Vote ‘yes’ for the Regional Congestion Improvement Tax

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On March 16, ballots will be mailed out to registered Metro Vancouver voters, asking them to vote on an investment plan for the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan. The Transportation Plan promises key transportation upgrades in the region, including extension of the SkyTrain along Broadway, 2700 kilometres of bikeways, light rail in Surrey and the Langleys, B-Line bus services to SFU, a 25 per cent increase in bus service throughout the region, and major bridge and road upgrades.

The upgrades will cost $7.5 million, and the proposed funding source will be a 0.5 per cent Congestion Improvement Tax. This tax has been deemed the most equitable and efficient method to fund critical transportation improvements by economists at HDR Consulting and InterVISTAS Consulting.

A ‘no’ vote would be a real-world example of a tragedy of the commons. Everyone wants to reduce their individual costs, despite the fact that voting ‘no’ would ultimately be harmful to the population at large because of increased traffic congestion and overburdened public transit — both of which would have detrimental effects on the economy. Thus, the tragedy arises; avoiding small costs incurs large costs later. Without the increase in funding gained from a ‘yes’ vote, the regional governments will be unable to meet the growing population’s needs for transportation mobility. 

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) have a “No TransLink Tax” pledge, and have convinced over 3,000 rational agents to pledge a ‘no’ vote. The basic premise of their argument is that TransLink is a wasteful organization that would already have enough funds to finance the proposed improvements if it managed its money better. 

Without a ‘yes’ vote, the regional governments will not meet our growing city’s transit needs.

However, as Brad Cavanagh elucidates in a blog post titled “Referendum Myths: ‘TransLink is Wasteful,’” Translink has reduced annual wasteful spending by $26 million, with only $1.9 million of wasteful spending reported in 2013. Included in the CTF’s assessment of TransLink’s wasteful spending is the $30,000 feasibility study of the SFU Gondola, which is debatable accounting. Even if the CTF’s arguments were valid, the amount of wasteful spending amounts to less than 0.13 per cent of Translink’s annual $1.406 billion budget. Criticising TransLink’s operational costs as a justification to reject the proposed improvement tax is unfounded.

Rather than debating the negligible amount of wasteful spending in TransLink’s operational budget, let’s consider the amount of income that residents would be expected to pay to improve services in the region if the proposed tax were implemented. According to the Mayors’ Council Funding Backgrounder, the average expense to a household would be less than 0.2 per cent of their annual income, and even less for lower income families. This means that the typical family will pay less than $125 annually, and students will pay less than $30 annually. If the referendum is rejected, the Mayors’ Council will be forced to use other fundraising methods to meet growing transportation needs.

As students, a ‘yes’ vote is essential. According to a 2011 SFSS report, nearly 70 per cent of SFU students use transit to reach SFU, and these students will benefit from a positive referendum result. For those who drive, it would mean major road upgrades and reduced congestion.

Improving regional transportation is beneficial to the economy, our standard of living, and our health. If you have not previously voted in a provincial election, go to the Elections BC website and register. Vote ‘yes,’ and let’s bring our regional transportation system into the 21st century.

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