Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, mobility pricing, and why sales tax is better

The fact that municipal mayors in Metro Vancouver and the Tsawwassen First Nation endorsed a fully-costed transportation vision for our region is impressive. You can view the details of the vision on the Mayors’ Council website. Three mayors did oppose the vision, but none of those mayors lived in the South of Fraser.

Even more impressive is that the vision has been endorsed by many Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade groups in Metro Vancouver. The only Chamber of Commerce to oppose this vision so far is the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce. From what I’ve been told, it was a close vote whether to support or oppose the vision.

The mayors’ propose to fund their vision with a 0.5% regional PST-like sales taxes. One of the reasons cited by the Langley Chamber for opposing the vision is that they would prefer “mobility pricing” instead of a sales tax to fund it.

Mobility pricing means paying for transportation infrastructure with both taxes and direct user fees. In Metro Vancouver, transit is paid for with a combination of direct user fees and taxes. Only two bridges are paid for with direct user fees and taxes in Metro Vancouver, the rest of the road network is paid for with taxes.

The discussion around mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver has been around road pricing to manage demand and pay for road infrastructure. For more information, I suggest looking at the Moving in Metro website put together by the SFU Centre for Dialogue.

Road pricing is a great way to manage demand for roads and pay for some road infrastructure, but is a poor way to fund transit. Just like gas tax, as more people take transit, less money available for transit. In Metro Vancouver, gas tax revenue has been declining which has impacted the ability of TransLink to deliver transit improvements.

That alone is reason enough to look at another funding tool to pay for much needed transit investment, but there is another issue with using road pricing to pay for transit; it is not equitable.

The 0.5% regional sales tax is the most equality and most affordable way to pay for the mayors’ vision. The regional sales tax would be paid by residents, businesses, and visitors in Metro Vancouver; everyone that benefits from transportation infrastructure. It is affordable as it will only be applied to items which are PST taxable, it will only cost $10 per month for the average household and $5 per month for low-income households.

Interesting enough, if Metro Vancouver moved ahead with using road pricing to pay for transit, it would actually hurt people in Langley the most.

More people use cars to get around in Langley than anywhere else in Metro Vancouver. 90% of all trips are by auto. The regional average is 73%. Only 53% of all trips are by auto in Vancouver. While a sales tax would apply to the same basket of goods, whether you live in Vancouver or Langley, road pricing would be paid for disproportionately by people who live in the South of Fraser.

The Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce had other concerns about the mayors’ transportation vision which I will address in an upcoming post.

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