Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, January 14, 2008

Help for BNS Sufferers

Many people suffer from BNS. You just might have it yourself. If you work in the media, you almost certainly do. BNS stands for Big Number Syndrome and is a common affliction, especially for people who dislike dealing with complicated topics and/or numbers.

Today's transit 'announcement' from the B.C. government caused a typical outbreak of BNS. From a google news search on 'Vancouver transit':

"BC Unveils $14B transit plan"
"Canadian Province plans C$14bln transit expansion"
"British Columbia to Spend C$14 Billion on New Transit Lines" and
"B.C. Poised to Invest $10 Billion in transit"

Just to pick a few.

The source of the headlines was this press release, 'The Provincial Transit Plan' released by the government today and the accompanying plan.

Given this recent outbreak, it is worthwhile reviewing some common preventive measures to apply when you are at risk of BNS.

Rule 1. How much of the big number is actually new, and how much has already been announced and/or spent?

From the press release backgrounder,
"$11.1 billion in new funding is required from all partners."

So $2.9 billion was previously committed, which means the 'announcement' effectively announces $11.1 billion in new spending.

Rule 2. How much of the big number is actually being provided by the person making the announcement or been formally committed by anyone else mentioned.

From the backgrounder,
"Over the life of the plan from now until 2020, the Province is calling on the federal government for investments of $3.1 billion, TransLink for investments of $2.75 billion, and local governments for investments of $500 million along with supportive land use."

So that's $6.35B which the government has announced on behalf of other parties - none of whom have made any announcement or commitment of their own. Indeed, in the case of Translink, their only role in life is to provide transit so it's not clear what it means to call upon them for money for transit, they already contribute all their resources to transit.

At any rate, that leaves $4.75B in new money from the province being announced.

Rule 3. How many years are we talking about?

From the backgrounder, "Over the life of the plan from now until 2020..."

So we are talking about 13 years, meaning that the provincial government is talking about spending $365 million/year for the next 13 years on transit.

Some other advice for dealing with BNS aside from these three rules is a) to find out where the money is coming from (so far no word on any new taxes or levies to cover this plan) and b) to try and put the number in context. According to the text of Bill 43 which changed the governance of Translink (the transit authority for Metropolitan Vancouver), translink has an annual total revenue of $840 million, So we could summarize today's announcement as follows:

1. Government plans increase in transit spending equivalent to 40% of Translink's annual revenue.
2. Government will ask other levels of government for more money for transit as well.

You can see how these simple rules, applied diligently, can cut a scary and awe-inspiring single big number down to a more manageable and comprehensible size. And if you insist on seeing things in terms of a single big number, well there are many sufferers of BNS who nonetheless go on to live healthy, normal and (somewhat misinformed) lives, so I'm sure you'll be OK.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for spending more money on transit, and if the provincial government is going to do that as it seems, then more power to them, let's just not carried away with the BS, I mean BNS.


  • EXCELLENT post and analysis, Declan!

    At least now I can get help for my BNS.

    And all along I thought I suffered from BS . . . .

    By Blogger West End Bound, at 4:41 AM  

  • Great post Declan!

    By Blogger Dave, at 6:05 AM  

  • Very useful piece. Thanks very much.

    Paul Willcocks

    By Blogger paul, at 8:10 PM  

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