Funding shortfalls are common among cities, as this year’s municipal elections have shown. While many governments are turning to public-private partnerships to fund expensive projects, they also work with community organizations, social enterprises, and non-profit groups to implement projects and run programs such as affordable housing for seniors and job placement services for youth. Crowdfunding could represent another aspect of cost-sharing that municipalities could use to help pay for services and projects that have strong support of municipal staff and the public. I’ve written before about participatory budgeting in Vancouver, Calgary, Guelph, and Toronto and posted last month about a crowdfunded bus proposal originating in Toronto’s Liberty Village. is a civic crowdfunding website created by Abdullah Mayo and the Hamilton Stewardship Council to give the public more of a say in public spending. Building on crowdsourced models common among start-ups and entrepreneurs which allow innovative ideas to find funding from many small donors online, the website aims to allow citizens to suggest ideas for the city. Spacehive in the UK, the world’s first civic crowdfunding site, currently has 359 projects such as recreation facilities, public art, and building restoration projects–50 are now fully funded. Citizeninvestor in the US features projects from $2,500 bike rack installations or tree planting all the way up to $200,000 public parks.

RaiseanArm has worked with the City of Hamilton to investigate the feasibility and legalities of crowdfunding in Ontario. RaiseanArm staff will bring ideas to the City to find out if the project is feasible or already being done in the Hamilton. If the idea were approved by the City, the project would be posted in the website and citizens would be able to pledge financial support or volunteer their services to get the project completed. While Mayo is excited to begin with local projects, he would like to gather support from across Canada and eventually expand to projects across the country.

We’ve all read or heard about crumbling overpasses in Montreal, overburdened water treatment plants in Vancouver, and aging highways in Toronto. Inevitably, the physical components of our cities will face a new challenge in the coming decades: climate change adaptation.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities will release a set of recommendations today, asking the federal government for long-term investment in municipal infrastructure. FCM is part of the Municipal Infrastructure Forum launched earlier this year, which includes governments like the City of Toronto and the City of Ottawa, and business leaders such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Insurance Board of Canada. Members of the Forum announced principles for a new federal long-term infrastructure plan in Toronto on November 8, 2012. FCM conducted a study of 123 municipalities in 2009-2010 and reported on them in the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card. A major focus then was the declining quality of wastewater infrastructure, with over 40% of wastewater plants, pumping stations and storage tanks in “fair” to “very poor” conditions. Half of the roads surveyed fell below the rating of “good”. The report also found that many municipalities lack the capacity to assess the state of their infrastructure: they have limited data on their wastewater treatment plants or on buried infrastructure such as distribution pipes, some don’t have regular condition-assessment programs for their roads or a capacity/demand assessment process. They are also limited by financial and staffing constraints. But climate change is already beginning to take its toll: today, the forum notes that one in four wastewater plants needs major upgrades to meet federal regulations, storm events that used to occur every 100 years now happen every 20 years, and the insurance industry pays out more than $1 billion per year in sewage back-up claims. Stable, long-term funding will be more cost effective than replacement and will contribute to cities’ resiliency as the climate becomes more unstable.

FCM is encouraging municipalities to engage in the discussion on municipal infrastructure: a growing list of communities has already passed resolutions endorsing Target 2014, calling on the federal government to ensure that a new infrastructure plan is in place before the current federal programs (worth two billion dollars per year) expire in 2014.

As promised, new Toronto mayor Rob Ford has taken significant steps to kill Transit City, Toronto’s plan to build several new LRT lines in the coming years. Ford’s most recent move has been to encourage an extension of the Sheppard subway, which has only slightly more ridership (about 46,000/weekday) as the Finch bus line or the Spadina streetcar. Among the many problems with Ford’s proposal: a subway extension would cost much more, serve fewer people, cost the city and province a lot of money in plan redevelopment, and it would not be built until Ford loses what is left of his hair…not to mention the next municipal election.

The Sheppard subway extension would cost more than ten times as much as the LRT line proposed under Transit City.  The mayor’s office is proposing a $13 billion extension to the existing subway line, instead of the $1.1 billion LRT line adopted in the Transit City plan. At least $5 billion would be raised through development cost levies and tax increment financing (TIF). TIF has been used extensively in the US, normally in areas that have suffered disinvestment for years, have a majority of low-income residents, low land values and often, an under-used rail line. When the state DOT takes on a transit-oriented development in the area, TIF is used to leverage funds: the city floats a bond and the money from the increased property values upon completion is used to fund the development. However, TIF hasn’t been used in Canada; to use it in Toronto, the proposed subway development would have to be approved by the province of Ontario. The laws governing TIF and development-cost levies would need to be updated. None of this is likely to happen before this year’s provincial election, and in Canada, governmental regime changes are death knells to public transit proposals.

There is a whole literature around public-private partnerships (or P3s), which have been very common in the past two decades. State infrastructure is expensive, whether it is hospitals, highways or LRT lines. In order to finance these projects, all three levels of government have become accustomed to contributing a part of the capital costs, while the private sector carries the majority of the burden. This in itself is not unusual in Canada: Vancouver’s Canada Line was built this way. While they seem to be good for the municipal budget, P3s often speed through crucial stages such as public participation. Private companies are not elected officials or state authorities; they aren’t as concerned about involving local residents in the planning process. This is part of their appeal for state authorities: a more streamlined process (as former BC Minister of Transport Kevin Falcon put it, when he eliminated TransLink’s elected board in favour of one made up of his private-sector appointees). Councillor Doug Ford, Rob Ford’s brother, recently said that he believed in the strong mayor system, where the mayor “should have veto power…he should have enough power to stop council.” Any P3 has the potential for less public control and less accountability.

There’s also the issue of ownership and maintenance of the line after its construction, and this is where things get a little sticky. Vancouver transit passengers complain to TransLink, for example, when they can’t find maps of the station, they want more security at stations, etc. But in fact, the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company (a subsidiary of TransLink) runs the Expo and Millennium lines, and ProTrans BC runs the Canada Line. This complexity is invisible to the frustrated passenger, and as a result TransLink, as a provincial body, bears the brunt of the criticism; it takes longer for TransLink to implement changes in customer service, orientation and other operational issues since it must go through an intermediary.

Ford argues that P3s using private funding are commonly used in Hong Kong (skeptics have pointed out that there might be a slight discrepancy in the densities between Toronto and Hong Kong). The Sheppard-Yonge corridor has attracted condo development, as John Lorinc and Kelly Grant point out (“What it will take to make subway plan a reality”Globe and Mail), and there may well be developers interested in backing a new subway line. But the fact is that development has been much slower than either Mel Lastman or Rob Ford would like, and the ridership of the Sheppard line is no higher than the city’s busiest bus and streetcar lines. If the Sheppard extension is built and new development doesn’t happen as quickly as planned, the public will have to provide the funding shortfall.

A Sheppard subway extension would probably serve fewer people than the proposed LRT: the subway line would be 8km long and have 7 stops, while the LRT would be 12 km and have 26 stops. Anyone who’s driven or taken the bus along the busy section between Kennedy and Morningside will tell you that better transit is definitely needed here; a subway line would bypass this section altogether. Despite the Province’s (and Premier McGuinty’s) lackluster support of Transit City, the plan did propose much better service for Toronto’s suburbs, where the immigrant population is high; immigrants in Toronto have a much higher transit commuting rate than non-immigrants. Ford’s argument that “everyone wants subways” doesn’t fly either…despite the miniscule amount of subway infrastructure in the inner suburbs, there is barely any difference in ridership between the suburbs and the downtown. David Hulchanski’s “Three Cities” report, tracing thirty years of income polarization in Toronto, showed that 31% of those living in the inner city travelled to work by transit compared to 33% of those who lived in the outer suburbs.

Outside of the thorny acronymous issues of TIF and PPP, there is the incredible amount of taxpayers’ time and money Ford is wasting on forcing the TTC and Metrolinx to drop the plans they’ve been working on for years and instantly come up with a new subway plan. Everyone has been frustrated at the slow pace of building and financing expensive subway lines, and that was the appeal of the Transit City plan. Ford’s proposal, even if it made any financial sense, would take years and years to get off the ground, and by then Ford and McGuinty won’t be in power any more (remember the proposed Queen subway line?) Transit City, for all its criticisms, was adopted and funded by the Province. Ground has been broken. Contracts have been signed. We have only to recall the tumultuous history of the original Sheppard subway to know how rare this is, and how hard Toronto residents, councillors, and transit advocates fought to get a plan that worked for the growing inner suburbs. Bringing all of this momentum to a screeching halt has left Toronto with one hell of a concussion; Transit City languishes in a tangled heap. When your skeptics are people like Dr. Eric Miller and former city budget chief Shelley Carroll, you might want to call in the paramedics and do some damage control.

Having spent some time working in the US and frequently immersed in American academic journals and conferences, I am well aware that there is a latent anti-intellectual bias that tends to rear its head during, oh…say national elections, or on the eve of major policy reform. Canadians, apparently, share this apprehension of “minority elites”.

The recent media storm over the Canadian census long form (see my previous post) has ignited a seemingly latent populace that believes that research, and researchers themselves, are pointless exercises in readin’, writin’, book-learnin’ and other geeky pursuits that don’t matter: that data will only be used in order to harass and over-tax the less-educated, privacy-minded general public. (Have a look at some of the articles posted in every major Canadian news outlet concerning the recent Census developments, and more to the point, have a look at some of the comments the “general public” posted.) But it’s not just your “average Canadians” who question the educated population. In today’s Globe and Mail (“Tories stall census probe, ask to hear from average Canadians”), Industry Minister Tony Clement has “already dismissed the controversy as one that only occupies “some of the elites in our country,” a phrase he also used when Canadian academics criticized the federal government’s decision to prorogue Parliament.

Maybe in countries where a university education costs more than a Bentley, it would be correct to state that educated people are a bunch of rich snobs who might be a tad removed from the fray (I said maybe). The vast majority of Canadian universities are public schools, meaning they have government-subsidized tuitions that are considerably lower than their American counterparts. Although tuitions have risen steadily in the last fifteen years or so, Canadian student loans are still readily available to most students. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) offers fellowships for Masters and PhD students. Admittedly, these have become rarer in recent years due to the Harper government’s decision to prioritize PhD topics directly related to the economy, and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) just announced it would drop its Doctoral Fellowship program this year. However, it would seem that funding scarcity hasn’t had much of an effect on our already high education levels.

Higher education is fairly well-distributed among gender, ethnic groups and income levels in Canada. During the 1930s, a quarter of Canadian women were university educated, and to look at graduate schools now you’d be hard-pressed to find a majority of men in any discipline: women have out-numbered men in university admissions since 1981. In the 2006 Census, 25% of the Canadian population had a university degree higher than Bachelors level. By the way, this is lower than the 31% of Americans with this level of education. Almost half of the Canadian population (49%) has a college diploma, trade certification, or university degree. Of OECD countries, Canada has the highest percentage of the population (from 25 to 64 years old) with a post-secondary education (46%), slightly higher than the Japan (40%) and the US (39%), and considerably higher than the OECD average of 26%.

Many immigrants enter the country with educations far superior to those born in Canada. And because the vast majority of population growth in Canada is due to immigration, these university-educated immigrants have a major impact on our cities, our labour market, and our education systems. In 2006, 51% of recent immigrants to Canada had university degrees, compared to 19% of the Canadian-born population. Immigrants also out-perform native-born Canadians in prose, document literacy, numeracy and problem-solving, according to the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey. Even more importantly, immigrants raised in China, India, or the Philippines (Canada’s three largest source countries for immigrants) know the importance of education and instill it in their children. Let me be clear: it is well known in the poorer parts of the world that education offers an escape route out of poverty. In most cases, the only way out. Many of my classmates at the University of Toronto were the children of immigrants who had only been able to complete high school educations or, occasionally, community college. We were the first generation to attend community colleges and universities en masse, and it was expected that we do so, because our parents could not afford to go themselves when they were our age. Despite their scrimping and saving, many of us were unable to pay tuition without government-subsidized public schools, government-funded loans, scholarships and fellowships.

While a university attendance is lower among the low-income population, Statistics Canada published a study in 2007 that found lower rates of attendance were due to differences in academic performance, parents’ level of education, parents’ expectations, the high school attended, and other such factors. Only 9.5% of the youth in the study reported that financial constraints were a barrier to university attendance. While this is still cause for concern, it is somewhat reassuring that the rapid ascent of tuitions in the 1990s have not have more serious effects.

I’m not sure that it’s accurate to describe this one-quarter of the Canadian population with Bachelors degrees as elite, or “the most powerful, best educated or best trained group in society” (Cambridge Dictionary). Can the half of the population with post-secondary educations, or the half of recent immigrants with university degrees, all be considered elites? While there are some groups in Canada who are under-represented in higher education (only 8% of Aboriginals have university degrees, but 41% have post-secondary educations), we are generally an educated bunch.

Perhaps that’s the real crisis in the Harper government: realizing yet again that Canadians aren’t as dumb as his 2008 re-election might suggest. First, we rose up in the tens of thousands to protest proroguing Parliament, and now that over 200 groups have protested the removal of the Census long form, he’s had to personally speak out on what he probably considered a minor technical issue that would only concern “elites”. After both of these crises, the Conservatives dropped in the polls, creating considerable distress for Harper’s minority Conservatives. An educated populace is a problem when your government acts more like a monarchy than a democratically-elected minority government that could topple at any time.

In the last few months we’ve seen the birth of another useless media term related to urban planning: “shovel readiness”. Now, I’d be the first to agree that words like “stimulus”, “funding”, and “proposal” are not exciting. But frankly, “shovel readiness” is not riveting either (for one thing, it needs to be explained). Apparently we need something to make these urban planning stories exciting to regular people. That’s too bad, because the stories already have the right stuff: drama, political intrigue, intense competition. Infrastructure funding is a huge problem in both the US and Canada, although the Americans generally believe in spending when times are tough: witness the 1950s interstate system project, the largest public works project in history. Canadians believe in hoarding, giving tax breaks to the rich, and whining about how little money we have, apparently.

About 300 proposals have been submitted to the Obama administration for $8 billion in high-speed rail funding under the federal stimulus. This article from National Public Radio (NPR) shows how projects in advanced planning stages (“shovel ready”) with state or private funding already committed will probably be the winners in the competition for funds. These include high-speed links from Orlando to Tampa FL and Vancouver BC to Portland OR, while southern states face legislative or social barriers to high-speed rail. Alabama’s 1901 constitution, for example, forbids the state Department of Transportation from investing in alternative transportation, including rail. NPR suggests that a multi-modal approach is necessary, with a variety of transportation agencies collaborating to create multimodal hubs, otherwise high-speed rail riders will find themselves stranded in car-dependent areas surrounding railway stations. This approach may also help the proposals win federal stimulus funding.

In Toronto, the city managed to raise two-thirds of the funds needed to buy 204 replacement streetcars, including $1.2 billion from the City and $416 million from the Province of Ontario. Mayor David Miller had applied for federal stimulus funding, saying the streetcars would generate jobs in Thunder Bay (where 25% of the new streetcars would be built), Quebec, Manitoba, and the Greater Toronto Area. Bombardier’s report on the proposal said it would generate 5,000 direct jobs and 14,000 indirect jobs. Infrastructure Minister John Baird hinted earlier that the federal government would not fund the streetcar replacement project because it does not meet federal stimulus requirements: it doesn’t meet the 25% Canadian content requirement, does not generate jobs in the Toronto area within a two-year period and will not be completed by March 31, 2011 (and they actually used the term “not shovel ready”).

The federal government did announce $200 million in infrastructure funding for Toronto to help fund 500 infrastructure projects, including upgrades to the transit system and water mains. The City had pledged $400 million itself for these projects, which include repairing the Coxwell Sanitary Trunk Sewer, upgrading transit stations with better security, resurfacing roads, and parks and recreation projects. But no streetcar funding.

Toronto City Council held an emergency meeting on September 11, 2009 and decided to pony up the additional $417 million themselves by deferring some other capital projects. Kudos to them, and Miller, for believing the streetcar purchase was critical for the GTA.

See? Drama. Intrigue. Political positioning. And a last-minute decision to to ahead with “what’s right”, as Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty put it. Who needs made-up words?

In a previous post, I joked about the obvious discrepancies in funding between humanities/social sciences and natural sciences…and I say this with all due respect for the two-level trailer in which SCARP has been housed for many years. Interestingly, Inside Higher Education recently reported that funding was the most important factor in PhD completion for US PhD recipients. They also found major differences between humanities/social science students and math/science/engineering students: while 76% of science students were satisfied with their funding, only 60% of humanities students were. And with good reason: social sciences are less likely than others to receive offers covering six or more years, even though many humanities PhDs take longer than six years to complete. Humanities doctoral students were more likely than those in other fields to receive offers covering only two or three years.

I would say that in the current neoliberal political climate, these inequities are typical. Science, math, and engineering are somehow considered more valid subjects of study than english, sociology, and architecture. And with many universities increasingly looking to the private sector for capital and program funding, many software, pharmaceutical, and in BC forestry companies are filling the gaps. I could debate the morals of this to no end, but this won’t solve the basic issue, which is that fields of study which produce products, technologies, or services that are marketable or patentable are favoured in the current climate. This is a real shame, because we need writers, sociologists and architects just as much as we need lab technicians, mathematical modellers and engineers. To quote the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council,

Research in the social sciences and humanities advances knowledge and builds understanding about individuals, groups and societies—what we think, how we live and how we interact with each other and the world around us. Knowledge and understanding inform discussion on critical social, cultural, economic, technological, environmental and wellness issues and provide communities, businesses and governments the foundation for a vibrant and healthy democracy. Through research and training programs, SSHRC fosters the development of talented and creative people who become leaders across the private and public sectors and who are critical to Canada’s success in the globalized 21st century.

The distinction between arts and sciences is only semantics anyway, particularly in newer fields that cannot be easily categorized. I’ll use landscape architecture an example, which was not a university degree program until the postwar era. My undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture, for which I received a BLArch, neither a BA or a BSc. This is because at the University of Toronto, the faculty is independent and does not fall under either arts or sciences; actually this is a moot point at U of T, where there is a combined Faculty of Arts & Sciences. If I had gone to another school, I would have received a BSCLA, particularly if the landscape architecture program was in the agriculture or applied science faculties; or a BA, if the program fell under geography. So at some schools landscape architecture is a science, at some it falls under social sciences, and in others it is in neither category. Now that landscape architecture is mainly a graduate degree program, students with a range of bachelors’ degrees apply and are accepted into these programs. None of this has anything to do with the courses, which span subjects like dendrology, site engineering, design studios, and planting design and are approved by a national accreditation board.

That’s too unique, you say? Most fields can be much more easily categorized? Okay, let’s take geography. If you specialize in physical geography, you might be studying rock formations, specific types of algae, or air pollution in a range of cities. On the other hand, human geography would lead to studies of women and technology, the impact of immigration policies, or patterns of gentrification in cities. At UBC and U of T, the first option would lead to a BSc and the second to a BA, with each having very different courses. But things start to blur a little in the Masters programs where both BA and BSc students are admitted to one program, and they graduate with either an MA or an MSc depending on what their undergraduate degree was. SCARP takes this same approach: if your undergraduate was in Forestry, you will graduate from SCARP with an MSc; an undergraduate in French will earn you an MA. Notice that this has nothing to do with the courses you take: two separate students could in fact take the exact same courses during the Masters program, one ending up with an MA and the other an MSc.

There are many fields that don’t easily fall into neat arts or science categories, not to mention the journalism student specializing in health and science or the psychologist who studies cognitive behavioural therapy. But because of the funding inequities, if you fall into one of these academic grey areas, you’ll be lumped in with the humanities…and that means less money for your education. Which means you’ll probably have to work during school, which will lengthen the time you take to complete. This is definitely an issue at SCARP, where the scarcity of funding and lack of teaching assistant positions compels many of us to work part-time.

This type of funding inequity is self-perpetuating: fewer people can afford to back to school to study humanities and social sciences, so there are fewer graduates, so the pool of funding decreases, so studying humanities and social sciences seems less popular and less valid. A bunch of us at SCARP signed the petition to prevent SSHRC from prioritizing business-related studies, to no avail. But there has been some media coverage about the inequities so hopefully some day they will even out. I would advise potential grad students in the social sciences and humanities to work for a few years and save up some money before starting grad school. That was my M.O., and it’s worked out perfectly.


Aquatic Ecosystems Research Lab (top left), Chemical Engineering, Hugh Dempster Pavilion, Institute for Computing Information and Cognitive Sciences/Computer Science, Life Sciences Center, new Annex to the Sauder School of Business, Institute for Asian Studies, Forestry Sciences Centre

If you’re a Canadian university student, there’s an easy way to tell where your faculty stands in the university’s hierarchy. Just look around you. Does your building feature the latest in LEED technology, up-to-the-minute computer facilities, and lecture theaters equipped with comfortable chairs and ceiling-mounted digital projectors? You’re in the money…and by that I mean you’re a business or science student. On the other hand, if your faculty is located in what we used to call “portables” in grade school, and lacks all but basic lighting and plumbing, you’re probably in the social sciences.

This useful guide demonstrates these principles at UBC. One of the oldest, and most antiquated, universities in Canada, UBC has nothing but sharp distinctions between the “haves” and “have nots”. First, the rich folks. Computer science are a good example, with three (count’em, three) major buildings, the newest of which only contains classrooms (the Hugh Dempster Pavilion). Or the Forestry faculty, whose massive timber-lined fortress was built on donations from Weyerhouser and MacMillan Bloedel. If you’re studying science or business, your faculty is associated with, and sponsored by, mega corporations, and these important ties ensure you have the best facilities on campus. You also get a pile of grants, all the teaching assistantships you want, and often free lab or computer equipment. Not only that, your faculty is highly regarded by the university, politicians, and the public in general.

Your faculty could be one that used to be considered important. You know, like chemistry (not chemical engineering…chemistry). Or geography. Or sociology. Subjects that commanded a lot of prestige back in the day when universities were about learning first and patenting inventions second. Your building was either built 100 years ago or 40 years ago, the two major university-building eras in Canadian history. So either you’re in a beautiful stone building that has just been brought up to safety codes, or you’re in a 1960s modernist bunker.

Education, Biological Sciences, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Music,

Chemistry (South Wing), Chemistry (North Wing), Education, Biological Sciences, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Music, and Geography

If your faculty is considered marginally important to society (ie, your research does not involve mathematical predictions, computer models, or patentable organisms or technology) then the university and the public have ensured that your faculty is in marginal condition. There’s no need to lock your doors because the computer equipment is at least a decade or two old. It would be difficult to tell if vandals had set upon your building the night before. And suffice it to say, your classrooms are barely sufficient and your graduate students are crowded into tiny offices with 1970s chairs.

Binning Studios (Visual Arts), Landscape Architecture Studios, Visual Arts, Community and Regional Planning, Women's and Gender Studies

Binning Studios (Visual Arts), Landscape Architecture Studios, Visual Arts, Community and Regional Planning, Women's and Gender Studies

Neo-liberal principles are certainly alive and well at UBC. At this rate it won’t be long until we’ve eroded even English and History as valid subjects of study. Not to mention the difficulty of getting research funding in the social sciences: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council was recently forced to cut its funding to cover only business-related degrees. What about NSERC, the natural sciences equivalent? No worries, the government and multi-million dollar industries still support you.

Think your university is more balanced in its capital spending? If it’s publicly funded, like most Canadian universities, it’s pretty likely they’ve embraced public-private partnerships, which means only the rich shall survive.

TransLink’s recent decision to delay construction of the Evergreen Line yet again illustrates the difficulty the regional agency has in funding projects. As I documented in a previous post, TransLink is a regional body created by the Province of British Columbia, which means it legally has only the powers given to it by the province. Their funding comes from fuel taxes, property taxes, transit fares and advertising.

In the case of large infrastructure projects such as the recently-built Canada Line, the Province and the Federal Government kick in some money. The feds are particularly swayed if the project is of national significance, hence the funding for the 19-km Canada Line during the same year Vancouver is set to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. The original SkyTrain line was constructed for Expo ’86. Usually, the balance of funding is made up through public-private partnerships. The Canada Line had the usual regional, provincial, and federal funding sources, as well as the Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA), the City of Vancouver, and private sector partner, InTransitBC, who was selected through a competitive bidding process. The total cost of the Canada Line is $1.9 billion ($2003), with the federal government contributing $419 million, the province $235, the VAA $245 million, TransLink $321 million, the City $27 million, and InTransitBC $65.3 million. TransLink will own the finished line and set fares, while InTransit BC designed the line and will operate and maintain the line for 35 years.

Like many municipalities, as a regional body TransLink has lots of legal responsibility with few fundraising abilities. Legally, the provincial and federal governments have more taxation ability, hence the Goods and Services Tax and BC’s new Carbon Tax. Yet they have been decreasing their responsibilities each year by transferring them to municipalities. The Evergreen Line had $410 million in provincial funding and $417 million in federal funding, in addition to TransLink’s $400 million. Still, the project fell $173 million short, money that TransLink expected to raise through public-private partnerships and transit-oriented development. TransLink’s proposed funding schemes, such as a parking tax and a vehicle levy, have been met with considerable public resistance.

TransLink, which regularly conducts surveys on ridership and potential ridership, has long been in favour of the 11-km Evergreen line linking Burnaby, Coquitlam, and Port Moody. While Burnaby already has the Millenium and Expo Skytrain lines, Coquitlam and Port Moody are among the fastest-growing municipalities in the GVRD and like most of the region, has no rapid transit options. The Evergreen Line was first proposed 20 years ago, and the Province has been promising its construction for five years.

TransLink also has a history of tenuous relationships with the province, as I wrote in a post about their organizational structure. Disagreements between Kevin Falcon, formerly the Provincial Minister of Transportation (2004-2009), resulted in TransLink dropping the Evergreen and UBC lines in favour of the Canada Line proposal, which the TransLink board had voted down repeatedly. Falcon also dissolved the TransLink board, made up of municipal representatives, and replaced it with a provincially-appointed board with no public accountability. It is not surprising that now that TransLink has built the Canada Line, provincial support has returned to its previous dismal level. And as usual, TransLink takes the blame for funding shortfalls (witness the CBC article entitled “TransLink to yank Evergreen Line funding.”) when the real “bad guy” in this scenario is the lack of any comprehensive federal transportation plan that acknowledges municipalities’ role in public transit provision.

TransLink, the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, is responsible for roads, bridges, public transit, and cycling in the Vancouver region. TransLink’s revenues come from transit fares and advertising, property taxes and fuel taxes. The regional transportation authority regularly consults with the public on transportation planning issues including financing, rapid transit, bus, and cycling options. Their online Transit Advisory Board, launched a few years ago, allows Metro residents to have a say in all sorts of decision making. Their current survey deals with their 10-Year Transportation and Financial Plan, a step towards Transport 2040, their 30-year plan. The survey presents three scenarios: spending $460 million more annually to expand transit, road, and cycling capacity, spending $260 annually to maintain the current situation, or cutting back service drastically.

As they have been in existence for just a decade, TransLink also published a list of accomplishments from 1999-2008. Among these are a 37% increase in transit hours, 38% increase in bus fleet size, 99% increase in annual funding for transit operations, and a whopping 283% increase in capital investments. While those who use TransLink on a daily basis complain about it regularly, and Metro Vancouver doesn’t have nearly the transit service it needs to service almost 2 million people, these are some impressive results over a ten-year period.

TransLink is an excellent example of how complicated it is for municipalities and regions to fund, plan, and provide transit services. Power struggles between all three levels of government are played out every time budgetary consultations are due. While TransLink is unique in providing services and capital improvements for roads, bridges, transit, and cycling, this balanced approach frequently puts the provincially-created body at odds with its creator. The transit strike in 2001, the struggle over funding for the Canada Line, and increased pressure on the UBC line are all potent examples of biting the hand that feeds transit in Metro Vancouver. An effort in 2001 to add a vehicle levy to funding sources was rejected by the Province, which put a stop to service expansion, fuelled service decreases and led to a four-month-long transit strike. One of the other funding challenges is that the income from fuel taxes (about 30% of TransLink’s funding) fluctuates with gas prices.

These struggles occur because often the upper levels of government are at odds with the municipalities; it is one area that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has fought to reconcile. Municipalities know what works best at the local level: in this case, more funding for public transit, cycling, and walking. Funds can be raised through taxes on less sustainable transportation modes. But the Province of BC has long fought this approach, like other Provincial governments, sticking to the postwar status quo: fund road and highway infrastructure to cut down on traffic and make goods movement easier and cheaper. An excellent example is the Gateway proposal, a $4.5 billion dollar road and highway expansion project bitterly fought by Vancouver and Burnaby councils and decried by environmentalists, will now be funded entirely by the Province. BC Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon’s spearheading of the Gateway proposal, against the recommendations of cost benefit and environmental analyses, made lifelong enemies of many GVRD transportation advocates. Falcon was replaced as Minister of Transportation by Shirley Bond when Gordon Campbell was recently re-elected as Premier on May 12, 2009. It isn’t known yet how much Bond will support public transit, cycling, and walking in the Province; it may not matter, considering Campbell’s support of the proposal. A glance at the Provincial Ministry of Transportation website indicates its primary interests in goods movement and airport management; public transit is clearly low on its list of priorities. The Province of BC released a Transit Plan in 2008 that contradicts TransLink’s long-term plan. Clearly, these power struggles indicate that transportation, at the level of public transit and commuter services, is an area that should be wholly given over to Canadian municipalities. There is considerable dissention in the ranks, because without funding from the upper levels of government, municipalities would face the same challenges in transportation that they do in housing: responsibilty with out much-needed cash.

But despite these struggles, TransLink has accomplished a lot in a city that is rapidly growing and needs transportation alternatives. As I write this, the new 19-km Canada Line is being tested for its Labour Day opening, a new SeaBus glides across Burrard Inlet, and the 24-km Central Valley Greenway has just opened. These victories, in addition to the gains in capital investment, and sheer numbers of passengers using the system, are worthy of celebration.