COLUMN: Confusion for transit vote
The BC Liberals are suggesting that, if they are re-elected, there will be a referendum on TransLink funding options in November 2014.
The referendum would be held at the same time as municipal elections, so a separate and expensive election would not be necessary. It would take the endless debate over how best to fund TransLink from its current status as an ongoing political football, passed back and forth between mayors and provincial politicians, to something to be decided by voters, one way or another.
While it is far from clear that the Liberals will form government in May – after all, that too is up to voters – it’s an intriguing idea that is already causing controversy.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts doesn’t like the idea. She says voters in communities north of the Fraser won’t be in favour of extra taxes to improve transit in Surrey and other South Fraser communities.
Former Vancouver councillor Gordon Price, director of the Simon Fraser University City program, is equally unimpressed. He calls the idea “excruciatingly bad.”
It should be pointed out that Price actually uses the transit system extensively.
Years ago, when he was still on Vancouver council, he came out to Surrey to take part in a cable TV show that I hosted.
While more politicians use transit nowadays, at that time, he was a rare and shining exception.
Meanwhile, North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton, who chairs the mayors council that votes on TransLink tax proposals, is mildly in favour of the matter going to referendum.
The mayors and the provincial government have pledged to work together to come up with some specific ideas to fund transit and transportation.
One idea is road pricing – something that Premier Christy Clark opposes, but Watts likes.
Another is the long-discussed and highly controversial car tax, something that has long been seen as unfair in areas where there are limited transit options.
If the NDP wins the election, leader Adrian Dix has promised that some carbon-tax revenue will be used for transit – something the BC Liberals have refused to do. As carbon tax is being imposed to try to get people to make choices that use less carbon, it seems an appropriate tax to raise funds for transit improvements.
Surrey transit advocate Daryl Dela Cruz doesn’t like the referendum idea. He points out, quite rightly, that transit is used extensively by young people, many of whom are too young to vote.
Dela Cruz himself is too young to vote in the provincial election.
I’m not sure that a vote is as bad an idea as the critics say. While Dela Cruz makes a great point about those under 18 not being able to vote, the fact is that few eligible young people (and a minority of all voters) ever vote in a municipal election.
If there is a referendum on TransLink tax options, it could likely drive up the turnout in the municipal elections – which would be a positive step.
I don’t agree with Watts that people north of the Fraser would vote in droves against measures that would help Surrey. I think those who favour transit, and there are many spread throughout the region, would favour reasonable taxes that would lead to better service.
A road-pricing scheme would be among one of the fairest ways to raise TransLink funds, as it would take the burden of paying for Highway 1 improvements away from just those who cross the Port Mann Bridge.
All the others who use the new road west of the bridge don’t pay for it.
No matter who wins the provincial election, the referendum idea is one worth looking at in more detail.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.