Opinion: Civic infrastructure funding essential
Make investment in transit affordable, and democratically implemented
By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun October 3, 2015
JULY 2 2015. Transit troubles in Vancouver, B.C. on July 3, 2015. The vote is no for the proposed money for transit. Traffic congestion on Oak street. (Steve Bosch / PNG staff photo) 00037682A [PNG Merlin Archive] Photograph by: Steve Bosch , Vancouver Sun
Civic infrastructure has become a federal election issue and it’s about time. Only seven per cent of the tax base goes to cities even though their citizens are primary contributors to the GDP. There is a huge civic infrastructure deficit neglected by senior governments.
Public transit funding has been proposed by all the federal parties, with the Liberals offering the most ambitious plan. However, as we already learned from the failed transportation plebiscite in Vancouver, conditions on a number of fronts need to be met before transit is funded:
accountability, sustainable funding models, and a democratically-created affordable plan.
One of the main concerns in the Vancouver metro region is the accountability of TransLink. Ever since the province altered regional authority for transit by replacing municipal elected officials on the board with a provincially appointed board in the early 2000s, there has arisen significant controversy over TransLink’s governance.
After the plebiscite failed last spring, it was made clear that changes were needed. But instead of returning to the regional governance model of elected members, the province has again filled the board with appointments. This is going in the wrong direction.
As previously reported in The Vancouver Sun, the provincial NDP’s TransLink critic George Heyman has said the appointments don’t address the issue of accountability on the TransLink Board because more elected officials are needed.
Of further concern is that one of the new appointees, former Police Chief, Jim Chu, is employed by a major local development firm. He has been named vice-president of special projects and partnerships for Aquilini Investment Group. Heyman has also raised the issue of conflict of interest: discussions that would happen at the TransLink board about future transit plans will certainly affect land values and development plans.
To be effective, TransLink needs more local elected regional governance and less provincial interference.
The choice of appropriate funding models is another issue needing to be resolved. Public Private Partnerships (P3s) are sometimes used for public infrastructure. P3s may keep some debts off the governments books, but the public is paying for them nonetheless. Governments can generally raise capital debt financing at a lower rate than the private sector, so P3s provide no public cost benefits.
Another problematic funding model is what TransLink refers to as the “Hong Kong model”, where development is used to fund transit.
This means that rather than developers paying the city Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) towards civic amenities to service the increased population (such as community centres, parks, daycare, etc.), funding from CACs would go instead to the province to pay for transit which is the responsibility of senior governments. This is a form of the downloading of financial responsibilities to cities. It also means that large Metrotown-scale tower developments may be imposed as density bonuses for transit oriented development in established neighbourhoods without addressing compatibility with their community character or plans.
Which brings us to my last point; we need affordable transit solutions with plans that are democratically supported by the public and compatible with local community planning. One of the reasons the transit plebiscite failed was that the plan was not supported by the public. The plebiscite even failed in Vancouver where the main project was a subway on Broadway that would have brought in large scale tower development in Grandview, Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano and West Point Grey, while most of the region would continue with inadequate transit service. Continue reading