Don Cayo: In my opinion
The reason? Better a small tariff than worsening traffic congestion and longer commutes
TransLink may not have legions of fans, but voting No in the referendum on the public transit tax to spite the government and its transportation service would be a mistake.
The letters to the editor, the comments in response to this newspaper’s stories and columns, the tweets, the grousing in conversations wherever you go — no question a lot of Vancouverites regard TransLink’s board and its managers with disdain.
The critics love to list shortcomings — most frequently, but not limited to, high salaries, lack of accountability, and inept management — that make it easy to understand why they feel the way they do.
And many are just as scornful of the provincial government and its chronic meddling that in some cases caused and in others worsens the region’s transportation woes.
The question isn’t the degree to which these concerns are valid, or whether they’re balanced by the fact that most of TransLink’s buses and trains run on schedule most of the time, and most of the roads and bridges it operates function as they’re supposed to.
The question is, are these serious negatives a good reason to vote No in the March referendum that seeks voter approval to add half a percentage point to the provincial sales tax rate in order to fund transportation improvements? In my view, they are not. My reasoning is that there are a lot of issues here — governance structure, management competence and the ranking of priorities, in addition to financing — and we’re being asked to vote on only one. Indeed, we’ll be allowed to vote on only one issue. And for those who want to “punish” TransLink for its real and perceived sins, voting this proposal down will hurt only ourselves.
It’s Vancouver citizens, not the TransLink board or managers or their overlords in Victoria, who’ll pay the price. Because a price will have to be paid, if not in money through this or some other tax levy, then in time, turmoil and congestion as traffic in the region rapidly goes from bad to worse. The referendum is not the place to take out broadly based frustrations with the way the regional transportation authority is run. The next provincial election, though more than two years off, will
So the issue boils down to this: Would you rather hold your nose and pay a sales tax 0.5 percentage points higher... or live through the congestion that’s bound to keep building?
be a more appropriate place to start.
I have never advocated basing votes in general elections on a single issue — thoughtful voters must take into account the whole basket of pluses and minuses — but the governing B.C. Liberals deserve to be burdened with baggage for their handling of TransLink issues.
The party’s unwarranted heavy-handedness dates back to the Gordon Campbell era. Then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon showed little or no respect for the wishes of Metro citizens and/or their elected representatives when he bullied through his highcost transportation priorities such as the Port Mann Bridge and the Canada Line.
Then, for good measure, he dismantled the semi-accountable TransLink board structure that the Liberals had inherited from the NDP and replaced it with the appointed and thoroughly unaccountable board that’s in charge today.
Christy Clark and her transportation minister, Todd Stone, have added to the mess by repeatedly denying Metro officials the full range of revenue tools — most notably a comprehensive and well-designed tolling system — to pay for road and/or transit expansion.
And the premier’s insistence that the current funding proposal can’t go ahead without a rushed referendum is baffling in view of her government’s willingness to dispense with consultation and push ahead with other major construction — including her own pet project, the replacement of the Massey Tunnel with a bridge.
So, while there’s no question that TransLink’s governance structure and very likely its management as well are in need of a substantial overhaul, there’s no prospect for progress until the province agrees to butt out and put regional transit decisionmaking in local hands where it belongs.
And while in a perfect world a genuine consultation process — something akin to B. C.’ s earlier experiments with citizens’ assemblies, as this column has proposed — would be ideal, it can’t work if Clark and her colleagues continue to limit the options and pull the strings.
So the issue for voters boils down to this: Would you rather hold your nose and pay a sales tax 0.5 percentage points higher than you pay now, or live though the congestion that’s bound to keep building if alternatives aren’t funded very soon?
If your answer is neither of the above — you’d rather give the metaphorical finger to those you think have done you wrong — then you’ll very likely just poke yourself in the eye.