Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Province, TransLink, and Taxes (Rural Voice)

When I think about the pending doom of TransLink, I often wonder if its creation had more to do with urban/rural politics than anything else.

BC, like many places in North America, has an urban/rural divide. It is clearly evident in transportation policy throughout the history of the province. From the "Wacky" Bennett era of highways, BC Ferries, and BC Rail; to SkyTrain and the Coquihalla in the 1980’s; to the Island Highway in the 1990’s; and the Gateway Program and TransLink this decade: It seems that every project has been controversial.

It was a common complaint (I heard growing up) that the province could not afford to paint lines on the road in the interior, but Vancouver got gold-plated transit. When the province created TransLink it basically did two things. 1.) Absolved the province of any responsibility for transit, deflecting any criticism back to the region. 2.) Gave the appearance that the province wasn’t taking all the hard-earned money from someone in William’s Lake and spending it in Vancouver. This is important because people in rural BC have more MLA per capita than urban British Columbians.

In 2008/2009 the province covered 36% of BC Transit's (transit for everywhere but Metro Vancouver) operating costs and 0% of TransLink. Given the fact that the TransLink service region covers about 50% of the population of BC, would it not make sense for the province to cover 36% of TransLink's operating costs? The mayors of the communities that TransLink serves are ready to do unpopular things like introduce a vehicle level. It is not time for the province to step up to the plate?

From the perceptive of rural votes in BC, it could see how it could be a bit of a political hot potato to give “even more money” to Vancouver. But if you look at the BC budget and economy today, urban BC is supporting rural BC. According to the BC government the role of resource industries is declining. They currently employ about 9% of British Columbia's workforce. In fact revenue from resources account for about 12% of all revenue collected by the province. The province gets more money from BC Liquor and BCLC than the forestry sector! It is time to put rural/urban politics aside, and give back Metro Vancouver funding for transit.

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