April 7, 2015

Referendum: What is it doing to us?

Human Transit guy Jarrett Walker posted this on his blog on March 27:

Vancouver: Yes, you have a cost-effective transit agency!


A transit referendum underway in Metro Vancouver is asking voters to raise sales taxes to fund a huge range of transit improvements that are inevitably needed in such a dense and densifying region.  Polls are suggesting that one of the most transit-dependent regions in North America is going to vote no.  …

The no campaign has managed to spin a lot of anecdotes to suggest that TransLink is a wildly inefficient or incompetent agency.

TransLink is a major agency that does many things at once, answers to many masters with conflicting agendas, and certainly makes mistakes.  But the core of any transit agency budget is its operating budget — what it spends to run service and what it achieves in return.   That’s the only budget that goes on and on forever, so it dominates the total budget picture.  The numbers confirm that Metro Vancouver is getting excellent value for its transit dollar.  Todd Litman of Victoria Transport Policy Institute recently put these numbers together.

[Details here.]

There are lots of reasons for Canadians to be unhappy about the Transit Referendum, including why it is happening at all.  And there will always be plenty of anecdotes about any agency that does so many different things at once.

But if you’re voting no because you think your transit agency is fundamentally wasteful, that’s just not true.


Then on April 3, this:

Email of the week: A no-voter on Metro Vancouver’s transit referendum

From John DeFazio.  He’s responding to this post, or maybe to this one.  I have not edited for grammar or clarity.

you write like a scholar, using you master’s degrees to cleverly make readers feel sorry for Translink and vote yes, even if they are confused… you know the adage, “bullshit baffle brains”, thats what you and your kind are doing… and how much are they paying you Jarrett?
there are many other ways that Translink can raise funding for transit and you bloody well know it… alternatively Translink should go public, make it competitive for private companies to run transit for the masses… look at BC Ferries, they run low on cheddar and they raise their rates, simple, you wanna ride, you pay…
Here’s what professionals know:  Specialized transit services in monopoly positions or isolated intense markets are sometimes profitable.  BC Ferries, which cross water barriers where the only alternative is flying, are a great example.  But the entire transit system for a metro area the size of greater Vancouver is never profitable in a developed-world context, just as roads are not.  That’s not why transit exists.  It exists, among other things, to protect the economy from being strangled by traffic congestion.
like [Vancouver] Mayor Robinson who makes stupid promises he cant even come close to keeping, and big ones too, you know, the “end homeless” bullshit he’s peddling… Robinson wants a freebie from all lowermainlanders in the form of 0.5% tax hike to pay for his Broadway subway that he’s been promising for years! Hey, what about if Vancouver raises their own money to do the subway? or lobby the provincial govt for cheddar or lobby the Federal govt for cheddar!!
When the British Columbia government wanted to widen the Port Mann freeway bridge between the cities of Surrey and Coquitlam, they argued it was province-wide interest.  Nobody talked about it as “Surrey’s and Coquitlam’s bridge.”  Likewise, the Broadway subway is physically in Vancouver but that doesn’t make it Vancouver’s.  If you ever want to be able to get from the northeastern part of the metro area to the airport, for example, you need the Broadway subway, because only with that subway do all the rapid transit lines into Vancouver connect with each other so that people can make suburb-suburb trips.
I defer to locals to explain the cheddar metaphor.
Im so glad i don’t live in Vancouver where Robertson pretends he’s the Mayor in…
Whatever supposedly high principles anti-transit campaigns may be espousing, a key motivating force is usually sheer hostility toward the region’s densest city, and everything it represents.  If you want to understand why anti-transit campaigns are so fervent, this always seems to be part of the answer.
and who’s paying for the yes advertising eh? taxpayers? who else… that’s so shameful and in the end will see what a waste of resources this has been… pissing away good money when there is no chance of winning this plebiscite!
Why didn’t you talk about Mayor Corrigen eh? remember him? he’s opposed to the tax hike with validity…
Longtime readers know that I almost never write about personalities, because this is not about them.  It’s about the freedom and opportunity of citizens in the region.
Ive voted NO, every one i know has done the same… the yes campaign hasn’t a hope in hell to even come close and you know it Jarrett…
Yes, I’m sure everyone you know agrees with you.  That’s how human beings withdraw from reality, by only “knowing” people who agree with them.   Personally, I get bored listening to people who agree with me, which is why I wanted to share John’s email.  By the way, I didn’t select this email from a whole pile to create a particular effect; it’s the only one I’ve received on the subject, but it’s typical of what Metro Vancouver seems to think is a credible opposition.
Listen to the tone – separate from the merits of arguments, pro or con.    Hear the animosity, the contempt.
This is Tea-Party style, or as Brent Toderian coined it: Our Rob Ford Moment.
The referendum has unleashed the forces of anger, hostility, outrage and shame, overwhelming the opportunity to have any kind of civil discussion about the future of our region and how best to achieve it.
Whether deliberately or not, the Premier has created a monster – one that could well destroy the legacy of past generations who made the decisions that shaped this region.  A No vote will redefine who we are and what we are seen to be.  Win or lose, we will be a more divided region.  In the event of No, the blame and anger could last years before we find a way back to Yes.
And none of that needed to happen.


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  1. I have no respect for Vancouver’s current council and its mayor, (or for that matter its over abundant talentless planners) nor did I have respect for the various civic administrations when I practiced and lived in Vancouver from 1957 ’til 1997.

    Indeed, I took time out to see and experience the real world!

    As the province and the city squandered its resource industries no administration cared one iota about the future civic and provincial potential: their limited intellect confined their imaginations to selling real estate to itinerant buyers.

    Remembered the mayor’s task for on affordable housing (as real estate prices exponentiate). Wow, as its fashionably coifed lunching club slowly realized bankers and offshore money dictate the cost of real estate they were quick to disperse.

    I no longer live in the city but it being the provincial administrative centre, my future and the future of my family is very much proscribed by its subterranean machinations.

    A successful transportation system is more dependent on the nature of its local centers, more so, than the bureaucrats, the hardware or the number of CEO’s!

    Begin reconfiguring the neighbourhoods before putting trust in those already proven to lack the necessary vision!

    A good transportation system feeds and supports properly laid out neighbourhood centres: preferable traditional and familiar to the neighbourhood.

    I appreciate Vancouver is a young city and some may not yet able to support mature centres and I say poppy cock!

    I have seen in my time good neighbourhoods degenerate into sprawl through lack of good planning and lack of foresight! An incessant need for concrete boxes, void of occupants, that no one dare admit to, will not be alleviated by chunks of metal careening between empty chunks of gray concrete and glass void of character and identity.

    All these hifalutin’ experts from aways should shelve their books until the traditional neighbours are figured in.

  2. This email sounds like my relatives who are on the No side. Very angry, very narrow-minded in their understanding of the topic. And I would be willing to bet that this email writer, like my relatives, is not a transit-user.

    1. While the email writer is using vicious language, at least the writer made it to Jarett’s blog, which is the right place to get informed. Let’s not berate him for being uninformed quite yet.

  3. This is not Tea-Party style or a Rob Ford moment, as suggested at all.

    People that use and like transit and have no issues with the service (and also vote NDP) are voting No to this plebiscite.

    Casting the failure of this vote by marginalizing the perceived reason is not healthy and just plain wrong.

  4. In response to the 2040 vision ( http://metrovancouverblog.org/2015/03/18/chair-update-decisions-today-for-tomorrows-livable-region/ ) and 0.5% transit tax plan I have this to say to Mr. Moore (and now Mr. Robertson) as chair of MetroVan and Mayors Council:

    Dear Mr. Moore & Mr. Robertson:

    The current vision of transit for MetroVan as outlined is flawed. Only if you replace the repetitious use of the word “transit” with the words “rapid transit” does it make sense !

    ==> No one that is using a car today will use more transit unless it is RAPID, i.e. an LRT, SkyTrain or subway. People value their time, and if they have to wait they rather do it in their own air-conditioned car with their own choice of music, preferably alone. To change that, you have to charge them more for that privilege AND offer rapid alternatives.

    The current plan does neither !

    Only once car use is far more expensive and when faster alternatives exist will people use less cars. As such, the current 0.5% proposed sales tax increase will, and should, fail as it neither taxes car use more NOR delivers RAPID transit on these highly traveled dense routes:

    a) below Hastings to E-Van and then N-Burnaby, then onto N-Van
    b) to Jericho land then UBC
    c) along 41st Ave to Kerrisdale to Burnaby, connecting with Canada Line, and eventually to UBC making it a full UBC peninsula loop
    d) along Marine Drive in N-Van to Dundarave in W-Van
    e) to S-Richmond and Delta

    Before you ask the populace to pay more in taxes ask yourself, please:

    1) Why do we allow cars to park for free on roads ? Why not charge $200/month ? Surely that is an incentive to use less cars. Using 500,000 cars in Metrovan times $2000/year yields $1B per year. No need for a referendum. Enough money to build more subways and to incent car users to use the car less.

    2) Why do we allow the use of expensive bridges, tunnels, highways or throughways for free, especially for foreign fueled trucks or the emerging e-cars that do not pay a nickel of gasoline taxes here ? Road tolls at choke points throughout MetroVan will collect hundreds of millions that could then be used to finance RAPID transit.

    3) Why do we allow residents to use, for free or highly subsidized, social services, education, healthcare, roads or transit if they pay no or almost no income taxes yet live in million $ condos and houses ? As such, property taxes can, and need to be dramatically increased, especially for non-residents and for non-income tax paying residents [ consider a rebate for seniors and income tax paying residents as foreign ownership is tough to track]

    4)Why do we allow public sector unions to pay – from our already high taxes – excessive wages and benefits such as extended healthcare and guaranteed and indexed pensions to people that work less and have lower risk of layoffs than comparably skilled private sector workers ? A lot of savings by the hundreds of millions annually here also in a $5B+ budget in MetroVan !

    Only once those 4 areas are addressed AND car use is made more expensive AND more RAPID transit alternatives are planned should you ask for more taxes. Until then: congestion and car use will prevail as this proposed plan will not decongest nor address the 4 issues mentioned !

    Please come back with a better plan !

    Yes to more rapid transit.
    No to this band-aid non decongestion plan.

  5. If you accept the argument that the Port Mann Bridge is “the Province’s Bridge” (and I do – getting people and goods from tidewater to the interior is a critical part of our Provincial economy), and why would you advance the argument that the Broadway subway should be paid for by residents of the lower mainland, rather than by taxpayers throughout the Province? Our Provincial politicians have to consider transit in the Province’s economic centre to be a Provincial responsibility. They have administrative responsibility for Translink, since they appoint all the Board members; they have to take financial responsibility, as well. The proposed funding arrangement of a localized sales tax does the opposite. I paid for the Sierra-Yoyo-Desan road and for upgrades on the Malahat, even though I will never drive either of them: residents of the north Peace and lower Vancouver Island should equally be contributing to transportation infrastructure in the region where more than one-half of the Province lives.
    The more fundamental reason for voting “no” is that a “yes” vote legitimizes a process we should not be having: we elect politicians to lead and take the consequences, not to punt the issues before them. Any one of the mayors and councilors who are now spending (my) money to take a position on a public vote (which should not be permitted, but I digress), was free to suggest that transit funding increases come from property taxation, and volunteer their residents to take up their portion of the burden. They chickened out; why should I listen to their voices now?
    Our Premier equally had the opportunity to show leadership, but the suggestion of leadership or even common sense from her is laughable, and she funked it. This is the bed our “leaders” have made for themselves – let them lie in it.
    A ‘no” vote will not be the end of transit, and given the way large project costs and schedules evolve a “yes” vote will not be its salvation – I imagine that in 2020 we will be in much the same position on transit either way, although we may have a different funding mechanism, or mechanisms (which may be better or worse than what is currently proposed). What a “yes” vote will do is encourage politicians to shirk their responsibility to lead. I think it is important to encourage them in the other direction.

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