What happens if we vote "no"?

Impact of transit plebiscite South of the Fraser.

COVER - TRANSIT - Kenny Chui

Kenny Chui / The Runner

The last few months of dialogue regarding the TransLink plebiscite have shown that “no” voters are taking the lead by a wide margin. A March 16 Angus-Reid poll suggested that 27 per cent are voting “yes,” while 61 per cent are voting “no.”

Sixty-nine per cent of “no” voters said that the proposed transit improvements are a good idea, but that they should come from existing taxes.

This is despite the vast majority of voters appearing to support more transit in Metro Vancouver. However, there seems to be a distrust of the transit operator: TransLink. According to Angus-Reid, 61 per cent of “no” voters don’t believe that Translink can be trusted with extra funding.

The Mayors’ Council has promised 27 kilometres of light rail in Surrey and Langley, an extension of the Expo line out to Arbutus along Broadway, numerous new B-lines and all around service improvements, such as added Skytrain cars and buses. Also promised is improved road quality, a new Pattullo bridge and an 80 per cent increase in night bus service.

Currently, Vancouver’s transit system is considered to one of the best in North America. Many quality-of-life surveys have placed Vancouver high on their lists, partially due to TransLink. Vancouver was number 15 by Monocle in 2014, number three by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and number five on Mercer’s. It’s the best in North America, according to all three.

The only cities that beat Vancouver in regards to transit are much smaller and older cities, in countries with different taxation, like Vienna, Copenhagen and Zurich.

Malcolm Brodie, mayor of Richmond, thinks that a “no” vote would be problematic.

“I think that it will be a complete and utter disaster,” says Brodie. “Without the added transportation and transit detailed in the vision, if we don’t have that, our situation is going to very rapidly deteriorate.”

“it [would be a] huge cost to the congestion that we already have, and with another million people coming in the next couple of decades, it’s just going to get worse. A very compelling reason to why we’re supporting it, in my mind, is because we have some air quality targets, and motor vehicles are one of the largest polluters of our air shaft. We’re going to do further damage to our environment.”

“The transit services South of the Fraser are the most marginal, and because of the way the region has been developing. So if you’re in Vancouver, it’s not such a bad situation, but South of the Fraser it’s really very challenging, so we need the added bus service.”

Jessica Lar-Son, president and vice-president external of the Kwantlen Student Association (KSA), believes that a “yes” vote is imperative to students who depend on transit to get to school and work. She has lived in Surrey her whole life and is familiar with the needs of the municipality.

“We did a transportation survey, which showed that a lot of our students rely on transit,” she says. “With the passing of the transit referendum, we’re looking at a 20 per cent reduction in congestion.”

According to GPS maker TomTom, in 2014 Vancouver had the worst traffic in North America, with travel times taking 35 per cent longer during heavy periods.

“Our congestion rates are already ridiculously high,” says Lar-Son. “Anyone who tries to commute from Surrey to Vancouver [or vice-versa] knows that during rush hour, that can mean a serious problem. If we don’t improve our transit system, that problem is just going to expand. We need better bridges, better bike lanes.”

However, many of those against the plebiscite perceive that the tax increase goes straight into the pockets of TransLink executives, and that TransLink is poorly run.

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, believes that voters should choose “no.”

“A few things will happen, if the vote fails. The mayor of Surrey said that she has a plan for light rail in Surrey. So, she’ll go forward with her plan, which is developer contributions and federal funding. The Pattullo toll bridge shouldn’t even be in this vote. It’s not being funded by the tax, it’s being funded by toll. It’s only in there to trick drivers into supporting the ‘yes’ side,” he says.

According to Bateman, the two major items they’re promising for the South of the Fraser region will go forward.

“As for the rest of it, look, it’s going to force a major shake-up at TransLink where they’re going to have to look at how they’re governed,” he says. “And the decisions they’ve made, and find some efficiencies and prove that they can run an organization that doesn’t waste money, and prove that to the public.”

Furthermore, Bateman believes that there are methods for TransLink to get money outside of a sales tax. “There’s dozens of ways that people have pitched,” says Bateman. “Lower Mainland cities have enjoyed about a six per cent annual revenue growth rate over the last 10 years. So every year they get six per cent more money, and that makes sense, because people move here, buy houses and become taxpayers. What we’re saying is, you could fund this entire plan just by earmarking 0.5 per cent of that growth rate going forward.”

Bateman believes that the new tax simply gives municipalities access to more funding, and that Translink isn’t to be trusted in projects opening on time. He further cites the Evergreen line being built late, and the Compass card project being millions of dollars over budget.

Bateman thinks that 0.5 per cent is too high, and that they hurt poor people the most.

“What I’m saying is, fix TransLink first. And then, and then, once you actually know the need, you know, there’s a better plan to fund it. Earmark future growth instead of relying on current taxpayers.”

Bateman also thinks that, “Students need to remember that none of this stuff that is promised will be built in their time at school. Maybe, if you’re in your first year and you’re planning to be a doctor or something.”

He believes that the tax would hurt students, citing the Retail Council of Canada’s opposition to it. Since goods would cost more, it could be more difficult for stores, which often hire students, to pay their wages. The organization also has concerns with “The propensity of consumption taxes to increase from their initial rate,” and that it would set a precedent for other municipalities in Canada to introduce similar taxes.

Voting for the plebiscite has now begun via mail-in ballot. Only time will tell what’s really on the voters’ minds.

The transit voting period is from March 16 to May 29, 2015 via mail-in ballot. To register to vote or to update your voter registration, call 1-800-661-8683 or register online at elections.bc.ca.

 

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