Policy & Positions Manual
Provincial Issues - Transportation and Infrastructure
The Need for an Innovative Approach to Transportation for an Increasingly Urban Province (2011)
Urban productivity is highly dependent on the efficiency of its transportation system. The ability to move people and goods efficiently and smoothly between multiple origins and destinations is the cornerstone of successful urban regions. As BC continues to grow, the ability to improve the flow of people, but more importantly goods, in our urban centres will require a range of measures, from new infrastructure to demand management tools.
Trend Towards Urbanization
Census 2006 clearly demonstrated that Canada, and BC in particular, are becoming highly urbanized. In fact, the Census demonstrated that 85.4% of the provincial population now resides in urban areas. BC’s largest urban areas are at tidewater where a considerable number of our transportation bottlenecks are located. This affects transportation movements originating from outside these regions, and economic activity generated within. The successful alleviation of bottlenecks will facilitate the movement of resource-based exports from the regions to international export markets, while ensuring local “supply chains” move fluidly.
Importance of the Transportation System
The Provinces Asia Pacific Strategy is a highly ambitious plan to place BC as the gateway for the huge increase in trade traffic from the fastest growing economic region in the world. The overall strength of the economy and significant population growth are placing a noteworthy strain on our entire transportation system.
All levels of government has committed significant funding for the expansion of transportation infrastructure across the province, as an investment in transport as the next big driver of growth for the province.
There are many areas of the province that have significant congestion which results in lost productivity, increased costs, and deleterious effect on the environment. BC needs to address these issues in order to remain prosperous.
The Chamber believes that new and innovative approaches to transportation in our urban centres are required to address these challenges now, and for the future.
A Crisis in the Lower Mainland
While the issue of funding for transportation is of critical importance across the province it has reached a crisis point in the Lower Mainland.
On November 9, 2010, TransLink's Board of Directors recommended a number of improvements to the region's transportation network, based on public input, which were contained in two approved supplemental plans for consideration by the Mayors' Council. These Supplemental Plans detail the investments in services and capital which the Board deemed necessary to meet the immediate needs of the region. It also identified the required incremental new revenues and the proposed sources to fund each of the plans.
A starting point for both these plans was a statement from the Mayors Council that property tax was not to be increased to fund any supplemental plan. Unfortunately, due to the limited funding streams available to Translink under its legislative mandate the Translink Board were unable to budget for any other revenue mechanisms, as such property tax was contemplated in the plans. As a result the Mayors' Council chose not to vote on the two 2011 Supplemental Plans and as a result the Plans expired in early February 2011.
This has resulted in Translink having to revert to its base plan which does not allow for any expansion of the system. This is not a new situation; the discussion around sustainable funding for Translink has been a feature of the region for as long as the organization has existed. Indeed, one of the disappointing aspects of the current crisis is that all parties knew this was coming and yet no party took a long-term, strategic approach to the issue.
While we have seen some progress with the signing of an MOU between the province and the Mayors Council that commits all parties to reviewing all potential funding mechanism the Chamber remains concerned that the ability to reach a common solution seems no closer.
Lack of Demand Management Techniques
Road infrastructure in BC, as in many other jurisdictions, is considered a public good and therefore, is heavily financed by the taxpayer. In the absence of effective price signals such as road pricing, as well as other mechanisms to influence behaviour such as HOV lanes, and appropriate and available transit options, there is inevitably an increase in single-passenger vehicles and use which then leads to congestion and bottlenecks.
In short, simply investing in new capacity will lead to the vicious cycle of congestion. The Chamber has been consistent in its support for projects such as the Lower Mainland Gateway Strategy and the need for transportation infrastructure investments in other regions of the province. Underpinning this is a firm belief these projects can only be successful if they improve the flow of goods now, and in the foreseeable future.
A key to our long-term success will be strategic and long-term investment in high-quality public transit. The Chamber recognizes that transit investments by themselves will not reduce roadway congestion. However, they become more effective at reducing congestion as a critical component of a comprehensive strategy that includes complementary road pricing, mobility management strategies and smart growth land use policies.
Numerous studies, along with empirical evidence from around the world, clearly demonstrate that simply building new roads and other infrastructure in the absence of demand management techniques, including quality public transit options, will not alleviate congestion in the long run. In other words, in the BC context it is not one or the other but both.
The Chamber believes this presents a unique opportunity for the province to remove politics from transportation planning, and to create a vision that provides clean, efficient, accessible and reliable public transit covering the entire region, while introducing innovative mechanisms to ensure the efficient movement of goods and services.
The Chamber believes that the Provinces current tolling policy must be reviewed. Under the current policy, the province will only introduce road pricing to pay for new construction on specific pieces of infrastructure and when a viable, free alternative is available. The Chamber believes this policy is not in the provincial economic, social or environmental interest and puts at serious risk the success of the Asia Pacific strategy.
The benefits of investment in transportation depends on good traffic speed, and in the long term, there is widespread agreement that the only way to preserve this, is to ensure that there are appropriate price signals placed on the use of the road across the region. The Chamber believes that the global trend is towards an acceptance of the necessity of road pricing as both a provider of long-term sustainable funding for transportation and transit investment, within the concept of ensuring that the user pays, as well as the most efficient traffic demand management system that is available.
The Chamber understands there is likely to be significant public resistance to comprehensive road pricing. However, we also believes that public acceptance of road pricing would be possible if quality transit options are made available from the start. Initial road pricing can fund the inevitable start-up costs, and can be adjusted to keep traffic at targeted performance for the benefit of the public and business. Vehicle road pricing would be appropriate in instances where alternate means of transportation are available and the entirety of the charges collected is allocated to improve transportation infrastructure in the region in which is being served.
In circumstances where road pricing are approved, a comprehensive traffic demand strategy should be created to ensure that transportation solutions are integrated.
BC stands at a transportation crossroads. As we embark on significant investments in transportation infrastructure and transit options, The Chamber believes the Province must ensure we embrace new ways of thinking about transportation from an integrated economic, social, and environmental perspective.
THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS
That the Provincial Government:
commit to funding transportation infrastructure investment through mechanisms that are equitable, efficient and reflect basic traffic demand management principles;
make as a prerequisite of these visions the need for investment in public transit to provide viable alternatives to single passenger vehicle travel;
Further that the Province work with the Mayors Council and other urban municipalities to;
provide funding streams that address the long-term needs of the region and enshrines traffic demand managements as a key principle;
create, in conjunction with business, a road pricing strategy as a foundation for sustainable regional transportation funding; and;
negotiate with the federal government to allow the gas tax revenue to be utilized for operational support of public transit as well as transportation infrastructure funding in the region.