Down With the Parkade!

For some reason New Westminster’s Front Street Parkade is back in the news. It appears that some people missed the years and years of public debate and consultation about the parkade’s removal and think that now’s the time to re-open that debate.

It isn’t.

The parkade is still a waste of money. The parking isn’t needed. It turns Front Street into a noisy, fume-laden disaster of a road. Visiting businesses on Front Street is, well, something nobody does. You don’t go for a stroll down Front Street like you would down any other street in New Westminster.

And now people want to save it? Hogwash.

Sure, turn it into a park. That sounds like a grand idea. A park that celebrates the disaster fifty feet below. A park commemorating the failed businesses of Front Street, perhaps. A park reminiscing about what Front Street could have been, if only the parkade had been torn down.

No. This nonsense has gone on long enough. Down with the parkade!

Reasons to Vote ‘No’

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a little harsh on the ‘no’ side of the upcoming transportation plebiscite. To give a little bit of extra press and coverage for them, I’m going to list the valid reasons for voting ‘no’.

Here they are:

The Astoundingly Bad Logic of Jordan Bateman

Today BC Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced a ten-year transportation plan for BC. During the press conference he was asked about the Metro Vancouver transportation plebiscite, and if the province is considering reforming TransLink, because this is one of the reasons why people are considering voting ‘no’. His answer?

At this point in time, the province has no plans to make any further improvements to governance at TransLink.

So vote ‘yes’ or vote ‘no’, no matter what happens in the plebiscite the province has no plans to change TransLink’s governance.

And what does Jordan Bateman have to say about this?

Stone killed yes side claim that change will come to TransLink either way. Voting NO the best way to show gov’t we want this fixed.

He’s saying that you should vote ‘no’ so TransLink’s governance will be fixed, using Todd Stone’s statement of “no plans to make any further improvements to governance at TransLink” as support.

What kind of crazy logic is running through Mr. Bateman’s mind? It’s mind-boggling just how bad this logic is!

Seriously, that’s pretty weak, Jordan.

Vancouver Tops Again Thanks, in Part, to TransLink

The Mercer 2015 Quality of Living rankings were released today, and Vancouver slotted in at the best place to live in North America, and #5 in the world.

Hooray, Vancouver!

You might be asking yourself how they come up with these rankings. It looks like the exact methodology is secret, but you can get some sense of what makes a city have a high quality of living:

Is your city regionally and globally connected with public infrastructure, transport, and talent flow?

Is your city competitive economically, socially, culturally, and environmentally?

Is your city attractive to foreigners, tourists, and globally mobile talent, for capital investments, and for major multinational companies?

How can you leverage your city’s unique strengths to differentiate it from others?

Look at that first one again:

Is your city regionally and globally connected with public infrastructure, transport, and talent flow?

Put more simply, improving transportation in your city gives it a better quality of living. This allows talent (i.e. workers) to flow better to and from their jobs, making the city more attractive to employees and employers. It also allows goods to flow through your city better, improving on costs to get goods to markets, and improving profits to businesses.

And Vancouver’s doing a bang-up job on this. Vancouver International Aiport is the best airport in North America. Port Metro Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, handling 19% of the value of Canada’s total trade in goods, and TransLink is top of the charts for service efficiency, cost per trip, and cost efficiency when you compare it with its peers.

And here 61% of us want that to change. That’s a shame.

A Response to Laila Yuile’s ‘Why I Am Voting No’ Post

Laila Yuile is a blogger and contributor to 24hrs Vancouver. She wrote a post explaining why she will be voting ‘no’ in the upcoming Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite.

I’m writing this as a response to Ms. Yuile in hopes of persuading her to think about changing her mind and voting ‘yes’. I also hope that this response will persuade some people who are leaning ‘no’ into thinking about voting ‘yes’.

First and foremost, a sales tax increase is a punitive, regressive form of taxation.

I absolutely agree. Sales taxes unfairly punish those who are living in or just above poverty the most. They definitely are regressive. And in BC, in 2011 the poorest 10% paid roughly 11% of their income to sales and commodity taxes (source) while the richest 10% paid roughly 3% of their income. That’s not fair for people making lower-than-average income.

That said, the vast majority of the improvements that will be funded by the 0.5% increase will be to Metro Vancouver’s transit system. Lower-income people are more likely to use transit (source: “The median household income of public transit users is $39,000 while for the population as a whole it is $44,389.”). The Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition states “public transit can reduce transportation costs for Surrey residents with a three-zone transit pass costing significantly less than owning and operating a vehicle.” Without that viable public transit in place, these savings cannot be made. The SPRC is backing the ‘yes’ side for exactly that reason.

There can also be ways to mitigate the regressive nature of sales taxes. In BC, this is partially done by not taxing the vast majority of essential items. Food and housing are major expenses, and these are not taxed under the PST. There is a PST credit for low-income households, and with enough political pressure this could be increased. Seattle is lowering fares for low-income households, which is something that could be done in Metro Vancouver by extending the U-Pass system to lower-income households.

In the end, there are absolutely no guarantees to anything but paying more sales tax- if the province honours the results of a YES majority.

That’s true. This money could go into a general revenue fund. However, that would be political suicide for the BC Liberal party. They’ve set this referendum up for the sole intention of funding TransLink’s expansion plans. And yes, they could very well say that they’re not going to put the 0.5% increase in place even if Metro Vancouver votes 100% ‘yes’. But again, that would be political suicide. There are 24 Liberal MLAs in Metro Vancouver. If the provincial government were to say “sorry, we know you voted ‘yes’ but we’re not raising taxes”, those 24 Liberal MLAs just got thrown under the bus. The plebiscite is non-binding, yes, but only in the strictest sense of the term.

Why does the ballot not include independent audits and public reporting?

It does: “Revenues and expenditures would be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.” Further, Jimmy Pattison will be overseeing the expenditures, heading up a “blue ribbon public accountability committee.”

Why so vague on the specifics of the projects?

This is because the ballot is one piece of paper. The specifics are available on the Mayors’ Council website. There’s 48 pages of specifics, including when each portion of the plan will be implemented and how much each will cost, right down to the individual proposed B-Line routes.

We haven’t even gotten into the fact that this tax increase doesn’t fund the entire cost of any of these projects, and neither the provincial or federal government has committed to dedicating those funds… but trust us they say. Trust us…

Stephen Harper has said that infrastructure money is available from the federal government. However, this money is only available if local money is available as well. Without the money raised from the 0.5% increase, we can guarantee that there will be no federal funds. Remember, they’re typically called “matching funds”, and they’re pretty much like “matching donations” in fundraising campaigns — you need to put the money up first before they’ll be matched.

There is no Plan B.

Fair enough, given this plan is already Plan C. Plan A would have been “province properly funds transit in Metro Vancouver.” Plan B was “Mayorss’ Council proposes carbon tax increase and mobility pricing”, which they did, but that was rejected by the province. So now we’re with Plan C.

Research shows in other cities and countries, that improved transit alone doesn’t cut congestion without road pricing.

Agreed! And the Mayors’ Council agrees too! If you look on Page 36 of their vision document you’ll see that “the Mayors’ Council is committed to implementing time-and-distance based mobility pricing on the road network as an efficient, fair and sustainable method of helping to pay for the transportation system.” This is a longer-term goal though, because “developing and implementing a system that meets the needs of this region and province will likely take five to eight years.” Unfortunately the Broadway corridor can’t wait five to eight years. Unfortunately the Pattullo Bridge can’t wait five to eight years. Unfortunately communities in Surrey can’t wait five to eight years for adequate bus service.

Improving transit isn’t going to improve congestion on its own, you’re absolutely right. It isn’t a cure-all. But it will help, at least a little, unlike not improving transit. Like you say, “transit improvements alone do little to ease congestion, but that paired with road pricing as a dis-incentive to drivers, it will have an impact.” Does that mean that we need to roll out transit improvements and road pricing at the same time, or can we improve our transit first and have a small impact on congestion, then introduce road pricing later to further improve congestion?

As an aside, the mayors point out that road pricing will help shift funding away from current sources of TransLink funding, particularly the fuel sales tax. With road pricing generating $250 million a year, it could easily replace the 0.5% increase at the end of its ten-year plan (or even earlier, depending on how quickly they can get road pricing up and running).

I’ve had enough of the premier and our mayors playing with people’s lives… and livelihoods.

I think the provincial government should be the biggest target of your scorn. They could very easily approve the mayors’ plan. Instead they opened us up to this divisive plebiscite that pits one city against another. Yes, you’re pissed off. I’m pissed off. We shouldn’t even be having this discussion. The provincial government should do what it was elected to do: govern. The mayors are caught in this as well because they’re relatively powerless. The only thing they can do is propose plans to the province.

Frankly I’m very tired of people who live,work and play in Vancouver telling me how this plan will benefit me, when they haven’t even been out to this part of Surrey! There is a complete disconnect. One fellow I know recently took a planning bus tour in Surrey and was shocked to discover how much sprawl planning has occurred.

I grew up in Surrey (Clayton, to be exact). Would I move back? No. Why? Because the transit there sucks and I don’t want to be forced to own a car. Do you enjoy being forced to own a car just because of where you live? It doesn’t sound like it.

With improved transit in Surrey (and I’m not just talking about the LRT, I’m talking more about actual bus routes) more people in Surrey will have another option. Even if you never have to cross a bridge to get to work, transit should be an option for you regardless of what side of the Fraser you live on. Right now that’s an option north of the Fraser, but it isn’t south of the Fraser. With the funding in place from a ‘yes’ vote, leaving the car at home becomes an option. With a ‘no’ vote, there’s no option.

This is probably going to be a crappy analogy, but compare it to the healthcare systems in Canada and the US. The US’s healthcare system sucks (I know, I lived there for eight years). Canada’s is way better. As Canadians we’re pretty smug about it, and can’t understand why Americans got so up-in-arms about their Affordable Care Act. “You don’t know how good it will be!” we said. “Why are you cutting off your nose to spite your face?” when some people tried to get rid of it.

Vancouver has excellent transit (this is the Canadian side of the healthcare analogy). Surrey’s is crappy (this is the American side). When people in Vancouver see people in Surrey saying they’re going to vote ‘no’, they’re dumbfounded. “Why wouldn’t you want to have good transit? It’s actually quite nice!”

Surrey is growing, and growing fast. It’ll soon be BC’s largest city. And Surrey doesn’t want to improve its transit to catch up to Vancouver’s because… Vancouverites are smug?

Ms. Yuile, I hope that since you wrote your post, some of your questions have been answered. A lot has changed in the month since you wrote it, and I hope that you reconsider your position and vote ‘yes’.

Referendum Myths: A ‘No’ Vote Is a Vote Against TransLink

At this point in the Metro Vancouver transportation plebiscite, the biggest myth is that by voting ‘no’ you’re voting for a reform of TransLink’s governance structure.

Plain and simple, that is wrong. If you vote ‘no’, you’re voting against the proposed tax. Nothing more.

The actual question posed to voters is

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan?

If you look at the actual ballot, there’s nothing on there about governance or how TransLink has an unelected board. That’s because TransLink governance isn’t on the ballot.

I can understand the frustration out there. TransLink is run by an unelected board. Mayors are only given a nominal role in suggesting action plans. The Ministry of Transportation might play some role, but that’s unclear too. It doesn’t look like there’s anybody captaining the ship, and that’s frustrating.

All of this is laid out in provincial law and, as such, can only be changed by the provincial government. Nobody else has the power to change this, regardless of what Christy Clark might think.

But if you think that by voting ‘no’ you’re sending a message that you’re frustrated, you’d be wrong. This plebiscite is the entirely wrong way to send that message. By voting ‘no’ you’re only voting against the proposed tax increase. In fact, by voting ‘yes’ you’re actually making TransLink more accountable, as the money raised will be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting. The money raised will also be dedicated to the projects listed in the plan, and nothing more, so absolutely zero dollars will be going towards executive salaries, to use a particular pain-point as an example. All of the money will be going directly towards improving our transportation and transit systems.

If you are really upset about how TransLink is run and want to send the proper message, email your MLA. Email Christy Clark at premier@gov.bc.ca. Email your mayor and city council. Get involved in the next provincial election and make sure that TransLink governance is on the agenda.

But by voting ‘no’, you’re not sending this message. It’s not ‘no, but…’, it’s not ‘no, and…’, it’s ‘no, I do not want this tax’. That’s the only message being sent if you vote ‘no’.

So if you want to see improved transportation and transit in Metro Vancouver, vote ‘yes’. If you want to make sure that this money gets spent on improving transportation and transit, and not on executive salaries, vote ‘yes’.

Ads I’d Like to See

On the outside of SkyTrains:

Is this SkyTrain full and you couldn’t get on? Vote YES for better SkyTrain service!

On the outside of buses:

Is this bus full and you got passed up again? Vote YES for better bus service!

On the outside of buses:

Waiting 20 minutes in the rain for a bus? Vote YES for better bus service!

On the light-up billboards on either end of the Pattullo Bridge:

Tired of getting stuck in traffic on the Pattullo Bridge? Vote YES for a wider, safer, and less congested Pattullo!

On the light-up billboards on either end of the Pattullo Bridge:

Tired of getting stuck behind an 18-wheeler taking up both lanes? Vote YES for a wider, safer, and less congested Pattullo Bridge!

General:

For the price of an extra-large double-double once a week, all this could be yours! Vote YES to make it happen!

General:

For the price of a grande Caffè Mocha every other week, all this could be yours! Vote YES to make it happen!

Anywhere along the Granville Entertainment District:

Wish you could take a bus home instead of an expensive cab? Vote YES for better NightBus service!

At all of the 99 B-Line stops along Broadway between Commercial and Arbutus:

Wish you didn’t have to stand in the rain to wait for yet another B-Line bus to pass you up? Vote YES for SkyTrain down Broadway!

Along the Fraser Highway between Langley and King George:

Tired of staring at brake lights? Vote YES for rapid transit along Fraser Highway!

Referendum Facts: The Pattullo Bridge

No matter what happens in the upcoming Metro Vancouver transportation referendum, the Pattullo Bridge will be replaced, and it will be tolled.

The Pattullo Bridge went into service in 1937. It was constructed to the standards of the time, which means that today it is too narrow, it’s dangerous, and if an earthquake hits it’s coming down. It’s so dangerous that TransLink closes the central two lanes at night to prevent head-on collisions. Cycling or walking over the bridge is nearly unheard of.

In short, it’s a bridge in dire need of replacement. It will be replaced.

And tolls? In 2008 TransLink announced its replacement would be tolled. That was six years before any hint of a referendum. Tolling the replacement Pattullo is a foregone conclusion. At current traffic levels, a $3 toll would pay off a $900 million bridge in about 30 years, so the tolls would eventually be dropped.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why voting ‘yes’ in the referendum is important for the areas around the Pattullo Bridge:

1) The 0.5% PST increase will fund its replacement.

2) Along with the big capital projects, bus and SkyTrain service will be improved. This means that transit in Surrey, Langley, Delta, and New Westminster will become more attractive, shifting some driving commuters to transit commuters. This will help to slow the increase in congestion around the Pattullo Bridge.

3) The LRT lines in Surrey and Langley will also help shift people away from cars to transit, as connections with SkyTrain from Surrey to New Westminster, Burnaby, and Vancouver will be easier for commuters to make. This will also help to slow the increase in congestion around the Pattullo Bridge.

And here’s what voting ‘no’ in the referendum will result in, around the Pattullo Bridge:

1) Property tax increases will fund its replacement.

2) Because bus and SkyTrain service is not improved, traffic around the Pattullo Bridge will get worse at a greater rate. In fact, keeping funding levels steady means that bus and SkyTrain service could get worse, as operational costs increase. This could shift transit commuters into cars.

Voting ‘no’ means you get a new Pattullo Bridge, have to pay tolls on it, and traffic gets worse.

Voting ‘yes’ means you get a new Pattullo Bridge, have to pay tolls on it, and traffic gets better. And with improved bus and SkyTrain service (and the Surrey/Langley LRT lines) you might decide to take transit and skip paying the tolls altogether.

Vote ‘yes’, not only for a new Pattullo, but for improved bus and SkyTrain service in Surrey, Delta, and New Westminster, and for less congestion over the Pattullo.

On the Firing of TransLink’s CEO

Yesterday TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis was pushed aside. This was widely seen as a surprise move, one that is supposed to “restore confidence” in TransLink’s leadership.

The timing is a little suspicious as it comes smack in the middle of Metro Vancouver’s campaign surrounding a 0.5% increase to the PST to pay for a number of transit-related improvements. The ‘no’ side has been using TransLink’s governance and “waste” as a stick, even going so far as to label Jarvis as “the face of the waste”. The ‘yes’ side’s message has largely focused on the benefits of the plan, largely ignoring the TransLink governance issue.

And even though TransLink governance isn’t on the ballot, this move brings it back into the forefront. Politically, it’s kind of odd to do this, because it gives more ammunition to the ‘no’ side.

Here’s one reason they might have made the move now, rather than potentially waiting until after the plebescite is over:

In 2012 Jarvis received $438,700 in total compensation, and in 2013 he received $468,015. While his salary plus transportation allowance increased by less than a thousand dollars, he did receive bonuses based on long-term targets that increased his total compensation. This rankled with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, because, as TransLink themselves say, “the CEO’s base salary has been frozen since January 1, 2013.” While his salary was frozen, he still took home more money because he did a good job, and rewarding performance in this way is apparently wasteful.

The CEO’s bonus consists of two parts: a short-term incentive plan (STIP) and a long-term incentive plan (LTIP). The STIP is based on the previous year’s performance, and can be up to 30% of his base salary. The LTIP was eliminated on December 31, 2012, but was based on targets between 2010 and 2012. This bonus gets paid out over three years, and the first year was 2013 (he received $43,400). He received the same amount in 2014.

Now, here’s the thing: TransLink has to file all of this information for the 2014 fiscal year, and they need to make the information public. They’re looking at all of this information now, and if past years are any indication, the year-end financials get released at the beginning of April. This is smack in the middle of the plebescite mail-in period.

A bombshell in the form of a huge STIP bonus (remember, it could go up to 30% of his base salary, up to $95,773) coming right in the middle of the voting? It makes it a lot easier for the ‘yes’ side to say “yes, and he is no longer collecting that bonus, and the interim CEO is collecting no such bonus, and the interim CEO will be examining executive compensation a lot more closely” than to say “yes, he got it for meeting targets”. A large STIP bonus would also play into the “TransLink is wasteful” myth and offer a huge distraction for the CTF to wield.

Is this what happened? I don’t know. We won’t know until April. But remember that the TransLink Board has a lot more information to go on than we do, and financial information is something they’re privy to that we’re not at this point. We’ll just have to wait until April.

Yet Another Way the CTF Is Wrong

The Canadian Taxpayers Foundation continues to say that the proposed 0.5% Congestion Improvement Tax will result in an average household tax increase of $258.

This number is wrong. Plain and simple, it is wrong. I’ve shown this before [here] and here], but I just found a third way to show that they’re wrong.

Back in 2011 BC had a referendum on keeping the Harmonized Sales Tax. An independent panel came up with a report titled HST or PST/GST? It’s Your Decision. In it they presented different statistics and facts to give a neutral viewpoint on the pros and cons of either keeping the HST or switching back to the separate PST/GST.

Page 7 of that report presents these statistics on how British Columbians spend their money, and what percentages are taxed:

This is what is now happening at the cash register.

  • 17 per cent of your spending has an extra seven per cent sales tax.

  • 29 per cent of your spending is subject to the same total sales taxes as before. It has not gone up or down.

  • 54 per cent of your spending is not taxable under the HST or the PST/GST. Nothing has changed.

Let me clarify those three items. The first is goods and services that were not subject to the PST but were subject to the HST. The second is goods and services that were subject to either only the GST or were subject to both PST and GST. The third is goods and services that were non-taxable.

BC returned to the separate GST and PST. What this means is that the first group of goods and services are no longer taxed under the PST. The third group of goods and services were never subject to the PST and they aren’t now. That leaves the second group.

Some of the second group (29% of spending, remember) is subject to GST only, and some of it is subject to both GST and PST. Let’s assume for a minute that everything that you buy that falls in this group is subject to the PST. Let’s also assume that you’re an average household and that your take-home pay is about $55,000 per year (remember, I showed that in an earlier post). Let’s further assume that you spend every dollar that comes in.

That means of your $55,000 you’ve spent 29% of that on goods that are subject to the PST, or $15,950. If you multiply that by the 0.5% CIT, your yearly increase in taxes paid comes to $79.75.

That means for extra taxes of 22 cents a day you get a new, safer, wider Pattullo Bridge. You get a SkyTrain tunnel down Broadway in Vancouver. You get light rapid transit in Surrey and Langley. You get eleven new B-Line bus routes, you get more buses, you get more SkyTrains, you get more SeaBus service, you get more HandyDART service, you get more West Coast Express service, you get more NightBus service, you get more bikeways. You get an improved transportation system in Metro Vancouver.

But just remember, when the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says “the average household will face an annual tax increase of about $258” they’re completely wrong.