Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Dark Day for the Livable Region: What the No Vote Really Means

While not surprised, I am disappointed that citizens in Metro Vancouver voted no to improving transit in Metro Vancouver. Langley, Maple Ridge, and Pitt Meadows had some of the lowest levels of support.

In Surrey, only 34% of eligible voters said yes to a 0.5% sales tax to improve transit and transportation in the region. Surrey would have been the largest recipient of transit and transportation service improvements in the region under the plan that voters rejected.

From the get go, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said that there was a Plan B for Surrey’s light rail project should the transit plebiscite fail. I’m sure that many in Surrey voted no because they felt that they would end up with light rail either way.

Of course nothing is free, the capital and operating costs for the Surrey light rail project will likely come from property tax increases and/or other city services being reduced as budget is reallocated to the light rail project. Hepner’s Plan B does not include money for increased bus service, funding major roads, or funding cycling improvements in Surrey like the plebiscite plan did.

One of the real tragedies is the result of the no vote for people who live in the Township of Langley. Traffic and parking are major problems, and will only get worse as the population in areas like Willoughby triples in the next few decades. People in the Township of Langley have been calling for more transit service, but because of the outcome of the plebiscite, will only see their limited transit service get worse.

TransLink has already indicated that they will cut service on routes that under-perform. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the community shuttle routes in Langley are completely eliminated. This is bad news for seniors, students, and working-class families.

One of the clear messages from the plebiscite is that people do not trust TransLink. There are many reasons why, but it all comes down to its governance structure. The sad reality is that TransLink and its current governance structure was created by the provincial government. Only the provincial government can change the governance structure. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone has indicated that the province may now look at changing the TransLink governance structure, but will it be enough?

Todd Stone also said this afternoon that our region’s mayors will still need to come up with the 1/3rd of funding needed to pay for transit improvements in the region. The province has always wanted the mayors to hike up property tax to pay for transit improvements. The mayors have consistently said no.

The major reason for saying no is that the mayors don’t want their property tax revenue going to a provincial agency for which they have little control over.

We are back to where we started in 2012 when TransLink needed more funding to expand service: a provincial government that wants mayors to hike up property taxes, and mayors who won’t raise property taxes to fund desperately needed transit improvements until there is governance changes at TransLink.

At the Mayors’ Council press conference this morning, there was a strong indication that the region’s mayors might step away from the Mayors’ Council altogether if the province doesn’t change the governance structure of TransLink.

Interestingly enough, with no new funding for transit expansion, the Mayors’ Council isn’t really needed. The only thing of importance that TransLink won’t be able to do is increase fares.

I know that many people voted no because they believe there is hidden money within TransLink; a no vote would clean up TransLink. This is simply not the case.

At the end of the day, new money is needed to improve transit in our region. In the meantime, residents in Metro Vancouver can look forward to more traffic gridlock, more broken-down SkyTrains, more over-crowded buses, and less service in the South of Fraser.

While Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto are expanding transit service in a big way, Metro Vancouver can’t even fund a new bus route.

Transit is an important part of attracting businesses to the region. The results of this week’s plebiscite, the provincial government’s refusal to fix TransLink’s governance, and the mayors’ line-in-the-sand approach to property tax means that Metro Vancouver will not live up to its full economic potential.

The added cost of owning a vehicle, congestion, and pollution will further deteriorate the livability and affordability of our region.


Dave Hall said...

The people have spoken and now we shall see if there was any truth to the claims that there is no "Plan B". How long will it take for this to emerge?? Perhaps as we approach a new provincial election?

Frankly Speaking said...

You make some great points Nathan. I agree that suburban bus commuters will likely be punished even more than they already are, and you are also right that many voters distrust TransLink.
TransLink was created by the NDP government, but never given enough funding powers to expand transit service in a significant way.