Danielle DeVries is a third year Health Sciences student also getting her certificate in Sustainable Community Development and aiming to advance into a Master's program in Urban Planning. She is a guest blogger for Sustainable SFU who posts more work to her website, thethinkbear.com, whenever she isn't busy being a barista extraordinaire or slave to homework.
As the transit plebiscite approaches, campaigners for both the Yes and No sides keep pushing their catch-phrases and doomsday warnings. The issue remains; however, we all still have unanswered questions that they are not addressing. Why the tax? How does it work? When will TransLink be held accountable? What are the real benefits?
Students in one of SFU’s CityStudio partner courses, Health and the Built Environment, had the opportunity to ask these questions to the Director of Strategic Transportation Planning, Lon LeClaire last Thursday.
Here’s what isn’t publicized:
The sales tax was the best funding option of the four examined since it puts part of the load on visitors to the region, was the least expensive to families, and businesses have to pay too. The other options were increasing the carbon tax, adding a registration fee to vehicles, or a combination of the two. The sales tax only applies to purchases that have PST, so there is no change to the cost of your essentials, such as groceries or your children’s clothes. Also, they cannot adjust this without another plebiscite.
TransLink will be required to publicize all income and expenditures from the tax annually, so we get to see where our money goes. The Mayor’s Council will be responsible for keeping TransLink accountable to the plan and has the power to decrease the compensation of executives. Their plans are not complete, and the specifics might change, but we will see the new routes and service increases promised. In addition, the financial inefficiencies identified by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation amount to 0.13% of TransLink’s total budget, so while highlighted, these inefficiencies are actually negligible.
The benefits of the proposed transit improvements are huge, and probably more widespread than you realize. Both drivers and transit users will see improvements in daily commute times due to increased frequency of services, increased fleet sizes, and new routes for all modes of transit. Good news, drivers! This means more people will be able to commute efficiently via transit, and fewer cars will be on the road causing traffic jams. For a complete list of all the new routes and service increases please see the Mayor’s Council website.
Cutting congestion is only one benefit alongside many health benefits we will see over time in the region. Air quality will be better with fewer cars contributing their cocktail of carbon and chemicals which means lower rates of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Transit trips also incorporate walking which adds physical activity to daily routine that offers decreases in obesity and chronic disease rates.
But the kicker is that there really is no plan B because legally there cannot be another plebiscite seeking change for at least four years. This is not a scare tactic; it is a reality of only having one chance to do this right. So what does this all mean? That if we want to see change in our region, we have to act now. Maybe you don’t fully trust TransLink; that’s ok, because I don’t either. Maybe you think the recessive tax isn’t the best option; this is true, it will hit lower income people the hardest. But, this is the best and only option that we have.
This is a game of odds. Is it worse to take a stand against TransLink and watch the condition of our transit systems worsen as more people move into the region and resources are pulled from the outskirts to serve the denser areas? Or is it worse to entrust a 0.5% increase in PST to TransLink that they will be held accountable for, but might misuse, and get improvements that put Metro Vancouver at the top of North America in transit ridership and efficiency? Take your pick, but I’ll be voting for a healthier, more sustainable home.