TransLink rolling out contracts on the road to tax hike vote

Ransford firm re-upped, Tieleman seeks TransLink contract

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Keeping track of how TransLink, which ran on $1.44 billion in 2013, is spending on the road to the spring plebiscite over a 0.5% sales tax increase in Metro Vancouver. It has a $7.5 billion wish list for rail, bus, bridge and bike lane expansion over the next decade.

Counterpoint scores

On Jan. 2, Counterpoint Communications got a new year’s gift. Its “Business and Stakeholder Outreach” consulting contract was extended indefinitely by TransLink without a bid, because of tight timelines and Counterpoint’s “unique expertise.”

Counterpoint's Ransford
Counterpoint’s Ransford

Said the notice of intent: “The Supplier has provided focused stakeholder engagement services to raise awareness of the Mayors’ Council vision, developed a strong understanding of the Mayors’ Plan and provided an important liaison between TransLink/Mayors’ Council and stakeholders.”

Mayors’ Council chair Richard Walton, who is also Mayor of North Vancouver District, was unable to answer about the budget for the contract when I contacted him.

The public relations and lobbying company’s five principals include Bob Ransford, who is thought of by NPA loyalists as a turncoat for joining Vision Vancouver before the 2011 election. Ransford is chair of EasyPark, the City of Vancouver’s quasi-non governmental organization that runs downtown parking lots and was rocked by scandal in 2012 when a worker with gambling addiction was accused of stealing from the company.

Ransford did not respond for comment.

Vote in spring, learn cost by fall

Meanwhile, TransLink is one step closer to hiring consultants to come up with the estimated cost of the Broadway SkyTrain extension and Surrey light rail after the plebiscite.
 Yes, TransLink wants you to vote yes to hike sales taxes in Metro Vancouver before it gets an accurate estimate of the cost of the Commercial-to-Arbutus Broadway subway (which has been pegged at $3 billion so far).

Seven companies (including two bidding jointly) submitted proposals for the “Phase 3A Technical Services” contract for the proposed Surrey project: Aecom Canada, Ausenco Engineering Canada, CH2M Hill Canada, IBI Group, Parsons, Steer Davies Gleave North America/Hatch Mott Macdonald. 
For Broadway, three companies responded: Parsons, Stantec Consulting and SDG/HMM.

Notably absent from the two lists is SNC-Lavalin, the Canada Line and Evergreen Line SkyTrain builder that was quietly involved in previous phases of planning for the Broadway subway.
 Scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin’s troubles continue and could climax in 2015. But the reason why the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant did not respond to either request for proposal is evidently in the small print of the tendering documents.

Both requests for proposal were clear. The contractor selected “will be excluded” from bidding on design and construction should it be a public-private partnership with funding from PPP Canada.
 Without PPP Canada funding, the contractor “may be excluded” from bidding on the design and construction or being a subcontractor, partner, or joint venturer.

What is PPP Canada? In a nutshell, it is the federal Crown corporation reporting to the Ministry of Finance, mandated to “improve the delivery of public infrastructure by achieving better value, timeliness and accountability to taxpayers through P3s.”

Its board of directors includes ex-SNC-Lavalin CEO Jacques Lamarre and Rocky Mountaineer luxury tourist train owner Peter Armstrong.

In 2012, three years after leaving the SNC CEO suite, Lamarre still owned 1.5 million shares in the company and he denied the corruption allegations against it. On a lighter note, the National Post reported in 2013 that Lamarre once promised to send a polar bear to Algeria. Armstrong was president of the NPA during the 2014 election campaign and also its single biggest donor.

Yes campaigner seeks TransLink dough

Finally, there is a very long list of more than 50 companies that responded to TransLink’s invitation to pre-qualify for “Professional Planning Research and Policy Services” under RFP Q14-155.

Who might some of those companies be that are in line, hoping to score a TransLink contract?

Bill "Yes to TransLink expansion" Tieleman
Tieleman: touting TransLink

You’ll recognize Aecom, CH2M Hill, Parsons, Stantec and SDG, who are seeking the Surrey and/or Broadway technical services contracts (see above). Interfleet Technology is on the list. The U.K-based consultancy is a division of SNC-Lavalin.

Also seeking TransLink gigs under the same tender notice are Counterpoint Communications, Kirk and Co., Stratcom and West Star Communications Corp.

Kirk and Co. is a BC Liberal-allied firm that already has a TransLink gig which was extended without bid. A Nov. 25, 2014 notice of intent re-upped its “Public Affairs and Engagement Consultant” contract. Mike McDonald, the BC Liberal campaign manager when Premier Christy Clark promised a TransLink funding referendum, is part of Kirk. See above for more about Counterpoint. Stratcom is the polling, research and robocall arm of Vision Vancouver.

West Star is a surprising entry on the list. It is the firm run by Bill Tieleman, perhaps the most-prominent public face of the Yes campaign, owing to his role in the successful Fight HST campaign in 2011. Tieleman, an NDP and Vision Vancouver supporter, is also a registered lobbyist in B.C. for the labour union that represents the men and women who keep TransLink moving.

“Obviously I don’t do anything that’s in conflict with my other clients, so I continue to work with Unifor locals 111 and 2200 representing bus drivers, mechanics and SeaBus workers. I wouldn’t do anything without their obvious agreement,” Tieleman said by phone. “I saw that TransLink was possibly doing some work and, like a good businessperson, I put in an application in case there was some work that I could do. I have worked with BC Transit in the past, BC Transit was my second client when I started consulting back in 1998. I have quite a bit of expertise on the transit side, I was actually involved in the transformation to effectively what became TransLink, but was first (Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority).

“There may be a business opportunity there, we’ll see what happens down the road. If you don’t put in your pre-qualification, you don’t have a shot at it.”

6 thoughts on “TransLink rolling out contracts on the road to tax hike vote

  1. D. M. Johnston

    Our SkyTrain system is part of a family of unconventional proprietary transit systems, that were the flavour of the 1970’s and 80’s. In1978, as development of our SkyTrain light-metro progressed, what we now call Light Rail or LRT started a new era of city transport with the opening of Edmonton’s new light rail line. In just over a decade LRT had made light-metro obsolete, as modern LRT could be built to be faster, carry more people, at one quarter to one half the cost of light-metro. LRT could also be built as a light metro, on a fully segregated rights-of-ways at a cheaper cost than SkyTrain ALRT/ART. Fiscally prudent transit authorities rejected Skytrain out of hand and still do today, with Vancouver’s Skytrain being a lesson of doing it wrong.

    Since the first SkyTrain was open for operation in late 1985 and ‘show-cased’ at Expo 86 World’s Fair, the world came, they saw, and they built with light rail. No one has copied the ‘Vancouver’ SkytTrain model for urban transport.

    Today, over 150 new build light-rail systems have been built and a further 50 are either under construction or have been approve for construction. During the same period, only seven SkyTrain type systems have been built (one to torn down within the next five years) and only three seriously used for urban transit, with the remaining four being a demonstration line, and three theme park/airport people movers. All seven SkyTrain lines built have been financed by secret deals and LRT was never allowed to compete against any of the SkyTrain’s built.

    Strange then that TransLink keeps building with SkyTrain?

    Not exactly, because the Canada line is not SkyTrain at all but a heavy-rail metro, dumbed down as a light-metro which is not compatible with the rest of the SkyTrain network.

    As the Canada Line’s construction costs began to spiral out of control at a pace greater than the decade earlier Fast Ferry fiasco, the scope of the project was greatly reduced. The Canada Line construction was truncated to such an extent that it has 40 metre to 50 metre station platforms that only large enough to accommodate two car trains. The Canada line was at capacity since the day it was built and only gives an illusion of high ridership. The Canada line, as built, has less capacity than a simple streetcar line built at a fraction of the cost.

    One must question TransLink’s claims of ridership on the Canada Line, as ridership numbers may not as high as TransLink would have us think.

    A Freedom of Information request has shown that in 2012 TransLink paid a SNC Lavalin lead consortium $145 million to operate and maintain the line, which is two to three times higher than comparable transit lines.

    This extremely high operating cost is part in due to the line being in a subway in Vancouver.

    A Broadway subway may bankrupt TransLink in the future because there isn’t the ridership today or in the foreseeable future to sustain underground operation. Even TransLink’s own modelling shows rather dismal ridership on a UBC subway, which leads to only one conclusion, massive subsidies must be paid to maintain and operate the subway and by extension taxes and fares must be raised to dizzying heights to pay for and maintain the subway.

    Subways tend to be “black holes” for the taxpayer as the expense to just operate a subway with lighting, escalators & elevators, signalling, ventilation, pumps, etc., which cost much more than operating the vehicles themselves. Then there is the structure itself as subways age very poorly and need an ongoing program of expensive preventative maintenance.

    These added expenses do not exist with modern light rail.

    Subways do not automatically offer higher capacities, as capacity is based on station platform length and the length of train it can accommodate. The Skytrain system stations have platform lengths of 80 metre, which restricts Skytrain present capacity at about 15,000 persons per hour per direction (Please see attachment #1). The capacity of a Broadway subway would be limited to about 15,000 pphpd, unless all of the SkyTrain stations are retrofitted with longer station platforms, which costs are estimated from $2 billion to $3 billion!

  2. Sean Ciroc

    Hi! Appreciate all you do!

    Hey how come in all press I read no one has challenged the Mayor of Vancouver or any government officials as to why the Broadway subway goes from Commercial Dr Station and along Broadway and ends at ARBUTUS! There’s nothing there!!! Why does the line not go out to UBC! Ending it at Arbutus is just like ending the MillienumLine at VCC King Edward Campus …… WHY!??

    If the point of wanting to alleviate traffic woes along Broadway is to build a subway that ends at Arbutus – then what is the point of building a subway!??

    Are we now then going to have dozens of buses lined up at Broadway/Arbutus to take students to UBC! Huh? Whats the point of a subway ending at Arbutus!??

    I really don’t get it! And Mayor Gregor keeps on pushing for CN Rail to abandon the land that it OWNS along the Arbutus Corridor so that it can become a ‘transportation’ path to where ……. Marine Dr to Kits Beach!?? Huh??

    What is going on man!??

    Please help and check into this as I’m really lost and dazed!


    1. bobmackin Post author

      Good question. What if, instead of a very expensive subway that goes half way, a tram system that went all the way? Certainly UBC has substantial financial reserves and land that it wants to develop. It could come to the table, in similar fashion to how YVR helped fund the Canada Line.

      1. Phil

        Why any line to UBC? Since UBC itself estimates its student body numbers to be stagnant well into the 2030’s and the need for traveling great distances to sit in a lecture hall with hundreds of others is so 20th Century and since there are other corridors to take those transient students with deeply discounted U-Passes to their destinations that are not operating at potential capacity then why build any urban rail line to UBC? Wouldn’t it be cheaper for UBC to use its overflowing surpluses to build an undergrad (1st and 2nd year) campus where 3 current urban rail lines exist? And Surrey’s LRT line running down a corridor with a population density so low its laughable. Mostly big box stores, malls and mini-malls dot this King George corridor.

        1. Phil

          Why will it end at Arbutus? Because Gregor and his troopers need the Kits Pt. Grey voters and they fought hard to keep high towers out of their neighbourhood in the early 70’s. Many of Vision’s biggest supporters live in the area. Arbutus cannot be dismissed as folly since CPR wants to develop its lands along its Arbutus rail corridor and since urban rail is for “shaping growth”, not for transit, Arbutus is the best place to end the line. Connecting the Millenium Line to Cambie (Canada Line) is probably the only urban rail project that should go ahead in the region.

          By the way Bob, thanks for the information. It shows how flies are attracted to s__t!

  3. Elias W.

    Thanks for being a voice out in the wilderness on this. Keep it up. Also, there’s a lot of UN Agenda 21 terminology in all of this that’s creeping me out. The more I see with the development of “Metro” Vancouver, the more I realize that we are a poster child for the Agenda 21 model.
    Here’s a lecture on the subject if you’re interested.

    I also recommend Rosa Koire’s work, Behind the Green Mask.

    Keep up the muckraking!


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