Thursday, July 2, 2015


This might not be of much interest to people outside of Vancouver, but I read today that Vancouver turned down the .5% sales tax increase to pay translink to fun more public transit.

I have always advocated for more public transit. North American cities are SO far behind their Asian and European counterparts on this one. I won't try and compare Vancouver to a city like Tokyo (which has a population equivalent to Canada) or even a Seoul, a London, a Taipei or a Bangkok. These are cities of millions.

However, when compared to smaller cities in Korea such as Busan (around 4 million), Daegu (around 3 million) or Daejeon (around 1.5 million) you see MUCH better and more affordable transit. Go to a country with a comparable cost of living, Japan, and Fukuoka (around 2 million) or Kyoto (around 2 million) and you see MUCH better transit systems in comparably sized cities.

I want this in Canadian cities, it is an amazing thing to not always be stuck in traffic or need to drive to get everywhere. However, I am glad the No side won.

As to why, I'll do a quick comparison of the two cities n which I use public transit, Vancouver and Daegu. To start, the average household income in Daegu is around $30,000 a year, compared to 70,000 in Vancouver. So people have less money here.

There are currently three subway lines that connect to most of the major spots in town (though oddly enough not the airport... though I guess no one ever uses it anyway). Fares are 1100 won (about $1.20 CDN) to any point in the city. No zones, which I love, and a good price given the costs in the city. To get on the subway you need a card or a ticket, which is scanned by machines before you are allowed on the platform. There are usually two attendants at every subway stop. They usually help with emergencies, sell tickets to seniors who can't figure out the machines, and scan new transit cards that you can charge and scan when coming or going from every subway station. The cards themselves require a small deposit, mine was around 10,000 won ($12). I've had it for four years. The same card works on every bus. Fares are 1100 won up to 1700 depending on how far you are going. Scan the card to get on and again when you get off the bus. If you are transferring, you have 90 minutes to scan your card on another bus and you don't pay again. That 1100 won gets you to wherever you are going, even if it takes four hours to get there (though I can't imagine needing that long to get anywhere in Daegu, but in theory it works). I bus to and from work most days and use the subway to go downtown once or twice a month. My total transportation costs for the month are usually around 50,000-55,000 won (around $55-62 CDN). For my income and the cost of living here that seems fair. I personally think it is great. Buses run every ten or fifteen minutes depending on which bus it is, and the subways run every 3 to seven minutes depending on the time of day. The whole thing shuts down at midnight and starts up again at 5am. Of course a taxi home from work is only 7500 won ($8), so that is an option too. Heck a taxi across town would only run me 25,000 won ($32 CDN). The network is owned by the city, and employees are civil servants.

Vancouver. When I was last there in Vancouver a ride on the sea bus was $4, though to take a bus in North Van was $2.75. While $2.75 to travel in North Van seems fair, $4 to get downtown does not. $5.50 to get south of Vancouver is downright ridiculous. Weekends and evenings it is all $2.75 so I can't complain, except that that fare is for 90 minutes, NOT the duration of your trip (though I must admit that has never been a problem for me and I believe you are allowed to finish the ride you are on, though you couldn't transfer after that 90 minutes). The skytrain and sea bus work on the honour system though, with transit police randomly checking and fining people. Tourists often ride for free without knowing that they are breaking the law, and locals ride for free because it is free. I mean there are ticket booths, but they are often easy to miss, and nothing actually stops you from just getting on the sea bus or subway. I would use my oyster card, but no. Buses run every 15-30 minutes. A Taxi is not a reasonable option economically. There is a great line to the airport, which is not unreasonably priced given its function (certainly MUCH cheaper than the train from Narita to Shinjuku).

I feel that the fares outside of peak times are very fair and comparable between the cities. The Daegu system wins for the number of subway lines. There insistence on people actually paying for the service is a plus as well. My little card that I charge and use is amazing. Vancouver tried the Oyster card and it failed for reasons I don't get. They are great. Vancouver's airport express is amazing, much better than trying to get to Daegu's airport. Though Vancouver International is a major transportation hub and Daegu airport offers flying buses to Jejudo and Seoul, so perhaps not a fair comparison. Though the cost from Waterfront to YVR is cheaper than from Seoul Station to Incheon, so perhaps that says something of the airport express.

However, the referendum wasn't about that.

The transit in Vancouver is run by translink, which is currently run by a board of governors who consult with, but are not beholden to, elected officials. Despite that it IS technically a public company, as it was created by the province and generates revenue through provincial taxes. All the benefits of a public company without the accountability. The vote was a NO to translink. I support this NO because I do not believe that translink is capable of managing the system they run. They have the structure of a private company but without the accountability through market forces, as they are a public company. However as a public company they are not accountable, elected officials. I wouldn't vote for that and neither did people in Vancouver. I think these numbers, show why people didn't want to give cash to translink. A few articles have come out saying that translink outperforms other North American cities, but that it a bit like arguing which drunk is best suited to drive home. I have no doubt that translink is better than Portland or Oklahoma city in certain areas. But if that is your benchmark then you can't really fall short now can you? The funds they collect SHOULD make upgrades, new lines and fare reductions possible as they are. Again, I'll leave the link set up by the NO campaign to show why this vote was lost.

I bet BC transit would have had a YES if this was held in 1996 because I remember when I was a kid and BC transit still ran the transportation in Vancouver. You would see "System of the Year 1996" on the sides of buses and on the sea bus. It won three times in the 90s. Don't see that anymore.

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