Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Two Carbon Talks on the Plebiscite

leave a comment »

The meetings are at lunchtime in Surrey and Burnaby, and I won’t be attending either of them. The rest of this post is taken from an email I got today. If you are in the area – or you know of someone who will be – they are free but you have to register

The transit referendum campaign is currently underway and you’re invited to our next two Carbon Talks on the subject. In partnership with Moving in a Livable Region, an initiative of the SFU Centre for Dialogue, we are pleased to present two public dialogues one in Surrey and one in Burnaby.

See below for more information and please forward on to your friends and colleagues. For more information on the transit and transportation referendum, see Moving in a Livable Region’s referendum page

Transit Vote Surrey: Rapid Transit for Rapid Growth

Surrey is one of Canada’s fastest growing cities and has major transportation needs. With the transit referendum around the corner, what’s at stake?

When: Monday, March 9 from 1:00 – 2:00 PM

Where: Room 3090 at SFU Surrey Campus

Read More

Register to Attend

Transit Vote Burnaby: Congestion, Health, and Livability

A congested transportation system has consequences for emissions, health, and livability. Join us to hear from experts on how these subjects relate to the transit referendum.

When: Tuesday, March 10 from 12:00 – 1:15 PM

Where: Fraser-Thompson Room of the Diamond Alumni Centre, SFU Burnaby Campus

Read More

Register to Attend

Written by Stephen Rees

February 24, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Transportation

Debunking the “NO” campaign

with 17 comments

Last week Mario Canseco published the latest Insights West poll that showed intending No votes edged ahead of Yes votes. It seemed to stem from the Translink’s Board decision to remove Ian Jarvis as CEO but, rather than pay severance (a lot of money to do nothing) they retained him as an advisor – and also appointed a temporary CEO. This action seemed to play into the hands of the CTF who have decided to target Ian Jarvis and his salary as evidence of “waste”. Now Translink seems to be paying two CEO salaries.

I am not sure if Canseco was actually in the field at the time this decision was made. But even so, a number of articles and blog posts have appeared around the issue. So rather than duplicate them I am going to summarise their findings. This should enable YES supporters to counter some of the most frequently heard talking points – nearly all of which are based on misinformation.

Firstly, the accusation that Translink is incompetent – and lags behind other systems

Source: Peter Lander, Business in Vancouver December 2014

TransLink’s … performance successes:

•A mode shift – out of cars into transit, walking and cycling – that is unmatched in North America. The number of trips by transit is up 80% since 2000.

•By far the highest per capita transit use among other cities our size in North America – three times more than Portland, the next highest city.

•The third-highest per capita transit use in North America, after only New York and Toronto.

•The lowest-operating-cost light rail network in the world, more than covering operating expenses from fare box revenues.

•The Canada Line built on time and on budget and beating revenue targets – projected to have 100,000 daily riders by 2013 but hitting 120,000 by 2011.

•An overall 7.4 out of 10 customer satisfaction rating in the last quarter.

Secondly that Translink is “wasteful” as evidenced by its executives’ salaries

“the items commonly cited as examples of TransLink’s storied wastefulness add up to a mere fraction of one per cent of its annual expenditures. In other words, the vast majority of the organization’s budget goes to the vital public services we rely upon it to provide”

source David Bancroft in Rabble with his source embedded

Actually, public sector CEOs get paid considerably less than equivalent private sector CEOs but the Vancouver Sun helpfully lists highest paid public servants in BC which shows Ian Jarvis as well down the list of the top 100.  Not nearly as much as the CEOs of the port, airport, ICBC or BC Hydro. And certainly not nearly as much as the people who oversee my pension fund. (see note at end of this post)

This week I will be going to listen to Jeff Tumlin at SFU – again. I reported his talk here a couple of years ago. He is quoted by News 1130

“One thing that we have learned however is that the best thing to do to make your transit agency worse off is to de-fund them. That taking away money from them in order to demonstrate frustration only punishes the people who are reliant on the transportation system.”

Looking at all basic performance metrics, he says TransLink’s problems are far better managed than anywhere else.

Who is he? The principal at Nelson Nygard, one of America’s “most innovative consultants” (Price Tags)

I posted that on facebook – and it got one of the most vituperative responses when someone else copied it to their profile. So not my followers – and quite possibly the people who Norm Farrell identifies as paid trolls for the BC Liberals. By the way, I have the greatest of respect for the work he does on his Northern Insights blog. It just saddens me that he seems to have got caught up by the CTF rhetoric. But not to worry, Darryl de la Cruz rides to the rescue with some exhaustive analysis which shows what happens when you compare like with like. I doubt that the people who listen to the CTF will have the patience to plough through this stuff, but it essentially repeats what often has to be said to people who try to compare Translink’s region wide coverage, to other transit systems with a much more restricted remit.

===============

And on February 25 Pete McMartin brings his MSM spotlight to bear on Daryl’s blog with this conclusion

The comparisons the No side are using are intentionally misleading and meant to cause anger.

==================

As Peter Ladner  pointed out TransLink is not on the referendum ballot – but if it was

“They’ve tightened operations over the past few years. I don’t think they’re wasteful,” said independent commissioner Robert Irwin after his 2013 review. Spending is “reasonable” and employee compensation is “reasonable when compared to other organizations of similar size,” concluded an independent 2012 provincial government audit, prompting then-minister of transportation Mary Polack to say, “Everyone agrees that TransLink provides a world-class service that is the envy of many jurisdictions.”

Voting NO cannot bring about change in Translink’s governance, which is actually their weakest point but one which the CTF seems to ignore. And, of course, is something that Christy Clark appears not to understand.

There have been some pretty dreadful decisions at Translink. The Golden Ears Bridge – which was as bad as the Port Mann at predicting toll revenues – sucks money out of revenues that ought to be supporting transit. The reorganisation of HandyDART, and subsequent freeze on service levels. Going to one contractor actually increased costs significantly and produced worse service. Trip refusals surged so they simply changed the way they collected the data.  The Canada Line – which is now overcrowded but cannot utilise all the trains it has due to costs of its P3 contract. In fact, contracting out seems to cover all three problems I have identified here. And I would blame Cubic for the failure to deliver Compass on time if that did not let Kevin Falcon off the hook for his decision to impose unnecessary fare gates in the first place.

In fact most of the problems that beset Translink at the moment all have their genesis with the provincial government. Christy Clark has done one brilliant job: she has deflected all the criticism of her failure to authorize adequate resources for running the transportation system in BC’s largest metropolis onto an organisation that she herself controls. It is an appointed Board – with a bafflingly complex system of appointment to disguise the very limited range of qualifications of its appointees. No-one represents the users of the system, and there are only two of 20 Mayors on the board, both very recent appointments.

———————

POSTSCRIPT I wrote that paragraph a day before this Pete McMartin column appeared in the Vancouver Sun

_______________

Voting NO is not going to change anything. (See this Stephen Hume opinion piece in the Sun for more)

Actually Voting YES might have exactly the same result – since we are not voting in a binding referendum but rather an advisory plebiscite. Christy can look at the result and claim it is not representative enough, or even claim poverty – given that there is a budget surplus of ~$1bn this year I doubt even she has the chutzpah to pull off that one, but blaming the Mayors for the current mess shows how she rolls.

And now a complete and up to date post of Translink myth debunking is on VanCityBuzz

————

Note: thanks to Norm Farrell for this information about the BC Investment Management Corporation

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.53.34 PM

This occurred at roughly the same time that the BC Public Service Pension was effectively cut: pensioners were required to pay for MSP and Blue Cross coverage, which had previously been paid by the employer. We were told that this was necessary to protect the value of the pension fund. No mention was made of the increase being paid to BCIMC who manage the investment of the pension fund. Note that Doug Pearce in 2014 was making nearly as much in a week as Translink’s new temporary CEO makes in a month.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 23, 2015 at 12:29 pm

The Arbutus Corridor Dispute

with 4 comments

I was back on the CBC TV suppertime news last night. CP have sent in the bulldozers again to restart the work on their long disused track from Marpole to Burrard Bridge. They are down at the south end of the line now, back where they were ripping out gardens last year before the the City tried to get an injunction to stop them. Unsurprisingly, the courts were reluctant to stop CP from trying to make their tracks capable of carrying trains again. Except, of course, there is no reason for CP to do so: not one that makes any commercial sense that is. CP are not interested in carrying people: they are freight railway. There are no customers now on the line. That is why there have not been any trains: for years. The track has simply been left to return to nature. CP is obliged to maintain the road crossings as it has not formally abandoned the track. But the only reason it is clearing away encumbrances is to try to get the City to raise its offer. The corridor is designated for transportation use in the City plan. That also was established in court. CP is not able to sell the land to developers, so the City is the only potential buyer. And they do not put the same price on that strip of land as CP does.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm

“Transit tax” will be the same as Provincial Sales Tax

leave a comment »

It is not often I see a Press Release on a Sunday lunch time. It is reproduced entire below. The retailers were getting concerned at the potential for all sorts of complexity to be introduced by the new “Metro Congestion Improvement Tax”. Those fears can now be laid to rest. Good.

February 1, 2015

 

Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation Welcomes Minister Stone’s Letter on Collection of Metro Congestion Improvement Tax

Vancouver, B.C. – The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation welcomes Minister Stone’s letter, received last night, regarding collection of the Metro Congestion Improvement Tax (MCIT).

Minister Stone’s letter confirms the MCIT, which will fund new transit and road improvements in the mayors’ Plan, will be harmonized with the existing Provincial Sales Tax.

“We’re pleased with the announcement that they are harmonizing the collection of the MCIT with the existing PST. This will address concerns that the retail sector and others had, and eliminate any further confusion about exemptions and administration of the tax,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the Mayors’ Council. “This clarity is critical for a ‘yes’ vote. ‘No’ is not an option. We need these improvements to prepare for one million more residents.”

Of note in Minister Stone’s letter:

  • The Province reiterated that revenues collected for transit will be subject to independent audits and annual reviews.
  • The Province has confirmed that the tax base for the MCIT will mirror the PST tax base.

Mayor Robertson confirmed that the Mayors would not be seeking additional exemptions:

“Application of the PST to the tax base has always remained a provincial responsibility and this harmonization provides seamless administration. We want to ensure that simplicity continues so we will not be requesting any further exemptions.”

This ensures that essential items such as groceries, children’s clothing, transportation expenses, prescription medication and other basic goods and services will be exempt from the tax.

“Residents and businesses can now vote ‘yes’ for the plan for better transit knowing that the MCIT will be collected in the most efficient and fair way possible,” added Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, vice chair of the Mayors’ Council. “Thanks to the this decision, voters can be confident that a 0.5% regional increase to the existing PST is fair and will only cost the average household 35 cents a day for more buses, better roads and more transit options.”

The move will ensure the economic efficiency of the tax, which is critical to supporting the integrated economic development strategy supported by the Mayors’ Council plan, a vision that includes consideration of the importance of goods movement.

Minister Stone’s letter to MC.Feb1-15

Written by Stephen Rees

February 1, 2015 at 1:16 pm

More about Uber and the “sharing economy”

with one comment

Back in the middle of the month I reported on a City Conversation which looked at the issue of the taxi shortage in this region, and the reaction to Uber. If you didn’t read it then, can you look at it now – and especially the comment by MB, which talks his experience as a taxi driver.

I get all sorts of “pitches” in my inbox every day. Usually invitations to meetings in places far away (now if they included airfare and hotel I might even be tempted) or books to review. The invite to read the paywalled Nation has become a regular. On the whole my campaign to find links to free rather than paywalled sites has been lagging. I am pretty sure that most people find ways to get to content that I am not going to discuss. In this case I wanted to read today’s article about Uber and the Taxi Industry, just to see if it adds anything to what appears on this blog already. So I got the proffered free access behind the paywall for reviewers. The article in question is “adapted from a paper produced as part of the Future of Work Project, an inquiry supported by the Open Society Foundations.” So I rather thought that there might be an open source version of it somewhere. If there is, my Google technique needs to be improved.

Writing from a place where Uber is already established and basing the article on interviews with the people impacted – mostly taxi drivers – gives a good insight into possible outcomes here. John Liss used to drive a cab himself and his experience mirrors that of MB. In fact most of the article addresses the issue from one that was hardly touched on at the City Conversation.

The rapid growth of Uber has profound implications for both taxi drivers and the industry. Are Uber drivers earning full-time living wages? Are they protected from arbitrary or discriminatory dismissal? Can they support their families? What does this mean for the future of work?

Well, that’s all very well, but should there not also be some coverage of the needs of the users?  Well there is this

But Uber has no requirement to serve the public. Indeed, there is a strong race, class and age bias as to who can utilize the service. You have to own a smartphone, which has an average cost of more than $500. Uber requires customers to pay with a credit card, cutting off those with no or poor credit. Until recently, the company had no wheelchair-accessible vehicles in Virginia, and continues to lack adequate services for the disabled in many places.

which I think does reflect some of the remarks I heard. There is also the issue of “surge pricing” which means drivers on Uber get to profit from times when there are peaks of demand – which was also discussed if not in the context of Hurricane Sandy.

The general conclusion seems to be that drivers for Uber have ended up earning pretty much the same as cabbies – and with all the attendant risks (pay up front, hope you get enough rides, no benefits) and once again the company that developed an app makes the big money.

As National Taxi Worker Alliance organizer Biju Mathew said, “It’s drivers and millionaires against the billionaires.”

So not different enough, I think to allow Uber in here even if they can be persuaded to play by the rules – that is to say the rules of society rather than their own. Which, according to Liss are stacked against the drivers.

But there is also the broader issue of the public interest. We need better alternatives to driving ourselves everywhere, and the current suite of options is not adequate. But simply relying on private sector initiatives and the market economy is unlikely to address these issues in a way that will satisfy anyone. In the same Nation there is a further examination of the “sharing economy” based on an examination of Uber and AirBnB.

“Now, despite over five years of official recovery, the sharing economy offers some people, like cab drivers, the prospect of real wage cuts, and others, like people with a spare bedroom, a way to supplement stagnant incomes. The sharing economy is a nice way for rapacious capitalists to monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous, and to evoke a fantasy of community in an atomized population.”

So not much to cheer about there then. Actually I did notice something that seemed to offer a glimmer of hope.

“Uber’s a different story in New York, where all drivers have to be certified by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the cars are all regular cabs or car-service vehicles. Every Uber-hailed driver I’ve spoken with in New York likes the service, because it delivers more paying riders than they’d otherwise have.”

So it seems that Uber can work in a regulatory environment. It is also possible I think that the fleet of vehicles and the number of drivers could also be supplemented at need under such a system. In New York you see “car-service” vehicles all the time. They tend to be black, and are often upmarket sedans and SUVs as well as limousines. If you are staying in Brooklyn and you have an early morning flight out of Newark, they are probably the only practical way of completing the trip – short of sleeping overnight at the terminal. I do not know about Uber cars, but from these articles it seems that there are some attempts at both quality control and market segmentation.

Liss does give some insight too into how different cities and states have developed regulated taxi systems. What they seem to have in common is that having evolved as cars proliferated they then became stuck at the point in history when the regulation was imposed and have changed remarkably little since. It does seem that change is both necessary and desirable, but not that all attempts at control should be abolished overnight.

One of the more curious meetings I had when at Translink was with a lawyer. He had noticed numbers of people left behind at bus stops as he drove through Vancouver towards downtown, and he wondered if there was some way that people could be picked up to utilize the empty seats that were going the same way anyway. I had to disabuse him of the notion that the public transit provider – or the taxi industry – would welcome such an innovation. But this kind of ride sharing does happen. On the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco it has become established and officially recognized that people will wait at a point where single occupant cars can pull up and load enough people to get into the HOV lanes and share the cost of the toll. I somehow doubt that anyone has thought of this at the Port Mann.  Hitch Planet hooks up people making trips within BC but does not seem, so far, to have tackled shorter trips with Metro. Jack Bell has expanded from simply organising commuter car pools  with an app of its own which can also handle one time trips.

Liss seems to be mainly concerned about the people who work in the taxi industry, and I must admit that cab drivers in BC are – as in so many other places – at the bottom of the food chain. I had hoped he would also look at why Uber has become so popular with users. Yes it has sharply reduced the number of cab rides, but I think it must also have greatly increased the size of the market, and probably diverted some people from transit in the process. It also seems to me that in the longer term a company with Uber’s track record is bound to target the transit market and cream off traffic on the most productive routes. This is exactly what happened in Britain (outside London) when buses were deregulated. There is now a distinct gap between denser urban areas where buses are frequent and reliable, and rural areas where buses are almost entirely absent. Greater Vancouver could be very much at risk if the disrupters start to take an interest in transit. And that is not so unlikely in a future where the public authority has to compete with one arm tied behind its back.

So, no real conclusions other than I recommend reading the Nation articles if this topic held you long enough to still be reading.  The current regulatory framework for taxis in Vancouver is far too biased towards the established license holders, and has resulted in a shortage of taxis – compared to other Canadian cities. It has also lead to people developing all sorts of ways of accommodating these rides. The trip diary survey shows that around 10% of car trips are to take someone to where they need to be – often with an empty return trip. The airport has even set up a “cell phone parking lot” to cope with one of the more obvious needs. Yes, the Canada Line helped, but lots of people need to get somewhere other than downtown. New technology does offer us ways to use the vehicles that currently stand idle for most of the time. And there is a real need for opportunities to make extra money for a lot of people. Yes it would be better if there was a higher minimum wage and a really good social safety net for those in need of supplementation to their incomes. Neither of those seem remotely likely in present day Vancouver, BC, Canada, so let us have a sensible conversation about how we can increase mobility in the region.

Here’s a place to start: Helsinki

“Passengers request a shuttle service on their phones and Kutsuplus computes the best way to get everybody where they need to go, based on real-time data. It also indicates how long it would take to complete the trip both with Kutsuplus and with other modes of transport.”

“[Uber] is an approach that works fine in America, where walking is rarely an option and public transport mostly nonexistent.”

Read more here

Bits keep adding themselves to this story. I saw this link in the February 3 edition of The Direct Transfer (something you might want to consider subscribing to). It comes from Bloomberg and the story is extraordinary. Google is developing its own ride hailing service, in direct competition with Uber a company it has been funding itself.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Toderian and Montgomery on The National

with 3 comments

I need something hopeful. The debate over the “transit tax” is debilitating. So this big chunk of last night’s CBC tv news cheered me up this morning. I know that here I am preaching to the converted, and I must admit I do not watch tv news late in the evening. Good thing about this being on YouTube is you can watch it anytime and pass along the link.

I would like an escalator to Kerrisdale please, but leave me Ravine Park for the stroll back. Or add a slide.  A few bike escalators would get me riding again I think. So far there is only one in Trompe, Norway.  Gondolas for SFU – but why not New West or North Van too? Escalators should go in there too, of course. And can you imagine the row if someone dared suggest improving access to/from Wreck Beach? But we seem to tolerate the continued existence of a wide divided highway around Pacific Spirit Park. (From the video above “If you build a wide road people will drive faster…”)

We have been waiting for the sad old Arbutus shopping centre to be transformed into a mixed use hub for many years. The locals just grumble about what it would do to the drainage. The existing “recreation centre” in the basement of the mall looks like it may close as all the strata councils are considering dropping support due to lack of use. That shows me that we really have not yet figured out how to build public facilities yet. I think that also underlies the intolerance of the Poodle on the Pole on Main St. Why cannot people laugh at it? We seem to understand the laughing guys of Denman and Davie. But if you want to offend people, put a misaligned head of Lenin into Richmond. Actually, go look at the Oval and the area around it to see what not to do in our suburbs.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2015 at 8:28 am

The Link Between Obesity, Transportation and Land Use

with 5 comments

There was a story tonight on the CBC TV news Vancouver at 6. It is about an important shift in the advice given to doctors. “The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care released recommendations for family physicians …on prevention of weight gain and treatment of overweight and obesity.” The emphasis is shifting from treatment – which mostly does not work – to prevention, which might. As is now the practice, after the news story from back east, Andrew Chang sat down with a local expert to talk about this some more. She was a doctor from Children’s Hospital and it was all about what we teach our children to help them keep the slim figure they have in their adolescence. It wasn’t until right at the end of the interview when she used the word “environment”, and it was left mostly unexamined. But without doubt it was the most important word in the discussion.

The shift in obesity statistics for the Canadian population occurred at the same time as it did for the American and a bit later for the UK. People have become less physically active partly due to their jobs changing – but mainly due to their commuting. Most of us used to stand to do our jobs, which usually involved some muscular exertion. And we either walked or biked to work. These days we are much more sedentary both at work and at home. And we tend to drive between the two. At the same time, we have stopped cooking for ourselves and rely heavily on processed food or prepared food from commercial outlets. This was not mentioned at all and is a bit of distraction, but basically when you do your own food prep you are much more likely to control salt and sugar. Processed food contains all kinds of preservatives and flavour enhancers to prolong shelf life – and long distance shipping. When you eat out, or buy a pizza, there’s a lot of fat and carbs on your plate.

It is not at all coincidental that the people who are now getting involved in long term planning for transportation and land use are Medical Officers of Health. They were largely absent during my career as a regional planner and transportation economist but in recent years they have noticed that people who live in walkable (and bikeable) neighbourhoods have lower levels of adult onset diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Also known as “metabolic syndrome” even though it has nothing to do with metabolism and everything to do with living in suburban sprawl and driving to do anything at all.

You will not hear anything about this from Jordan Bateman or the No lobby in general. They are the people who have no intention of changing anything. They want a ground oriented house with a two car garage, in a residential area far distant from any other land use apart from schools and churches. Jordan Bateman was a Councillor in Langley. This is still his constituency. The people who listened to the “drive until you qualify” mantra. They shop once a week, spend much of their time taking their children to and from school or after school activities and will tell you they have to drive. They cannot conceive of using a bus or a bike to live like they do. And as they age their weight increases steadily and inexorably.

The Yes campaign is driven by the concept of increasing transportation choice. That phrase was key to the Livable Region Strategy, written by Gordon Campbell, and intended to guide the pattern of development in Greater Vancouver. You cannot have a Protected Green Zone and a Compact Region with Complete Communities unless you Increase Transportation Choice. Wendell Cox does not understand this. Neither do Christy Clark, Todd Stone or Kevin Falcon. The two solitudes in Greater Vancouver are the people who live in the parts of the region where they can reasonably decide for themselves which mode to use for their trips – and switch between them at will – and those who can only drive for every purpose imaginable. The second group see nothing odd at all about driving to the dog park. Or driving to the gym or community centre to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. If you suggested to them that they walk or ride a bike for any other purpose than recreation, they would tell you “it isn’t safe”. And they would be right. We equate safety with belts and airbags in cars, designed to have crash resistant crumple zones. They demand everyone wear helmets – on the ice, down the hill, on the bike. Fear of head injury – actually not that frequent in adults especially once you have deducted car crashes – vastly outweighs fear of the diseases that kill most people. All of which can be traced to weight gain in adulthood.

The biggest challenge we face – after climate change – is the increasing cost of healthcare. Actually if we had sensible economists advising politicians, that would also be manageable, but we have built our own box to get locked into by insisting on tax cuts as the policy nostrum for every problem. As the baby boomers – people my age – retire and continue to live long after any generation that preceded them, the cost of taking care of them will balloon. Correction, is ballooning. Since we now live in nuclear, rather than extended, families that cost is borne by the public health system, not the daughters and granddaughters of the former wage earner.

I think the healthcare benefits of increasing our ability to walk, bike and take transit – every transit trip involves more walking than any driving trip – vastly outweigh the terrible burden of an extra 0.5% sales tax. If we still believed in cost-benefit analysis (nobody has paid me to do one of those in the last twenty years) then we could show that the costs of paying the tax for more transit would be more than made up in the savings in healthcare costs alone.

Of course, just increasing existing bus service frequencies will not be enough on their own. Just as we really cannot expect to see any reduction in congestion from the sales tax funded expansion alone. We need to do something radical about mixed use developments, increasing density, safe routes to school and all the rest. Just as we will need some fiscal sticks – fees and charges that change behaviour – as well as increased capacity and attractiveness of alternatives to driving. But making Vancouver and its suburbs better places to live features nowhere in the No campaign. Even sensible people like Laila Yuile have been caught up in the fallacy that somehow not paying more taxes will produce better run institutions.

Anyone who talks about transit – or transportation – as though it were a free standing issue is spouting nonsense. Transportation and land use are two sides of the same coin. The best transportation plan is a land use plan. Better land use is measured by the reduction achieved in motorised trips over business as usual. Not only that but Charles Marohn and his Strong Towns movement have shown that this form of development is actually financially more responsible and actually sustainable – in the sense that we can afford to pay for it. Which is quite clearly impossible in motordom with its freeways and  sprawling single use subdivisions.

When I ran for the provincial legislature for the Green Party, I started every speech with what I thought was an unarguable truism. We know that capitalism and communism have both failed. Neither paid the slightest bit of attention to the environment or the limits to growth. While the Liberals (federal) and NDP pay lip service to these truths, their policies are still based on economic growth and more jobs. I think it is equally obvious that we cannot continue a pattern of urban growth predicated on increased car use. It also seems to me that enough people agree or have been forced by economic realities (read huge student loans and no prospects of full time permanent employment) that car use is actually declining. But our provincial politicians are still stuck on increasing the extraction of fossil fuels – and other limited natural resources – while widening highways and building ever bigger bridges.

The anger you can hear from the No campaign is the refusal to accept the necessity of change. No-one in their right minds should be proposing dedicated taxes – or a new imposition of yet more regressive taxation. But on the Yes side, we have no choice. If we want to see transit expansion  – more bike routes, safer walking, more HandyDART for the aging population – more CHOICE in transportation – this is the only way we can do this right now. Not our doing, but those who set the rules for this thing. She Who Must Be Obeyed. She who never thinks of a plebiscite for the Massey Bridge or dualling some more highways in the heartlands. I do not think that an increase in sales tax is a Good idea at all. It is simply the easiest of the available options. No one is now talking about road use pricing. More gas tax or more carbon tax would work quite well as the price of oil is falling but we don’t get that chance either. I do know that I could more easily deal with an open house  on the sales tax increase than those I had to face back when we were proposing a vehicle levy.

I also know that the No side will not deal with any of these issues as they are not in the solutions business. They have a coalition of the unwilling. It is a diverse and motley band and includes a lot of people who think of themselves as progressive and find the whole process repulsive. It has been imposed on us by someone who thinks she can control the outcome. The Yes side is similarly heterogeneous, but what unites us is the desire to prove her wrong. We do not want the future she imagines. We don’t want this plebiscite or this sales tax either, but it is the only game in town, and it has to be won if motordom and sprawl are to be defeated. And if our waistlines are to start shrinking and our health to improve.

More on this topic can be seen on PriceTags with all sorts of references and sources

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,174 other followers