Thursday, September 19, 2013

Leap Ahead transit plan, what's next, and the PST

It has been about three weeks since Leap Ahead, a transit plan for Metro Vancouver has been released. One of the objectives Paul Hillsdon and I set for the plan was to start a productive conversation about transit funding in the region again. By all accounts, I think we have succeeded. Leap Ahead got a good amount of coverage in the mainstream media. We also sent the plan to all local governments in the region. Local governments have reached out, and we’ve had some good chats with local mayors, planners, and even TransLink about Leap Ahead, transit funding, and the potential transit funding referendum next year. One of the questions that many people have been asking is now that the plan has been released, what is the next step.

Well, I’m happy to report that other groups are gearing up to fight for transit expansion in the region, and have embraced the framework presented in Leap Ahead. One such organization that I’m helping out is GetOnBoard BC. I highly suggest you check out their website and consider volunteering some of your time with them. Another organization that has written about Leap Ahead is Moving in a Livable Region.

Generally, I’ve heard positive feedback about using a small 0.5% increase in PST in Metro Vancouver to pay for transit expansion. In fact, the people I’ve talked to that don’t support an increase in PST to pay for transit don’t believe transit is important, or hate sale taxes in general. I don’t think any facts or figures will convince these people to think differently. Of course, there is a broad spectrum of people that might be sitting on the fence, and giving them more information will help.

Moving in a Livable Region wrote a great post on their website about using a 0.5% increase in PST to fund transit. I suggest that you check out the full post, but I wanted to share two important sections.

Sales Tax Comparison: Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal. Click graph to enlarge.

The graph show that even with an increase in PST, Metro Vancouver will still have a lower sales tax than the two other major centres in Canada: Toronto and Montreal.

Two obstacles to the regional sales tax include the Metro Vancouver business community and low-income households. Businesses would have to weigh the gains of reduced travel times and higher customer visit rates against a slight tax disadvantage (compared to neighbouring regions). For low-income households the sales tax would be slightly regressive due to the fact that retail expenditure takes up a larger chunk of this group’s budget. However, since public transit funding disproportionately benefits lower income households, the retail sales tax hit might be negated. The concept of a new sales tax is pragmatic, straightforward, and tested in other regions. Contrary to the failed HST platform with its seemingly intangible benefits, the 0.5% “tax for transit” proposal puts five hard projects on the table.

One of the other comments I heard from people is that there should be higher transit fares to pay for expansion. This is a fair request, but as pointed out by Moving in a Livable Region this is “something Translink has tried to do, only to be denied by its independent regulator” which was setup by the province.

With a potential referendum on transit funding only a year away, I will be working with organizations like GetOnBoard BC to help win the referendum so we can expand transit in our region.

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