Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why to vote "no" on Translink tax referendum

This is in response to a letter by Lory Mayhew in the January 21 Optimist “transit solution is right in front of MLA”.

It is interesting to note that Ms. Mayhew correctly states that we are seeing bus service cuts. She sees the solution as a ‘yes’  vote for the upcoming transit referendum which would see sales tax increase by .5% and Translink revenue increase by and estimated $250 million. I would suggest that Ms. Mayhew is wrong in this assertion.

What she fails to show is that this $250 million is unlikely to increase or improve bus service to this area. Especially once the proposed bridge is built. In a 2012 audit by the Ministry of Finance it clearly states that routes that do not pass certain financial criteria are to be discontinued. This goes against the mandate of a Metropolitan transit service. The transit system is meant to subsidize more expensive routes to outlying areas such as Delta with the more profitable central routes.

There are a number of parts to the argument. One is the outlay of capitol costs for new routes, etc. These have historically been born by government in order to improve quality of life and access to labour markets. This cost appears to be lost in the general costing of Translink and is being passed down from the Provincial government. Another issue is the fact that costing in general has been handed down from the Provincial government. Translink revenues from the Province have been decreased 12% which in 2012 amounted to a loss of $150 million dollars. In the meantime legislation already enables Translink to increase property tax revenues by 3% annually. This is not to mention a $.17 per liter gas tax that presents 24% of Translink revenues or approximately $311 million dollars. As well there is the parking rights tax and a transit levy tax on your Hydro bill. It is little wonder that people are a fed up with the tax increases. Translink will be spending about $4 million of these tax dollars to try and persuade people to agree to this latest tax increase.

Ms. Mayhew fails to discuss that fares only account for 33% of the total of revenue. As long as the transit system fails to garner more ridership by being more effective and less wasteful an increase in taxes will only encourage more waste and less service. 
Let’s not forget that pay raises of the management have been almost three times the norm and the CEO of Translink, Ian Jarvis, is paid more than his counterparts in Toronto and Seattle. Both cities are not only larger, they have far more effective transit services. How successful has Mr. Jarvis been in dealing with the ticketing problem and subsequent loss of revenue? Why is our Translink security armed with weapons when other jurisdictions arm their people with pepper spray and batons? Why does the public not have access to financial information on the Canada line? This was a PPP undertaking and the Provincial government refuses to release this information.  The argument is that due to being a (partial) private undertaking release of financial information cannot be made public.
As long as these questions remain unanswered and the Provincial Government is less than forthcoming additional taxes should be refused. What really needs to be done is a review of both the board and management of Translink. Benchmarks for income should be based on improvement of services and income generated. Oh, and fix the Passport ticketing system. $194 Million and it is still not functioning? Heads really should roll.

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