This Monday marks the start date of the Vancouver transit referendum. While I no longer live in Vancouver, my Facebook feed has been increasing populated by opinions on this matter. So I want to take a break from my normal SF themed topics and talk about this. Since if I was in Vancouver, I would be all over it. This is the yes/no referendum question:
“Do you support a one half percentage point (0.5%) increase to the Provincial Sales Tax in Metro Vancouver, dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan, with independent audits and public reporting?”
You can find more information about the referendum and the plan here http://www.movinginalivableregion.ca/library/the-referendum/.
To start I’ve read a lot of articles from both sides and their arguments and I haven’t really seen anyone discussing the plan. To me this means, the plan is a good one and not something of high contention. This makes sense to me, the plan involves a lot of improvements across all regions for all modes of transportation. Vancouver has always been excellent in Urban Planning and pretty much everything on this list has been on translink backlog for a while because people want it. The real debate is not if the plan is a good one, but if we should be taxed this way for it. This is where it gets interesting.
Before we get into the arguments for either side, I think it’s important to understand how we got into this situation. Basically Translink has been struggling to find new ways of funding for almost as long as I known. It has increased street parking rates, property taxes, gas taxes, and fare rates. All of which have been barely keeping up with demand for improvements. With each bit of new capital you find regions fighting for their share of the pie to be invested in their community. Regardless of this in the last 10 years Translink has done many improvements, to roads, bicycle infrastructure and transit including the Canada line and Evergreen line. Which if you live in any other North American city, you can appreciate the progress. However all this has increased the daily operating costs and Translink is slowly digging it’s own hole. So the Provincial government decides to step in and induce a referendum for a 0.5% sales tax. Sounds like a good idea, but you quickly realize there was no referendum for the Port Mann bridge or the Massey tunnel improvements. Why not? what’s special about this case? Keep in mind a referendum for something like this is quite rare in Canada. It why we elect representatives, so that they make the hard trade off budget decision and prioritize the needs for the greater good. But transit is obviously not a high priority for them and instead of reallocating their budget, they instead decide to spend 5-6 Million in tax payer dollars to fund a referendum. Effectively pushing the decision to the voter, while not having to reallocate fund and absolving them of responsibility. All I can say to this, is it sucks! but it is the unfortunate situation we are into forced by the Provincial government. So let’s discuss the issues.
Disclaimer, I am in the yes camp.
So the main arguments from the ‘No’ side is the mismanagement of Translink and the high ceo pay. Regarding mismanagement, I outright disagree I think Translink is actually well managed if you exclude the compass card/fare gate roll out. To some that may be a big deal but in reality sometimes your going to mess up. Maybe I am being to easy on them, but I’ve seen Vancouver do more than many North American cities. Plus for me I was never on board with that program to begin with and I actually blame the Provincial government for forcing it more than Translink.
As for CEO pay, I don’t mind paying more for a good CEO if it’s worth it. The problem is Translink’s intern CEO decision is really a disaster. There is no arguing that. Is that an argument for making a ‘no’ vote? Maybe but to me it’s orthogonal argument. The vote is not going to CEO pay, it’s going to a specific list of improvements, with an audit, yes or no will not change that, if there was a better CEO in place would that change your mind. If so maybe you should rethink why.
Next to the ‘yes’ camp. The yes camp has a lot of argument that are general benefits of transit, faster travel times, better quality of life, health benefits, less pollution, but not much about why you should be paying for it. The sad truth to the answer is because we can’t afford the alternative, whatever that may be. The fact is a ‘no’ vote will keep the status quo for at least 1-2 years until if we are lucky something better comes along, maybe a provincial leadership change that will change translink funding or maybe not. That is pretty much the gamble the people who vote no but still want the improvements are making. Maybe that’s ok, but for myself, if there is something I want badly enough I’d rather take action into my own hands instead of leaving it to chance. People do this all the time, for example when you need a phone, you chose to pay the extra money for the iPhone for whatever reason. This is the same, the choice is in your hands. It’s not ideal but the cards have been dealt and you need to make the most of it. Frankly this could be as historical as when Vancouver decided it did not want a highway running through the city and that’s how I view the situation.
To be honest if we go way back my ideal situation would be have been the Provincial government not mandate the fare gate and compass card and instead of building the new Port Man bridge, which hasn’t hit ridership targets by the way, that they instead implemented this plan. But what do I know. Happy Voting!
For an interesting discussion listen to this see CBC referendum Q&A.