Friday, 3 July 2015

Want Better Transit? You'll Have to Pay for It

The people of metropolitan Vancouver have voted in a referendum on a proposal to add an extra half a percent to the provincial sales tax in order to fund transit upgrades throughout the Vancouver region.  The results are now in.  The proposal was rejected by approximately 62% of voters, so now the region's local politicians along with their provincial counterparts will have to find another way to fund mass public transit - a service that everyone wants to see improve, but not willing to pay more for.  Here's the grim reality: If people living in big cities like Vancouver or Toronto want more and better transit, they're going to have to pay for it.  How they pay for it, whether it's an increase in sales taxes, a hike in property taxes, or that two-word phrase that no one who drives a car in a big city wants to hear - road tolls - is subject to debate, but make no mistake.  If you live in a vast metropolis and you want public transit that will move you from point A to point B faster and more conveniently, you're going to have to pay up.

Now I understand that no one wants to pay more taxes, especially when they think their tax dollars won't be spent wisely.  Indeed, according to the article that appeared on the front page of The Globe and Mail today (see: Voters reject sales-tax hike to fund transit), voters in the Vancouver region may have been influenced by the bad publicity that the regional transit authority, TransLink, has received in recent years for its alleged mismanagement of taxpayers' funds.  The criticism that TransLink has faced is not too dissimilar from that faced by Metrolinx, the regional transit authority created by the Province of Ontario to plan and oversee public transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.  It's just an unfortunate fact that we don't have very much trust in our elected politicians and the bureaucrats they appoint to manage our mass transit systems the way they should be.  But of course, this is ultimately our fault because we're the ones who put the bums in office in the first place.  We're just going to have to get better at electing the right people and hope that better would-be leaders step up to help us do that.

There is always the alternative of allowing private interests build and operate mass transit systems in our big cities, which I mentioned in a past blog on transit in Toronto (see: Abolish the TTC Monopoly on Public Mass Transit in Toronto, Because Competition is "The Better Way").  But even if Canada's large cities did choose the path of competition, there would still be the need for more public funding, meaning funding from taxpayers like you and I.  After all, when have you ever heard of big private companies participating in massive public works projects without government funding?  I haven't.

So if you're tired of overcrowded buses, subways and streetcars, and you want less cars on the road so that traffic can move more smoothly, don't expect not to pay.  In fact, even if you're not tired of inefficient public transit and increasing gridlock, you and every other taxpayer are going to pay anyway, since traffic delays cost the economy billions of dollars every year, not to mention the pollution that we're all breathing in from all those cars that are on the roads because transit just doesn't work the way it should.  Gas mask, anyone?   

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