Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

I've been up to my ears this week with dog walker politics (kudos to the DNV for being helpful and responsive; not so for West Van) but have also been following the many editorials around the pending Translink referendum.  You know, the one where voters have to approve spending for public transit, while Christy Clark can just magically approve any and all highway and bridge spending on her own?

Anyhow, if you missed the Globe and Mail this weekend, Stephen Quinn has what amounts to the best summary ever of the many and varied arguments for and against transit funding.

I'm partial to Number Four:
4) An increase in the gas tax is a stupid way to pay for transit because it penalizes people who don’t even use transit and takes money out of the pockets of hard workin’ British Columbians who are just tryin’ to get home to spend a little more time to do whatnot with their families.
(Depending on how you use the 'net, you may find the G&M locked up behind a paywall. Sorry about that) 


John Sharpe said...

Assuming the referendum question will be on the Municipal Election ballot, at least it may get higher numbers out to vote than the usual paltry percentages.

How the referendum question will be worded is of course a concern when I think of the 2011 HST referendum where Yes meant No.

Anonymous said...

This is a good topic.

Obviously none of us want to pay more $$ to government. I don't use local public transit and I question the current revenues and expenditures, especially the user contribution when I see a shocking number of people writing letters to the editor rationalizing why they evade paying fares on Skytrain.

I was in Glasgow recently and bus fare was Cdn. $6.50 for a ride equivalent to the distance from London Drugs to the Seabus.

To sum up if more $$ are needed I would like to see somewhat higher fares as EVERYONE has to be part of the solution including the users.

I also resent tolls, gizmos that follow your driving patterns, etc.

If it could be proven that additional public revenue is really required for a workable (not Rolls-Royce) system I would tolerate a transportation improvement fee (TIF) levied on all registered vehicles based on the make, model, engine displacement, and fuel efficiency AND PRIOR YEAR'S MILEAGE of the registered vehicle.

Therefore small efficient low use vehicles that don't tend to destroy our road surfaces would have a lower TIF than the contrary.

The actual amount of such a TIF should be considered against REAL system requirements - and not the luxury model.

Griffin said...

So here's my dilemma. Ottawa pays for a road that I will never drive on.

It will be paid for out of tax dollars that I and millions of other Canadians will contribute

I do not have a problem with this because in the overall scheme of things, the country as a whole benefits and when it's spread over 35 million people, the cost is negligible.

So why cannot the Provincial government scrap all the boards, crown corporations and other things it's created to dodge paying for things directly, save all the money for the CEOs, COOs, etc. etc., and just pick up the tab. At some point we all benefit. Bridges would be paid for out of tax revenue, ditto translink, Skytrain, increased power generation, and so on and so forth and a whole lot of people would stop being paid for out of the public purse at rates that would stagger the most resilient. As for where the money comes from, I would bet that a 1/4 of one percent increase in the sales tax would pay for a lot of it, and would be relatively painless. As or the people who complain that they will never benefit from some of these infrastructure projects, I say phooey. At some point we all benefit from whatever it is, wherever they build it. And it would eliminate all the angst we are now suffering from.

Am I alone in my thinking???

Anonymous said...

Griffin, I tend to agree with you. I think that what people forget in these discussions about how we pay form things is that, at the end of the day, it's you and me, the BC taxpayer who pays for these. If we can get rid of payments to "all the boards, crown corporations and other things it's created to dodge paying for things directly", the taxpayer would be saved a tidy sum. And to be honest, I'm more interested in seeing my money spent more efficiently and have little concern for the jobs of a bunch of unelected bureaucrats.

John Sharpe said...

I tend to agree with Griffin 12:10 comment and also to 7) The province should redirect revenues from the carbon tax to transit improvements, which will result in lower GHG emissions.

Barry Rueger said...

griffin nailed it: the idea should be simple - everyone pools resources (tax dollars) to pay for shared infrastructure and services.

The problem in BC is twofold.

First is the reality that we have had a run of governments that were more or less openly hostile towards public transit.

This began back with Bill Bennett, who had the crackerjack idea of appointing a car salesman as minister responsible for transit.

It's been downhill ever since. The succeeding Socred and Liberal governments never escaped the love of new highways and big bridges, and always begrudged money for transit systems. The mess that we see now is a cumulative result.

Unless there's a pretty significant change in the way BC governments function it will remain a case of: Spending on automotive infrastructure is seen as a vote getter, and spending on transit (including ferries) is seen as a vote loser.

(This may not be true overall, but I'm assuming that suburban, car dependent ridings vote more to the Right than urban, bus loving ridings)

The second problem that all services have run into is the endless refrain of "Lower taxes! Lower taxes!"

Government can't keep lowering tax rates (for select groups) indefinitely with no regard for the consequences.

It should be obvious that every time you cut taxes you also will need to cut some spending program. If anyone tells you different they're either lying or dim-witted.

Thirty or forty years of tax cutting has created a transit system that is being strangled for lack of proper funding while everyone involved tries desperately to a) blame someone else and b) avoid actually investing the money that's needed.

Or in the case Christy Clark's bunch, refuse to pay the bills, but insist on veto power.

It's really time for the Province to either pony up the money to build and operate a regional transit system or hand control back to the local politicians who, like it or not, wind up dealing with the mess that the Liberals have created.

(note to Anon 2:09 – You may not actually ride a bus or Skytrain, but every time you see 60 people on a bus drive by you're enjoying the decrease in traffic that 60 less automobiles creates. It amazes me how many of the “Gridlock!” shouting drivers can't appreciate this simple equation.)

(Note to me: I'm over to Vancouver for a meeting tomorrow afternoon. Taking the Seabus would cost me $8 return, plus parking. As much as I would like to take transit, driving is faster and cheaper.)

Anonymous said...

(Note to Barry from Anon 2:09. Apparently you don't use transit either and if you reread my post you will find that I didn't mention gridlock at all.)

I don't agree that transit or ferries should have a never ending and ever increasing drain on the public purse with the users contributing little or (as some suggest) nothing. Given my experience in Europe it's time for riders to pony up and get their hand out of the cookie jar.

I'm willing to help out but the riders have to be part of the solution too.

Government can't keep raising taxes without adversely impacting the critical consumer spending segment of the economy. That being the case service levels have to be reined in and capped.

As far as "getting rid" of boards etc. It would be interesting to see a business case describing the level of savings and who would inherit the administration and how that work would be undertaken and what impact (if any) the "savings" would have on services.

Anonymous said...

"This began back with Bill Bennett, who had the crackerjack idea of appointing a car salesman as minister responsible for transit."

...Who was the crackerjack salesman again? ...can't remember

Anonymous said...

The Province editorial page covers this subject today in their chat back section. Overwhelming opposition to increased public funding of transit.

Barry Rueger said...

And what was the response when The Province asked their readers for their opinions on increased public funding of highways, bridges, and parking lots?

Hmmm... I'm guessing that never happened....

Griffin said...

Anon 8:17, His name was Evan Wolfe (Wolfe Chevrolet...). I do think it's naive to believe (or claim) that he was only interested in selling cars. He did understand transportation after all...

As for taking public transportation, when the Canada Line first opened, I decided to try taking the Seabus and then Skytrain to the airport. Given the amount of walking and waiting, and the price of the ride, especially for the Skytrain ticket from the airport, it would have been quicker and cheaper if my better half drove me.

Anonymous said...

Well, Barry, new (not replacement) highways (Coquihalla) are toll and new (many extra lanes) not replacement (Lion's Gate Bridge upgrade) like the Port Mann are also toll. Like user pays. Like upgraded transit should be mainly paid for by users not the public trough.

Re Canada Line. Just love it. We use it from the N. Shore every time we fly. A great service that avoids all of the rush hour traffic, bridge tie ups, frequent accidents enroute, airport parking hassles, and out of inclement weather the whole way.

The cost to get out to the airport is very reasonable and I would gladly pay more should it be necessary to support that system. The cost to come back is quite high as they whack you with the airport tax when you buy your northbound ticket. However, when compared to getting into London from Gatwick, Heathrow etc. still a good deal.

As Keith Baldrey said on the morning news today regarding transit. "Everybody wants a better and broader system - they just want someone else to pay for it."

Barry Rueger said...

new (not replacement) highways (Coquihalla) are toll and new (many extra lanes) not replacement (Lion's Gate Bridge upgrade) like the Port Mann are also toll. Like user pays.

As I recall the tolls on the Coquihalla were killed off as an election goodie by Gordo Campbell, although he certainly claimed that they had paid off all of the construction costs.

(No, I don't believe him)

At the same time he claimed that the Port Mann tolls would last for 35 years. How long will it be before Christy or her replacement decides that eliminating them would be a good pre-election move.

And where are the tolls on the massive and seemingly endless Highway One improvements?

Or, and this is a more direct question, what percentage if the total cost of building and maintaining highways in BC is paid directly by automobile drivers?

The portion paid for directly from gas taxes and tolls? Is it anywhere remotely close to the 50+% that transit users pay at the farebox?

I seriously doubt it.

If you're prepared to have every road tolled, and to have car drivers pay at least half of the cost of building and maintaining that infrastructure directly, and if you're prepared to put every new highway and bridge to referendum, then we can talk.

(I'm won't waste my breath on the arguments in favour of a strong public transit system, and the benefits that accrue. And I won't spend time on the problem of traffic moving off of tolled bridges onto surrounding streets and non-tolled bridges.)

Anonymous said...

No Barry. None of the hypothetical horror stories are going to happen.

Existing highways (not new) can still be expanded and maintained without tolls.

The tolls on the Coquihalla lasted 20 years, collected $57 million and paid it off. Users paid. Full stop.

What a concept!

Love all the red herrings that get throw around by members of the People's Republic of BC when users are held (at least partially) responsible for that which they use.

As previously stated, I walk the talk as I'm happy to pay more when I use the service.

Griffin said...

Interesting article in the Paper this morning featuring Richard Walton, and dealing with funding of public transit, etc., and it seems that in Los Angeles, after much angst and gnashing of teeth, they settled on a .5% increase in the sales tax. Sounds like something I suggested above...and no, I hadn't read of the LA decision.

Anonymous said...

As stated above, I:m OK with paying some additional tax to help transit too - just not carrying ALL of the load. Users (including me) have got to pony up too just like Europe and the UK.

If there is going to be additional tax (aside from increased fares) the question comes back to how will it be collected? Giffin likes additional sales tax. Not a bad choice but it does add an extra burden on the poor. I prefer the once a year vehicle premium based upon the size, type of engine and mileage travelled. Seems to have a more just rationale and its one time pain and over. Could live with Giffin's solution but totally opposed to tolling every bridge and especially a road tax that follows your driving patterns - too Big Brother and intrusive.

Anonymous said...

I just heard Mayor Richard Walton on CBC Radio. They were very-well crafted comments regarding TransLink and politics in general.

Why doesn't someone with more computer savvy than me get the clip from today's Almanac and put it on this blog. Thx.

Anonymous said...

anon 1:24 pm, I tried but could find nothing no interview with mayor Walton today. Some one else like to give it a go?

Barry? :)

Griffin said...

There is already a provision for low-income people to get a rebate from the government for PST and GST so I don't see why that couldn't be taken into account if the .5% sales tax increase was implemented to pay for all new major infrastructure, not just roads and bridges. But coincidental to that, the Provincial government MUST get a handle on all these fat cat salaries being paid to executives at Crown corporations. It is unacceptable in the extreme.

Anonymous said...

Because of CBC cuts no clips have been available lately. I believe it will show up as a podcast.

Anonymous said...

Every tax system has some level of unfairness to it and I haven't found one I like enough to say it is the answer.

Right now, the fare box and the gas tax are the most fair, but they have shortcomings too. electric vehicles don't contribute to regional infrastructure and people who live on the fringe of the region avoid the gas tax and purchase their fuel outside of the region meaning that while they are driving on our roads, they are not contributing to their upkeep.

Paying the bill from a combination of sources such as Provincial Income tax, property tax, fare boxes, gas tax, perhaps a sales tax, all guarantee that everyone contributes.

Sales tax is not a reliable source of income and fluctuates based on the economic climate so you would only want it to account for maybe 10% of the total bill.

Griffin said...

I was suggesting that in lieu of the grossly unfair system of tolling only some bridges. And while they're at it, they can close down Translink, roll transportation back into a government Ministry and put the savings towards...almost anything...

Anonymous said...

What about the Sea-to-Sky highway? Why isn't it tolled? What reasonable explanation is there for the Port Mann Bridge to be tolled and the Sea-to-Sky Highway not?

And because it's not a bridge is not an answer.

Anonymous said...

Existing (not new) highways are upgraded through taxation all over this province.

New significant highways (Coquihalla) may be tolled.

Sea to sky was an upgrade of an existing highway.

Anonymous said...

Also, isn't it true that a highway can't be tolled without there being a viable, alternative route available to users?

Anonymous said...

If these are the rules then they need to be changed. The Sea-to-Sky cost the taxpayers $billions. It should be tolled.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:57am, the road to your house cost tax payers money. When it receives maintenance or has improvements made to it, shall it be tolled too?

Anonymous said...

anon 4:24. Bad logic. If one follows your logic all roads should be tolled, or none. Only major thoroughfares should be tolled evenly throughout Metro Vancouver.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:36am, of course it's flawed, it was a tongue-in-cheek jab at the suggestion of tolling an existing highway made by Anon Sunday, February 02, 2014 8:57:00 am. If only major thoroughfares are tolled, then drivers will be bypassing those and using residential side streets to avoid paying.

Anonymous said...

Good comeback!

This is why the municipalities have to be included in the whole picture, but not under the veiled threats of Christie Clark.

Anonymous said...

This morning's Province has an interesting article on road pricing. The writer was in favour of the system. Part of his rationale was that he and his wife both have cars but they normally leave them at home in favour of transit. Ergo, road pricing would be fair as he doesn't drive on the roads very much (he ignored that they were riding on the transit on the roads).

A more sensible suggestion is a once-a-year vehicle levy is charged based upon the make, model, engine displacement, and fuel efficiency AND PRIOR YEAR'S MILEAGE of the registered vehicle.

This would have the effect of a real and accurate user pay, encourage use of smaller vehicles that do less damage to the road surface and have lower emissions, require only one annual bill (and associated administration costs) and prevent Big Brother from tracking and recording our movements.

If more contribution is needed that is how I would like to have my share calculated and invoiced.

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of taxes attached to mileage of the vehicle for people not in the business of driving for a living. These people (companies esp.) would need a break.

Anonymous said...

The struggle with that proposal is, again, the fringe people. People who live outside of the region but commute into the region will not be contributing to the tax, and people who live in the region, but work outside of the region will be paying a tax even though they are largely accruing their miles out side of the region. That is why a mix of taxes is still the most fair, even though it obviously has a higher administration cost.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a solution would be to apply the vehicle levy to the whole Province. A predetermined portion would go to transit and the balance to road/bridge maintenance/improvements and NOTHING TO GENERAL REVENUE.

That way you have the convenience of a once-a-year levy, no government transponders following you around and everyone participates and everyone benefits. Fringe people using roads outside of the transit region have funding to improve those roads and urban people have funding for their transit.

Griffin said...

This is sort of what I was alluding to above - find some way to spread the pain around equally because at the end of the day, we all benefit in some way or another.

Anonymous said...

"the road to your house cost tax payers money. When it receives maintenance or has improvements made to it, shall it be tolled too?"

Yep. Right now it's called property tax. I've paid a ton of it over 40 years and now I want to use the roads I have already paid for.
As far as schemes to favour vehicles with smaller engines go, the existing fuel tax mechanism does that and also accounts for annual mileage (ie road useage). Of course the transit weenies dont want to buy into that, because then all the arguments that bigger vehicles damage the roads more than smaller, more ecoelite vehicles goes in the dustbin when you check out the new 8.9 litre displacement , 20,000 kg weight diesel buses. Oh yea... i forgot..transit needs roads. By the way, ONE of those buses tops half a mil just to take delivery. With maintenance and a driver to pay for as well, I hope it never drives around mostly empty or depends on MY property taxes to keep rolling.