Why I am (still) voting No in the Transit tax vote
From the very beginning, the entire Transit tax referendum turned non-binding plebiscite, has been a stunning example of the inadequate leadership and poor governance we find ourselves under as a province.
Worse yet perhaps, is how the mayors plan is being promoted as a complete cure-all for the congestion that clogs our streets and highways as it does nearly every other single major metropolitan area in North America – even those with better transit than what we currently have.
I live in Surrey close to two major arteries and still can’t get home by transit after 9 pm without having it involve a costly cab ride, or a scary 10 block walk in the dark.Weekends are even more difficult and I know I’m not alone in thinking how badly public transit is lacking in many areas south of the Fraser river.
This confuses people trying to figure out why I feel so strongly about voting NO in the upcoming vote. I take transit, I understand it’s failings but because a vehicle is also a must, I also understand how frustrating it is to sit in gridlock.
Traffic jams are a very big issue in most cities in Metro Vancouver regardless of where you are driving. They cost us time, money and raise our stress levels. I strongly support better transit, but I also strongly believe that this tax is wrong, and that the arguments of better transit being the cure-all for what ails the Metro Vancouver region are disingenuous at best. These are the reasons why.
1. First and foremost, a sales tax increase is a punitive, regressive form of taxation.
It doesn’t matter who you are, or how much you make – you will be paying this tax. Senior on a limited income? You are going to pay this. On disability? Get ready to fork over some more cash. Are you one of the working poor, a single parent, or perhaps on assistance? You are going to pay the same sales tax on your goods as Chip Wilson.
Ironically, many of the same people who opposed the HST because it was a punitive tax, are now advocating for this increase justified I am told- because transit is a worthy cause – and it is. I just don’t think this is the way to fund it.
Readers here have been very vocal in recent months about the impact rising prices on food and household goods have had on their budgets- to the point that the reduction of a 50% discount on food about to expire was a big issue.
There are better ways to fund transit expansion,along with providing revenue for other government needs – it’s called progressive tax reform.
Why aren’t these items being considered by our mayors and provincial government? Where was the mayors discussion on having developers and property owners along mayor transit routes and expansion,help fund the projects since they will benefit the most?
Visionary isn’t a non-binding plebiscite pushing a punitive tax.
Visionary is saying “We’ve already taken more than many people can afford- let’s find another way.”
2. In the end, there are absolutely no guarantees to anything but paying more sales tax- if the province honours the results of a YES majority.
This is yet another elephant in the room when it comes to the Transit tax vote that YES supporters never have an answer to, when I ask them why I should suddenly start trusting this government after everything I’ve seen,read and/or written about. Some refer to the Liberal tenure as the ‘decade of deceit’, with good reason.
In fact, this was a very big point in the No-HST campaign that the supporters of this new proposed tax once trotted out at every opportunity! (inconvenient truth as that may be now)
What’s suddenly changed with the Clark government? Mt. Polley? The health ministry firings? LNG prosperity funds and a gazillion jobs by 2030, no wait… 2060… or is that the year 2100 by now? ( Humour me, I honestly can’t keep track of the claims tossed out there as often as tissues during flu season…)
You get the point. This is not a government that has shown or earned much trust.
Adding fuel to this mistrust are the changes in the ballot that removed some of the specifics of individual projects that will benefit from this “Congestion Improvement Tax”
– you can read all about that here, in this piece from The Vancouver Sun:
Heading: The new ballot calls it a “Metro Vancouver transportation and transit plebiscite,” not a “transportation and transit referendum.” This stipulates the tax only applies to Metro Vancouver. Meanwhile, a plebiscite, which is non-binding, is being held because the vote is being conducted by the South Coast British Columbian Transportation Authority Act, which governs TransLink, and not the Referendum Act.
Wording: The main wording is tightened up to remove the rationale for the plebiscite. For instance, the ballot removes the line that states “one million more people will live and work in Metro Vancouver by 2040” and that the plan is needed to reduce congestion on roads and bridges.
Projects: Clarifies the overall plan with more succinct wording. The new ballot takes out references to “11 new B-Line rapid bus routes” for a more generic statement that the funding “will add bus service and new B-Line rapid bus routes.” It also states new “rapid transit” for Surrey and Vancouver rather than citing a subway and light rail.
Explanation: The new ballot is clearer than the original in stipulating the tax will be called a Metro Vancouver congestion improvement tax and dedicated to the majority of goods and services in the region.
Ballot question: The approved question does not include the line “with independent audits and public reporting.”
Hmm. Why all the changes?
Why does the ballot not include independent audits and public reporting?
Why so vague on the specifics of the projects?
Again, no answers from the Yes supporters other than: “There is no Plan B, so hold your nose and vote YES!” Many yes supporters agree with me on all these points,admit it’s a lot of concern,but feel this time, the government can’t ignore the people.
( We haven’t even gotten into the fact that this tax increase doesn’t fund the entire cost of any of these projects, and neither the provincial or federal government has committed to dedicating those funds… but trust us they say. Trust us…)
I look at this ballot and I shake my head. Non-binding. No guarantee’s on anything and government commits to nothing in it. You vote yes and your vote says you agree a sales tax increase should go to fund transit improvements, or you vote no.
It’s basically a very costly opinion poll, and nothing more. If the province wanted to show good faith, it would be a binding referendum. It’s not.
3. There is no Plan B
Houston, we have a problem.
The same people who residents in Metro Vancouver elected to govern, to make hard decisions, to…lead… have no plan B. Nothing. Nada, except for Surrey mayor Linda Hepner who already said her LRT plan is happening no matter what the vote is. ( election promise,so take that with a grain of salt)
Granted this provincial government is about as easy to work with as a porcupine in heat but regardless, what are these mayors being paid to do?
Mayors just elected have nearly 4 years to govern.Each of them needs to look at what residents in their communities need… and perhaps.. how it is that city planning has contributed to the current situation. In Surrey, poor planning has resulted in bedroom communities where a car is a must. Many of them. Some out in the middle of nowhere where it’s not feasible to run even community shuttles.
I’ve been doing a bit of research and there is a lot the mayors of our cities could do to relieve congestion… if they have the will to ruffle some feathers and do so.
In fact, this article I located has a wealth of ideas cities should have considered in planning their neighbourhoods. https://nowtoronto.com/news/transportation/on-the-buses/
From dedicated bus lanes, to no parking zones during transit peak times to enforcement actions, much of gridlock begins and ends with our municipal leaders and how they plan and run our cities. They could be increasing Development Cost Charges or adding a new or bigger transit levy to the current charges- developers wanting to build high density will benefit from a bus route. ( an unpopular suggestion I am told, because developers tend to give good donations in civic elections…)
I can assure you this. In the private sector no plan B, means no second chance. The mayors of Metro Vancouver would do well to remember this when digging into our pockets again and again.
4. Research shows in other cities and countries, that improved transit alone doesn’t cut congestion without road pricing.
As with most things you must sign your name to, the devil is in the details.
YES side proponents in social media and in forums have been telling people that better transit will cut congestion.
In fact some have been telling me that if a No vote prevails, transit will be set back twenty years, making it sound like a No vote will instantly transform the Canada Line into an Amish wagon train form of transport! Guess what? That isn’t going to happen. Nor will the new proposed Surrey LRT or Arbutus subway Line stop traffic jams anywhere in the region.Why?
Because regardless of how amazing these projects are, research shows that improved transit isn’t enough to reduce congestion. And even the mayors acknowledge this in their own plan:
No kidding. Why isn’t the yes side talking about this?A comprehensive road pricing strategy is a part of their plan. You vote Yes now, and the mayors still plan on introducing user pay roads ( tolls for distance traveled) 5 years or so down the line.
I mean, all one has to do is use ‘the Google’ to search ” Does transit reduce traffic congestion?” to determine in most cases, it doesn’t – not on its own.
Look at Singapore-even with exceptional transit, it was only the hefty road pricing that moved drivers to transit.http://www.lta.gov.sg/content/ltaweb/en/roads-and-motoring/managing-traffic-and-congestion/electronic-road-pricing-erp.html
This is why the mayors plan details that if a YES vote prevails, they will introduce road pricing down the road. It takes time to implement that… and there will be considerable backlash.
There is a significant and credible amount of research showing that transit improvements alone do little to ease congestion, but that paired with road pricing as a dis-incentive to drivers, it will have an impact.
What is road pricing?Alternatively known as congestion pricing, it’s how cities outside of Europe where the lifestyle is vastly different from North America, deal with congestion.
As the Georgia Straight published last year, I suspect as a way of easing drivers into the idea:
” …road pricing. It’s necessary. It’s contentious. And it’s coming to Vancouver.
As a congestion-reducing/transit-promoting strategy, it comes in myriad guises. In California, for example, the strategy appears as transponder-linked high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in L.A. and San Diego. Rates posted roadside for HOT–lane occupancy constantly change with time and traffic volumes. In San Francisco, road pricing means a soon-to-be-instituted $3 road-usage charge for all drivers entering that city’s cordoned downtown core. In Hong Kong, in Dallas, in Rio, in Rome, and in scores of other jurisdictions: if you use roads, you pay.”
In fact, the first place you would have seen road pricing is between the Port Mann Bridge and Vancouver.. that is, until the people said enough and refused to take that bridge. I suspect it will still be the first line of attack, along with Hwy 99 and the SFPR, aka the South Fraser Perimeter Road.
It’s acknowledged far and wide as a crucial part of reducing congestion, so why aren’t the mayors, provincial government and the YES campaign talking about this more before the vote? Because in my opinion, it negates the often used line that transit improvements will improve congestion. This isn’t an anti-congestion tax.
Ask your mayor about this one before you vote.
5. I’ve had enough of the premier and our mayors playing with people’s lives… and livelihoods.
Forgive me for living in a dream world, but I really do believe elected officials must put the needs of their community before anything else. Regardless of whether it is a city,a provincial riding or our province, those with power hold immense influence in decision making, and policy direction.
How many of those deemed to make these decisions, take transit? How many understand how hard it is to drop kids off at daycare, go to work, come home, pick up kids and get something for dinner… on transit? Anyone going to soccer practice on transit?
You just can’t do it easily outside of Vancouver. Its nearly impossible in Surrey or Langley. Frankly I’m very tired of people who live,work and play in Vancouver telling me how this plan will benefit me, when they haven’t even been out to this part of Surrey! There is a complete disconnect. One fellow I know recently took a planning bus tour in Surrey and was shocked to discover how much sprawl planning has occurred.
Please, don’t tell me how good this plan is going to be for all of us, unless you will come out here and find out what it’s like here first. If you’ve never been to Surrey,I don’t even want to talk to you!
This is just part of what is so disingenuous about this cut congestion tax.
Transit alone will not cut congestion. And those promoting the YES side know this.
Did the Canada Line cut traffic congestion into Richmond or Vancouver? No. There are still backups over the bridges back and forth.
Did a new express bus down King George in Surrey magically reduce the gridlock? No. In fact the bus gets stuck in traffic too.
They make it seem like a vote yes is a guarantee you won’t wait in traffic as long as you did before… 20% less reduction is the number on their website – a stretch if you ask me and a bait and switch tactic much like the Liberals have used in BC before.
Coming from politicians and politico’s,many who only take transit when a camera crew is involved, it’s a bit rich.
I can’t tell you which side to vote for, but I can tell you how I am voting, and why. I tend to ask a lot of questions and those questions always lead to more questions that really get some people upset. But that’s how I work.
I can’t even in good conscience, advocate a yes vote with so many unknowns, so many questions and with so many changes the provincial government has made to this ballot. Everything in my gut tells me this is all wrong,in particular with the amount of fear-mongering occurring on social media from those working for or endorsing the yes side. It’s beginning to reach unprecedented desperation levels and there is a long time to go still.
I encourage every Metro Vancouver reader this tax increase would impact, to do your own research, ask questions of your elected officials and feel free to share the responses here with my readers.
Because in the words of the Dalai Lama: “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” Taxpayers in Metro Vancouver deserve better than what’s being served up by those with vested interests.