Transit users in the city may not see any change in service over the next three years but leaving Vancouver or returning to it will be a different story.
That’s Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs’ assessment of TransLink’s transportation and financial plan released Monday that shows the transit agency is in financial trouble.
“There will be service reductions to really low levels in some of the suburbs,” Meggs told the Courier. “So people commuting to jobs here may find it really difficult and people hoping to get out to jobs in the suburbs or visit family, it’s going to be tougher.”
TransLink’s 2013 Base Plan and Outlook shows the agency expects $472 million less than forecast in revenue over the next three years, mostly because of lower fuel tax and transit revenues. That means fewer dollars for future investments in transit, road, bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
“Forecasting fuel consumption and revenues is difficult given complex factors involved and the volatility in revenues paid to TransLink since a recent provincial change in collection methodology,” the report said.
A combination of factors is contributing to the decline, including people driving less, using more fuel-efficient vehicles and drivers filling up their cars outside Metro Vancouver. Gas in Mission, for example, was $1.18 a litre last Sunday compared to $1.31 in Coquitlam.
“Less driving and lower emissions are good news because it means people are making more sustainable transportation choices and reducing their environmental impact,” the report says. “However, lower fuel tax revenue has a significant impact on TransLink’s overall revenues and highlights the need for sustainable long-term funding for transportation.”
TransLink can raise the price of fares up to two per cent each year in response to inflation. In 2009, the Mayors’ Council approved a slightly larger fare increase than allowed under legislation but the TransLink commissioner rejected the request, which would have brought in another $15 million in fare revenue.
The report comes as the new Port Mann Bridge has opened to traffic and will soon collect tolls from motorists, who will pay at least $1.50 each way.
Calculating revenue from tolling, however, can be unpredictable.
Traffic volumes on the Golden Ears Bridge, where the toll costs $4.20 each way, are not growing as quickly as forecast. Toll revenue is expected to be $38 million lower than anticipated over the next three years.
Meggs said the funding shortfall is not good news for the city’s push to get better transit service along the Broadway corridor.
“The main problem facing Vancouverites is the long overdue investments on the Broadway corridor keep disappearing farther into the future,” he said, noting the report’s findings show more people are using transit and bicycles. “We just have to start focusing on delivering the appropriate services and I think people will support the appropriate expenditures.”
But what those costs will be and how it will be raised is still a topic of debate with civic and provincial politicians. Some, like Mayor Gregor Robertson, want a carbon tax. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has called for tolls on many bridges. Others have called for road pricing and fare increases.
“Whatever is done has to be packaged so the people can see they’re getting access to transportation choices—not being treated just as a driver, just as a transit rider,” Meggs said. “It should be packaged up so that I can feel that if I’m paying this fee, I’m going to have access to better roads and access to transit—if I want to use that—and a good bike path if I want to go for a ride on a weekend.”