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Notes from the SFU City Conversation about TransLink funding

Notes from the SFU City Conversation about TransLink funding

The SFU City Conversation panel discussion on transit funding in Metro Vancouver.

As previously mentioned, I attended the SFU City Conversations talk today called “Out of Service: The Future For TransLink?” And here are my notes from the event, in case you were wondering what happened! (Corrections welcome, of course: I was just taking notes and could certainly have misheard things.)

First, there were three speakers on the panel, and each made a short presentation before the floor was opened up to questions and thoughts from the public. They were:

Speaker presentations

Nancy gave a presentation about TransLink’s transportation plan for 2013 and the funding challenges we currently face with declining gas tax revenue. Rather than rehashing the whole thing, I’ll just direct you to our website which covers the same material!

Anne McMullin spoke about development and land use as it relates to transit. She noted that rarely do people talk about transit opportunities with higher densities, and said that the UDI believes population growth should be focused in places with transit infrastructure. There’s a need to remove obstacles to developing near existing transit, and infill development must be made more appealing to build than developments on the outskirts of cities. Each person who lives near a SkyTrain station provides TransLink with more revenue with little to no cost on the system. She discussed how transit is now a key item for homeowners choosing a place to live, but municipal taxation often isn’t going to improve transit or connect people better to transit.

She also talked about how transit service should be put in places with a strong business case to do so. TransLink needs to be consulted early in the process, and the public should be consulted on new service they might receive as part of new developments. For example, if a Vancouver development can put 30,000 more jobs and people in a corridor, then that would be more likely to receive transit service than a less densely populated development.

Anne emphasized that we are lucky here in Vancouver in that we understand societal advantages of transport oriented development, and that it’s not the case in other places in North America and Australia. Here, we have developers focused on transit oriented development, and something like the Marine Gateway development at Marine and Cambie was a perfect example. Over 10,000 people expressed interest in the development, and the building sold out in 4 hours.

Tanya Paz talked about the formation of the new advocacy groups Get On Board and the Sustainable Transportation Coalition — people in Vancouver strongly recognize the need for more transit, and that focusing on roads without other choices gets us stuck. At a symposium held in 2011, they did a secret vote among attendees to test acceptance of tax options like carbon tax, vehicle levy, and road tolling—and most people were greatly in favour of all three. Thus they’re calling out for political leadership in drawing more funding for transit, and asking people to sign their petition and raise awareness of transit funding, to draw more attention to the issue.

Audience questions and discussion

The first question asked about area benefitting financing – an existing tax mechanism that levies taxes on areas within 350m around transit stations, owing to the lift in the value of the area due to nearby transit. The questioner said this money is collected by municipalities and is not given back to transit. Anne answered and made reference to her point that municipalities are not using the taxes from areas improved by transit to continually improve transit.

Erin from HUB asked next about cycling. She said Nancy’s presentation had pointed out that cycling is our region’s fastest growing mode, but still funding is being cut to cycling initiatives. Tanya suggested one answer is to signing the petition — by that she said she meant that the petition can help indicate strongly that cycling is a priority, and that political parties are listening, especially in advance of the provincial election. She said that cycling infrastructure is also quite cost-effective, and like Janette Sadik-Khan in New York has done, municipalities can innovate and get out their paintbrushes and make cycling infrastructure happen on a shoestring. Smart taxes on vehicles that could raise funding based on usage, vehicle type, and more could help raise more funds too.

Anne added that in terms of long term funding, though, we should ask how we increase ridership rather than how we get funding from cars. She asked how we can change the way we look at ridership, and the opportunity of 30-35,000 people coming into the region each year, and find ways to encourage them to not take to the roads in private vehicles. She wasn’t sure that we do much as a region to raise these issues, and the amount of money needed is not just going to come out of individual pockets.

Fred Bass came up next and introduced himself as a former TransLink board member and a former Vancouver city councillor. He asked how many MLAs were in audience (there were none) and how many members of the media were in audience (two). He highlighted a point that Nancy made in her presentation about how transportation needs to “keep up with economic growth,” and said that instead we need the idea that transportation drives economic growth. He asked if there was a current estimate for the public cost of each motor vehicle in this region. No one had the number offhand, but Sarah Ross from TransLink in attendance knew there were about a million cars in our region. Fred then said that if you find how many cars there are and calculate how much is spent on infrastructure for them, you’d see that cars don’t pay as much as transit, and they’re not paying their way.

Another person asked a question about what is a sustainable funding resource not dependent on vehicles? As TransLink gets more cars off the roads, they will become victims of their own success with declining revenues. Nancy suggested that a conversation may have to be had about income tax. Could transportation simply be a cost that people pay out of income tax?

The moderator then asked a question about carbon tax that I missed — if anyone has that, fill us in!

Richard Campbell stood up and said that we haven’t quantified the business benefit to having transit in the region, and that doing so would help improve our case. Anne said that there is of data on cost of having idling cars on the road and other data, but there still exists a challenge in translating this info into something meaningful for the individual. How does it translate to “What’s in it for me?”

Someone introduced themselves as a student who uses transit a lot. He said that he gets passed up a lot, and often it’s because people aren’t moving to the back of the bus — you can see the empty space in the back of the buses passing by. He asked if there was a strategy to maximize space on the bus. Nancy asked if he would help take leadership on this. She said she takes it as her personal responsibility to move back, and the issue is really a civic engagement, responsibility thing. TransLink has a few campaigns on etiquette and more, and she said we do queue nicely for the buses, so it’s not as bad as it could be. She stressed that if you lead the way, others can follow.

The next question asked why wasn’t Compass card put in at the same time as Canada Line? Nancy said she wished we had it sooner but we’re moving in that direction. The questioner said that in Asia and Toronto, they’ve done it already. Nancy said that Toronto didn’t have a smartcard system yet, and said why look backwards: we’re going forward at this time.

And that was mostly what I got… any additions or corrections, please email me or share a note in the comments!