Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council has determined the referendum question for raising funds for improved transit. The vote will come this spring, and basically it goes like this:
Do you support a 0.5 per cent increase in the provincial sales tax in Metro Vancouver to raise about $250 million a year to fund a $7.5-billion, 10-year plan to improve transit?
On the table are a number of plans — better SeaBus and bus service, an LRT line for Surrey and, for Vancouver, the contentious underground subway proposed for Broadway.
In an ideal world I would have preferred raising funds through a gasoline tax that hit drivers only, but we have to improve transit and the funding mechanism proposed is more likely to pass.
But here’s the catch: the dice are loaded.
The way the referendum question and the ensuing scenario have been pitched is completely undemocratic. It forces someone who supports the funding mechanism to also vote “yes” for the spending options, whether they support them or not. So if you’re in favour of the 0.5 per cent sales tax increase but opposed to the Broadway subway, you have no choice.
The open and democratic way would have been to have two questions. Vote “yes” or “no” on the funding option, then let people vote on different transit options.
In Vancouver, instead of the Broadway subway, which will no doubt result in a lot of increased density in the form of high-rises along the Broadway corridor that nobody with Vision Vancouver talks about much, we could go for a grid of street-level LRT (light rail transit) mixed with high-capacity buses on more major streets. European cities do LRT beautifully. Or how about a streetcar network on every major street throughout the city?
Both would better serve more people than a single subway line ever could. I hope the referendum passes to reduce congestion and give us healthier communities, but right now there’s one loaded outcome and a lot of missing pieces.