Journalism

The moderating effects of moderation

RossK writes about the Pro-Media Club and its implicit rulebook, which includes a requirement that no one reprove a colleague, even if overstatements and misrepresentations morph into purposeful lies. The blog world doesn’t follow those guidelines so we can point at any load of old codswallop encountered. In coverage of the Metro Vancouver transit plebiscite, there is plenty, particularly from alternative media that claim to publish content less influenced by special interests. Unfortunately, the interests are still special, just different.

Although a photo of the writer attached to the article gives a hint of bias, there is no indication Paul Hillsdon’s work is a paid advertisement. His Vancouver Observer “Special Report” presents implications of a “NO” vote. These are but a few:

    1. TransLink’s …communications to the outside world effectively eliminated.
    2. The Pattullo Bridge will be delayed for three more years, but eventually begin construction under a tolling regime.
    3. Broadway [SkyTrain subway extension] will become the next priority. …The project will start moving forward in 2020.
    4. Governance, administration or corporate structure will not see any major changes.
    5. The TransLink-owned and operated subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus company will be dissolved.
    6. To address issues of governance and regional equity, TransLink is dissolved.
    7. TransLink will make strategic investments in property that produces dividends for the agency.

This “special report” is not worth special attention but, if TransLink were to end communications to the outside world, would tens of millions of dollars paid to friendly communication contractors also end? Would TransLink continue to publish bus schedules and explain SkyTrain stoppages? Would $110,000 a year fare checkers be allowed to talk with transit riders?

#2 claims Pattullo bridge tolls would result if the sales tax is defeated, which leaves one to assume their absence if the vote is yes. In fact, TransLink intends to collect tolls on the new crossing regardless of the vote result.

In #3, The Observer reports the Broadway subway will not move forward until 2020. However, TransLink has already spent millions on design and property acquisitions for the SkyTrain extension. It’s construction is, shall we say, on track.

#4 is in direct conflict with #5 and #6. As Stephen Leacock might have written: The yes vote proponent flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.

The final item references the possibility of financing transit improvements through “value capture” by securing a portion of incremental values gained by commercial properties after installation of mass transit facilities. However, such a policy is not dependent on a regional sales tax vote, it needs elected governments to alter taxation philosophies. As the yes side claims elsewhere, this issue is not on the ballot.

Top Five Myths about the Transit Vote by David P. Ball is an improvement but The Tyee allows its enthusiasm to get in the way of accuracy. Ball goes wrong in his second sentence. He writes the vote is “on whether to boost sales taxes by 0.5 per cent to add $7.7 billion to the transit and transportation budget.”

The proposed sales tax would not guarantee that sum is added to TransLink’s budgets. By the company’s own reckoning, it would raise $250 million in the first year, which wouldn’t pay 3/4 of the annual interest on $7.7 billion, if TransLink can borrow at the province’s rate of 4.45% (FY 2014) and not the 6.7% paid on Golden Ears Bridge financing (Note 8, 2013 audited financials).

Clearly, the addition of almost $8 billion to the transit and transportation budget is more dependent on decisions of senior government than the choice of Metro Vancouver voters to accept or reject a new type of taxation dedicated to TransLink. Of course, there is also the possibility that the 0.5% regional sales tax would elevate to 1.75%, which is sufficient to repay $7.5 billion over 20 years.

Ball writes that myth #2 is “TransLink tax grab will cost households $258 per year.” The Mayors’ Council claims an average cost of 35¢ a day, or $128 a year. Of course, any tax that imposes a $250 million burden on roughly a million homes, needs a little mathematical manipulation to fit the Mayors’ assertion. I’ve seen convoluted calculations and explanations but none that fit this OED definition of an average:

The value obtained by dividing the sum of several quantities by their number.

Yes, some households will pay more, some will pay less, but the average is not $128. The myth listed by David Ball should have referenced the average cost propagated by the YES side.

The Tyee reports the third myth is “The debate is between the political left versus right.” No knowledgeable person has made that statement and suggesting existence of this fallacy undermines the writer’s credibility. A more accurate argument would be that the debate is between the publicly paid entitled (like TransLink’s countless media contractors) and the people who do the paying.

Ball says it is a myth that TransLink’s high CEO salaries are wasteful and offers a defence that “that other government agencies pay high salaries to their top executives.” That latter assertion is true but it is like arguing that I should be able to drive 80 km/hr through a school zone because drivers elsewhere are driving even faster. In reality, many people have complained about high TransLink salaries, but not just the amounts paid their imperfect CEOs. Excessive salaries in the corner offices create a demand elsewhere in an organization and remove the moderating effects of moderation.

Responding to financial pressures, one very large private company had this response:

Samsung Group said Friday it will freeze wages for about 2,000 executives next year as Korea’s largest conglomerate tightens its belt.

…In order to reduce costs, Samsung Electronics in July ordered executives to travel in economy class for flights under 10 hours and reduced allowances for business trips. It also encouraged employees to take vacations instead of receiving pay for unused time off.

As for the group, it has taken other cost-saving measures, such as reducing the number of executive promotions, restructuring business divisions and redistributing employees…

By the way, annual TransLink revenues are about 1/2 of 1% of Samsung revenues. The Korean company is a sophisticated conglomerate with a record of steady growth and substantial profitability. It also has a record of paying its top executives a small fraction of what individual executives make at North America’s largest companies.

At the North Shore News, former full-time journalist Trevor Lautens writes about transit tax proponents, saying they:

Overwhelmingly have this in common. They are politicians, downtown business people, high bureaucrats, self-important media types, charity moguls, and the delivery people who supply and sustain them. They write off their driving and parking costs. They don’t take public transit themselves. Never will. They want other people to take it.

At the same newspaper, estimable columnist Elizabeth James concludes,

TransLink, the agency that believes your pocket is the gift that keeps on giving — whether or not you are given good value for your money in return.

At The Common Sense Canadian, Rafe Mair makes an argument for a yes vote but commenter Evil Eye provides a response that is worth reading. It includes this:

To exaggerate the number of people taking transit, TransLink uses the number of times that transit-users board or alight transit. TransLink in effect creates clones to inflate ridership on transit and to make certain key statistics for transit (tax subsidies) by TransLink seem less bad than they really are:

“However, TransLink is unique in using that number — both Toronto and Seattle use “revenue passengers.” Seattle doesn’t even make “boarded passenger” counts public. Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC, questioned why TransLink would use a different term. He said… TransLink’s rationale is illogical.

“If you are using different measures, people will naturally feel that you’re doing it because you don’t want to be compared,” he said. “If you don’t want to be compared it’s because you don’t think you’ll measure up.”

TransLink is dishonest, rotten to the core and my gorge rises if even I contemplate a YES vote!

The Transit Referendum and Congestion, Sumeet Gulati, UBC Blog ‘The Green Room’:

…the logic underlying the “Fundamental Law of Highway Congestion,” by Andrew Downs.

“If we double road capacity, we also double long run traffic. The net effect on congestion: zero. A corollary to this law implies that if investment in transit removes vehicles from the road, other vehicles fill in to take this space.”

Categories: Journalism, Transit

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10 replies »

  1. The Three Way split funding of $7.5 Billion for the Improvement of more Congestion:
    1/3 = Metro Vancouverites pay an extra 0.5% sales tax
    1/3 = Metro Vancouverites continue to pay sales tax on gas to the Province General Fund which pays a portion of it back
    1/3 = Metro Vancouverites continue to pay sales tax on gas to the Federal Government General Fund which pays a small portion of it back

    3/3 paid for by Metro Vancouverites

    Plus Metro Vancouverites continue paying for highway improvements outside of Metro Vancouver

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  2. Here is something that may upset the apple cart.

    There are rumours from Eastern Canada, including the CBC and Europe, that Bombardier Inc. wants to shed itself of the proprietary SkyTrain light-metro system. The reson for this is very poor sales (only 7 such systems built and only 3 seriously used for public transport) in 40 years and the system is costing Bombardier money keeping the production line open.

    Bombardier is keeping quiet on this development until after the plebiscite as Vancouver is the only city currently buying SkyTrain cars. It should be remembered that SkyTrain is a proprietary light-metro system and no other vehicles can operate on the SkyTrain guideway. Once the production line is closed, cars will have to be custom made per order, substantially increasing costs.

    There is talk of TransLink acquiring the the technical patents and jigs from bombardier and start a small scale production plant in the the old MK.2 fabrication plant recently repurchased by TransLink.

    This poses serious financial problems on Translink, but if Broadway subway is built, then Translink must source SkyTrain compatible cars and owning the the patents and jigs will enable TransLink to produce the MK2 car for decades.

    The consequences of this is profound, for it will keep TransLink planning for more SkyTrain, because they have the vehicles, so kiss good-bye any badly needed LRT for the region and in fact, kiss good-bye to any affordable transit in the region as TransLink will continue to squander billions on questionable SkyTrain centric transit planning.

    A NO vote might just stop this deal from proceeding, but somehow, the owner's of SkyTrain's engineering patents, SNC Lavalin will not allow this. That being said, a NO vote will make it very difficult for TransLink in the future.

    A YES vote, of course will mean business as usual for TransLink and all those on the YES side will be rewarded, with a contract here or a consultancy there and within 5 years, TransLink will be back again, cap in hand, predicting transit chaos, if they do not get more money.

    The SkyTrain subway will be built, but at what cost? My opinion is that if a Broadway SkyTrain subway is built after a NO vote, Translink will split in two; North/South Fraser and those in Vancouver may ver well be paying up to 500% more for the cities vanity projects.

    Sobering!

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  3. Of course, you could very well decide to leave Vancouver, its dearth of affordable housing, its chaotic traffic problems (and rainy weather) and move to someplace more accommodating, thus relieving the pressure on housing and traffic and saving on the 0.5% sales tax. Too simplistic? I know of some who've made the move. They claim the weather is better.

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  4. There was something that caught my eye the other day. It was a statement regarding the CPR ownership of the western most terminal of the Arbutus line.
    COV will need 4 city blocks at Arbutus and Broadway for development of the subway line. I cannot see the property, presently owned by CPR, splitting up the parcel magnanimously in order to accommodate the city. That just isn’t going to happen.

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  5. ANYTHING SNC-Lavalin is involved with should be audited and questioned.
    Their “winning bids” on contracts worldwide record speaks for itself.
    A 10 year ban on bidding on IMF funded projects due to a corruption conviction in Asia

    http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CCQQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbc.ca%2Fnews%2Fbusiness%2Fsnc-lavalin-agrees-to-10-year-ban-from-world-bank-projects-1.1316719&ei=fGQYVabYEI-4oQSH1oLoDQ&usg=AFQjCNG5IgkDlwG9S7XOONh3xYpVCvK3OA&bvm=bv.89381419,d.cGU

    Senior executives either arrested, charged or fired for influence peddling/corruption.

    http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbc.ca%2Fnews%2Fbusiness%2Fsnc-lavalin-subsidiaries-charged-with-corruption-fraud-in-libyan-business-probe-1.2963025&ei=tmQYVZaGHIvooATbnoHoCA&usg=AFQjCNHMij57cR6WMHWz_9XrmR9E_3GhMg&bvm=bv.89381419,d.cGU

    My best recommendation to anyone that contemplates dealing with SNC……..run, dont walk, the other way.

    Unless , of course, you're a politician reaching the end of their useful political existance and you want a 100k per annum job as a “consultant”

    http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=9&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CEsQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.nationalpost.com%2F2014%2F05%2F22%2Fsnc-lavalin-vp-says-he-was-given-no-choice-but-to-cheat-on-hospital-proposal%2F&ei=emUYVa_DNZP9oQSx-4GgDg&usg=AFQjCNFAq6RsTeNYX6W14ujoUw1Nxvevew&bvm=bv.89381419,d.cGU

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  6. @dan you were reading a comment that I left at Laila Yuile. It seems ludicrous at this stage for the Mayor's Council to have designated Arbutus and Broadway to be the end of the tunnel from Commercial and Broadway without the property rights, currently owned by CPR. Was the sudden interest by CPR to re-start their line, which has been sitting dormant for 13 years, stimulated by a “leak” from within Translink closed meetings?

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  7. I have been wondering if there is some type of grandfathered clause inside the old land grant to CPR that states if the line is unused for a certain period of time it reverts to the crown or the city or something like this.

    Further to the observations you have why build a train that goes only 7 kilometers, ends at Broadway/Arbutus and then forces riders to disembark and wait for a bus?
    Why call this a subway to UBC? It clearly is not and perhaps may never be. Past Arbutus, on Broadway there will never be the concentration of commerce like there is to the east of that intersection.

    I am sure we are all aware of this proposal here; on the face of this it seems to be a far better, cheaper and faster option, plus it goes all the way to UBC.

    http://members.shaw.ca/aguaflor/Tunnel%20Vision%20vs%20Green%20Vision%20November%2010.pdf

    If the Broadway subway line was really about improved transit initiatives and getting people/students moved out to the UBC grounds then it would not stop at Arbutus, plain and simple.

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  8. Dan do you remember who the “God Father” was for CPR's Real Estate arm? Ans: Marathon Man Gordon Campbell, past Mayor of Vancouver, Premier of British Columbia. The Mayor's Council is wrong to dead ending well short of UBC but it would be a Real Estate's dream come true and at the same time 'Nightmare at Arbutus Street' would begin with massive congestion to a relatively quiet one now. CPR is looking for the highest possible return on their long held properties, selling out piecemeal to Starbucks proved to them that it wasn't as lucrative as expected.

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  9. Hi Grumps.
    Apologies for the late reply. As I am over in this area I note the nightmare along arbutus began after the old brewery site was developed.

    Between 16 and Broadway now the traffic is jammed up heading north because of too many signaled intersections too close together.
    I didn’t know that about Campbell. Interesting revelation.

    Re the Starbucks under the bridge I wonder if they indeed purchased that section of line from CPR or perhaps Starbucks leased it for 999 years.

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