Is the transit glass half-empty or half-full?

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.

busUnfortunately, there about as many compelling arguments to vote against it.

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”.streetcar

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 before midnight May 15. Your ballot needs to be returned to Elections BC by midnight, Friday, May 29.


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7 Responses to Is the transit glass half-empty or half-full?

  1. D. M. Johnston says:

    If the mayor’s plan had been peer reviewed by a competent and independent authority and thus shown that the plan would indeed reduce congestion and improve transit, I would not oppose it, but it hasn’t.

    Subways are very poor in attracting motorists because they are inconvenient, with stations to far apart to provide local service.

    Light Rail in Surrey is poorly designed as a poor man’s SkyTrain and as feeder service to the mini-metro, it will also not attract much ridership.

    BRT and or express buses also have a very poor record in attracting new ridership, especially if transit customers are forced to transfer to the mini-metro to complete their journey.

    The three pillars of TransLink’s and the mayor’s plan are faulty and will not reduce congestion and pollution and very well may add to our normal gridlock.

    I think COPE is wise not to take a stand on the TransLink vote.

  2. Bob Beazer says:

    Just wonderin’….would a yes vote to a regional split on provincial sales tax set a precedent, allowing the government to tax the province in districts to suit their political agenda? (in this case, I think it is to be able to say,”We didn’t raise your taxes, you did”….The only reason I can think of to vote yes is so these guys don’t sell off Stanley Park so they can say “See….we told you we would balance the books”


    I think the plebiscite missed the mark. What we need is a plebiscite on priorities and on timing. I drafted one for discussion.

    Part one (priorities):
    What is the most important thing to the regular transit user?
    What is the main purpose of transit?
    Connect and serve existing communities
    Help developers expand the city

    Part two (values):

    Which form of transit serves the individual best?
    High speed, isolated from autos
    Ground level, regular speed in dedicated lanes
    Which form of transit serves the region best?
    High speed, isolated from autos
    Ground level, regular speed in dedicated lanes
    A combination of the two

    Part three (funding):
    Which is the best way to fund transit?
    Borrow money to do as much as possible as soon as possible
    Raise taxes
    Plan to expand by means of existing tax base

  4. pwlg says:

    Would handing over another $7 billion to Translink change the way they have wasted valuable public dollars and ensure good transit planning. If you think the Canada line at $2.4 billion was a good transit investment then consider it’s the only 2 car train subway system in the world. Imagine the damage done to the livelihoods of 50 businesses on Cambie and for what? Also the fare gate scandal. Despite being told in 2007 any automated turnstile system with 17 different ways to pay a fare would not work and having just a single zone fare throughout the region would reduce fare evasion and dramatically increase riders from the outer communities of the region. After spending $200 million on these white elephants we findd the reasons for installing them was to capture more revenue from fare evaders. Trouble with this is the cost to purchase, service the debt and maintain the turnstiles far exceeds the estimated loss in revenue from fare evasion. So who sold these to translink or more apt who lobbied Translink to purchase these? It was former Deputy Premier Ken Dobell, former CEO of Translink and Vancouver City Mgr.

  5. Wayne Taylor says:

    No plan is possible without funding. People can scream all they like about Translink, but the bottom line is that even if the management and reporting of Translink was to be solved, the issue of public transit infrastructure funding would still have to be resolved.
    There is only one logical source of funding for transit infrastructure in this Province. It is the revenue from the Carbon Tax and COPE would do well to pound that cause as hard as it possibly can.
    The B.C. Liberals introduced the carbon tax in 2008, but instead of Carole Taylor and Gordon Campbell using the revenue from that tax to reduce carbon emissions, its so called intended objective, they used the revenue to reduce Corporate Taxes and income taxes, the large part of the latter reduction benefitting higher income earners. Seventy per cent of the carbon tax revenue is used to reduce Corporate taxes. If I pay $10 on my Fortis bill, $7 of that goes to reduce corporate taxes.
    The carbon tax has amounted to a huge redistribution of revenue to the corporate sector and those in the middle/upper and upper income brackets.
    What in hell’s name has a tax which is apparently designed to reduce carbon emissions got to do with reducing corporate taxes.
    Now that the Transit plebiscite has failed, thank god, COPE has an opportunity to highlight the fact that the Liberals are pouring money into their supporters pockets through the redistribution of the carbon tax revenue, while doing absolutely nothing about our dire transit situation.

    • Tim Louis says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Let’s put the carbon tax to use — not reducing the taxes of corporations and high earners, but delivering public infrastructure that would reduce carbon output such as public transit.

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