Most of the transit activists I’ve worked with over the years are conflicted by the transit plebiscite.
You can find lots of good reasons to vote in favour — more SeaBuses, more desperately needed HandyDART service, more late night bus service, as well as a much-needed increase in overall transit services in our region.
For starters, should public transit be funded by the most regressive tax of all — a consumption tax known as a sales tax?
Collecting revenue this way hurts most those who can least afford it — the unemployed and underemployed. It’s also in sharp contrast to how we fund all of our other basic services in society, such as health care and education. These are funded through income taxes — the most progressive way of collecting revenue. This is particularly true with our graduated income tax system, where higher income earners pay a higher percentage of their income than do lower income earners.
Maybe one of the strongest reasons for voting “no” is the proposed underground Skytrain on West Broadway that’s part of the plan. If the plebiscite passes, this would be the single biggest ticket item to be funded, which points out how unfortunate it is the whole transportation plan was not put to voters the same way municipal capital plans are.
On municipal election ballots, capital plans are laid out in a menu format allowing us to vote “yes” or “no” for each component. We aren’t forced to vote against the capital plan in whole if we’re strongly opposed to one of its parts. In this case, many transit activists, who usually support more and better public transit, are so strongly opposed to the idea of an underground SkyTrain on West Broadway that they’ll be voting “no”.
This is partly because the money that would be spent on it is more than enough to deliver a first-class network of streetcars on every major arterial route in Vancouver. Worse, should the extended SkyTrain get the green light, our pro-developer Vision Vancouver council has made it clear that Broadway and the neighbourhoods immediately adjacent will be massively rezoned, resulting in high-rise glass towers where we currently have single family homes.
So what we’ll get is density and form of development to serve transit infrastructure, rather than transit infrastructure to serve existing density and form of development.
Given the above points in favour of a “yes” and a “no” vote, the COPE membership at a recent membership meeting democratically and, I believe, wisely decided it would be best to not take a position that would bind the executive but instead acknowledged that there are many fine, well-thought-out reasons to vote either way in this important plebiscite.
However you vote is up to you. The critical thing is to do it. Democracy only works when people vote, especially young people, because choices like this will make a difference for decades.
If you didn’t receive a voting package, ask for one at 1-800-661-8683 or election.bc.ca/ovr before midnight May 15. Your ballot needs to be returned to Elections BC by midnight, Friday, May 29.