Timelines, FalconGates, Access

This is a really important story that is well reported, with a timeline that tells you more in one graphic about the history of FalconGates and Translink’s alleged incompetence in rolling out the program than you will read in a year of PostMedia whinging.

From day one, this program was doomed to the embarrassing failures we are now experiencing, and TransLink knew the disaster was in the making. However, provincial interference in the operation of what they often claim to be an arms-length organization, fueled in part by a media unable (unwilling?) to understand the problem, led us down this path. Perhaps it is time those people stop pretending to be so shocked.

It is telling that a report from way back in 2005 on “controlled access” to stations starts by stating:

Over the past several years, the public and media have maintained a strong interest in implementing “controlled access” stations on SkyTrain as a potential means to deter crime and to reduce fare evasion on the rapid transit system.

Indeed, that study showed that the public perception, fueled by media reports speculation, was that 27% of people on SkyTrain pay no or insufficient fare, when the actual number was about 5%. This perception was in part linked to a measureable shift by ridership away from single tickets and faresavers towards monthly passes and U-Pass, where the “payment” action was less visible. Ironically, this shift actually resulted in a reduction in fare evasion, as people carrying monthly passes are not going to “forget” to pay for “just this one ride”, or otherwise self-justify not paying a zone change, etc. The logical response (with a defensible business case) was to step up visible enforcement and other measures to increase the perceived security of the system, including introducing expanded Transit Police service.

Back in 2005, the Smart Card model was assessed, which brought these telling and somewhat prescient quotes:

Smart Cards can also help to improve public perception of fare evasion on SkyTrain by implementing procedures such that all customers are required to “tag” their smart card upon entering a station. This will result in some level of inconvenience for pass holders, but would help to address the incorrect perception that prepaid fare holders are fare evaders.

This [Fare Gate] approach also assumes that there would be a booth or similar location at every station entrance/gate array staffed by a gate attendant. Faregate attendants would monitor gate operations, and also allow customers to bypass the gate if they had mobility impairments, excess luggage, a ticket that could not be electronically read (e.g. a promotional pass), or some other condition that prevented them from using the gate. [my emphasis]

That’s right, TransLink staff knew, and warned their Board in 2005, that there would need to be attendants on site to help people with mobility issues manage FareGates if installed. The estimate at the time was that this would require, for all the three transit lines post Canada-line introduction, 387 Full Time Equivalents.

Almost 400 staff. No wonder the business case was sketchy, and an alternate approach to improving the (I have to keep emphasizing this word) perceived security issue was to hire less than half that number of increased security staff, not the least because this would increase actual security, not just the perception of security.

The financial analysis in 2005 dollars was $32Million per year for operational and maintenance of the FareGates, extra staff, and annualized capital costs of the system, with an expected fare evasion reduction equal to about $3Million per year. Naturally, the TransLink Board said no. One would have to be insane to do it.

Enter Kevin Falcon.

In the former Minister’s defense, he was being lobbied by the Former Deputy Premier (his former boss) on behalf of the company that eventually sold TransLink what T like to call FalconGates. These are, perhaps coincidentally, the exact technology pictured on Page 23 of the 2005 Report that deemed the system uneconomic. This company, Cubic, convinced the Minister that their system was great, and would be up and running by 2010. This advice from his former Deputy was good enough for the Premier, despite TransLink continuing to reiterate that this was not going to be economical or practical to introduce.

This makes the recent questions over whether TransLink is making its own decision or is being run directly by Victoria seem rather late and academic, doesn’t it?

By the end of 2010, the defence contractor for whom the former Deputy Premier was lobbying unsurprisingly won the contract to install the FalconGates. The program had expanded somewhat to include the incredibly complex Smart Card system already discussed, and the budget expansion by 70% was neither the first nor the last time the business case got worse than hen it was first rejected. Cubic’s history of these systems was spotty (three years delay and significant usability issues in Minneapolis, two years delay and compatibility issues with the PATH SmartLink, operational and security issues in Brisbane), but these types of growing pains should not really be surprising for what is a pretty advanced and emerging technology. These examples should only have served as warning to everyone from the CAO of TransLink to Jordan Bateman that Compass and FareGate introduction was going to be a bumpy process, and there is no evidence anyone else could have done it better.

(For the purposes of this post, I am going to set aside the inside-government-lobbying-and-late-delivery model Cubic demonstrated in Sydney with the Opal Card which is at least as sad as here in British Columbia. That was military-grade bad procurement you need to read to believe).

This takes me to last Saturday afternoon when I hopped on the Skytrain and ran into a friend of mine with severe mobility restrictions (motorized chair, very limited manual dexterity). He was rather pragmatic about the situation, and recognized the FalconGate system was going to be problematic from Day 1. However, he also pointed out that there are many other accessibility issues in the system that are more problematic than requiring attendant help with Compass. To be frank, he was much more concerned about the cutting off of disabled transit pass assistance, but as cruel as that is, it’s another digression.

This chat and my work with the Access Ability Advisory Committee around our two downtown transit stations (both with significantly sub-optimal accessibility kludges), brought me to think about my experiences on other transit systems around the world. Recently, we were in one of the 20% of New York subway stations that is accessible, which I only noted because the elevator was out of order, leaving an elderly women frantic about how she was going to get home. London’s Tube is 30% accessible, Toronto’s subway about 50%, while Montreal’s Metro is less than 10% accessible. Aside from local and temporary (sometimes protracted) maintenance issues, TransLink’s light rail and heavy rail infrastructure is 100% accessible, and our bus system is reaching towards 100% accessibility.

TransLink is far from perfect when it comes to accessibility, but as an organization they have striven to reach a level of system-wide accessibility uncommon in large city transit systems. They have invested a huge amount of money in this, because it is the right thing to do. The more accessibility you install, the more potential for it to go wrong, and I hope we can do better than to hop on every snafu as if it is a massive failure of a damaged system, and recognize it as a place where improvements have, so far, fallen short.

So to take my seemingly Fletcherian mid-post thesis shift back to the original point: I wonder how much we could have improved accessibility of the system with the $200 Million we have instead pissed down the FalconGate black hole for no other reason than to make CKNW callers feel more secure that someone else is paying to ride the train they avoid while stuck in traffic.

A respectful retort

I have received a significant amount of positive feedback on the idea of reducing urban speed limits to 30km/h. It hasn’t all been positive, a few people have given reasons why they don’t like the idea, some were even reasonable arguments, but overwhelmingly the people who have bother to contact me about it have provided support.

Then I read the letters section of the Record. I note that social media responses to the Record article were mostly supportive of the idea, but clearly letter writers do not correlate with that trend. Problem is, I’m not sure the letters in opposition to my request had much to do with what I was proposing, leading me to write this retort.

Now, there was a time that I would call a letter writer out and challenge them point-for point, or even write a reply letter dissecting the many ways the writer was wrong, hoping the Record would print it. I would use my humour and other rhetorical techniques to cast my “opponents” ideas in the least flattering light, in an effort to make my ideas (and, by association, myself) look brilliant. Tonight I had beers with a friend arguing that my Blog has lost it’s edge, because I don’t engage in that kind of argument anymore. The problem is, I’m an elected official now, and that removes both the fun from that approach, and the reasoning for it.

Mostly, this is because political rants, much like satire (separating it from other forms of comedy), really only work if the writer is “punching up”. To have a person in a decision-making role like mine dress down a non-politician who is just trying to communicate their ideas to me, is kind of a jerk move. There is an exception here for trolls, agnotologists, and other political opportunists who might bring a dressing-down upon themselves, but that is a pretty rare occasion, and it seems those people avoid me now. Instead, I find myself responding to people who actually want answers to their questions, and (usually) deserve them. So please don’t read this retort as in any way questioning the letter writer’s honest convictions or character. I’m going to try to not be a jerk, while explaining to the writer why I pretty much disagree with her on every point. Wish me luck.

Let’s get real, Patrick. Drivers don’t care about speed limits – they ignore them now, so how will lowering speeds change that? Curb speed limits – no. Curb speeds – YES

Well, yes and no. Obviously I care about speed limits, and you care about speed limits, so some drivers care about speed limits. Many drivers respect speed limits, some do not. A few drive like self-entitled idiots, but the majority of the others drive at a speed they self-determine to be safe, based on the speed of the traffic around them and the design of the road. We need to manage all three types differently.

Lowering limits deals with the first and the third: it reduces the average speed (because of people like you and me using the roads and being law-abiding) and it changes how we design and operate our roads. Building a road for 30km/h will feel safe at 30km/h, or (more likely, because of the way we design roads based on 85th percentiles and engineered redundancy) safe at 40km/h. If the limits are set at 50km/h we have to build the roads to be safe at 50km/h (or more likely 60km/h). So reducing the limits is not the complete solution, but it is a big help. For the smaller self-entitled idiot driving group, we need enforcement.

Curb the voracious appetites of those who spend my precious tax dollars! Instead of wasting my tax dollars on all the rigamarole it will take to change speed limits, use those dollars to lower my taxes (and water, sewer and garbage bills)!”

That is actually my intent, even if I don’t agree with your characterization. The reason the City doesn’t just go ahead and change the speed limits in residential areas is because it would be prohibitively expensive to install the required signage to make it legally defensible, and even then, it is not clear we would be able to enforce a non-statutory limit. We also spend a lot of money in this City paying for the results of people using our residential streets as through-routes, and reducing the speed of that through-traffic both dissuades it, and reduces the cost of it.

Get the police out there earning some of their salaries and enforce the current speed limits. Use the money all those speeding fines will yield to lower my taxes and policing costs – goodness knows policing is a gluttonous portion of the city’s expenses.”

The problem here is that the first and third clauses rely on the middle clause, and that one is based on a false premise. The City doesn’t get to keep the speeding fines it collects. Those go to the Provincial treasury where they are mixed with other “general revenue”. Some of that money is returned to Cities through a special fund, but the amount a City gets back is not increased based on how many tickets we give out, only by population.

The net result is that every time a Police officer in New Westminster writes a speeding ticket, it costs the City money. It increases your taxes and policing costs. It is not limited to the cost of having the police out there on the street writing tickets instead of doing the other things police do, but it also comes from the paper work the officers have to do when they get back to the station, the scheduling of court time (as everyone has the right to defend themselves in court), the preparation of a court case in the event of a challenge, etc.

We cannot use increased enforcement to lower taxes, and life as a Councillor would be much easier if we could! Indeed, the balancing of those costs against the need for enforcement is one of the more difficult jobs for the Police, for the Police Board, and for Council.

Need some ideas of the best places to do that? Park zones, especially around Moody Park, where drivers fly, and put our seniors going to Century House and families going to the playgrounds, pool and the new dog park in peril. How about the fly-high ways on Stewardson and McBride? How about a school zone? A number of them are notorious for the speeding.”

While we are at it, I have my own list of places where we need more enforcement. Third Ave in front of my house (natch), or Quayside Drive, or Eighth Ave through Massey Heights, or 12th Street where the London Greenway crosses, or Derwent Way or… the list goes on, and we have a limited number of Police and a limited budget. However, we are both getting away from my original point, which is that Police enforcing a 30km/h speed limit on our residential streets will make our streets safer than police enforcing a 50km/h speed limit. And having them enforce the lower limit will be no more difficult than enforcing the higher one.

As a bonus, the lower limit will better allow us to design and build streets that keep pedestrians safe, and will improve the livability of our front yards and neighbourhoods. And that is my job.

Community – one big event

This last week was actually a refreshingly slow one for me. Saturday seemed like the day for many events – The Royal City Youth Soccer 50th Anniversary Party and the Queens Park Pre-School fundraiser were both on the same night, but I couldn’t attend either! This is because of the amazing lady in the middle of the photo here:


I’ve known Mary Ann for a little more than a decade now. I was her teaching assistant in a memorable Structural Geology class, as she was completing her undergrad at SFU at the same time as I was doing my grad work. Turns out she was a teenager working in her Parent’s lodge in middle-of-nowhere central BC a decade earlier when she met MsNWimby, who was doing fisheries field work in the area. Small world, for people who spend time bashing around the woods of Central BC professionally. After finishing our respective degrees, Mary Ann and I worked together for an environmental consulting firm, and had many long, long days together drilling holes  and purging wells and collecting samples in places like Merritt and Port Alice. I mostly remember some fun times, but I also remember those long field days that really, really sucked. Especially at Port Alice in the winter.

Long story short, Mary Ann returned to SFU to start a Masters, which blew up into a pretty complex and crazy PhD project. As a student I remember her not liking math and struggling with 3D visualizations of complex data, but as a field partner I remember her as incredibly hardworking, detailed and stubborn. The first part is funny because her PhD ended up involving complex hydrogeological models and a whole lot of statistics, the second part apropos because she hammered away at her weaknesses and defended the hell out of her PhD last month.

So apologies to RCYS and QPPS, but I had to join the celebration of my good friend completing a huge life-defining project on Saturday night. Congratulations Dr. Middleton!

I also had a CSAP board meeting last week, went to a International Women’s Day celebration event organized by Judy Darcy and Sue Hammell, curled two games, pruned the heck out of the fig tree that was trying to eat my entire back yard, and rode an elevator:


Yes, people, it is open. Elevate at will.

Council – February 29, 2016

As is typical on the last meeting of the month, our Leap Day meeting began with a Public Hearing on three projects, all HRAs with slightly different flavours:

Bylaws 7800 and 7801: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation for 205 Clinton Place
This is a small house on the edge of Queens Park with significant heritage character/quirks. If it was being built today, we would call it “infill density” or “sensitive infill”, but instead it was built in 1912, so we call it a historic cottage. The owners want to put a full basement in the house to increase the living space beyond what is currently allowed in the zoning, and in exchange they will give the house permanent protection through a Heritage Designation.

The QPRA, the Community Heritage Commission, and the Advisory Planning Commission, all indicated support. We received no correspondence on the application, and the proponent and one neighbour spoke in favour of the project. Council referred the Bylaws and they were given third reading in the subsequent Council Meeting.

Bylaws 7802 and 7803: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation for 335 Buchanan Avenue
I love this project, because it slightly pushes our idea of what a “Heritage House” looks like in New Westminster (see banner above). This small home in Upper Sapperton was built in 1937 (almost 80 years ago) in the Early Modern style. Similar to the previous project, it is a small house by modern standards, and the owners want to expand the living space in exchange for Heritage Designation.

The Community Heritage Commission and the Advisory Planning Commission indicated support, and there were no concerns brought to Council from the MSRA. We received no correspondence on the application, and only the proponent spoke in favour of the project. Council referred the Bylaws and they were given third reading in the subsequent Council Meeting.

Bylaws 7806 and 7807: Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation for 1407 Sixth Avenue
This project will bring back a pretty run-down heritage home in the West End, in exchange for a subdivision and the building of a relatively modest new home on the infill lot. The protected house doesn’t look like much now, but it is one of the oldest intact houses in the West End, built in 1890. The restoration plan looks to bring it back to its historic character.

The Community Heritage Commission and the Advisory Planning Commission indicated support, as did both the BOTHRA and WERA. We received no correspondence on the application. The proponent spoke in favour, and one resident of Queens Park expressed concerns about the project. Council referred the Bylaws and they were given third reading in the subsequent Council Meeting.

The Regular Meeting started with Council providing third reading of the above Bylaws. We then had an Opportunity to be Heard:

Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw No. 7777, 2016
This addresses how the City manages it’s role under the provincial Motor Vehicle Act to administer chauffeur licenses, and more specifically the duties around suspension of those licenses and the appeal process.

Under the Act, our Chief Constable is responsible for issuing, suspending or cancelling chauffeur permits, and has a lot of discretion on what constitutes grounds for suspension or cancellation. The NWPD manage that discretion through a clear, written policy that outlines requirements to get a permit (age, fitness, etc.) and grounds for suspension (impaired driving convictions, assault, loss of drivers licence, etc.). This creates appropriate transparency and is a guideline for drivers (who may wish to appeal a suspension) and to City Council (who may have to hear and reply to that appeal).

Through a review and update of these policies started in 2014, including a comparison to the ways other Municipalities address this issue, several “housekeeping” changes to the City’s Commercial Vehicle Bylaw were recommended, mostly to assure it complied with the policy as updated. This new Bylaw makes the changes to that old Bylaw.

No-one came to speak to this bylaw during the Opportunity to be Heard, and later in the meeting, we gave the Bylaw third reading.

We then covered a report form staff on the Draft Financial Plan.

A draft version of the 2016-2020 Financial Plan was presented to Council. There is a period for public comment starting soon, and I recommend you have a look at the report and comment upon it. The way things look now (and this is subject to change), we are looking at about a 2.73% tax increase for 2016.

One part of the plan that interests me is the state of our reserves and our debt load. With many significant capital projects on the immediate horizon (animal shelter, Canada Games Pool, Q2Q bridge, etc.) we need to make some decisions about how to manage those costs. One of Council’s strategic goals this term is to put together a comprehensive Asset Management Plan, so that we can properly price and plan for the maintenance and replacement of our major capital assets. Our reserve fund and our potential need to borrow are intrinsically linked to this plan, and it makes no sense to do a serous review of any one without looking at all three together.

Council approved the Draft plan in principle, and staff will spend March seeking public input. Of course I am always interested in receiving comments, and have been doing some blogging on this topic. I have a few more ideas in the queue to help me (and hopefully you) put our annual budget and tax situation into better context, and hope to get those out in the next couple of weeks, including one really cool Ask Pat that arrived recently.

The following items were moved on Consent by Council:

Changes to the 2016 Schedule of Regular Council Meetings
We are continuing to hone the schedule for Council Meetings to better allot our time and Staff time on Mondays. The part you care about is that Regular Meetings will start at 6:00, with Public Delegations starting at 7:00. Adjust your Monday Night schedules accordingly.

Community Heritage Commission Appointment
We have had to appoint a replacement to the CHC, as one of the selected applicants could not serve.

School Board Appointments
Several of our advisory committees have representatives from the School Board, selected by the School Board, and we are happy to have their help. Although our jurisdictions are separate, there are many things in the City (like transportation around school sites and the future of the Massey Theatre) that require Council and the School Board to work together and be on the same page. We are happy to have their support!

QPRA Representative on the Neighbourhood Traffic Advisory Committee
Every Residents’ Association has a representative on the NTAC, and this appointment s just to approve the Rep recommended by the Queens Park Residents Association.

Fraser Health Representatives to the Community and Social Issues Committee
We are lucky to have representatives from Fraser Health helping with this committee. They recommend ‘em, we appoint ‘em.

We then moved through a few BYLAWS

Commercial Vehicle Amendment Bylaw No. 7777, 2016
As discussed above, this Bylaw was given Third Reading.

Amendment to Delegation Bylaw No. 7820, 2016
As discussed on the February 15 Meeting of Council, this Bylaw was formally adopted. It’s now the Law of the Land, please adjust your behaviour accordingly.

Housing Agreement (320 Salter Street) Bylaw No. 7805, 2016
As discussed on the February 15 Meeting of Council, this Bylaw was formally adopted. It’s now the Law of the Land, please adjust your behaviour accordingly.

Then, after receiving a bit of correspondence and a few announcements, we were done for the night! But not before Councillor Harper moved to recommend Staff explore opportunities to honour Dorothy Beach, who recently died after 102 years of living in New Westminster, with more than a few of them actively fighting to protect the natural environment of the Fraser River. I suspect there may be a few opportunities arising soon