May 15, 2015

Transit Funding and the Illusion of Small Numbers

The ever-helpful Sun editorial writer thinks the Mayors really need a Plan B in the event of a No vote.

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Editorial: Post-plebiscite planning needs to be done now

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A rejection of the sales tax increase by voters would not indicate people oppose the designated transportation plan, only that they oppose the tax hike to fund it.

The politicians need to acknowledge that notion and not be deterred in planning for the region’s transportation needs.

It is hoped that Stone, representing the province, and Gregor Robertson, heading the mayors’ council, will not waste any time on recriminations and finger pointing about who will have been responsible should the plebiscite be defeated.

Rather they must be ready to present an alternative plan, based on finding necessary funding elsewhere, perhaps within existing budgets.

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I don’t know who the writer is – possibly Premier Clark.  From the Province’s point of view, this couldn’t be better.

(1) Yeah, the plebiscite was our idea.  We rejected all the other forms of taxation, and then left it to the last moment to approve the sales-tax option and wording of the referendum for the Mayors to defend.  And other than the mildest affirmation, offered no real support.  But please, no recrimination or blame – at least directed to us.

(2) Absolutely, Sun editorial writer, you’re so right: the mayors should find the necessary funding elsewhere (we think property tax would be a good choice) or, as you say, “perhaps within existing budgets.”

(3) We notice you’re not offering any suggestions on what funds should be diverted or services cut (and neither will we), but it had better be a lot.  Subways don’t come cheap.  Or if there’s no local appetite to cut services or raise property taxes, then don’t expect us to put up matching funds.

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Is that unfair to Transportation Minister Stone?  He is, after all, prepared to take a knife to B.C. Transit  to show how it can be done.

Province audits BC Transit to find savings

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BC Transit has seen its funding all but frozen as the provincial government audits the public transit agency to find savings, identify underused routes and force municipalities to overcome what the transportation minister says are “absurd” choices to give up potential revenue.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said although funding to BC Transit has grown steadily over the past 10 years, he has reduced the growth to a “very modest lift” over the next three years as the Crown agency undergoes a review. Provincial BC Transit operating funding is budgeted at $103.9 million in the 2015/16 fiscal year, growing to $104.1 million and $104.7 million in the following years. …

Stone said communities need to revisit their transit programs and policies to free up as much money as possible. He pointed to Nanaimo, which has a policy in place not to allow advertising on the outside of its 25 new natural gas buses.

“Frankly, I find that absurd,” Stone said. “They are foregoing tens of thousands of dollars of additional revenue that could go towards providing additional service hours for the Nanaimo transit system.”

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Stone understands the political perception of small numbers: “tens of thousands” sounds big – and such savings give the illusion of action.  However, the real-life impacts will be in the difference between rising costs and inflation across all transit systems in the province, compared with the $500,000 increase in funding by the Province.  That constitutes a serious cut, which isn’t going to be made up with an increase in bus advertising or, likely, any other savings sufficient to avoid cuts in service. (You can see more about the impacts here: A Provincial ‘War on Transit’?)

Note, as well, that there will be audits for local government and regionally provided services but not for the Province’s Transportation Investment Corporation, responsible for the financing of the Port Mann and Massey Bridges, and now running annual losses over $100 million.  That’s a number that really is big.

As well, don’t expect anyone to suggest that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure should be able to finance the Massey Bridge “within existing budgets” – or maybe advertising on the railings.  That will have to be done with tolls, which is of course a new tax.

But please, no recriminations and finger pointing.

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Comments

  1. Public transit oriented communities tend to not vote conservative. The liberals do not want to create communities that will not vote for the.

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