There are make or break decisions in the history of every community. Think about the decisions that have made Vancouver the livable city we love: the inaugural decision by our first City Council to create Stanley Park; the rejection of the 1960s plan to build freeways downtown through Chinatown and Kitsilano.
The Transportation and Transit Plebiscite is one of these make or break decisions. Why? Because expanding transit is key to tackling congestion and climate change.
It’s why I’m voting “YES”.
“YES” means more frequent busses, more B-line routes, more NightBus, HandiDart, and Seabus services that will all help livability, especially for shift workers and the young, old and poor who depend on transit more. Our whole region will be more sustainable when we get light rail and more buses in the suburbs where people currently have to use their cars because transit service is so bad. Overall, the planned investments in transit, which are the heart of the plan we’re voting to fund in this plebiscite, will reduce car use, congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, which will help slow down global warming.
Let’s get real about what a “no” vote means. It means “no” to more money for transit. That means more congestion, more rush hour gridlock, more crowded buses and trains, longer commute times, more polluted air, more greenhouse gas emissions, and accelerating climate change.
Some say, even if the “no” side wins, government will fund transit anyway. Why would any government fund something that voters specifically reject, especially when they are already choosing to grossly underfund transit compared to highways and bridges? Perhaps a different provincial government might, but that means waiting for the 2017 election, with the outcome uncertain and years of accelerating congestion and climate change in the meantime.
Others say TransLink or its Mayors’ Council could put more money into transit on their own. But there are only certain revenue sources available to them without senior government approval, specifically transit fares, property taxes and development levies. Increasing transit fares, which are already amongst the highest in North America, will only drive down ridership and increase the burden on those who can least afford it. There’s also a limit to how high property taxes can be hiked, especially for small businesses and modest income property owners. Property taxes also place a bigger burden on fewer people instead of spreading out the costs over tourists and visitors, as the PST does. Neither source would feasibly generate as much money as a 0.5% increase in the PST, so transit will inevitably be shortchanged.
A big worry of mine is that a “no” vote will accelerate the use of development cost levies to fund transit. That would drive more highrise development, just like Oakridge and Marine Gateway along the Canada Line. This idea is already embedded in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy, and in Vancouver’s Transportation 2040 plan. I’ve been voting against its implementation.
There’s simply no feasible alternative that will deliver as much new transit services as quickly to our region as voting “YES” on this plebiscite will do.
The arguments that we need to fix Translink, or get a better plan or find a different source of funding are legitimate. I agree with many people: this is not a perfect plan. Translink needs to be governed by an elected, accountable and transparent board. We need a zero-carbon transit plan that is developed with genuine public consultation to shape the form and scale of the city we want. Fares should be lowered, not increased. Funding for transit should come from what we’re trying to change, for example congestion charges and carbon taxes, which the Mayors’ Council actually suggests, too.
I will work to achieve all of those goals, including genuine public consultation on all of the major components of the plan here in Vancouver. But we shouldn’t delay in moving ahead with more transit now. The plan we’re voting on in this plebiscite would fund the most desperately needed services first. There would be increases within the first year, for example, in daytime bus routes and NightBus service. Bigger projects like extending SkyTrain would take many years and won’t happen without both senior governments’ matching funds.
I was born in Vancouver, love our city, and hold our region’s environment and livability dear to my heart. I’m proud that Vancouver was ranked for years as the world’s most livable city. But that status is fragile. We dropped from number one spot primarily due to increased traffic congestion. By 2013 we were ranked as having the most congested rush hour of any city in Canada, and fifth worst in all of North and South America! I see and feel it. What’s made the difference? Cuts to bus service, unreliable transit, higher transit fares and population growth. It will only get worse if we don’t invest in transit now.
Every world-class livable city has a great transit system. Vancouver used to be a global leader, with North America’s first electric streetcar system and tram stops a five-minute walk from every home! In fact our region had better transit in the early 20th century than now: including inter-urban lines up the valley to Chilliwack. In the 1960s we stopped the building of freeways into downtown Vancouver, but we also ripped up electric tram and trolley lines. We haven’t been investing in transit like we should.
Forty percent of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. I promised myself that as a Vancouver City Councillor I would do everything I can to mitigate climate change and create a better quality of life for the people of our great city. This is why I’m voting “YES”.
Just ask your children: Every young person I’ve talked to says they’re voting “YES”, too.