No credit for TransLink – 3: Growth investment

No Credit for TransLink - A blog series on darylvsworld.wordpress.com. Original photo: CC BY-SA Lisa Parker, flickr

Introduction

There were a few other people with me in the waiting room at Surrey’s (old) city hall on January 15th. I was waiting to present to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the missing 156 St Rapid Bus Stop and a few other were sat with me, which compelled me to start a discussion on matters of transit.

This was where I first heard a concern about the expansion and usage of the South Surrey Park and Ride, hearing that the new lot wasn’t being used effectively and also hearing that the new park-n-ride fees had something to do with it. Earlier in the day I had passed this park-n-ride lot on the commute to city hall from my university in Richmond. Looking at the facility from the windows of my 351 bus, I did indeed notice that the newly expanded portion was sitting there largely unused – and this was at 1PM on a Monday, when commuters using the lot had parked there to ride to their jobs.

South Surrey Park and Ride's Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr
South Surrey Park and Ride’s Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr

So, I’m sure there were a lot of people in Metro Vancouver who raised their eyebrows and turned their heads this week when the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation – an avid and frequent critic of TransLink – awarded TransLink with a “Teddy Award” for wasteful spending over this issue.

TransLink takes a Teddy Award for wasteful spending for building an empty $4.5-million parking lot

BY GORDON MCINTYRE, THE PROVINCE  – FEBRUARY 27, 2014

Like the hospital with no patients in the old British comedy Yes Minister, like the “road to nowhere” in Alaska that leads to a non-existent bridge, TransLink can boast of an expensive tax-funded project that isn’t used, too.

It’s a vacant lot. The problem is, it’s also a parking lot, a lot no one parks in, and it cost $4.5 million to build.

“Aren’t there better ways to spend that money?” Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, asked. “I’ve been here four times during workdays and there has never been a car here.”

(READ MORE – The Province)

Did TransLink sit still? Not at all. And, they were correct in stating that the $4.5 million expansion was funded by the provincial government in its entirety, with TransLink in charge of only the operations and maintenance. I think this was a great defense and really all that they needed to do – but CTF’s Bateman doesn’t believe it. Accusations on TransLink have taken the media and public by storm as media agencies rushed to report on the matter.

Seeing the empty new park-n-ride lot for myself demonstrated to me that the model with which TransLink is approaching park-n-ride users is not currently working, and in this regard the CTF may have a point. However, I also think that they are wrong in two regards: 1. that the expansion of this park-n-ride facility is an impractical and wasteful decision at the end of the day; 2. that TransLink should be chastised for this apparent “waste”. I think that TransLink made a great decision to allow the park-n-ride expansion a priority while the funding was available from the provincial government.

South Surrey Park and Ride's Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr
351 buses at Bridgeport Station wait to depart for South Surrey Park & Ride. Photo credit: Flickr – Stephen Rees

So, to introduce the third installment in my “No credit for TransLink” blog series, let me tell you what’s wrong with the CTF’s rationale for the Teddy Award given to TransLink:

Part I: A reality check

I think one of the things that really helps us get the correct picture about issues like these is to get a view of how something began and progressed. To aid readers, I have created a timeline graphic that shows this park & ride issue from start to finish. Pay attention to the dates and ordering of events.

South Surrey Park & Ride Expansion - From then to now

I don’t think anyone realized this, but the park-n-ride expansion itself was announced by the B.C. Government as part of a $60.5 million highway improvement package on October 12, 2012 – an expansion commitment was made after TransLink’s proposal to start charging fees across all parking lots in the region, which was part of the draft 2013 base plan being discussed in September.

This was a sudden announcement by the B.C. Government. The minutes for meetings of Surrey’s Transportation and Infrasructure Committee and other relevant reports that were made approaching the announcement suggest not only that the expansion was not being discussed until about the time it was announced, but also that TransLink was looking to alleviate the overcrowding issue in South Surrey through other means.

Shortfall 1: No communication

While TransLink had been studying the expansion of the park and ride back in 2010, this wasn’t the solution TransLink was looking for in July 2012, just as TransLink was beginning to tow cars out of the park-n-ride in order to deal with its overuse. At the time, TransLink contacted Grace Point Church, a nearby church on 34th Ave and King George Blvd that is served by stops for the same routes that pass through the park-and-ride.

As the Church parking lot is of course largely disused on weekdays, it represented an opportunity to service riding passengers on South Surrey buses. TransLink would have required a temporary use permit and to install revenue machines on the lot to operate it as an extension of South Surrey’s Park & Ride.

Grace Point Church in relation to the Park and Ride
Grace Point Church in relation to the Park and Ride

The plan was to begin negotiating the temporary use permit in the fall, but by then it had been made unnecessary with the provincial government’s announcement of a park and ride expansnion, as part of a highway improvement project that would have also added many interchanges to the area.

Any solution would have appeased many residents in the area and Surrey’s Citizen’s Transportation Initiative (CiTI), who had been advocating for a solution to address park-n-ride overcrowding. However, CiTI did not specify that it had to be an expansion of this lot – rather suggesting that new park and rides were necessary.

What this showcases is that the direct expansion of the park-n-ride really wasn’t in the interests of TransLink or any stakeholders at all. There appears to have been no communication with TransLink on whether other solutions were possible, no consultation with the public, and no prior communication with the City of Surrey. Mention of the park-n-ride’s $4.5 million expansion did not show up in the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussions and minutes until October 15 – 3 days after the province’s announcement.

Shortfall 2: Surrey’s failed anticipation and action

Expanded South Surrey park-and-ride lot loses patrons after $2 fee added

BY KELLY SINOSKI, VANCOUVER SUN  – JANUARY 15, 2014

Surrey city officials are poised to impose parking restrictions around the South Surrey park-and-ride lot, following complaints that drivers are clogging local streets to avoid a $2 parking fee at the lot.

Coun. Tom Gill said the issue will likely be raised at the transportation and infrastructure committee Monday and will probably involve posting ‘no parking’ signs around the area.

The city has shied away from Vancouver’s practice of having permit-only residential areas, he said, and likely won’t adopt that here.

“We are looking at a new strategy,” Gill said. “I would suggest we’re going to be forced to look at some sort of parking restrictions on the side streets given the demand.”

[READ MORE]

The issue of the park and ride’s underutilization was paralleled by resident complains that local streets near King George Blvd were being used as free “park and ride” spots, a major shortfall that had not been anticipated by the City of Surrey. As reported by the Sun’s Kelly Sinoski, Councillor Tom Gill suggested that the issue woud be raised at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting during which I was in attendance.

This didn’t happen. Meaning, this issue for now remains unresolved.

In conclusion, we’re pointing the blame finger in the wrong direction.

The park-and-ride fees were put into place at about the same time the park-and-ride expansion opened – but this had little to do with the underutilization of the new parking lot. The fees were actually in place over a week before the expansion opened and the decision making process that resulted in the fees neither had to do with the expansion, nor did it target that park-and-ride exclusively.The CTF’s Teddy Award also completely fails to consider municipal-level issues that have not yet been solved.

It’s clear that TransLink had no responsibility in the current situation facing South Surrey commuters, and the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation does not have a suitable rationale for giving TransLink a “Teddy Award” for taxpayer waste over this situation. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation should revoke this award, apologize to TransLink, and make a statement to the public about its mistake.

The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation should revoke the municipal Teddy award given to TransLink, apologize to TransLink, make a statement to the public about its mistake, and reassess its criteria for future Teddy Awards ceremonies. (darylvsworld.wordpress.com)

Part II: Bad coincidence, or growth investment?

I don’t think that it’s viable to see this as a waste of taxpayer’s money, and there are good reasons for this. At the end of the day, there are two ways in which you can properly view the decision to expand the South Surrey Park & Ride while charging fees on it.

Morgan Crossing: Original image posted on Metro 604

This is a picture of Morgan Crossing. It is the built-out centerpiece of Surrey’s Grandview Heights NCP (new community plan) and features a center where residents of the area can access retail and services. Accompanying this centre is a set of medium-density apartments: the center is largely built as mixed-use development, with shops at street level and condominiums up above it. There’s a lot of population in this newly developed area of South Surrey.

Grandview Heights Map

This is a picture showing the extent of the city’s Grandview Heights NCP.

Grandview from the sky, May 2013 - Google Earth

And this is a picture showing how much of it is actually built. (Google Earth – May 2013 image)

As I was mentioning, you can see the expansion of this park-and-ride and implementation of parking fees as a bad coincidence. Or, you can see it as a growth investment to accompany one of the largest community build-outs in Metro Vancouver.

I think we should give the decision-makers some credit for anticipating high growth in this area and increased demand for transit, especially as the coming development increases congestion on Highway 99 (that expanded Massey Tunnel or Bridge is at least 10 years out!)