It’s been almost a week since TransLink requested new revenue generating tools to pay for transit expansions. In that time, we’ve heard all the cons from business groups, conservative lobbyists, and irate citizens. Not once did we hear any substantial defense or explanation of the benefits come from Vancouver’s active and vibrant urbanist community.
Folks, this is our window of opportunity to fix TransLink once and for all. It is not a governance issue, or an administrative issue, but just what it has been since the NDP pulled the rug from the original vehicle levy – a funding issue. We can make the most wonderful transit plans in the world, but unless we have a feasible, and politically acceptable, way to pay for it all, then we’ll continue to be stuck in the mud.
These are the facts. Congestion costs our regional economy upwards of $1 billion a year. Improving and expanding our transit system is the second-highest priority to local residents. Over 30% of citizens in poorly served areas like Surrey and Langley say they’d take transit if there was better service available. Conclusion: we want, and need, a better transportation network.
So why the backlash? One reason: perception.
People think of TransLink as a tax-happy, un-democratic, waste-filled organization full of incompetent planners.
Some of the blame lies on the agency’s own decisions through the years. The periodic increases to property tax, gas tax, and fares give the impression that taxes keep going up, with no discernible benefit to most residents. This erratic approach to budgeting isn’t winning TransLink much support with the public.
Other problems stem from outsiders. From the start, TransLink was created to allow the region to have greater control over its own transport destiny. Instead, the provincial government, both NDP and Liberal versions, have interfered with local decisions, over and over again. The province has used TransLink as its convenient scapegoat on which to blame all issues, but when it comes time to claim victories, Victoria is more than happy to take all the credit. Who is actually responsible for the transportation decision made in Vancouver? Nobody knows.
And then there’s the media spin. Led this round by Jordan Bateman, former Langley Township councillor turned mouthpiece for Canada’s leading anti-tax lobbyists, they’ve conjured up claims of excessive spending, rampant nepotism, and uncontrolled waste. This, despite the fact that TransLink spends just 3% of its $1 billion budget on administration, has undergone three audits in the past couple years, completed a service rationalization program, and spent a hefty sum to install faregates. Yet, this is the storyline that the majority of Vancouverites get fed.
We urbanists know the facts – and we know the spin. It is up to us, along with other community leaders – including our Mayors – to counterattack the misinformation and to connect the dots in this story. If we want better transit, we have to pay for it. If we decide to spend another decade spinning our wheels, doing anything but addressing the real issue, we’ll be exactly where we are now: stuck in traffic, with tens of thousands more commuters on the road with us.
Let this be our wake up call. The other side is organized and ready to defend the status quo. If we truly care about the future livability of this region, then now is the time to speak up. Be vocal. Express your opinion. Organize. Get our act together.
Because in the end, we’ll get the city we deserve.
Paul Hillsdon is the editor of Civic Surrey, a local blog charting the urban evolution of BC’s second largest city. He is studying Geography at Simon Fraser University.