Bridge tolls are inequitable – From the North Shore news

Liz James is one of the few Newspaper types that gets it.Ai??SheAi??is one of the very few newspaper types that actually does research.

Instead of the rah-rah SkyTrain/TransLink is good crowd, Ms. James actually gets to theAi??heart of the matter.

TransLink is in trouble financially. TransLink needs lots cash to survive; so its a the “mean old car driver who has to pay“, is the refrain from bureaucrats and Langley mayor Fassbender.

But the car driver has had enough and is fighting back, with the election of Toronto’s new anti-tram mayor Rob Ford as a good example. As well, South Fraser municipalities are mulling over opting out of TransLink, as they are tired having their taxpayers shelling out more and more money for grandAi??North FraserAi??SkyTrain projects!

As prophesied by transit experts in the 1980′s, our SkyTrain light metro system has created a very small transitAi??network at great taxpayer’s expense,again requiring huge sums of tax money to maintain. Our localAi??politicians and planning bureaucrats, grossly ignorant of the art of providing affordable ‘rail‘ transit, have blundered on and on, from 1980, planning and building three very expensive metro lines that have done little to alleviate auto congestion in the region; in fact, evidence shows that the Canada Line maybe forcing more people back to the car! Yet the region plans for more light-metro! TheAi??$2.5 billion Canada line hasAi??nowhere near taken 200,000 car trip a days off the road per day as predicted by former premier Gordon Campbell, form mayor Sam Sullivan, and former Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon.

Forcing former bus customers to transfer to the new metro and claiming that they are new customers to transit is plain dishonest.

Add into this caustic mess is the $1 a day U-Pass, forced upon all post secondary students in the coreAi??METROAi?? region, with over 100,000 U-PassesAi??in circulation. With students making up toAi??four trips a day (which could count asAi??8 dailyAi??boardings) has greatly skewed our ridership numbers on the regional transit system. Having a premium light-metro system, used mainly by people having cheap fares (Example: the previously mentioned 8 boardings with a $1 a day U-Pass effectively means that the person using theAi??metro is actually paying less than 13 cents a trip!) will cause major financial problems in the near future.

Building expensive, yet obsolete SkyTrain; providing heavily subsidized U-Passes, are only a few of the many financial problems facing TransLink, yet no serious discussions are taking place, except how to extract more money from the car driver to pay for a transit system that is unaffordable.

Ai??

Bridge tolls are inequitable

By Elizabeth James, Special To North Shore News

March 30, 2011 7:02 AM

“Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender says there needs to be a level playing field when it comes to tolling major structures in the region. He says with a toll on the Golden Ears Bridge and one going on a new Port Mann Bridge, there’s regional inequity.”

Janet Brown, cknw.com March 22, 2011

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, chairman of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, proposes all Metro Vancouver bridges be tolled — including the Lions Gate and Ironworkers’ Memorial crossings.

Welcome to the din of inequity.

The din kicked up by a North Vancouver employee who, already zoned out of his affordable North Shore home, could be faced with return-trip tolls on two bridges to get to work.

Or the din of a big-box employee who works two jobs — one here, one in Dunbar — to keep a roof over her family’s head.

North Shore residents already endure regional inequity and have done since 1998 when metro municipalities assumed responsibility for TransLink.

Region-wide, that responsibility includes a budget-crippling share of capital, operating and debt-servicing costs for projects dictated by the province.

Fassbender’s proposal would exaggerate the imbalance — if not between municipalities, then certainly between the region and the province.

Reached for his comment, Peter Frinton, Bowen Island councillor and member of the Mayor’s Council, said he understands why Valley residents are concerned about the proliferation of “South of Fraser” tolls, but believes there is a “structural problem” with Fassbender’s approach.

Saying that “pursuing equity is not the same as user-pay,” Frinton outlined a myriad of variants in taxpayer categories, taxation methods and types of users.

That the Mayors’ Council faces fiscal challenges is not in dispute; the funding shortfall has bedevilled TransLink from Day 1.

But the challenge cannot be met by digging deeper into taxpayers’ wallets; it will only be overcome when 22 metro councils unite to force the province to own the results of its decisions.

In 1998, Glen Clark knew he had financial trouble on his hands in the form of the Millennium Line. So when escalating costs made him worried about adding another political embarrassment to the fast-ferries fiasco, he unloaded the responsibility onto the region — with no equitable funding formula.

Victoria has continued to squeeze both ends against the middle ever since.

At one end, the province fast-tracks low-priority projects according to the political expediencies of the day, and at the other denies funding for regional transportation essentials.

The list of vehicle-related taxes and fees is unending:

Levies are collected via:

- municipal property tax and BC Hydro bills;

- fuel and carbon taxes at the pump;

- HST on service-related labour, parts, goods and accessories;

- recycling fees on batteries, tires, etc.

- HST on vehicle leases/purchases;

- parking and parking replacement charges; and,

- multi-millions of dollars in income tax and Canada pension premiums paid on thousands of vehicle-related jobs.

Some of the requested data are still pending, but preliminary numbers show that in 2001 Bowen Island remitted $130,499 to TransLink and in 2010 $645,209 — that is a whopping 493 per cent increase.

City of Surrey reports $14.6 million for 2003 and $34.1 million in 2008 (numbers include property-tax collections and grants in lieu, and both communities recorded a seismic shift in 2005).

As Frinton dryly observed, “No wonder the Mayors’ Council is concerned about the trend.”

In my opinion, it is flat-out wrong for anyone to talk of new “user-pay” tolls without first redressing the imbalance caused by provincial decisions to inflict SkyTrain on the region, when there are inexpensive, internationally proven alternatives.

According to its own 2008 SkyTrain data, TransLink estimated 73.5 million boardings at an operating cost of $82.7 million. Partial cost-recovery came from fares, advertising and other revenues. Debt-servicing costs were omitted.

By fourth-quarter 2010, weekday ridership averaged 381,100 boardings.

The problem is that until smart cards are available, TransLink can only do passenger-counts on the Canada Line, not on the Expo and Millennium Lines — hence the ongoing problems with fare evasion.

When evaluating the true value of a transit system, it is logical to expect that two weekday boardings equates to one person on a return journey. In our TransLink reality, that one person can be counted many times more as s/he boards connecting buses at either end of a SkyTrain trip.

And with respect to fare revenues, when discount U-Passes and concession fares are factored in, and when bus routes are cancelled to force passengers onto the Canada Line, the revenue value-for-dollar of SkyTrain becomes even more suspect.

To emphasize: There is presently no way of knowing the ratio of full-fare to economy passengers, nor how many “freebies” are counted among those boardings.

But one of the most disturbing aspects of Fassbender’s proposal is that it offers no fresh ideas, either to the region or to Valley residents angry about Port Mann and Golden Ears bridge tolls, and the looming need to replace the aging Pattullo crossing.

So before TransLink returns to the fount looking for more regional tolls, perhaps the best solution would be for the region to lob the ball back to the source, where most of the problems began.

Let today’s (Christy) Clark team pursue equity — they will be easier to call to account than the closed-door TransLink board.

Ai??

 

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