How will we pay for the transit system we NEED?

A matter of LIVABILITY >> Vancouver Sun, June 19, 2009

[Like I said on a previous post, I’m totally behind.  This has been sitting in my drafts for a couple weeks.]

An apt title in the Vancouver Sun for how are we going to live in the future.  That will be decided by our transportation plan in the next couple of decades.  We need a lot of transit if we are going to change we move around this city.

I purposely live within walking distance to a SkyTrain so I don’t have to drive everywhere.  Obviously, everyone doesn’t want to live as close to the train as I do, but that’s my choice.  If we have more choice, especially buses, maybe more people will make that choice.

A frequent bus network that requires a bus every 15 minutes is not frequent enough for me, but it is a huge improvement to a bus every 30 or 60 minutes.  That’s already double the service.

However, we have to pay for it somehow.  There is only one taxpayer.  Most of our taxes do not go to our cities. They go up to the provincial and federal level.  My property tax is piggly compared to what I give to the upper levels of government.  The provincial and federal governments have already taken our cash and they should siphon it back into a decaying infrastructure, including our transit system.

I’ve heard it over and over again that TransLink hasn’t the funds to do their work.  Even maintaining the status quo is costly.  The province, through two different political administrations, has always handcuffed TransLink since its inception.  It has the mandate to build, improve, maintain and run our road and transit system in Metro Vancouver; however, it has never been given the full funds to carry out its mandate.  Now, it has to go through silly exercises in consulting the public on how best to take money from them.

TransLink has gone so far as to devise a board game, called It’s Your Move, for use by Metro Vancouver residents. The game allows people like Anderson to set their priorities and then choose how to pay for them — for example, through increased property and gas taxes or a vehicle levy.

Each option has a point value attached, so that at the end of the game, players can see if they can afford their transit priorities using their revenue-raising choices.

According to statistics from those already playing online, most people believe TransLink needs another $450 million annually and, if they must support some form of increased taxation, a differentiated vehicle levy — one that has a higher fee for gas-guzzlers like SUVs– tops the list, Hardie said.

Raising property taxes — which is opposed by Metro’s 21 mayors — appears to be out of the question for most people.

Hmm… maybe TransLink can make some real coin by creating a blockbuster transit board game that they could sell.  I’d buy it.  I’m already a big fan of the Ticket to Ride board game series.  However, to make the game a competition, they’ll need to introduce rival transit companies to compete with TransLink.

Even with my cynicism about such exercises, they do sometimes flesh out some interesting results.  Most participants are in favour of the vehicle levy that was shouted out many years ago.  I still think the vehicle levy is a good idea.  Of course, my family owns a small car so we have less at stake here.  However, up to $275 is pennies compared to what a SUV driver already paid for when they purchased the vehicle.

My other comment about cars and levies is that we have plenty of room to raise prices on car related things like tolls and levies.  Sure, nobody likes to hear about an increase in their cost of living.  However, we in North America are very forunate (or unfortunate depending how you look at it) to have car ownership within easy reach.  Many countries charge a premium for owning a car.  Car ownership in many places are at least double what it costs here.

Imagine buying your lowly, but noble, Toyota Corolla for $40,000.  Yikes!  Ah.  But it makes you think twice about owning a car, doesn’t it?  The only problem is, we need to redesign our cities so that we can get around with a car.  The mantra again is that land use and transportation go hand-in-hand.  A concept that many city planners and powers-that-be still don’t seem to grasp.

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