Monday, February 2, 2015

More on the "Yes", well, maybe No vote for Translink

The issues around the additional sales tax referendum are very indicative of all that fails in the current Provincial Government approach. Responsibility is passed on and hidden in a jurisdictional swirl that leaves us in the dark about costs and responsibility.  Why, for instance does the Metro transit system own bridges? Is it because they need to be rebuilt (Patulla, Westham Island) or are losing money (Golden Ears) and Victoria does not want to pay for these costs? This is just more off-loading of tax responsibilities which we are now being asked to pay for through a tax to “relieve congestion”.

The government is asking us to pay additional taxes not for the “operation” of Translink, but for additional infrastructure. Translink is unusual in that the operating and capital budgets are combined, obfuscating the issue even further. Historically infrastructure is put in place only with “meaningful stakeholder participation” so that the government can make appropriate plans and know what the costs will be. This cost is generally born by the government and paid out through the fairest tax distribution; income tax. This infrastructure is considered necessary for quality of life, fair access to housing and work and a buoyant economy.

Operational costs are dealt with in a less straight forward manner. Translink gets two thirds of their budget from taxes that are born equally by people of all levels of income. Arguably due to inefficiencies, only one third of Translink income comes from fares (down from 55% in 2009). Hence the dilemma. Victoria is asking us to voluntarily put in additional money for costs usually born by the government. We can only assume that this is to make their budget look better. However, it comes down to this; we are asked to pay more and get less. To add insult to injury, these costs cover a system that appears to be poorly managed (just look at the ticketing issues), with compensation exceeding the norm. CEO Ian Jarvis was paid an increase in base pay of almost $80,000 from 2008-2009. As well he gets a possible 40% annual bonus. With Translink “performance level to four peer Canadian transit systems …deteriorating”, it is difficult to see how this is justified.

Sadly the additional revenue raised by the tax will not make the system more efficient. Translink needs to be more effective to be more self-sufficient! The worst part of this is that this does not fulfill any criteria of good planning. Does it make sense that Victoria is not willing to subsidize a transit system, but will subsidize a $3 Billion (estimated) bridge over the Fraser? While cutting bus service to the same area? The transit system is positive planning in that it takes cars off the road. The bridge will only put more cars on the road and add to the urban sprawl.  The associated costs to serve the sprawl, of course, are born by the municipality serving the area. Not to mention the negative effects on the ecology and quality of life.

This leaves us with the issue of planning. All issues of transit, roads and bridges need to be planned by a non-partisan planning group. This means people trained in urban planning and not bound by political ideology. The plan needs to be holistic in its outlook, covering all aspects of transportation needs relative to growth and urban needs. Such a transparent planning process would be reasonable for the government to put to a vote. That way, healthy and appropriate decisions can be made about how costs should be born and how a Metropolitan area can grow.

In the meantime be prepared for more GRRRRidlock.

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