Jackson's calls for separation from TransLink ring hollow

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

30 comments

waiting at bus stop
It could be a long wait for this Delta transit user

For the last several decades we’ve heard about how Quebec has wanted to separate from Canada. We’ve seen our nation pushed to the brink with each referendum asking the thorny question of whether Quebec voters want to stay in the confederation or not. Many political pundits have asked whether all this talk of separation is really about building a new Quebec nation or simply strengthening their bargaining position with Ottawa.

You can imagine my dismay when I began hearing about the whole issue of separation once again. Only this time it’s Delta Mayor and Metro Vancouver Chair Lois Jackson threatening to pull her city out of TransLink. Delta is one of over 20 cities in Metro Vancouver that form part of the regional transportation body known as TransLink. They are responsible for the buses, roads, bridge and rapid transit network throughout Metro Vancouver.

Let me first declare that I’ve never been a big fan of Jackson. I think she has been a very ineffective leader at the regional level and I’ve called for her to step aside numerous times. She has sat idly by as various suburban cities sprawl and McMansion their way to economic growth. Mayor Lois was also the Chair of Metro Vancouver when they provided COPE Councillor David “Carbon” Cadman with tens of thousands of tax dollars in order to facilitate many of his worldwide junkets. It was only after we exposed this waste that Jackson put a halt to the expenditures.

Now we hear that Metro Vancouver’s top regional leader has decided that when it comes to TransLink she wants to pack up her bags and call it a day. She’s had enough of their terrible service in Delta and won’t take it anymore. Lois wants better transit now (i.e. more buses, rapid transit etc...) or else she is threatening to separate from the regional transit authority. Excuse me, but has Jackson quietly hired Jacques Parizeau as her senior political adviser?

It’s a bit rich for the Mayor of a city that doesn’t support any kind of real densification and where most people live in sprawling single family homes to complain about poor transit. I heard Lois on the radio yesterday complaining that her citizens are finding it hard to make it out of Delta on transit and into Vancouver to work. There simply aren’t any buses she bemoans.

Perhaps someone should give the Chair of Metro Vancouver a quick lesson in how public transit works. Low density sprawling neighbhourhoods = bad transit. High density compact neighbhourhoods = better transit. The economics of putting high service levels of transit in a low density sprawling type community like Delta simply don’t work – and Jackson knows it. If TranLink were to do it, before long it would be in an even more challenging financial position than it currently finds itself.

As the Chair of Metro Vancouver, Lois Jackson should be the last one threatening TransLink with separation. How would she react if Vancouver said it wanted to separate from Metro Vancouver because the “’suburban” agenda was taking over policy development? It helps to further confirm why she shouldn’t be in regional leadership position and should step aside to make way for some fresh new blood at the regional level.

The cold reality is that TransLink is financially strapped. Meanwhile, it also has serious issues servicing crowded routes like the 99 B Line in Vancouver which regularly have 400-500 people waiting in line to get on the bus. The last time I checked, there weren’t mass lineups of people begging to get on the bus in “downtown” Delta.

On some level I do sympathize with my sub-urban brothers and sisters who’ve chosen to move to the hinterland in pursuit of the dream of owning a single family home with a white picket fence. However, as you will soon discover, living in the hinterland can have its downsides and that includes crappy public transit.

I also blame cities like Vancouver for not doing enough to densify a number of neighhourhoods over the last several decades such as those near Skytrain stations, and even the discussion is moving slow regarding the Cambie corridor and Canada Line. Supporting low density neighbourhoods outside of Vancouver’s downtown core has played a big role in forcing people out into the burbs in search of more affordable housing options. As long as places like the West Side, South Vancouver and East Van remain low density, people will continue moving into cities where they are building cheaper housing.

The cynic in me think Jackson’s musings about separation are motivated more by the fact this is an election year, than any burning desire on her part to improve transit in Delta. However, before Jackson begins picking out the carpet for her new Delta Transit office, she may want to work on a few other related issues.

Why not start by looking at approving higher densities around areas that could be well serviced by transit and lend themselves to being pedestrian friendly. Then why not look at zoning for taller towers near those town centres. Without any real plan to densify Delta over the coming decades, I somehow think Mayor Lois will be hard-wiring poor transit into her poor planning decision for generations to come.

What do you think? Should cities like Delta break away from TransLink as a means of improving their transit service? Is it a political ploy or will it really work? There is a good debate about transit vs density going on at HumanTransit.org that we recommend.

Tell us what you think and leave a comment below.

- post by Daniel

30 Comments

why in the world should delta continue sending millions of dollars to translink when that money is spend in vancouver and coquitlam/port moody rather than in delta?

This is the exact reason why people in the Fraser Valley will die fighting against any attempt to move the valley communities into the GVRD - because the monies paid into the GVRD will be allocated solely on the west side of the river, as funds paid into Translink currently are.

Delta isn't the only one considering this. Surrey brought up the same thing not too long ago.

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Surrey+considers+paying+fare+better+transit/3780895/story.html

Translink is broken. That's clear as day. I don't know what a solution could be, but so is the entire Province. Spending billions on new highways out to and through the burbs does nothing but encourage sprawl and waste money on a 1950's solution to a 2010-11 problem. It's lunacy.

Abbotsford is threatening to leave the FVRD, too. They say they are not getting value from money. (

It's George Peary, Mayor of Abby vs, Abby Cllr Patricia Ross, who heads the FVRD).

The regional systems are broken.

Which probably makes the provincial governement happy.

Is it time to collapse municipalities into directly elected regional governments? Unelected Translink and Metro Vancouver will never have the confidence and support of the general public so long as they are structured the way they are.

I hope that Delta is successful. As a resident of part of the transit-bike-foot-friendly portion of the Lower Mainland (Vancouver, parts of Burnaby/New West, North Van), it pains me to see TransLink forced into allocating resources to serving distant and very low-density suburbs.

If you want to live in Tsawwassen, no problem, but there shouldn't be an expectation of anything close to similar transit service levels, especially not if subsidized by revenue from higher ridership routes. You want good transit? Then be prepared to live at the densities needed to make it financially feasible, or at least welcome them to your community.

On the flip side, the areas well served by transit now need to do far more to make housing - particularly for families - more affordable so that people really choose to live in Delta or Surrey for lifestyle reasons, not affordability alone. That so little new housing or mixed use development was planned for in Vancouver ahead of the Canada Line is absolutely shameful in this respect.

TransLink could also do this whole discussion a great service by releasing their revenue/cost data on a line-by-line basis, as well as a more fulsome documentation of the distribution of their other revenue sources (property, fuel, etc). If these figures were better publicized, I think that perhaps Mayor Jackson would realize what a screaming deal South of Fraser commuters are getting, in terms of subsidy per ride on the 400 buses, compared with the much busier lines in the region's core.

Amalgamate the entire region, make Hollyhock its headquarters and link said region with bike paths. It takes Vision

Actually, I'd be in favour of Vancouver exiting translink.

The revenue generated from within the city, would be more than adequate to finance an extensive lightrail system, and to save wear and tear on the roads, all translink buses could offload at various depots on the edges of the city.

In Europe many cities and their lightrail share the roadways with the automobile so there is no need to start divying up roadways either.

A profitable - breakeven business case could be made for such a system, without even mentioning the environmental benefits.

Let's see Translink balance their budget on the backs of the suburnanites for a change.

Vancouverites could breath a sigh of relief when Translink implements or hikes vehicle levies and parking taxes, or complains about a lack of revenue every other month like they do now.

As for Lois Jackson, she's onto something whether you see it or not Daniel. I know you like to think the answer to everything in Vancouver is density but it really isn't.

If you're going to run for council in the next election you need to open your mind a little.

Boo, we can agree once again. Translink and indeed Metro is not functional. Although the various arguments below have some validity, the very fact that you have municipalities such as Delta and Surrey making such threats confirms this.

It is not reasonable, in my view, to advocate opting out of regional responsibilities.

One of the ingredients that is currently missing, as Daniel points out is effective leadership at the Metro level. It has been very disappointing to me that the current Vision Vancouver Councillors seem to lose their voices when they enter this important arena. Vancouver has traditionally played an important role at this level in the past.

Even with the shifting populations and businesses Vancouver representatives must still take a leadership role in Metro and Translink. Does anyone even know who Vancouver's regional representatives are?

I don’t even know where to start with the ridiculousness of D and G’s comments above: “The revenue generated from within the city, would be more than adequate to finance an extensive lightrail system...”
and “it pains me to see TransLink forced into allocating resources to serving distant and very low-density suburbs.... especially not if subsidized by revenue from higher ridership routes.”

Have you people not been paying attention? Even the highest ridership routes within the core of the city don’t make money. They do not subsidize service in the outer communities, THEY ARE SUBSIDIZED by the outer communities. The net flow of tax dollars to Translink is distinctly in a northwestern direction. The communities south of the Fraser are massively under served based on the monies they contribute to the system. Don’t bother talking about infrastructure either, since all new major infrastructure in the suburbs has been produced either on a pay-as-you-go basis with tolls (the Golden Ears Bridge) or with majority financing coming from non-Translink sources (Gateway improvements). If the tax base of Vancouver had to pay for the bus service in Vancouver you wouldn’t be seeing buses to UBC every four minutes down Broadway, you’d get one every ten-fifteem minutes. You’d get reduced night-time service and fewer buses on the weekends....AND EVEN THEN your service would be better than is provided in the communities south of the Fraser right now because we don’t even see 50 cents of service for every $1 sent to Translink in taxes...and don’t even get me started on how bad it is for the folks in Port Moody and Port Coquitlam. Their communities are practically anaemic from all the blood sucked out of them by the vampires to their west.

Blair,

You're correct to call me out, as I really don't have sources to back up my claims. Indeed, it's likely that most Vancouver bus routes require subsidy as well. However, as you acknowledge, they likely require less subsidy than their equivalents elsewhere in the region.

As I mentioned earlier, it would be great if TransLink would provide a route-by-route assessment of the farebox ratio or share of cost covered by fares; we're discussing in the dark, to some extent. In general, the theory is that denser areas with a greater range of mixed uses tend to have higher transit ridership; I think that this is a reasonable assessment of what can be seen in the Lower Mainland. This suggests that transit is more cost effective in older, denser parts of Vancouver, North Van, Burnaby, etc...

This would suggest to me that Vancouver routes are 'less subsidized' than those elsewhere in the region, given that Vancouverites also contribute property taxes (likely on a higher basis, given property assessments) and fuel surcharges (likely on a lower basis, given lower vehicle ownership and usage).

Supposing that Vancouver and SoF residents contribute the same amount to TransLink in property and fuel taxes (I'm not sure this is true, but for the sake of argument am assuming it is), greater cost recovery (fare revenue from well-used buses) would mean that Vancouver's services eat up less of that tax revenue than do SoF services. So unless SoF residents are paying vastly more in taxes, they're likely getting a good deal from the current system, in spite of the less frequent buses. I'm aware that Vancouver gets more service (which costs more) but I think that the higher passenger loads likely even out that added cost.

Fundamentally, I think that we can agree that the system is pretty broken and that current revenue/cost arrangements are opaque, to say the least. And this isn't even addressing whether TransLink's mandate includes service for car-less suburbanites who have no other options, without any regard to cost recovery.

Perhaps CityCaucus could apply their renowned FoI powers to TransLink, and publicize cost/revenue numbers on a route-by-route basis...?

Oh, and while we're at it, everyone knows that drivers more than pay their own way through fuel taxes, right?

D,

There is a pile of evidence showing drivers don't pay their share. Look it up.

The fundamental question south of the Fraser is do we build it to help shape denser neighbourhoods now knowing ridership might be less in the short term or wait (and hope) that the suburbs go more urban and then build it when the density is there to support it.

Seems to me there should be a split philosophy. In Vancouver, you build it because you need it. Broadway being the obvious example. But in Surrey/Delta/etc..., you build it because it shapes denser neighbourhoods.

Of course the giant white elephant no one wants to talk about is the massive amount of money being blown on highway expansion that does nothing but encourage sprawl, ALR encroachment and generally shooting ourselves in the collective foot.

SoF people should stop whining. All their new buses are in the form of a billion dollar eight lane Port Mann bridge. You can't have your cake and eat it too. Just think of how much transit you coulda bought with a billion bucks if you didn't ask for a new bridge. Out of luck!

D,

I will agree with you on one point, opaque is an excellent way to describe Translink’s revenue/cost arrangement. As for your other points I can fill in some gaps, having looked into it a bit that might change you impression. In 2009 Translink recorded that transit fares covered approximately 54% of the cost of transit. An examination of the bus schedules (number of buses and where they run) would make it clear that unless every bus South of the Fraser (SoF) ran empty all the time (i.e. brought in no revenue whatsoever) then the service in Vancouver/Burnaby must be a money losing affair. It is possible that some of the highest used routes (UBC) during their busiest hours (7-9 am) probably do make money for the service but on the whole, these services cannot even be a break-even affair based on the numbers presented by Translink in their annual reports.

As for one service being “less subsidized” than another that is an interesting description. Based on the numbers it is clear that SoF communities (and the northeast) are not regionally subsidized but rather subsidize. An average family home in Langley pays about $200 for Translink just for transit (they pay another about $200 for road upkeep). Based on the most recent stats Langley has about 40,000 households so our Transit component property taxes would be around $8 million a year. Langley City would add another $2 million to the total. Based on a look at the Transit map The two Langleys have 7 full bus routes and 5 shuttle bus routes...yes you read that right 12 routes in total of which only 7 are full-sized buses. Most of these routes barely run during the night and on weekends. For that we pay $10,000,000 a year for transit (that is before gas tax and other secondary levies). I can assure you, having done the math, that it does not cost $1 million a route (after fare income) to run a bus service. So, no, we are not getting “a good deal” from the service unless “a good deal” involves paying far more for a service than we use. From these numbers it is quite easy to understand the frustration of the Delta mayor who sees her community’s tax dollars subsidizing Vancouver’s bus service.

Finally, Charles, your lack of insight is stunning. The Gateway is a provincially subsidized roadway that is being built on a user-pay model (with tolls on the bridge). Ultimately the users will pay for the bridge. It is therefore not in the least relevant to this discussion.

Transit is more than a money issue. Does Delta have the network to support more transit? Arguably, no.

It also makes no sense to say that just because Delta doesn't 'get back' what it pays it should opt out of Translink. Delta benefits from transit - In fact, we all do. Imagine if all those transit users decided to drive instead. A full bus = 80+ single occupancy cars.

TransLink has varying levels of ridership and mode share choices which impacts their overall subsidy numbers.

For instance:

SkyTrain: initial high capital infrastructure cost but recoups operating costs quite quickly. Skytrain, even with fare evasion, recoups 102% of operating costs through fares collection alone. Canada Line reached 100,000 riders per day about 6 months after launch, way ahead of projections.


Buses: A very vexing problem as they serve a purpose in areas that don't have enough people/density to make Skytrain a reality from capital cost side of the ledger. Capital expenses in the middling area, but operationally they are a recurring problem re: high wages (but we need good jobs, right?), fuel (no electric trolleys out in the hinterlands).

Usually well used at peak times on most routes, but them it all falls off rather dramaticallly. Some routes only get 26%!! ridership on average throughout the day.

My personal solution: change up the fleet. Have big buses running at peak, go to smaller shuttles in non-peak. Don't know how that would work with union salaries since many of those predicated on driving the bigger rigs.

LRT: Unknown so far. Watch Broadway/UBC coordiaor to see where that could go operationally

Our biggest problem: even if we built mega developments around transit hubs we are STILL too low in total population to make this anywhere near a zero net sum game.

Yes, Shanghai can charge $1.80 per ride, but look at the numbers! The best Metro Vanc can do, at least over the next 30 years is to struggle up from 56% coverage to 70% based on best case scenarios of what is currently availble or may be available through fares, property taxes, gas tax. All legislated by the province of course, who aren't yet too keen about new sources of income (road pricing for instance) to offset the operational costs of the system, in aggregate.

Kids, it's volume, volume, volume in the transit game!! And BIG volume at that. Try 6 million people in the Metro area.

Blair,

Until you produce your credentials to show how you're an expert in lightrail finance and operations, I'll take your "ridiculousness" comment with a grain of salt.

Keep ranting though....its great to have guys like you around to bitch and complain without offering any solutions...other than tax tax tax.

I think the problem is Translink. They have too much on their plate.

It's ridiculous to be responsible for stuff like roads, transit, bridges, air-care and who knows what else.

To make matters worse they continue to ask for more money even when they get it. They will never be satisfied.

Just like a corporation when they don't focus on their core product they do a poor job and that is what you are saying. They are way over their heads.

Now they are even considering a Gondola to SFU. Do they have any other things to waste money on.

G,

I don't need to claim any credentials (a rather weak "appeal to authority"). Rather than claiming credentials I have supplied numbers that you can check yourself.

My friends who do know light rail assure me that it would be impossible to replace the entire bus system in Vancouver with light rail. As such you would have to maintain a vast majority of the transit system. The numbers clearly show that Vancouver does not even cover their transit expenses in the monies put into Translink. So explain to me how "the revenue generated from within the city, would be more than adequate to finance an extensive light rail system" while still paying for the remainder of the transit system necessary to run the city. I would suggest that you are either dreaming in technicolor or are including the subsidies from the outer communities into the "revenues" in your calculations.

When I read the news report about Jackson's statement, I thought it was a joke. Surely she understands that it is the Province that would need decide if Delta is part of Translink or not. And then, even if it is separate, that Delta would then have to pay for transit service including express buses into surround cities, unless she want's her constituents to transfer vehicles at the border. Seriously, this is the dumbest thing I've heard for a long time - it's a none-starter on so many levels.

Daniel has it right - start changing land uses to support transit.

When I read the news report about Jackson's statement, I thought it was a joke. Surely she understands that it is the Province that would need decide if Delta is part of Translink or not. And then, even if it is separate, that Delta would then have to pay for transit service including express buses into surround cities, unless she want's her constituents to transfer vehicles at the border. Seriously, this is the dumbest thing I've heard for a long time - it's a none-starter on so many levels.

Daniel has it right - start changing land uses to support transit.

I agree with you utterly here - anyone claiming that SoF communities are somehow subsidizing vancouver bus routes is clearly delusional.

A route that has max-capacity paying customers is going to make more money than a route that has 10 people on it and takes an hour to navigate the cul de sacs.

Yes, the entire system doesn't run on user-fees alone, but the big vampire is the suburban sprawl south of Fraser.

I also agree with the poster who noted that SoF voters got their transportation goodie-bag with the Port Mann Bridge - which is costing not 1 billion... oh no no no - it is going to cost 3 billion (plus overruns, financing costs w/e etc.)

The point being missed here is that municipal governments have virtually no say in how transit serves their communities. Translink sets the routes and timetables based on their priorities and resources, and the end result is what we see here...cities fighting each other over table scraps, and municipal bus services that can take you to Vancouver, but not between two points within an outlying city (and keep in mind...these are real cities with real communities and unique issues. They stopped being suburbs a long time ago.)
Surrey taxpayers contribute $144 million a year to Translink in property & fuel taxes. Yet most of their transit is designed to take you out of the city, and is focused to the Northwest of the Fraser Highway. Meanwhile, "densified" areas like Fleetwood, Newton, the 152nd corridor, Cloverdale and South Surrey suffer. It takes multiple bus transfers and over an hour to travel the simple (densified) distance between the Cloverdale & Langley campuses of Kwantlen University. (http://www.bclocalnews.com/surrey_area/cloverdalereporter/news/102018038.html)
I know the comparison with the Quebec Sovereignty debate is tongue in cheek, but this issue is really about the ability of municipal governments to serve their citizens. I'll bet you could go to a dozen cities, ask the voters what their top 5 local priorities are, and transportation will be one of them every time! Yet, our cities have no say over the issue! They have to beg the provincial body for the bus routes they need to move people within their borders, and it simply does not work. So yes, breaking away from Translink makes a lot of sense.
I think Translink has a role in an ideal transit system. They should only be responsible for rapid transit and buses that move people between municipalities. But I believe every municipality should be responsible for the local transit within its borders. It works in most other cities. And while transit may become a little more expensive, at least it should lead to better routes being set and more accountability amongst the people who run it.

BC Poli,

With all due respect, look at the numbers before you tell us we are delusional. The numbers clearly point to the fact that taxes from the outlying communities are being used to subsidize the routes in Vancouver while our needs are being ignored.

RealityCheck has it right and the majority of the commentors on this board don't seem to get it. The mayor of Delta is not talking in a vacuum, she is expressing the opinions of the politicians and people of Delta, Surrey, the City of Langley and the Township of Langley. These aren't suburbs in the traditional sense but sister communities.

While the politicos in Vancouver slept the communities to the east have grown up. The Township of Langley is not a commuter community as many of the people on this board mistakenly believe. The Township has MORE jobs than people, It is a NET IMPORTER of employees. Anyone who pays attention to traffic patterns knows that the back-up on the Port Mann going west is longer at 4:30 pm than it is at 7 am. That is all the people who live in Burnaby and Vancouver going out to Langley and Surrey in the morning and back home at night. Why is this? Ask you city planners who have developed all your light industrial lands for housing. All the new warehouses that supply your shops are in Gloucester in Langley. All those manufacturing facilities that used to be in Yaletown are now in Surrey.

As for densification, 70% of Langley is in the ALR and can't be developed. The new developments are going up and infilling. Surrey and Langley are building on the city center model and need transit to get from one area of higher density development to the next.

Put simply it is not the 1970's anymore but Translink planners are providing services like it still was the 70's.

If Ms Jackson wishes to have many more buses on the streets of Delta, why not start a new Delta municipal bus service that complements the service from trans Link? Be our guest. No doubt the good residents of Delta are anxious the increase their property taxes for a better bus service. And while you are at it Lois, why not add another submerged three or four lane tube to the Deas Island tunnel? Of course it would be for the sole use of all Delta residents. Election time is coming soon Lois. You should run on this platform.

Can you point us towards "The numbers clearly point to the fact that taxes from the outlying communities are being used to subsidize the routes in Vancouver while our needs are being ignored." Clearly if Vancouver wants to be sustainable it needs to do so in the context of the region and that means we need good multi-model transit options throughout the region.

Creating local municipal transit is exactly what's being proposed here (or a South Fraser Transit Authority, to be precise). But it makes no sense to ask residents south of the Fraser to pay taxes twice for transit. Sure...pay some taxes for Skytrain and buses between cities. But buses that travel inside your borders should be the responsibility of the municipality. That way, they can provide services to the levels and locations they need and can afford.

I'll also call attention to the double standard being proposed by many of the comments here. Everyone here is up in arms when Vancouver's City Council doesn't listen or respond to the local concerns of Vancouver voters. And so it should be...

But when a local mayor of an outlying municipality tries to address one of the top priorities of her constituents, then it suddenly becomes time to look at issues in a regional context. Delta's council was elected to do what's best for the people of Delta. Why shouldn't they explore ways to improve transit now instead of by 2030?

Steve Forth,

You ask me to point out where “The numbers clearly point to the fact that taxes from the outlying communities are being used to subsidize the routes in Vancouver while our needs are being ignored." Let’s start with the specific numbers I presented in my Feb 4, 2011 reply where I presented the transit taxes paid in Langley and examined the level of service provided for those taxes. The differential is, of course, the money that goes to subsidize the transit in Vancouver. The rest of my numbers are straight from Translink’s web site. Go look at the annual reports where they present the numbers. It will take more than 30 seconds to peel out the information, but the info is there if you take the time to do the math.

I would like to address another fallacy being bandied around on this blog: that the Port Mann is all about the valley. Even informed people like Daniel appear to have lost track of where thing come from these days. You folk who want livable cities with stores that people can walk to (which we have in Langley) forget where all those stores warehouse their goods. Vancouver has outsourced its light industrial capacity and warehousing to Langley, Surrey and Port Moody. The Buy-Low in Kits…it gets its stock from a warehouse in Port Kells; the Safeway on MacDonald, that would be Gloucester Estates; your neighbourhood IGA, from Langley; Superstore, Langley. How about the corner grocer who supplies your local fruit and vegetables? He fills his shelves from Surrey. Those lovely hothouse veggies, mostly in Delta. How about your corner baker? Milk and butter from Chilliwack/Abbotsford as is his sugar and flour. If you shut down the Port Mann, the folks in Surrey and Langley would be inconvenienced but the resident in Vancouver would be the hardest hit. If you look at the demographics of who is traveling into Vancouver on a daily basis? That would be your primary service providers who can’t afford to live in the City they serve. That would be my neighbor the nurse, my poker buddy the North Van firefighter and my ball teammate who works at the dock. The bridge allows the folk in Vancouver who can afford their million dollar homes to be divorced from all the things that are needed to allow a major city to survive.

Craziness is prevailing. Logic is lost. Governance and leadership are distant memories discussed with children around a campfire of yesteryear.

The municipality of Delta needs to reconfigure. We are caught in a geo-political quagmire that shows no signs of improving.

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