Transit tax a ripoff for ’burbs

There is no equity or fairness now for Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

I cannot understand why any local residents would vote yes in next month’s referendum on the TransLink tax grab.

Simply put, it’s a big ripoff of the outlying suburbs with virtually all the major benefits to be directed to Surrey and Vancouver.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner’s toadies on the mayors’ committee on TransLink have all fallen into line, with the exception of Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read and two other mayors who remain opposed to the referendum.

Any analysis of the current TransLink service levels in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows shows a huge disparity between such outlying suburbs and services in the Vancouver/Surrey corridor. There is no equity or fairness now for Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, something that will remain unchanged even if we all jump on the ‘yes’ bandwagon.

The referendum will give TransLink an additional $250 million annually with no sunset date in the deal. Never mind the much touted $7.5 billion figure quoted in the yes hype, there is no mention in the referendum of an end date to the half-per cent increase in the provincial sales tax. It can and probably will go on forever.

Most people, regardless of where they live, can understand the need for significant improvements to transit and transportation in the Metro Vancouver region, but TransLink is the provincially appointed monster which helped create the current mess and now we are being asked to give that inefficient collection of money wasters even more money to fritter away.

Even their most ardent supporters have to admit that TransLink’s record on fiscal issues leaves a lot to be desired. From faregate, fare evaders, transit police, and Compass cards to the commercial disaster for Cambie Street merchants during the Canada line construction, and sink holes along the route of the Evergreen line, there is no end to the ways TransLink has found to throw away our money. And that’s without even taking into account the bloated salary and bonus structure for TransLink executives.

According to TransLink’s 2014 business plan and capital budget summary, it costs approximately 34 cents per passenger kilometer to operate transit services, with fare-paying passengers paying less than 13 cents of that cost.

Passengers are subsidized to the tune of 64 per cent of the overall operating costs, and that doesn’t include anything for capital. That subsidy is paid through a variety of levies, with 23 per cent coming from fuel sales, 21 per cent from property taxes, six per cent from senior levels of government, four per cent from parking fees, three per cent from tolls and seven per cent from other taxes.

At 34 cents per passenger kilometre, or 50 cents per mile, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that operating a car pool with four contributing people is a hell of a lot better deal.

TransLink is an economic and administrative mess and should be revamped or disbanded and replaced with a more fiscally responsible management system prior to any referendum.

It’s time to tell the Vancouver and Surrey mayors that we are tired of pumping their tires and want a substantially better deal before we approve any further funding for their transit needs.

The suggestion by yes supporters that failure of the referendum means the much needed transportation and transit improvements won’t proceed is nonsense. On the other hand, defeat of the proposal will send a very strong message to Metro Vancouver and the provincial government that we expect more fiscally responsible management and accountability with TransLink or its successor before passage of such a long range measure.

Until that happens, just say no to the referendum.




Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.