The excellent “Price Tags” blognotes something that came through pretty loud and clear when I was in Vancouver over the last couple of weeks and researching a bit into their transport situation (although I was mostly focusing on land-use initiatives, you can never quite separate the two) – there’s no money left in traditional funding sources to keep improving the system, should they hold back for a while (especially as a few roading projects seem to have snuck in recently) or does Vancouver need to find different ways of sourcing funds for important further improvements to its transport network?
The region is at a turning point: whether to proceed to shape growth around expanded transit in the fast-growing parts of Metro by raising local taxes, or forgeddaboudit – which is easy and tempting to do since all the expanded road capacity from Gateway, notably the Port Mann Bridge, Highway 1 and the South Fraser Perimeter Road, will be coming on stream. Once congestion disappears on Highway 1 in the short term, it will be tempting to say, who needs transit? And TransLink, having had its legs cut from under it by Martin Crilly, the TransLink Commissioner, doesn’t have much public credibility.
But the problems don’t go away – notably the decline in one existing revenue source, the gas tax (Stephen Rees discusses that here and here), and the increasing pressure on the Broadway corridor, already the busiest bus route on the continent. Students are planning a major education campaign-cum-protest in the Fall, the City of Vancouver needs a decision to move ahead on rapid-transit for the Broadway corridor, UBC at the west end of the route wants rail to support its expansion, both real-estate and academic, and the developers and realtors themselves understand how important transit has become for directing and shaping growth. That’s a powerful political constituency if they could combine forces.
But the mayors are faced with with a dysfunctional governance arrangement, no likelihood of provincial action until after the election, the prospect of raising property taxes or cutting services, and the requirement to make a decision within weeks.
It is very interesting the difference that comes from spending a while in a place, rather than just a few days – and also researching a bit more into the problems faced by a city that you’ve so often thought of as “having it sorted”.
In many ways though Vancouver’s problems mirror those of Auckland – or at least the problems Auckland is likely to face in a few years time. It seems that quite a lot of the funding pressures in Vancouver exist because they have a small number of very large transport projects either under way or relatively recently completed. The Port Mann Bridge project, spending up to $3.3 billion (including operations and maintenance), seems a project particularly ‘out of step’ with Vancouver’s general approach to transport in the past and has a number of parallels with the Additional Harbour Crossing project that has a likely cost which has ballooned out to over $5 billion. Looking forward into Auckland’s future, it is the Waitemata Harbour Crossing project which is just so expensive that it really threatens our ability to achieve much else. One wonders whether finding a cheaper alternative will become increasingly important as time goes on.
Of course there is still much to be jealous of Vancouver about – and in the form of the Evergreen Line the fantastic Skytrain system is being significantly expanded as we speak, but beyond that project, and even to keep up service levels without significantly raising fares, Vancouver is perhaps struggling a bit more than I thought and faces some really challenging choices over the next few years. With Auckland likely to go through the same processes, but over the next couple of decades most particularly, we’d do well to keep an eye on what happens in Vancouver.