Vancouver transit debate: punishing your transportation agency by punishing yourselves?

Over my past couple of weeks in Vancouver, the local news here has exposed me to a substantial chunk of the debate over a 0.5% increase in the provincial sales tax to fund transit. Of course, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Foundation would rather have not see this happen. Here are a few thoughts now that I’ve returned to Toronto.

It’s easy to think in terms of what’s popular — of course you’d probably want lower taxes! I absolutely would love to have lower taxes.

But I also remember when Torontonians elected Rob Ford as their mayor — just before I arrived in Toronto — and when he mandated a 10% cut to every service including the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). The TTC is still recovering from the cuts they had to make, on top of steadily rising ridership. The “No” side’s demand concerns me in this same vein.

What’s more, the TTC’s mandate is mostly public transit. Remember that TransLink manages roads and bridges as well. Of course, the “No” side is howling that TransLink wastes money and time and mismanages projects. I don’t think there is little doubt about these aspects, given how, for example, the Compass card (Metro Vancouver’s version of PRESTO) rollout has gone so far. (Personally, I’m rather disappointed that I still haven’t been able to use the fare gates for two consecutive winters now.)

But if you deny TransLink funding, what will happen as the population of Metro Vancouver continues to grow? What about the roads you rely on to get around Metro Vancouver? How will TransLink maintain them or build new ones? Or the transit you depend upon to commute to and from work? How will TransLink reduce crowding on your beloved SkyTrain? Unlike your financial planner or barista, whose services you can decline, you have no choice with TransLink. They provide at least one service that you can’t decline (unless you don’t move beyond a scant few square metres) and their services affect you in some way, directly or indirectly and whether you like it or not. In that regard, it seems utterly strange that the “No” side wants to punish TransLink by effectively punishing themselves. What weird logic that is.

Should TransLink be taken to task over how they have mismanaged things? Of course — this is your money that they’re frittering away! But you should be lucky that you even get to vote on a revenue tool to raise funds in return for improved transportation options — and that your civic and provincial leaders are generally united in supporting this revenue tool. It’s hard enough to propose such a thing in Toronto, where merely the mere suggestion of revenue tools leads to completely acrimony.

So, dear people of the Lower Mainland: don’t blow this — because there may not be a next time as politically, the well could be heavily tainted, so to speak. You should demand accountability on TransLink’s side, but don’t shoot yourselves in your feet doing so.