July 30, 2015

Nathan Pachal’s Story of TransLink in Three Parts – and how to solve the funding issue

South Fraser Blogger Nathan Pachal has distilled a lot of information to explain the backstory of TransLink – and how we got to now.  You can read all three parts on his blog here.

My very abridged version:


The Story of TransLink Part 1: The Old Funding Bait and Switch


Metro Vancouver (the GVRD at that time) adopted the Livable Region Strategic Plan and Transport 2021 in the 1990s. …   By building walkable and transit-accessible neighbourhoods, the Region could accommodate growth while preserving precious greenspace and farmland – the very things that make our region a special place.

There was a hitch though.  … more transit service would be needed.  B.C. Transit was in a sorry state. …

The Province wanted to cap spending on transit while the Region wanted more control ….  After much back and forth, a deal was struck.

A new transportation agency would be created for Metro Vancouver – now TransLink – controlled by a 15 member board: 12 Metro Vancouver appointees, with sub-regional representation and weighted votes, like other Metro Vancouver boards; and three board members appointed by the provincial government.

Funding was a sticking point. In the end, the Province agreed to keep paying ongoing capital payments for the Expo Line and West Coast Express, and to pay 60 percent of the capital costs of the yet to be built Millennium Line and Evergreen Line.

The provincial government would stop charging a Hospital District Property Tax in the region, worth $70 million (2015 dollars) at the time, and reduce the provincial gas tax in Metro Vancouver by six cents. The idea was to create a replacement property tax and gas tax for the new regional transportation authority.  The new transit authority would also get the other funding sources that existed at the time including fares, the parking sales tax, the B.C. Hydro levy, and non-residential property tax.

It was known that more funding would be needed: $265 million per year (2015 dollars) in … a proposed vehicle levy to be introduced after the 2001 provincial election. .

On paper, both the Province and local governments got what they wanted. The Region got control of transportation while the Province was able to stop funding the operation of transit in Metro Vancouver out of general revenue. Metro Vancouver residents would finally get the transit system they deserved.

Of course, this wasn’t to be. The NDP, fearing the vehicle levy would get them unelected, scrapped it. The B.C. Liberal won that election and didn’t move forward with the levy.

The BC Liberals agreed to raise gas tax by two cents per liter if local governments agreed to jack up property tax to collect an additional $20 million per year, and fares would be hiked an additional $25 million per year, to bring in $85 million per year (in 2002 dollars).

It was enough to keep things going while getting the Millennium Line running. But it was far short of the money required to meet the vision of Transport 2021.

*  *  *  *  *


The Story of TransLink Part 2: How the province got out of paying its fair share for transit in Metro Vancouver


When the Province made the deal to create TransLink, it agreed to eliminate the hospital property tax, to increase the local share of gas tax, and to continue to pay for SkyTrain debt. They also agreed to pay for 60 percent of the capital cost of new rapid transit lines.

While this might have sounded like a good deal at the time, the B.C. government broke its promises to the region.

If transit in Metro Vancouver was funded the same way that the Victoria Regional Transit System is today (30 percent of the cost),* in 2014 the B.C. government would have had to pay $428 million into TransLink. …

There is a $137 million to $199 million gap between the 30 percent ideal and what the Province paid into TransLink in 2014. The Province is actually paying less for Metro Vancouver transit today than it did in 1998!


*  With the exception of Victoria, the provincial government pays around 50 percent of the cost for transit service in B.C.  The remaining 50 percent is made up from property tax and fares. …

In Victoria, the provincial government pays for 30% of the cost of transit. The remaining 70 percent is made up from a local 3.5 cent gas tax, property tax, and fares.

*  *  *  *  *


The Story of TransLink Part 3 – How Metro Vancouver got a bum deal, and how we can fix it


Why don’t the Region’s mayors just raise property tax to pay for much-needed regional transportation investments in Metro Vancouver?

While a doubling of the property tax allocated for TranLink is in the realm of possibility, why are the mayors so against it?  Because the Province promised several things that it didn’t deliver on.

  • a vehicle levy as a way to pay for regional roads, bridges, and transit in the region.
  • 60 percent  of the cost of new rail rapid transit lines. (The Province now only commits to funding 33 percent.)

In 2014, the Province paid for about 15- 20 percent of the cost to run TransLink. (It paid about 30 percent for the B.C. Transit system in Victoria, and 50 percent for transit systems in the rest of the province.)  Before the creation of TransLink, the Province paid for 46 percent of the cost of transit in Metro Vancouver.


Provincial Funding Levels for BC Transit and TransLink in 2014.


So how do we fund the mayors’ transportation plan while bringing back equity for Metro Vancouver taxpayers? As a first step, the Province should agree to fund 30 percent of TransLink’s costs in a similar fashion to how it does for the Victoria Regional Transit System. (This 30 percent would include an adjustment for the six cents per liter of fuel tax that the Province gave up in Metro Vancouver.)

To simplify things and bring back transparency, the provincial government should reintroduce the Hospital District Levy in Metro Vancouver.

Even with these changes, there would still be about a $100 million per year gap in revenue needed to fund the mayors’ transportation plan. If an annual $64 vehicle levy, indexed to inflation was introduced, the funding gap would be filled.

Metro Vancouver would finally get the transportation system we need, and some equality would be introduced back into how the Province funds transit in Metro Vancouver – without the need of another wasteful referendum.



Read the complete story here.

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  1. Great work Nathan.

    As well, federal funding should be used to reduce the amount the region pays or increase the amount of transit built. Instead, half of it gas been used to reduce the amount the Province pays for rapid transit projects. And even worse, the region is paying around half the of the Canada Line while the Province got away with paying only a bit over 20%. This has resulted in more money for massively overbuilt bridges.

    Since the Province wants final say in rapid transit projects, they should fund them with only federal help. The Province has built most of them anyway and they do a pretty good job.

    1. What that means is that there’s huge demand for housing near rapid transit. A sensible person would see results like that and conclude that we need to build drastically more transit, if it’s so in demand that it’s driving up prices. Keep building until “located near a skytrain station” is an expectation, not a selling point.

      Being near parks and good schools also drives up housing prices, but we don’t question the need for those things.

    2. Another factor that is often missed is that the cost of living should also include transportation costs. If you don’t need a car because you are close to transit then that would reduce your cost of living.

    3. It’s not TOD whole scale leading to lack of affordability and displacement, it’s the choice of TOD that munis (particularly Burnaby) have chosen to build. Replacing purpose built rental housing with medium to higher end condos is more of the concern. Some units will end up back on the market in the form of rentals (either through low income development requirements or investment property rentals), but those that do are often higher priced than the original rental stock, on average. Meanwhile, the displaced family had to live somewhere after their building was bought and knocked down while the tower was constructed.

      TOD in concept should remain the strategic goal, but the approach to it needs to be considered carefully. Full scale condo conversion/development at the expense of rental stock is not going to meet other municipal/regional policy goals.

      1. Remember that high end condo of today will be the affordable rental of 30 years from now and if there are more units the price will be less. I get we can`t build enough condos to make living in Vancouver affordable, but it is equally obvious if we stop building and preserve our existing housing stock prices would be way way worse.

        1. @Rico
          This is a crucial nuance that is often lacking. People say look we built lots of housing but it is still expensive, the answer is often if we didn’t it would have been worse.

        2. @Rico
          I don’t necessarily disagree with the concept of needing to change existing housing stock and adding supply to a fixed land mass. Over the longer term, changes to existing land use need to be made if we plan on accommodating additional growth of any type, ignoring affordability at all. Ideally, both accommodating growth and doing so for a range of incomes would be great.

          But to frame the construction of privately-owned condo units vs. preservation of (or construction of) purpose-built rental housing as somehow mutually exclusive in the long run is not the way I would choose look at the issue. Private condo ownership vs. public, purpose built rental housing have some policy trade-offs, specifically trade-offs related to the ability to exert even modest levels of control on future housing stock within specific affordability ranges.

          There’s also a time-scale aspect to this. In the long run, affordability is a good policy goal…it’s also a nice goal in the short to medium run. When you need to evict existing tenants for the purpose of building towers, there’s a short to medium run impact on affordability as these folks look for alternatives in the same area (which increasingly don’t exist), or are forced to move further out to outlying areas or out of the region entirely. Affordability in 30-years may not matter much if the majority of the blue-collar and service class for the region have left in the intervening time.

          As with most things in life, careful thought and a varied approach to development seems like a formula for success. The current infatuation with privately owned condos through a ‘tower on podium’ prescription needs to reconsidered. Variety is the spice of life….and cities!