Nov 242016
 

So there are a lot of things about myself I don’t like to admit. I’m assuming this is the case for most people.

I don’t like to admit how much I like stupid dance movies like Step Up 3DCenter Stage, and Save The Last Dance where at least 90% of the time, the story is the boy/girl from the wrong side of the tracks who dances “street” teams up with the classically trained/ballet/true artist girl/boy dancer to shatter the snotty, uptight expectations of the “art world”/establishment and win the dance scholarship/competition/world prize (see also Pitch Perfect and Bring It On for variations on this theme). I don’t like to admit how powerless I am in the face of my serious bubble tea addiction. I don’t like to admit how happy such bubblegum pop neoclassics as Shake It OffCall Me Maybe, and Kiss You make me when I listen to them. I don’t like to admit how much I hate things many people adore, like Star WarsBook of Mormon, Firefly, and Lord of the Rings. Oh no wait—I do love telling people how much I hate that last group of things.

But you get the idea… I mean, obviously there are far more serious things I don’t like to admit about myself that (shocker) I will not be writing down here and putting out into the public sphere. But one thing I will cop to is that I do not like to admit where I’m from. I do admit it (because I don’t believe in being evasive/coy about stuff you might not like but didn’t choose and can’t change) but I don’t like it. Not one bit.

Hi, my name is Kalev and yes, I grew up in Surrey, BC.1

I can’t tell you that I always knew how awful Surrey was. Growing up in Surrey, I just didn’t really understand there were (vastly) other ways to live. Given I was in deep denial about my sexuality until I was nearly 20, I didn’t experience the place as particularly anti-gay (even though Surrey is, to a remarkably disturbing degree). And I’m not ashamed to be from Surrey because it’s the default butt of every redneck/dumb or slutty blond joke in the region. I’m not ashamed because of the stereotypes about Surrey, because every region has a municipality like that.2 No, I’m ashamed to be from Surrey because of how it has been and acted, historically, and how it still is. And it’s a lot more than uncomplicated stereotypes about the types of people who live there—which could, to be fair, be made about nearly any community far enough out from any urban centre—that underpin my ire.

My deep and abiding contempt for my hometown in based in a variety of reasons, many of which relate to it embodying values that are completely antithetical to my core beliefs. But perhaps the one aspect of Surrey that most upsets me, that makes my blood boil, is that the city and its residents are constantly whining about how they pay SO. MUCH. for transit (not directly, but via things like property taxes and gas taxes)3 and yet they are so desperately shortchanged in return for their selfless sacrifice.

(Let me tell you, just as an aside: on a variety of fronts in my life, I am getting damn sick of people complaining about problems that are their own damn fault and which they could damn well fix if they damn well shut the fuck up and worked on the problem instead of bitching about how it was someone else’s fault and out of their control.)

And this unpleasant caterwauling was out in full force yesterday in the comment section of the livestream of the joint Mayors’ Council–TransLink board meeting where the 10-Year Plan was approved.

To wit:

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-2-40-13-pm

So to give you a bit more context on why that comment should have come with a Kalev trigger warning™,4 I’ll share the response I wrote to it, which summarizes why I hate Surrey on this particular front:

Surrey can have SkyTrain when it starts acting like a real city and implements this crazy thing called “urban planning” instead of its continued and appalling suburban sprawl. It doesn’t have anywhere near the density to justify SkyTrain and it has certainly never demonstrated the political will to develop communities where transit can be effectively delivered. When SkyTrain arrived in central Surrey, a few towers got built… and then NOTHING for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the sprawl continued unabated.

Further, LRT5 is not some cheap-out alternative to SkyTrain. It’s an appropriate mode of rapid transportation for the city given its current state and it’s widely used across the world.

Surrey should count itself lucky it’s getting ANY kind of rapid transit beyond what it already has. The notion that it’s needed more in Surrey (which is completely laid out around car use) and not along Broadway (all the way to UBC) which is the single busiest transit corridor ON THE CONTINENT is ludicrous in the extreme.

Let’s put it this way: you guys are lucky you’re considered fertile ground for BC Liberal and federal Conservative politicians because otherwise this wouldn’t even be a conversation.

*mic drop*

  1. Happily I at least wasn’t born there. ? []
  2. I’m looking at you, Scarborough! ? []
  3. which is also a lie since, as I’ve mentioned before, property taxes in the Lower Mainland are shockingly low for a region of our size, population, and complexity—and Surrey is not the exception to that rule (in a relative sense, White Rock is) []
  4. as should any articles about the housing market in Vancouver *sigh* []
  5. light rail transit []
Nov 162016
 

I know, I know… leave TransLink alone! But I can’t, I just can’t. I have been taking transit since well before there was a TransLink, back when it was just BC Transit. (I made sure, though, when they changed the name that I got on board quick… because I remember my mother dating herself by slipping up and calling BC Transit “BC Electric” a few times when I was growing up. LOL) As shocking as it may be to today’s apparently freaked-out parents, I was taking transit on my own (well, without any adult supervision—just with a friend of the same age) in Grade 2. Yes, age 7. In SURREY!!!12

On top of that, when I’m visiting San Francisco, people ask me for transit directions. When a bunch of my grad school friends and I went to New York in 2010 before there was ubiquitous cell phone data coverage (or at least for visiting Canadians), guess who was enlisted as the transit navigator? And I know more about Toronto’s (completely fucked up looney tunes batshit crazy) transit landscape than most people who have lived there their entire lives. One of my favourite places in London the first time I went was the (super-cool) London Transport Museum. One of the worst places I ever visited when first travelling alone as an adult? Orlando. Why? (I mean, why other than the fact it’s a swampy, festering, fake as shit, everyone drives, there’s no vegetarian food options but Mexican hell hole?) Because there’s practically no public transit.

I don’t have a license, I’ve never owned a car, etc. etc. etc. Anyway, you get it: I heart transit.

Which means when the local transit authority screws something up (and again, despite not being the TTC, they tend to do this with alarming regularity), it hurts me to my core. And I don’t mean “screw up” like not be able to spin themselves well enough to win last year’s transit funding plebiscite. No, I mean it kills me when they fuck up the very fundamentals of their operations.

Case in point: recent exhibit A—the pedestrian overpass from Metrotown SkyTrain station to the country’s second-biggest shopping mall.3 Metrotown Station, as one of the busiest yet most-cramped stations in the SkyTrain system, is currently undergoing major renovations to expand its size and allow for the installation of Compass fare gates.4 Part of those renovations involve removing the pedestrian bridge that keeps thousands of passengers a day safely away from vehicular traffic when they head for the mall.

Just recently, we were treated to the announcement that, contrary to what the public had been led to believe, there is no concrete (ha!) plan as to when that “passerelle5 will be replaced.

Yep, I’m not even close to kidding: starting tomorrow, November 16, 2016, all gazillion of the mall’s customers who already have to cram themselves onto a bridge that was too small over 30 years ago when the station first opened will now be expected to walk down stairs6 to the street and cross to the mall through traffic. As one would expect, there’s a fair amount of traffic happening around the country’s 2nd biggest shopping mall, situated as it is in a suburb.

Seriously: not kidding! Take a look:

While TransLink attempts to insist a new bridge will be built (most clearly in the comments, because in the articles themselves, it’s a lot less clear), let me assure you that I have no such certainty. Why? Well because before this most recent announcement, TransLink claimed a new bridge was being built, and I even asked about it to make sure they realized they needed to make it about double the width of the current bridge. While they did indicate that the existing bridge would be closed and torn down before the new bridge was complete (which, I thought at the time, was crazy enough in its own right for all the reasons above), at least then we were thinking there was a plan in place to build the new bridge. It turns out that there is no existing agreement between the three pertinent parties, all of whom need to agree to make it happen, about when the bridge will be built, how it will be built, and who will pay for it.

Those three parties are TransLink, the City of Burnaby, and the mall owners, all of whom need to stop fucking around and start caring about their riders’ and patrons’ safety. Instead, when pushed on the issue, TransLink points the finger at the other two parties, conveniently ignoring the fact that the renovations at Metrotown Station should NEVER have even started until this issue was cleared up.

Even if the new bridge is a certainty, the mind boggles at what TransLink might consider a “reasonable” timeline. Before the renovations are fully complete in winter 2017/18? A year after that? 3 years? 5 years? It sounds crazy… but then, it’s already crazy they started renovations without figuring out the whole bridge thing to start with!

I’ll close with an official response to my customer service complaint about this should-have-been-completely-avoidable situation:7

Thank you for your feedback.

Metrotown Station is one of the oldest and busiest stations on the Expo Line and has long been in need of upgrades to improve accessibility, capacity, safety, and security. The overhead pedestrian walkway is owned and maintained by the mall developer. TransLink is currently working with the City and Ivanhoe Cambridge to sign a formal agreement for design, construction and funding of the new walkway, but no decisions have been made at this time. Once an agreement is in place and construction dates have been determined we will provide the information to the public..  We recognize that this is a major impact to our customers and we thank everyone for their patience while we improve Metrotown Station. Original plans had the station closing down during construction. This option allows us to keep the station open for the thousands of customers who use it every day.  We have conducted an analysis of pedestrian volumes during busy holiday periods, and we know that there is enough room to safely move all passengers. To accommodate the increase in pedestrian traffic, the crosswalks have been widened and the new bus lane will be used as a pedestrian walkway.

The new station upgrades are expected to be complete by spring 2017, at which time, three new elevators will be operating.   We apologize for the inconvenience.

Sincerely,
Customer Information Services

Or TL;DR: Here is our canned response telling you everything will be totally fine and if it’s not, it’s not our fault!

Like truly, it didn’t occur to them to maybe sort this out before they started the renovations? Cart before horse much?

If it didn’t mean someone would get hurt and/or killed, I would LOVE for them (and the City of Burnaby and Ivanhoe Cambridge) to face some kind of class action suit for criminal negligence. If anything, they should be investing in more safety measures, not removing the ones that already exist.

At least this time around (often I find myself railing against things other people don’t seem to feel are important—I’m sure you are shocked to hear this ?), there are a whole lot of other people who join me in thinking TransLink is making a serious mistake in how it’s handling this whole situation (judging from the comments left at the two articles, at least).

Bravo, TransLink—bravo!

(PS why the hell does Evergreen mean GO?! Gods I hate marketing garbage!)

  1. I was going to say that Surrey in the 1980s wasn’t as bad as Surrey now… but let’s face it: Surrey is just eternally awful and nothing but a nuclear bomb wiping it off the face of the planet will ever change that. []
  2. Have I mentioned how much I hate my hometown? Basically, Surrey is pretty much the antithesis of everything I stand for. []
  3. Imagine for a second that you had the utmost honour of being second to something from EDMONTON! LOL LOL []
  4. Fare gates: don’t get me started!! []
  5. which is apparently how you refer to a pedestrian bridge if you are as pretentious as all fuck, which TransLink really likes to be []
  6. TransLink’s “fun” ideas of accessibility are a whole ’nother blog post []
  7. yes, I’m totally the guy who actually fills in feedback forms for organizations like TransLink []
Nov 152016
 

You might, if you live in the Lower Mainland and take transit, be aware that TransLink, our favourite public transit provider, is proposing to actually expand service starting in early 2017. As part of this planned expansion, they have a 3-year funding proposal that they were taking public input on last month.

In a shocking turn of events, they have actually proposed (modestly) raising property taxes, something the Mayors’ Council has been extremely loath to do, laying all of the responsibility for transit funding at the door of the provincial government which, as you might well imagine if you understand how the BC Liberals work, has meant there’s been no new funding for transit for, oh, I dunno—15 years or so?

HOWEVER (of course there’s a “but”) they have, hand in hand with this (extremely modest) property tax increase (and you have to understand that property taxes in Vancouver and indeed the Lower Mainland are ROCK BOTTOM), proposed to increase transit fares each year for the next 3 years, under the guise that fares “aren’t keeping up with inflation.”

So below, I destroy that particular huge lie of theirs.

But TL;DR: about the only “good” thing about the fare increase part of the proposal is that the monthly passes will end up being a better deal than they are now… vs. either cash or Compass Stored Value. You know, if you can stomach paying $98/month for a 1-zone pass in 3 years. (All proposed new fares are on page 3 of their backgrounder.)

Otherwise, it’s a “screw you, 1-zone travellers” proposal.

I even did up a cool little spreadsheet if you are interested in how the proposed increases play out, percentage-wise.

But, as I discuss below in the feedback I sent them, the proposal is garbage overall:

Your fare increase proposals are ridiculous and the rationale for said increases are completely misleading. You imply that since fares haven’t risen since 2013, they are not keeping up with inflation. However, this assumes that, prior to 2013, they did increase relatively in line with inflation… and this is patently untrue. For instance, the cost of a 1-zone monthly pass rose from $81/month in 2010 to $91/month in 2013, or a 12.3% increase… which is far higher than inflation in BC over the same 3-year period. If you look at the last two increases, over 6 years from 2008 to 2013, this particular cost rose 24.7% ($73 to $91/month). Inflation over that period was 6.06%, or 1/4 of the increase to 1-zone monthly passes. Even if you spread those two increases out to the present day (end of 2016), it represents an annual increase from 2008 of 2.8% a year; inflation in BC over that period was 0.91% a year.1 That’s about 3 times the rate of inflation.

Also, you state you used an overall 2% increase in fares as the level to help fund Phase 1 of the 10-Year Vision. Yet a quick look at your own proposal shows that 4/9 of your cash fare increases, 9/9 of your Compass fare increases, and 4/9 of your monthly pass fare increases are above 2%. The values that are 2% or lower do not even come close to being low enough to average the overall increases out to 2% a year for 3 years. So why are you lying and making it seem like you’re only raising fares 2% (a year)?

In addition, you obviously know fares are already unreasonably high because you highlight an effort to minimize the percentage increases to 2- and 3-zone fares. Yet you offer no rationale for explaining a) why more of the burden of fare increases should be borne by people travelling only 1-zone (and one assumes the bulk of those are in Zone 1, i.e. Vancouver, which is denser by far than the surrounding municipalities and therefore cheaper to deliver transit to, by which I mean why are commuting suburbanites getting an even bigger subsidy in this proposal) AND, from the other side of encouraging transit use and getting people out of their cars, b) how you expect to encourage people to abandon their cars when riding transit to and from work over 3 zones will cost $9/day at the end of this proposed fare increase regime.

So overall, my assessment of your proposed funding sources is: they suck. In particular, if you are serious about not impacting transit ridership and encouraging more people to get out of their vehicles, you would freeze fares over this proposed 3-year period and seek that money elsewhere, namely from the provincial government, developers, and Lower Mainland property taxes, which are widely recognized as some of the lowest on the continent for a region of this size, population, and complexity. $3/year for average homeowners (who are, last I checked, extremely well-off in this region given the insane ongoing increases in housing prices) while monthly pass users have to fork out $24/year or $36/year more?

UPDATE:

The Mayors’ Council and the TransLink board (aka the BC NeoLiberals) approved the 10-Year Plan on Wed Nov 23, 2016. Don’t get me wrong—there’s lots of good stuff in it. The fare increases, though? Still bogus.

  1. All inflation data for BC from http://inflationcalculator.ca/british-columbia/ []