Eric Doherty: Transit delays and fare hikes drive tar sands expansion

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      On Wednesday (January 25), B.C. transportation minister Blair Lekstrom once again announced the Evergreen SkyTrain line to Coquitlam and the Tri-Cities area. This time he announced the start of work after more than a decade of delays—well sort of. Only minor preparatory work is starting. No contracts for the actual transit line have been signed, and further delays are possible. The numerous delays to the Evergreen Line stand in marked contrast to the rapidly progressing work on the massive new Cape Horn freeway interchange connecting to the Tri-Cities.

      The new Cape Horn Interchange and expanded Highway 1 freeway will provide a toll-free route for Coquitlam residents heading into Burnaby and Vancouver. Effectively, the B.C. government has spent $3.1 billion to convince people to drive instead of riding the $1.4 billion Evergreen Line.

      Roadway expansion in the guise of “balanced transportation” is one of the main drivers of increasing oil consumption and carbon emissions. Like stepping on a car’s gas pedal and brake at the same time, building freeways and transit at the same time is expensive and creates a lot of pollution. The cars and trucks clogging up the newly expanded freeway will be burning one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth—gas and diesel made from tar sands bitumen. Local environmentalists love to point fingers at China and U.S. as the destination for tar sands pipelines and tankers, but the gooey muck mined in Alberta is piped through the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline to Burnaby and already ends up in our gas tanks.

      Another tar-sands-friendly government policy was also on display recently, with the request for comments on the proposed 12.5 percent increase in TransLink transit fares scheduled for next year. The planned fare increases would bring a three-zone cash fare to $5.50 up from $5, or $11 for a return trip. The steep increase is supposed to bring in an extra $48 million in 2013; not that much considering that the Golden Ears Bridge cost TransLink $33 million in 2011 alone.

      TransLink claims that this 12.5 percent fare increase, about twice the rate of inflation, will result in a mere two percent drop in ridership compared to what it would be if fares were frozen. But numerous studies show that the loss of ridership will be much greater in the long run, and the revenue gain smaller as people choose to drive instead of paying the higher fares.

      The Victoria Transport Policy Institute compiled the results of numerous studies and concluded that overall transit ridership declines 0.6 to 0.9 percent with each one percent increase in transit fares. Suburban commuters are even more sensitive to price increases, with ridership declining 0.8 to one percent for a one percent increase. This suggests that a 12.5 percent increase will cut ridership between 7.5 and 11.25 percent. The impact on suburban commuters riding the Evergreen Line would likely be even greater, between 10 and 12.5 percent. (These figures are for the long-term effects relevant to TransLink’s goals. Aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation help cut B.C. greenhouse gas emissions 33 percent by 2020.)

      The environmental damage caused by expensive transit is substantial. Car owners are some of the most cost-sensitive transit riders, and they make up the majority of adults in B.C. Therefore, affordable transit fares are essential to increasing transit’s share of trips and reducing our dependence on tar sands oil.

      A 2007 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study estimates that reducing Lower Mainland transit fares 30 percent would increase transit ridership by about 20 percent over five to 10 years at an annual cost of $146 million. Over two-thirds of this cost would be for increased transit operating costs to accommodate increased ridership; less than a third is lost revenue. Reducing transit fares is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and show that we can live well without tar sands oil.

      The tankers full of tar sands oil that leave Burrard Inlet every week are going to fuel cars trucks and airplanes elsewhere in the world. If Vancouver can’t kick the oil habit, or at least cut down substantially, how can we expect the U.S. and China to live without a steady stream of tar sands oil?

      Now that the movement against tar sand pipelines has experienced its first big win, with the first round victory against the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S., the focus needs to expand to where the tar sands oil is actually burned. We need to show that we can find solutions to our own addiction to tar sands oil. The solutions are not that difficult, and start with shifting public spending away from roadway expansion to transit, cycling, and walking facilities. Similarly, funds for expanding airports must be redirected to passenger rail and intercity bus service.

      You can comment on the proposed transit fare increases until February 15 by emailing

      Eric Doherty is a transportation planner and coauthor of the Wilderness Committee-Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study Transportation Transformation: Building Complete Communities and a Zero-Emission Transportation System in B.C.



      Evil Eye

      Jan 27, 2012 at 6:21am

      I wish transportation planners actually study transportation issues. The Evergreen Line will not take cars off the road, thus will not help gridlock in the region. The Evergreen Line is an overpriced mini-metro that will contribute to higher transit fares in the region for decades to come.

      We design transit to subsidize developers and land speculators and not give transit customers what they want. Who likes SkyTrain?

      - Developers
      - Land speculators
      - Cement companies
      - Engineering firms
      - Architectural firms
      - Car drivers
      - Bombardier Inc.
      - Politicians
      - Financial institutions
      - Mall owners

      Transit customers come at the very end of the list!


      Jan 27, 2012 at 9:34am

      "On Wednesday (January 25), B.C. transportation minister Blair Lekstrom once again announced the Evergreen SkyTrain line to Coquitlam and the Tri-Cities area."

      Umm, Coquitlam IS the Tri-Cities. Hello? Coquitlam, PoCo and Port Moody. Oh, and the Cape Horn interchange is nowhere near the propsed Evergreen Line route, so this is not a good comparison.


      Jan 27, 2012 at 10:39am

      Totally agree with Eric. Bought a new car in 2009 because of overcrowding on buses from Kitsilano to downtown. Bus: takes 30 mins Car: takes 5-10 mins. Buses (#14 UBC &16 Arbutus) always wait 5-10 mins at broadway @ Granville before going west. Why should anyone put up with this crap from Translink?

      john michelou

      Jan 27, 2012 at 4:29pm

      Higher cost of gas is the only thing which will get people out of their cars. I am talking like 3$+ per L

      Actually my commute is 2.2L of gas per day, so it would still be cheaper (not counting insurance) than translink for 3 zones!


      Jan 27, 2012 at 5:23pm

      As long as TransLink is spending crazily on more SkyTrain, transit fares aren't coming down and most taking SkyTrain transit are professionals or retail girls working in downtown in Vancouver. This is not idea.

      You did a great job in Delta to stop the highway. How about stopping the Evergreen Line to switch to streetcars which can climb mountains with cable assistance.

      Rand Chatterjee

      Jan 28, 2012 at 12:25am

      The big, untold reason for the failure to begin the Evergreen Line construction in earnest and actually sign a contract is the Canada Line, aka RAV.

      Translink's newest "gas tax" increase brings its take at the pump to over double what it was just ten years ago, up to now 17 cents per litre. This is the largest part of the reason why gas prices in the Metro Vancouver area are the highest in Canada, and by a lot. The latest 2-cent rise was supposed to fully fund the Evergreen Line, and this indeed was exactly the justification for the increase. But, yet, nothing is happening. Why not?

      A recent FOI uncovered that the Canada Line is sucking over $120 million out of Translink every year. Its actual operating costs are roughly a tenth of this amount. The rest, about $100 million, are what are termed "performance payments," which the provincial government stipulated would be turned over every year to repay the contractor for its financial participation in the P3 (public-private-partnership) that was the RAV project. According to bank records, the RAV partners borrowed no more than $600 million to complete the line. The amount may been less than $500 million, the gap between the authorized $1.5 billion paid by the government and the claimed $2 billion cost of the project.

      Given the 30-year concession duration of this P3 RAV project, we can thus expect the presumed $500 million private sector contribution will be repaid at least 5 times over...that is if that $100 million per year does not increase. It has been going up by nearly $10 million every year since the first year of payments in 2009.

      If we deflate just a $100 million annual revenue stream to determine a net present value of this P3 public debt, we are still looking at a doubling of the supposed RAV price tag from $2 billion to $4 billion in today's dollars. In nominal dollars, we will be paying well over $4.5 billion. If you want to look at it in terms of an interest rate, the taxpayer is paying the RAV Line "investors" over 20% interest, per year and compounded. Some deal!

      The cost of the Evergreen Line is supposed to be roughly $1.2 billion, but it is clear why this recent gas tax and likely another one soon enough, and additional property taxes, and other governmental contributions will be needed first just to pay for RAV, and the likelihood of ever funding the Evergreen Line is decreasing every year as a mountain of P3 debt continues to crush Translink, and the taxpayer.

      If you are waiting for a bus, whose service was reduced, and don't have enough money for the now more expensive fare, this is why. It's pure graft. Most everyone at Translink, especially the senior executives, drive to work. They know better.

      Read everything Eric Doherty writes. You'll learn a lot about Transit policy, and how much better BC's should be.

      @ Rand - Lest we forget

      Jan 28, 2012 at 7:09am

      Then count the cost of the money borrowed by TransLink and the BC government, then the cost of the RAV/Canada Line rises to over $6 billion, which is in line with other metro projects of this size. Doherty also forgets to mention that the BC government also subsidizes the present SkyTrain lines to a tune of over $200 million annually!

      The cost of the Evergreen Line was put at $1.4 billion some years ago and the cost today is probably $1.5 billion. The $1.2 billion floated by TransLink in the media is to make it more attractive for a P-3 a la the RAV/Canada Line.

      The real problem with Transit is SkyTrain and the Canada line and this as been long predicted by 'real' transit experts around the world - "When you build metro systems on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them, they must be both subsidized and have higher fares. This means money subsidizing SkyTrain and the Canada Line, is being taken away from the buses.

      This is the real issue.

      Pipelines have nothing to do with it.


      Jan 28, 2012 at 2:40pm

      If global warming is a clear and present danger and if tarsands development is Canada's most serious contribution to global warming then Translink funding takes on a new urgency. Public transit must become a priority of all levels of government.


      Jan 28, 2012 at 4:42pm

      Rand, very insightful comment. Excellent, please write the NDP and Conservatives about it. Also, the RAV Line carries 39,985 people on average and most on the RAV Line are transfers from buses (annual 29 million RAV Line ridership / 365 days / two daily trips per person on average). The RAV Line is bleeding TransLink and is not making it any money. Many on the RAV Line have discount passes (U-Pass students) and pay next to nothing to ride the RAV Line.

      The Everscam Line is intended to give developers a reason to chase home owners off their land for the gangster developers to build drug money-laundered condos. Everyone behind TransLink is a looter. Hang-em like in the old days.