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.

Referendum Questions: What will it cost?

Update: I forgot a couple of bills that I paid in January. Please see my update below for new numbers!

One of the questions surrounding the Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax is how much it will cost the average household in Metro Vancouver. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says $258 a year, and the Better Transit & Transportation Coalition says $125 a year. Keep in mind that those are for the average household, meaning roughly half will pay more and half will pay less.

So which is it? The actual answer is dependent on the household. Some households will buy a lot of taxable goods, some won’t buy many. I decided to take a stab at answering this specific question:

How much will I pay?

I kept all receipts for everything we purchased in January 2015. I added up the total amount we paid for taxable goods, and that came to $312.26. For those taxable goods, adding a 0.5% CIT would have cost us an extra $1.56 for the entire month.

That’s not all that we paid for that would be subject to the CIT. We are modo members, and car-sharing fees are subject to PST. In January 2015 we paid $26.10 in PST on our modo bills, which means we would have paid another $1.86 in CIT.

And we also bought a table. We bought this through a local company that makes tables, and it was a flat $1000, tax included. If you figure out what PST you’d pay to make the total tax-included amount $1000, it works out to $62.50 ($1000 / 1.12 = $892.86, 7% of that is $62.50), so we would have paid another $4.46 in CIT. This cost would probably have been eaten by the company, because they probably wouldn’t charge $1005 for a table. I only mention it because it’s an example of an expensive purchase that would normally be charged tax, but if you shop smart (and local!) you can find ways to reduce your tax burden.

So how much CIT would we have paid in January 2015?

$3.42

$3.42 for the whole month. 11 cents a day. And what would we get for that? A new bridge. A new SkyTrain line. New light rail lines. More buses. More walking and cycling routes. Less congestion.

All that for only 11 cents a day? Sign me up.

Update: I forgot my cell phone, internet, and TV bills that I paid in January. On these bills I paid a total of $18.27 in PST, which would have meant an extra $1.31 in PST. This means that in January, the CIT would have cost me an extra $4.73 in taxes, or 15 cents a day. My apologies for getting this wrong.

Referendum Myths: “It’ll cost you $258 a year”

The biggest myth being perpetuated by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is that it will cost every Metro Vancouver household $258 every year in new taxes. That is completely incorrect, and here’s why.

First, the CTF’s math. The 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax (which I’ll shorten to CIT from now on) will generate roughly $250 million per year to pay for the myriad improvements in Metro Vancouver’s transportation system. In 2011, the Vancouver census metropolitan area (which is pretty much the same thing as Metro Vancouver) had 891,336 private dwellings occupied by usual residents. That number increased by 9.1% between 2006 and 2011, so assuming a steady increase, that turns out to be a 1.76% yearly increase. That means that in 2015 there are roughly 955,762 households in Vancouver. Divide the $250,000,000 equally amongst all of those households and you get $261.57 per year, which is pretty close to the CTF’s $258 per year.

Now here’s why that number is wrong. The CTF is making the assumption that only households will be paying the CIT. That is wrong. Plain and simple, the CTF’s base assumption is wrong.

Visitors to Metro Vancouver will also pay the CIT. In 2014 Metro Vancouver had nearly nine million overnight visits, and tourism continues to increase (and will get better if the Canadian dollar remains weak against the US dollar). In BC, hotel stays are taxed and one can reasonably assume that the CIT will apply here as well. Total spending by overnight visitors was $4.4 billion in 2006, and if you assume that 75% of this is taxable (food isn’t, but tourists spend roughly 25% of their money on food (at least, domestic tourists in the UK do)), that works out to $16.5 million. Take that number, scale it up by 5.5% per year between 2006 and 2014 and you get about $25.3 million per year.

Okay, so 10% of the $250 million will be paid for by tourists.

What about businesses? They’re going to pay the CIT as well! I don’t have any good numbers, but the Mayors’ Council pegs this at 45%. That sounds reasonable to me, but if someone wants to make the case that this number should be substantially larger or smaller, there’s a comment form at the bottom of this post.

Put those numbers together and you end up with households paying roughly 45% of the $250 million each year, or $112.5 million per year, or $117.70 per household per year.

But! The CTF also says, of the $250 million, “…that’s a tax increase – visible and hidden – of $258 per household.” They try to sneak in this “hidden” cost, assuming that businesses will directly pass on any taxes they pay to people purchasing their products. Here’s a simple example showing that is wrong:

There is currently a gas tax of 17 cents per litre charged in Metro Vancouver. Metro Vancouver does not include the city of Abbotsford but does include Langley, which borders Abbotsford. If this gas tax is directly passed on to the consumer, one would expect that a gas station in Langley would charge 17 cents more per litre than a gas station in Abbotsford. Is that the case?

No. That image is gas prices from January 27, 2015. To the west of the red line is Langley, to the east is Abbotsford. The three gas stations in Langley average to 100.6 cents per litre, and the five in Abbotsford average to 89.9 cents per litre, a difference of 10.7 cents per litre. Either gas stations in Langley are eating six cents per litre or gas stations in Abbotsford are charging an extra six cents per litre. I suspect reality is somewhere between the two.

There are also a lot of businesses in Metro Vancouver that either don’t directly charge consumers (mining companies are a good example) or are national (such as banks) or multi-national (such as shipping companies and large software companies). How does a mining company pass on the 0.5% CIT to Metro Vancouver households? How does Microsoft pass on the 0.5% CIT to Metro Vancouver households? They don’t.

How much will Metro Vancouver households pay in CIT? Probably around $100-120 per year. That’s a far cry from the $258 per year that the CTF says they’ll pay. Again, they’re only interested in fear-mongering instead of presenting facts.

And that they use this as a major part of their campaign? Relying on weak and incorrect math to scare Metro Vancouver residents?

That’s pretty weak.

“That’s pretty weak, Jordan.”

I was on CKNW on Tuesday talking about “waste” at TransLink, prompted by my post poking holes in the “TransLink is extremely wasteful” myth. Personally I think the interview got a little side-tracked (I was expecting to talk more about the “waste” than general TransLink issues), but people have told me that I did a good job. Thanks to everybody who listened!

And after I was on, Jordan Bateman was on The Jon McComb Show to offer a rebuttal. If you listen, it wasn’t much of a rebuttal.

When Mr. McComb asked Mr. Bateman what the total amount of waste the CTF has found is, Mr. Bateman couldn’t answer, prompting Mr. McComb to say

That’s pretty weak, Jordan.

Mr. Bateman then talked about how TransLink was found to have a cost per revenue passenger about 30% higher than Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto’s transit system, and that this is a sign that TransLink is spending way too much money to transport people around.

Unfortunately that was thoroughly debunked in 2013.

When you consider the amount of bus service hours that are provided per passenger revenue dollar in fares, TransLink significantly outperforms Toronto and Montreal in this regard. TransLink provides more transit service per revenue passenger than other transit agencies.

TransLink can provide the same amount of service hours for just 81% of the cost as the Toronto TTC. Alternatively, for every tax and fare-payer dollar, TransLink provides 22% more transit.

Trotting out debunked numbers to make your argument? That’s pretty weak, Jordan.

And then Mr. McComb asked Mr. Bateman if the CTF is going to release a list of their contributors. Mr. Bateman hid behind an argument that he doesn’t know what the rules are and nobody knows what the rules are, saying that he’d think about releasing them. Keep in mind that they have a post about protecting the privacy of their donors so I think that Mr. Bateman was just paying lip-service to the idea to get Mr. McComb off his back.

That’s pretty weak, Jordan.

Referendum Myths: “TransLink is Wasteful”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation released its “No TransLink Tax” platform today, and their second major point is “TranLink is an extremely wasteful organization”. As proof, they offer these six “high waste” examples:

TransLink doesn’t just have one board of directors, it has six – at a cost of $751,589 in annual salary. And after TransLink’s board chair promised executive pay would be frozen “at 2012 levels,” every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013.

TransLink spends at least $1.12 million on an empty building. The SkyTrain union head calls the $60,000/month lease payment “outright waste” and a “poor financial decision.”

Despite crying poor, TransLink kicked in more than $30,000 to put a 7-foot statue of a poodle on top of a 25-foot pole. The Main Street Poodle is nowhere near any major transit station, nor is the poodle symbolic of the neighbourhood.

TransLink took months to fix a glitch that saw its ticket vending machines treat new $5 bills like they were $20s. People would buy tickets and get more money back than they put in.

TransLink spent $523,000 on 13 TV screens at various SkyTrain stations. A year later, a CTF inspection showed only 4 of 13 were working. TransLink refuted that claim, saying 6 of the 13 $40,000+ TVs worked – still less than half.

TransLink spent $30,000 studying a gondola up Burnaby Mountain that neither neighbours nor City Hall supported. As Mayor Derek Corrigan said: “[If TransLink is so broke,] why are they going into additional expenses, like the gondola? It’s never been a priority.”

Let’s take a look at those one-by-one and cut some fat off of TransLink’s budget.

TransLink doesn’t just have one board of directors, it has six – at a cost of $751,589 in annual salary. And after TransLink’s board chair promised executive pay would be frozen “at 2012 levels,” every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013.

To be properly pedantic, TransLink only has one board of directors. However, it oversees a number of companies that actually operate buses and trains and supply policing services: Coast Mountain Bus Company, British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Ltd, West Coast Express, and Transit Police. I can only find boards for TransLink, CMBC, BCRTC, and the Transit Police, though. Apparently the CTF counts the Mayor’s Council as a board, and magically the West Coast Express has one too. Keep in mind that the Mayor’s Council is made up of, well, mayors, and mayors were elected by the people, and the CTF keeps going on about how TransLink isn’t accountable to anybody because nobody overseeing them was elected, except for this Mayor’s Council, which I guess the CTF ignores when it comes to matters of accountability but falls over themselves to include when it comes to matters of waste, but nobody ever accused the CTF of being consistent.

Anyhow, let’s take the CTF at their word. Six boards. Total cost of $751,589. Let’s cut that down to one board to oversee everything. Assuming equal distribution of funds, we’ve just saved TransLink $626,324.17.

And yes, every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013 than they did in 2012. You can see it in the 2013 Financial Information Act Filing and Remuneration Report. In 2013 the seven executives had a total compensation of $2,517,791, whereas in 2012 their total compensation was $2,333,799. Let’s claw back all of that increase, and we’ve just saved TransLink $183,992.

TransLink spends at least $1.12 million on an empty building. The SkyTrain union head calls the $60,000/month lease payment “outright waste” and a “poor financial decision.”

Well shit, let’s dump that! Bam, just saved $720,000 a year. We’re really finding lots of waste here!

Of course, you can’t just break leases like that without incurring penalties. But of course, that’s the real world, and the CTF would like for you to forget about that.

Despite crying poor, TransLink kicked in more than $30,000 to put a 7-foot statue of a poodle on top of a 25-foot pole. The Main Street Poodle is nowhere near any major transit station, nor is the poodle symbolic of the neighbourhood.

Let’s put that poodle to sleep and put that $30,000 in our pocket.

TransLink took months to fix a glitch that saw its ticket vending machines treat new $5 bills like they were $20s. People would buy tickets and get more money back than they put in.

Okay, this is a serious problem. Unfortunately I cannot find any hard numbers (or even soft numbers) about how much was lost here. According to this story it happened four times across the system, and in each case a SkyTrain attendant put the machine out-of-order until it could be fixed. That’s $70 wasted.

TransLink spent $523,000 on 13 TV screens at various SkyTrain stations. A year later, a CTF inspection showed only 4 of 13 were working. TransLink refuted that claim, saying 6 of the 13 $40,000+ TVs worked – still less than half.

Okay, so seven broke. That’s $281,615 wasted.

TransLink spent $30,000 studying a gondola up Burnaby Mountain that neither neighbours nor City Hall supported. As Mayor Derek Corrigan said: “[If TransLink is so broke,] why are they going into additional expenses, like the gondola? It’s never been a priority.”

Mayor Corrigan is right: TransLink shouldn’t do studies on opening up new transit routes, especially to a location that gets snowed in nearly every year, making it impossible for buses to get to. Let’s just say that’s $30,000 wasted.

Well, that’s an awful lot of waste! By my calculations that’s a total of $1,872,001 wasted. Don’t forget that a big chunk of that ($720,000) would come with penalties that TransLink would have to pay. But still, nearly $1.9 million dollars of waste!

But let’s put that into context. TransLink’s expenditures in 2013 were $1.406 billion (which was actually down from $1.430 billion, thanks to identifying cost inefficiencies). $1.872 million out of $1.430 billion is 0.13%. That’s miniscule, and it’s nearly thirteen times smaller than efficiency savings that TransLink already found.

So TransLink is already identifying areas where it can be more efficient. It’s saved $26 million from 2012 to 2013. And the Canadian Taxpayers Foundation is saying TransLink is incredibly wasteful, and their “big waste” items only come to $1.9 million? Really?

Ever heard of the phrase “trying to squeeze blood from a stone”? Or how about “scraping the bottom of the barrel”? Because that’s what the CTF is trying to do. And they’re throwing these numbers out without any context to scare people.

Look at the facts. The facts say that TransLink is already identifying inefficiencies, and there’s not much left to find. Even if all of the identified cruft and waste is trimmed (and that’s not realistic), that only gains you 0.13%, which is miniscule. Put it this way: if you make $25/hr, and you suddenly get a 0.13% raise, do you know how much you make? $25.03. An extra quarter a day.

Does that sound like an “extremely wasteful organization”?

It doesn’t to me. What it sounds like is the CTF is blowing scare tactics all around and hoping that people don’t stop to think. It sounds like the CTF assumes people are stupid and will see EXTREMELY WASTEFUL ORGANIZATION without any context, and then just parrot the CTF’s line.

The CTF thinks you’re stupid and will just eat this up. Show them that you’re not. Show them that these context-free factoids aren’t going to fool you. Show them that we don’t have to listen to their rhetoric.

The Cost of Congestion

Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe had a corker of an opinion piece about the upcoming transportation referendum. In it she trots out the “cost” to taxpayers:

…a PST hike — estimated to cost each household from $50-$258 annually…

I’ve tried to find some numbers that back this up, and all I’ve seen is this press release from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation that states:

The TransLink mayors’ $250 million sales tax hike, spread across the Lower Mainland’s nearly 1 million households, means the average household will face an annual tax increase of about $258.

Keep in mind that nearly 9 million people visit Vancouver each year, and they’ll also be contributing to the $250 million raised, so it’s not entirely on the residents of Vancouver to shoulder the burden.

Keep in mind basic math, as well. If I’m paying an extra 0.5% tax, and the total extra tax I’ve paid comes out to $250, that means I’ve spent $50,000 per year on taxable items. The median household income in Vancouver in 2012 was $71,140, which gives a take-home income of $55,178. This means for a median income family with two children, they would have to spend only $5,178 on non-taxable things to have their PST tax burden increased by $250. Rent isn’t taxable. Mortgages aren’t taxable. Food isn’t taxable (well, most food isn’t). Is the CTF’s $258 number sensible? No.

Edit: I just realized that I screwed up the math in the above paragraph. Yes, if you spend $50,000 on taxable items you’ll pay an extra $250 in PST, if the 0.5% PST increase goes through. What I neglected is that if you spend $50,000 on taxable items you have to pay the base 7% PST, which comes out to $3500. If you’re unlucky enough to need to pay the 5% GST on all of those items, you need to pay $2500 in GST. That means that to get the CTF’s increased PST burden of $250, you’ve already paid $6000 in taxes on $50,000 of goods and services. So of your $55,178 take-home pay you’ve already spent $56,000 of that, and you haven’t even paid your housing or food costs yet. The CTF’s $250 number is an even larger steaming pile of bullshit than it was before! Math! It works!

The lower bound on Barbara Yaffe’s tax increase is $50, which sounds a little more reasonable. Now, let’s suppose that the transportation referendum gets voted down, and Translink receives no additional funding from what it already has. Vancouver’s population will continue to increase, and with increased population comes increased traffic.

The average Vancouver driver’s commute in 2010 was 25 minutes. Let’s SWAG an increase in this by five minutes. Let’s also assume that the distance travelled doesn’t increase, which means that the additional time will be spent either idling or driving at a crawl. Five minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s ten minutes a day, fifty minutes a week, or 2400 minutes per year (assuming BC, where we have 11 public holidays and 10 vacation days).

When cars idle they burn about 0.1-0.3 gallons per hour. Let’s take the midpoint of that, 0.2 gallons per hour, or 0.75 litres per hour. At 40 hours spent idling (or at a crawl) that’s 30 extra litres of gas burned thanks to congestion.

Gas prices are currently very low, averaging just over a dollar per litre in Vancouver. That means at our currently-low gas prices, the increase in congestion would cost you an extra $30 a year.

But gas prices aren’t going to stay this low forever. They’ll go up. If you take the gas prices between July and November 2014 you’ll get an average of $1.384/L, so burning an extra 30 litres of gas would cost you an extra $41.50.

Given the choice between paying $50 a year for all kinds of improvements to Metro Vancouver’s transportation system or paying an extra $41.50 a year to sit in traffic for an extra 40 hours per year, which would you choose?

If you’re like Barbara Yaffe and can’t see past your wallet, you’ll vote no. If you want to sit in traffic more while saving an entire $8.50 a year, you’ll vote no.

Me? I’m going to vote yes to improving Metro Vancouver’s transportation system.