Monday, March 31, 2008

You heard it here first folks!

The Vancouver Sun ran a great editorial on Saturday endorsing Hong Kong’s real estate development model as a way to expand the Lower Mainland’s transit system without reaching into the pockets of taxpayers.

We’re particularly pleased about the Sun’s editorial because we’ve been pitching the Hong Kong approach for nearly two months. In fact, the Hong Kong model has been central to our last three press releases. Remember folks, you heard it from Get Moving BC first.

TransLink has to start milking its cash cows to pay for expanded service

Vancouver Sun - Published: Saturday, March 29, 2008

The notion that transit lines don't have to be bottomless pits for public dollars is a radical departure from past experience in Metro Vancouver.

In Hong Kong, however, the public transit system is not only run at a profit, new lines and stations are seen as cash cows, not just added costs.

Hong Kong's MTR Corporation started service in 1979. After aggressive expansion, it has a network of 211 kilometres of rail with 150 stations.

That expansion was financed by real estate development, which MTR regards as a primary business function.

MTR began as a government enterprise and was transformed into a publicly traded corporation. In 2007, it had a net profit of more than $1.1 billion Canadian.

We can't duplicate these results in the Lower Mainland. Hong Kong is a much more densely populated city with a more authoritarian government, but we can profit from the principle that makes the MTR so lucrative.

That principle is that while transit is expensive, it also creates value. Developers have long known this. They harvest that value by using proximity to transit as a selling point.

Now the recently reformed Metro Vancouver Transportation Authority, armed with new enabling legislation from the province, is finally getting serious about capturing some of that value to help pay for new transit.

It's a welcome move. Dale Parker, the chair of the new TransLink board, hopes to raise up to $1.5 billion through a real estate arm now under development.

The key to that success will involve persuading municipalities to go along with bidding for the routing of new transit lines with their willingness to assign added density around stations.

These are early days, but one obstacle that will have to be overcome is the possibility of speculators jumping in and tying up property around potential station sites.

Private developers can play an important role in creating both value and exciting urban neighbourhoods around transit stations. But this scheme will only work if municipalities make it clear from the start that much of the initial value for added density is going to be used to pay for construction of the transit line.

So if a developer, existing owner or speculator wants to build larger buildings with more units than allowed by the existing zoning, much of the windfall value of changing the zoning will go to TransLink, not into their pockets.

Such exchanges already occur when developers seek higher density for buildings. In return, municipalities extract benefits, such as parks, social housing, community centres, green space or land for schools. Those benefits typically eat up a significant portion of the value of the increased density.

In this case, municipalities will have to be persuaded to share with TransLink benefits they have until now taken as their own.

In return, TransLink may be able to deliver new transit lines more quickly.

So, for example, if the city of Vancouver wants the Broadway line extension to jump the queue, council will have to look at ways to create valuable density along the route and offer it up to pay a larger share of the construction cost.

No doubt there will be considerable difficulties in following this route, including some yet to be imagined. But we know where the traditional methods of financing take us -- straight to higher taxes, slow progress and continuing congestion.

This looks like a better route.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mayor's stance out of touch

Get Moving BC Advisory Board member, Mike McBratney, had a great letter published in Wednesday's Burnaby Now debunking the claim that 87% of Burnaby's residents oppose the Gateway project. As a professional poll conducted for Get Moving BC by NRG Research demonstrated last fall, 72 per cent of the people in Burnaby support the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and the widening of Highway 1, with only 21 per cent opposed and eight per cent who did not have an opinion. Nice work, Mike!

Mayor's stance out of touch

Burnaby Now (Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2008)

Dear Editor:

How does the mayor's antagonistic stance on a new $14-billion transit plan serve the people of Burnaby? The majority of Burnaby residents are actually in favour of twinning the Port Mann Bridge and widening Highway 1, and I suspect they also support the new transit plan.

In attempting to justify his stance against the Gateway project, Mayor Derek Corrigan has gone to some fairly extreme lengths, including having city staff draft a report - using very questionable methodology - that states that 87 per cent of Burnaby's citizens are opposed to the Gateway project. Last September, we at Get Moving B.C. decided to challenge that claim.

We commissioned NRG Research Group - a leading North American public opinion and market research company - to scientifically gauge the level of support among Burnaby residents for twinning the Port Mann Bridge and widening Highway 1. NRG Research interviewed 300 randomly selected Burnaby residents and discovered that 72 per cent of the people in Burnaby support the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and the widening of Highway 1, with only 21 per cent opposed and eight per cent who did not have an opinion. The full report is at

How can the City of Burnaby and the mayor claim there is strong opposition to the Port Mann/Highway 1 project in Burnaby? As it turns out, the city's claim is based on an unscientific, non-random, online questionnaire posted on the city's website and circulated at a shopping mall and a Burnaby library.

The city's questionnaire consisted of 11 'statements' about the Gateway project, worded in such a way that it would be nearly impossible to disagree.

In total, the City of Burnaby received 154 responses to their questionnaire, with only 65 of these responses actually coming from residents of Burnaby. Sixty-three responses came from Vancouver residents, with others coming from Surrey, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Moody and seven other municipalities.

Burnaby staff then assigned a 'score' to each questionnaire, based upon a cumulative response to the 11 'survey' questions. Based upon this questionable measure, they decided that 87 per cent of Burnaby's residents were opposed to the Gateway project and were therefore supportive of the anti-Gateway position taken by Corrigan and his majority on city council.

The city's questionnaire never even asked whether the respondents supported or opposed the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and the widening of Highway 1.

When it comes to speaking out against the project, Corrigan clearly does not speak for the people of Burnaby. The evidence does not support the stance he has taken. And considering the positive reception the public and the media have given to the new transit plan, the same can very likely be said for the mayor's negative assessment of the $14-billion transit plan.

Get Moving B.C. supports a balanced transportation system for the Lower Mainland, one that maintains the prosperity of our region and its livability. We believe the majority of Burnaby's citizens also support a balanced transportation system and, in our opinion, Corrigan is clearly way out of sync with the people of Burnaby on this issue.

Michael McBratney, Burnaby, Get Moving B.C.

© Burnaby Now 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

Peter Ladner's Transportation Tax

Last week, Vancouver City Councillor and mayoralty candidate Peter Ladner was on The Christy Clark Show to float his idea for a congestion tax to pay for TransLink's $18-million budget shortfall. It was an interesting conversation (available in CKNW's Tuesday, March 18, 2008 audio vault during the noon hour). Here are a few excerpts, and my thoughts on them...
Clark: "When you are talking about those proposals, are you imagining that they would apply to the downtown core of Vancouver, you might see a toll like that on the Burrard or Cambie Street Bridge?"

Ladner: "These cannot be tolls that simply apply in Surrey or Langley or Maple Ridge or somewhere else than in Vancouver. They have to apply everywhere. The principle has to be that we want to raise money."
True enough. If you want to bring these measures in, they shouldn't be limited to just one bridge (i.e., The Port Mann) but they should also ding Vancouver drivers. In fact, Vancouver drivers, in my view, should pay far more for those congestion taxes than South Fraser drivers, as the Vancouver folks have access to all of the rapid transit in the region. Their choice to drive is mind-boggling when you consider they have SkyTrain and oodles of rapid buses.
Clark: "But Vancouver has a disproportionate number of businesses that depend on regional migration. If you make it more expensive to get into Vancouver from Coquitlam, people will shop in Coquitlam Centre rather than coming down here to shop at Pacific Centre."

Ladner: "Well that's what they should be doing. We don’t want…people shouldn't be travelling right across the region to go shopping. There should be a good, as there is, a good shopping mall in Coquitlam Centre and that's where people should shop... as it happens, they can come in on SkyTrain."
Let's walk down that path a little bit. If I were a Vancouver merchant, I'd be concerned about my wannabe mayor suggesting I limit my trading area. As a side note, I'd like to welcome shoppers from anywhere in the region to come spend money in Langley any time. Consider our door wide open to your business!

Whether we like it or not, there are certain regional amenities that only exist downtown. Tens of thousands of regional residents travel to GM Place and BC Place every year for Vancouver Canuck games, BC Lion games, trade shows, concerts, and other events. The PNE is in Vancouver, along with the Pacific Coliseum. There is also toursit attractions like Science World, Granville Island, and, yes, the shops on Robson Street. These are regional amenities located downtown, and I don't think Lower Mainland residents should be punished for having them located there.

As for the SkyTrain comment, it's almost laughable. SkyTrain barely comes into the south Fraser, and its four stops are in the worst part of Surrey (admittedly, Surrey is working hard on improving the area). And SkyTrain doesn't go near the PNE.
Clark: "How much would a toll be?"

Ladner: "Christy, I haven’t done this work. I have no idea. My main message is that we have got to start thinking about measures. It may not be a toll. It could be an increase in fuel taxes. Fuel taxes are effectively a toll on the amount of driving you do. They are an effective tool because they also measure the bigger your engine the more you pollute the more you pay. So you have an option with a fuel tax. You can have a smaller engine and you can share the ride and so on... that’s one alternative."
He is backing away from the congestion tax idea here--even though that's what got the play in the media. To Ladner's credit, he also talked about the need for the feds and province to return more gas tax revenue to transportation projects, and his proposal was by no means the kind of pure congestion tax used in places like London. Nonetheless, you can bet the Sam Sullivan people will be pouncing all over the "I haven't done this work, I have no idea," quote.
Ladner: "I think that the other point this gentleman raises is that we have paid for these things [roads and bridges] or we don't want to spend more money. Okay, well then stay there in the line up in the Port Mann bridge and spend two hours getting to work every day. Or wait in the line up for the buses and watch the buses pass you by. We’re hearing that we need more transportation infrastructure and somehow or another other we have to pay for it."
A Vancouver politician finally admits that there is congestion at the Port Mann!

Transportation First Step of Livability Accord Process

Last year, the Councils of Surrey, Abbotsford, Coquitlam, and Langley Township signed the Livability Accord, an agreement to work together to convince regional, provincial and federal agencies to better fund infrastructure in these four High Growth Communities (HGCs). At the time, I said this might be the most important thing we do this term (a sentiment I still carry).

Surrey's staff has been spearheading the implementation of the Livability Accord, and the four communities have jointly hired Urban Systems Ltd. to help develop the necessary strategies. Last week, the four councils received an update on the progress. I thought you might be interested in it:
The consultant has nearly completed the information gathering stage of the work and has held a number of meetings/workshops with key staff from the HGCs in commencing the development of the Accord strategies. Staff and the consultant have decided that it would be advantageous to develop one of the Accord strategies as a model to use in expediting the development of the other strategies. The target of this first strategy is "Public Transit and Transportation Infrastucture" (which includes as a necessary subset land use considerations). It is expected that a draft of this first strategy will be completed by the end of March at which time a further report will be forwarded to Council for consideration, followed closely by drafts of the remaining strategies during April.

It is expected that each of the HGC City Councils will consider a draft of the full set of strategies in April and will authorize staff and the consultant to proceed immediately thereafter with public review of the information through open houses and stakeholder meetings, including meetings with officials from other orders of government. Presentations will also be made to the Metro Vancouver Mayors Committee and to the Excecutive Committee of the FVRD. With this public and other stakeholder input in hand, the draft strategies will be finalized and a further report will be provided to each HGC City Council for consideration. the report will include a summary of the public and stakeholder input and will recommend final draft Accord strategies for Council approval. These final draft strategies will be forwarded to Council for consideration and approval no later than September.

I'm pleased to see transportation go first. This is the most pressing need among these four communities, as we share thousands of people who travel regularly among the four municipalities.

Friday, March 21, 2008

TransLink's Property Purchase Process

Ken Hardie over at TransLink sent me an email outlining a little bit more about the TransLink property issue that I blogged here.
We would not find ourselves in the position of being able to purchase properties along a corridor before there was fairly broad public awareness of the possibilities that a rapid transit line would be constructed. The reason being is that, as before, TransLink is legally bound to support the region's growth management strategy -- currently the Livable Region Plan -- that is adopted by all the municipalities.

The process of developing that growth management strategy involves a review of potential rapid transit corridors. For example, the Millennium, Evergreen and Canada Line corridors have all been identified in the LRSP for over ten years. All of the bus rapid transit corridors in the province's plan are on the map as a result of transit planning that has involved a great deal of public consultation. TransLink would not be able to quietly assemble land and then suddenly announce to the world that it was going to build a rapid transit line through or by those properties.

What we have done in the past, though, is purchase properties that we know we're going to need for a project as they come up for sale -- we did this in a few locations along the Evergreen Line. The difference now is that we can purchase additional property over and above what we need for the project itself, in the interests of generating some of the benefits from higher property values back to the public, which has paid for the line in the first place.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fraser Valley Ponders Gas Taxes

The Fraser Valley Regional District is considering adopting the TransLink model of increasing gas taxes to fund transit. The group is also still pondering joining TransLink.

The New TransLink Funding Model: A Municipal Councillor's Perspective

Apologies for the Langley-centric consideration of this, but I am a Langley Township Councillor, after all:

In yesterday's Vancouver Sun, TransLink chairman Dale Parker outlined his board's plan to go to a new style of funding rapid transit. Basically, TransLink will decide a rapid transit route, plot out the stations, and quietly buy the land around them. Then they'll make the big announcement, get the zoning changed, and watch as property values around the station skyrocket. Then TransLink will flip the land (at a profit) to a private developer or enter a partnership with the private sector to build a station and other amenities.

This model has been used to great success in Hong Kong. I should also note that Get Moving BC is pleased with this announcement.

Money for transportation expansion has to come from somewhere. While some folks have floated the idea of a Portland-style payroll tax paid by any business or charity who employs a person, I prefer the Hong Kong model. One thing is certain: we need to find models to pay for transportation that don't include more property taxation. Property is the only way for municipalities to generate taxes, and other levels of government (I'm looking at you, TransLink, and you, Victoria!) should get their hands out of that pocket.

That being, said, blogger Rob Chipman raises some perfectly valid concerns about the model. There has to be a balance, as a community’s wishes--expressed through their duly-elected (and thoroughly accountable) Mayor and Council--must be taken into account.

The last thing we want to see happen is a battle between TransLink and municipalities as we work through routing issues. One concern I had with our high-rise bylaw was that we weren't precise enough with where to put towers, thus opening a lot of areas for TransLink to look at rapid transit lines. Furthermore, I, like most Langley residents (and the Mayor of Surrey, incidentally), prefer street-level light rail to the overhead guideways of SkyTrain. Density is a great negotiating tool, and may be the best chance municipalities have of guiding where these lines go--and what kind of rail technology we get.

Going forward, it will be important to negotiate carefully with TransLink on issues like this. Mayors and Councils will need to be clear and precise as to what our rapid transit priorities are (mine are street rail along 200th Street and commuter rail on the Interurban line), and where we see possibilities for densities. I'm also hopeful that TransLink will look at more than just building height when pondering density. You can get a lot of density with 4-6 storeys, done right. I am leery of having a 20-storey tower or two stuck in the middle of a sea of 4 storey buildings, looking out awkwardly.

I do wonder about one more thing: how will the Interurban alignment will stack up in this model? Look at Langley City for example: the area is chock-a-block full around the rail line. Where would TransLink squeeze in a station and high-density buildings? Where could they find enough land to make it worthwhile to put all that? How much space do they need to make a spot viable? I’m not worried about the 200th corridor, as running street-level rail north-south would provide TransLink with plenty of land options.

One last thing: take a look at this website for more on transit-oriented development. It's a great resource full of ideas and possibilities.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Get Moving BC
For Immediate Release
March 19, 2008


“Stop going back to the taxpayer” message heard loud and clear – TransLink plan responds to previous call by Get Moving BC to adopt Hong Kong’s successful real estate funding model to help pay for $2.75 billion unfunded share of transit plan and ongoing operational costs

Vancouver, B.C. – Get Moving BC is today applauding TransLink’s plan to adopt an innovative funding model used by Hong Kong to successfully expand and fund its transit system – one of the few profitable public transportation systems in the world.

“We’re thrilled by this news today,” says Get Moving BC spokesperson Sheri Wiens. “This is exactly what our group called on TransLink to do over a month ago in a February 11th press release.”

Wiens says she has nothing but praise for TransLink’s newly-appointed professional board for “thinking outside the box” and embracing good old fashioned entrepreneurial spirit and common sense ingenuity to help build one of the best transit systems in the world “without having to reach into the pockets of B.C. taxpayers.”

Get Moving BC Advisory Board member, Ian MacPherson, fully agrees with Wiens and says he’s confident that TransLink’s currently unfunded $2.75 billion share of the $14 billion transit plan can be paid for – in whole or in part – by linking development of the transit system to real estate development the way they’ve done it in Hong Kong.

MacPherson points to the Tsing Yi station built by Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation which is located next to the 4-story Maritime Square shopping centre the corporation also developed. Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation also developed the adjacent Tierra Verde housing complex.

“In Hong Kong, TransLink’s counterpart has successfully leveraged commercial and residential real estate development to help pay for the expansion and operation of their transit system, and I’m pleased that TransLink is now going to be doing the same,” says MacPherson. “We have to stop this mentality of always going back to the taxpayer to fund and operate big transit projects.”

Get Moving BC’s Sheri Wiens agrees with MacPherson and says B.C. taxpayers should be able to benefit from the real estate development potential of properties located near public transit: “We can build the kind of transit system we need without increasing property taxes or hiking the gas tax,” Wiens says, “by letting the development potential along rapid transit routes and around transit stations provide the funding needed to expand and run the system.”

“The big question for most taxpayers,” Wiens says, “is how do we catch up and build a transit system that is the envy of the world without bankrupting B.C. taxpayers? By adopting Hong Kong’s approach the new TransLink board has found the answer.”

A key goal of the recently announced transit plan is to increase the market share of public transit in Metro Vancouver from its current 12 per cent share to 17 per cent by 2020 and 22 per cent by 2030.

– 30 –

Get Moving BC is dedicated to holding governments accountable for a balanced transportation system and was formed to provide a voice for the majority of Greater Vancouver residents who support improving our roads, bridges and transit systems.

For more information please contact Get Moving BC’s media desk at 604-678-5567 or by email at

Online References and Attachments:
· Get Moving BC press release from February 11, 2008 : Get Moving BC Says “No” To New
Transit Taxes
· Peter Ladner responds to Get Moving BC:

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Port Mann project passes major milestone with Bill 14

Pro-Transportation group says public-private partnerships have proven themselves here in B.C.

Vancouver, B.C. – The Port Mann Bridge project successfully passed a major milestone on the road to completion last Thursday with the introduction of Bill 14. And according to Get Moving BC spokesperson Sheri Wiens that’s great news for the thousands of frustrated Lower Mainland commuters who’ve been gridlocked by the aging forty-four year old Port Mann Bridge for far too long.

“Bill 14 is great news for frustrated Port Mann commuters,” Wiens says. “They can all breathe a little easier knowing the project isn’t a far off thing anymore, it really is becoming more real every day.”

Bill 14 – which is formally called the Transportation Investment (Port Mann Twinning) Amendment Act – establishes a new crown corporation that will partner with private sector companies to design, build, finance and then operate the new Port Mann Bridge and improved Highway #1.

Wiens says public-private partnerships combine the strengths of the private sector with the strengths of government in a way that creates great value for taxpayers. When it comes to bringing major projects in on time and on budget, Wiens says, public-private partnerships have a superior record to governments going it alone, and they produce top quality work.

“There’s no question that public-private partnerships have proven themselves here in B.C.,” says Wiens pointing to a number of examples of successful public-private partnerships here in B.C. like the new Abbotsford Hospital, the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre at VGH, the new Kicking Horse Canyon Bridge and even the new Canada Line that is currently ahead of schedule.

“Partnering with industry, and making use of industry’s ability to innovate, just makes good sense for taxpayers,” says Wiens. “Governments should stick to what they do best and not try to reinvent what private industry already does really well.”

Wiens says Get Moving BC has also called on TransLink to look at adopting Hong Kong’s proven public-private partnership model to help expand the Lower Mainland’s transit system and help pay for the $14 billion transit plan announced by the provincial government. Wiens says leveraging commercial and residential real estate development using a public-private partnership model would not only help pay for the expansion of the transit system it would also contribute to the long term operating costs of the system.

“Hong Kong has one of the few profitable transit systems in the world, which is why we called on TransLink to adopt Hong Kong’s innovative public-private development model,” Wiens says. “Public-private partnerships work and they’ve proven themselves, and we’ve got plenty of great examples we can point to right here in the Lower Mainland.”

– 30 –

Get Moving BC is dedicated to holding governments accountable for a balanced transportation system and was formed to provide a voice for the majority of Greater Vancouver residents who support improving our roads, bridges and transit systems.

For more information please contact Get Moving BC at 604-678-5567 or by email at

Online References and Attachments:
· Get Moving BC press release from February 11, 2008 : Get Moving BC Says “No” To New Transit Taxes

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Development will fund transit

Get Moving BC Advisory Board member Ian MacPherson had a great letter published in yesterday’s Vancouver Province.

Development will fund transit

Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Funding an effective public transit system for a fast-growing area doesn't have to be done by burdening the taxpayer.

The group I belong to, GetMovingBC, recently asked TransLink's newly-appointed board to consider linking development of the transit system to real-estate development, as is the practice in Hong Kong.

B.C. taxpayers could benefit from the development potential of properties near transit systems, because it would provide the funding needed to build out our transit without raising taxes.

Ian MacPherson, Surrey