multi-billion-dollar decisions.  And yet, that is exactly what is happening with the Massey Bridge proposal: “B.C. moves forward with bridge to replace Massey Tunnel.”

NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
2013PREM0095-001430Sept. 20, 2013 Office of the Premier
Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

 

B.C. moves forward with bridge to replace Massey Tunnel

VANCOUVER – Today, Premier Christy Clark announced that the Government of British Columbia will move ahead on the project to replace the George Massey Tunnel, with construction of a new bridge on the existing Highway 99 corridor to begin in 2017.

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