Friday, December 19, 2014

Opinion HST history bodes ill for TransLink Vancouver Courier December 17, 2014

If the referendum passes money will go towards trams in Surrey, perhaps like this Dublin tram

By now you may be sick and tired of hearing about the transit referendum, but please read on.

When I first heard the transit referendum question, three letters came to mind: H, S and T.
The HST referendum was a very depressing episode in British Columbia politics.

From the onset it was evident many people were voting against a harmonized sales tax based on their dislike for Gordon Campbell and the way the tax was introduced rather than the financial consequences of a harmonized sales tax vs. a separate GST and PST. They did not care that most economists argued it would be good for our economy.

After the referendum was over and B.C. residents discovered the HST did not disappear overnight, and we really had to give the federal government its money back, many people regretted their vote.
But it was too late.

This brings me to the transit referendum. I would like to make it clear from the onset that holding this referendum is wrong.

As one of my colleagues put it, we elect governments to run our communities. They get to tax us. If we don’t like how they run our communities or how they tax us, we can vote them out of office.
In the case of transit funding, Premier Christy Clark did not want to be the bad person so she essentially passed the hot potato onto the mayors.

We are now being asked to say yes to a tax increase through a referendum so that the premier will not be blamed for it. After all, we voted for it.
My colleague thinks we should vote no and in so doing tell the premier and federal government “Do what we elected you to do — run our communities. If there isn’t enough money, then you will have to reduce spending or raise taxes.”

He further believes special taxes for special things are a bad idea since they become like the MSP fees — merely extra taxes, and questions the notion that if we vote no, nothing will be done. “If the province doesn’t improve public transit, the NDP will win the next election.”
While I do not disagree with much of what he says, I will be voting yes in the referendum. However, I worry that I could be in the minority.

As soon as the referendum question was announced, it became apparent that there would be strong opposition to the proposed tax.

Many are opposed because they dislike TransLink as much as they disliked Gordon Campbell. Based on its inept handling of the Compass Card and handing out of executive bonuses, these voters do not trust TransLink or its board of directors to spend our money wisely.

Ironically, within the international transportation community, TransLink is highly regarded.

I should share that on two occasions I was invited to put my name forward to serve on the TransLink board. On both occasions I made it through to the interview stage, but was not selected. During interviews, amongst other things, I questioned TransLink’s policies and approach related to fare collection and property development.

This Hong Kong subway is financed in part with revenues from land development around stations
I asked why others were getting rich by acquiring and developing land around transit stations while TransLink stood idly by. I thought we could take lessons from Hong Kong and other places where the public sector finances transit improvements in part from increased land values around stations.
However, this is not a referendum on TransLink. It is a referendum on transit funding.

Some of the money will be spent on rapid bus transit, although perhaps not quite like this Curitiba Brazil system
And while I may question the appropriateness and eventual cost of a Broadway subway, I strongly favour all of the other proposed improvements.

I am therefore concerned by the initial opposition expressed by Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation who is leading the No side in this referendum. While I agree with him that there is always a need to find efficiencies and cut waste, this is not going to fund the required improvements.

I invited Bateman to tell Courier readers how he proposes to fund transit improvements if the referendum is defeated. “All in good time” he responded, adding he proposes to roll out his plan in January.

Perhaps we can get some double-decker buses if the transit referendum passes!
Until then, I urge you to keep an open mind on the question.


After the fact... said...

Throughout the entire country ..unquestionably the British Columbia voter is least sophisticated..always shooting themselves in the foot.
The NDP /BILL VanderZalm were ruinous and lost a golden opportunity.
The H.S T. Was right for BC .
enough dumb people disagreed???

Michael Geller said...

Dale Laird wrote to me as follows:
HST history bodes ill for TransLink

Yes, Christy is passing the buck because she doesn't want to be blamed, but saying NO to the sales tax won't force her to step up to the plate. She has dumped the funding question on to the Metro Mayors and nothing will change that. If this pelebiscite fails, the mayors will be forced to go back to the drawing board. We might like even less their next option - like a mobility tax or a property tax.

Blaming TransLink for the faregates/Compass Card failure is totally unfair. TransLink didn't want to go there in the first place. It was Kevin Falcon, backed by the Liberals, who forced TransLink to buy this fare system based on a questionable business plan. When you cruch the numbers, it is obvious that the faregates/Compass Card will cost more to buy and operate than the additional revenue it will generate. (I can supply you the proof)

Finally, you have made the same mistake as all media spokes people. This is not a "transit" tax. To call it a transit tax is a diservice to your readers. It is a "Transportation" tax. TransLink is responsible for a lot more than transit. TransLink is responsible for many roads and bridges (Pattullo replacement) in Metro Vancouver. If the tax is approved, the biggest winners will be motorists, but they can't see that. Winners with improved roads and bridges and winners by reducing traffic volumne as some motorists switch to improved transit or at least transit riders are not forced back into driving.

Then there is the stupid name of the tax - Congestion Improvement. Shouldn't it be Congestion Reduction?

Michael Geller said...

Another comment from a Courier reader:

Mr. Geller,

I agree with you, as we can't underestimate the stupidity of an anonymous mob, especially in a province where so many people are transit illiterate; this includes the provincial government and MLAs...of all political persuasions.

My Christmas wish is that reporters and pundits avoid talking to Jordan Bateman.
Is there ONE thing that he approves of?
What does he know about transit, besides executive salaries?
Does he uses SkyTrain, the Canada line and buses regularly?
Is he familiar with transit in Toronto, Montreal, Portland, Seattle, London etc. etc.?
Who anointed him as the curmudgeon #1,
How many taxpayers make his group of disgruntled ignoramuses?

Everybody complains about TransLink, but who is responsible for its board made of people that appear to know little about transit and aren't accountable to the public?
Who is responsible? a provincial government that didn't bother to find out what the boards of the many transit authorities (in the G8 countries for example) that run good to great transit systems have in common?

The boards of many transit authorities are mostly made of municipal politicians, sometimes with also regional or provincial politicians (depending on the administrative divisions of a country).

But the biggest problem with TransLink, from the start, is that provincial politicians, businessmen and the public at large etc. had no experience of transit at all then, unlike people living in towns where rapid transit has a long history

Worse still, many of the TransLink office staff are also transit illiterate. I have attended many open houses through the years, first in Vancouver then in Coquitlam, and it was a sad show. They showed videos of modern European tramways--including the famous Strasbourg tram, a sexy gorgeous beast---but were unable to explain all sorts of things about it, such as the frequent question "why do these trams run in streets with few or no cars?"

If the provincial government doesn't know that transit companies, railway companies etc. own real estate that provides them with a sizable income (Japanese private railway companies--like the Hankyu-Hanshin company in the Osaka region are a perfect example) shouldn't TransLink very well paid CEO enlighten the Premier?

Andy Byford, Toronto transit CEO,does not own a car, and use the TTC for both personal and professional travel, along with a car-sharing program. Byford commutes to TTC headquarters by transit. He is often seen in subways stations, where he talk to passengers (but then he worked for many years for London's transit...)
His yearly salary is around $ 300 000..A lot less than Ian Jarvis, even though Toronto transit system is bigger than Translink...

By the way, the board members of TriMet are volunteers. The transit fares are very reasonable. TriMet used to have 3 zones, but has had only one zone for a few years now, just like many towns in Europe, including Lyon in France.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is, amongst other duties, fully in charge of the Transport for London.
The Mayor rides his bike across London, or take cabs when in a hurry. Based on his posted expenses account he doesn't spent a fortune on cabs...
He is supervised by the members of the London Assembly, who each get a yearly transit pass (a taxable benefit) between downtown and the transit zone where they live. These passes aren't cheap (There are 9 main zones; for zone 1-9 + Watford Junction it cost £3,268. The fares will increase next Jan.1st ).

Thank you so very much!

Jean-Louis B