Victoria sought to delay TransLink fees debate
[NOTE: This item was originally published on October 25. On November 3 I updated it thanks to correspondence from Jeff Nagel]
Translink not so long ago was piling up cash in its reserves. Now it is broke and needs more money. But discussion on where that money is going to come from has been put off. Jeff Nagel is a hard working reporter who has done better on the transit desk than anyone else around here.
A January 2008 staff report to TransLink’s board, obtained by Black Press under Freedom of Information, refers to TransLink’s pursuit of transportation “demand management” mechanisms —which include regional tolls and vehicle fees—to pull in more revenue while deterring car use.
It advised against seeking Victoria’s approval this year and said the transportation ministry “indicated a willingness to consider more sensitive issues such as funding and demand management later in 2009.”
Now of course Kevin Falcon is denying that this decision was his – but then he would, wouldn’t he. And the denial may even be literally true, because there are plenty of hacks and flunkies only to eager to anticipate what would best suit the Minister. And, I suspect, not all of them are order in council appointments. Eagerness to please being one of those qualities that gets promotions. People who tend to offer objective advice based on realities – and are unconcerned about spin and optics do not tend to last very long.
It is also true that Falcon has said openly that he expects residents to pay more. Of course, it will really help if that comes in the form of property tax, because that then blows back on the local politicians. The province has been downloading responsibilities without funding for many years. The history of transit in this province has been a long war of attrition between the municipalities trying to get the province to do more but refusing to use property tax to pay for it. After all, only 8% of the tax take goes to cities. All the rest goes to the province or the feds – and that is one thing both agree on. The feds should pay more.
But there is only one tax payer, and the premier has decided that he can accelerate income tax cuts to stimulate the economy. The surpluses that have been piling up have not produced more buses, or earthquake proof schools or more hospital beds. I find it very strange that both federal and provincial politicians are proud of their surpluses and refuse to consider deficits no matter how great the problem. But what they are actually saying is that either they have been taking too much tax from us for years or they have been refusing to spend money on desperately needed public investments and services.
Translink is indeed a strange case now, thanks to Mr Falcon’s interference. The Mayors will still get the stick from their voters – whatever they do – but they have next to no influence over how money is spent. And that is a real problem now – and indeed always has been. Where the money goes and on what is where the real politics should be. But that is not the case here. Everything is always “A Done Deal”. There is no input from voters or locally elected representatives, and the process of decision making is deliberately obscured – right up until the next flashy press conference. And even then because it’s a P3 nothing of importance will be revealed because of “commercial confidentiality” which now trumps public interest and accountability.
Note also the assumption that Falcon will still be Minister after the next election. I hope not. I also hope that one of the first priorities of a new administration will be to abolish the present mess and come up with a new structure that is democratically and directly elected. That makes all its decisions in the open, at meetings where the press and public can see and hear the debate. Where all the information is freely available and value for money trumps partisan advantage. Where we really do at long last start to tackle the issue that has always been steadily ignored – Increase Transportation Choice – for all of Greater Vancouver.
But what is really interesting is the second story in the same paper
They have already determined that the new levy would be $100 per car – not the $75 that Ujjal Dosanjh canned. (He nearly got turfed but survived and is apparently thinking he could replicate his dismal provincial performance on the national stage – after all they did elect Dion leader)
Falcon says no to congestion tolling until “there is a first-rate public transit system in place” which, of course, if he has anything to do with it will be never.
Even if the expansion plans were shelved Translink faces a $150m a year deficit after 2011 to just maintain the system.