Terence Corcoran: Hey, Vancouver: Just say ai???Noai??i?? to transit tax

Though I am trying to avoid unhappiness with the upcoming transit plebiscite, this item from the Financial Post is well worth a read.

What I find interesting, is the following comment; “Even London, a world leader in public transit and congestion charges, is still bogged down in traffic. ai???Traffic jams in London getting worse, ai??? said a BBC headline last year.”

So those who think a few km of LRT in Surrey and a paltry 5 km SkyTrain subway under Broadway or a few BRT lines, will alleviate congestion, think again.

Terence Corcoran: Hey, Vancouver: Just say ai???Noai??i?? to transitAi??tax

Terence Corcoran | March 16, 2015

ai???The cityai??i??s proposed sales tax plan is just a trigger for billions in new spending and higher taxes in future. Ai??And for what?ai???

Ah, congestion! What a windfall for policy wonks, sustainability dictators and others with a penchant for standing at the intersection of economic life and directing ideological traffic. Itai??i??s a global trend that this week officially sweeps into Vancouver with the distributionai??i??by mail!ai??i??of ballots for a city plebiscite on a proposed ai???transit tax.ai???

Or, as Happy City guy Charles Montgomery wrote in the National Post over the weekend, Metro Vancouver voters are being asked to participate ai???en masse in a fascinating behavioral experiment.ai??? Thatai??i??s not entirely inaccurate, since the plebiscite is indeed an experimentai??i??to determine whether the majority of voters in a big city can be bamboozled into voting for new taxes and big spending to support their local transit industrial complex.

The campaign for the transit taxai??i??a Vancouver-region increase of 0.5% in the provincial sales tax to raise $250-million a yearai??i??has the backing of a council of local mayors, a multi-million dollar marketing budget, plus the usual round-up of local business leaders, green activists and assorted economic theorists flaunting big dollar stats and grand claims that the tax will trigger major long-term economic and congestion benefits for all Vancouver. Be happy, vote for higher taxes.

The ballots have just been mailed out and it will apparently take Vancouver voters another 11 weeks to figure out whether they can believe claims that the new sales tax ai??i?? about $125 a year per householdai??i??will magically relieve congestion and generate $1.2-billion in long-term benefits.

Recent polls suggest that Vancouverites arenai??i??t enjoying the behavioral experiment, with the ai???Noai??? side holding the upper hand heading into this week.Ai??Ai?? Between now and May 29, the last voting day, FP Comment will present occasional commentaries on the transit tax battle. As of this week, however, the best advice to Vancouverites would be: Just say ai???No.ai???

A vote for the transit tax is a vote for massive expansion of public transit spending over the next 10 years. The official figure bandied about by the major pro-transit tax operative, the Mayorsai??i?? Council on Regional Transportation, is $7.5-billion in new capital spending over the next 10 years. More spending is needed for operating costs.

Only 6% of the $7.5-billion will go for road/bike lane improvements, with another 13% to replace the Patullo Bridge. The bulk of the money, more than 80%, will be sunk into assorted public transit schemes, the biggest item being $4-billion in new rapid Ai??rail transit investment, including a new line to the Vancouver suburb of Langley to give a fresh boost to urban sprawl.

The transit tax, if approved, would obviously only cover part of the $7.5-billion cost. As with all urban congestion relief policy expansions, the bulk of the costs will have to be borne by other levels of government and tricky manipulations of other taxes. The proposals suggest assorted additional tax grabs, including vehicle registration fees ($100-million a year) and taking back all or part of the revenue from British Columbiaai??i??s famous carbon tax (up to $380-million a year). Thereai??i??s talk of a land-value capture tax ($10-million) and a new ai???mobilityai??? tax that would tax drivers on the distance they travel rather than the fuel they use. Or maybe both. Itai??i??s not clear in the documents.

Then thereai??i??s a possible road tax, but thatai??i??s not on the ballot and in any case is shoved off into the far future by the Mayorsai??i?? Council, maybe eight years into the future. Even if one favoured road tolls as good economic policy, itai??i??s not really on the transit ballot agenda and, if implemented, would generate only $250-million a year to funding big transit capital projects. As with all urban transit tax plans, all these are seen as just starting point for bigger increases in the future.

The transit-tax ballot is in effect a marketing scam. Vote for this teeny little 0.5% increase in the sales taxai??i??only 35 cents a day per householdai??i??and collect an economic bonanza worth $950, according the Tides Foundation-funded Clean Energy Canada group and the C.D. Howe Institute.

In addition, any new regional Vancouver sales tax and the other local taxes on carbon etc. will still have to be supplemented by much larger contributions from Ottawa and the province. The ballot, in other words, is a little trigger for a big increase in tax-based spending over Ai??decades.

Nothing in any of the material on the Mayorsai??i?? Councilai??i??s glitzy get-out-and-vote Web site explains how any of this onslaught of taxes and spending will reduce actual congestion and/or improve the lives of Vancouverites. Itai??i??s a dream that has never really materialized anywhere, even in cities that have tried all the options: Spend billions on public transit, raise taxes on carbon and cars, and everybody will be happier, riding their bikes, hopping on trains and cruising over traffic-free roads.

Even London, a world leader in public transit and congestion charges, is still bogged down in traffic. ai???Traffic jams in London getting worse, ai??? said a BBC headline last year. A study showed that London was ai???second only to Brussels in terms of Europeai??i??s most congested cities, despite the congestion charge.ai??? Why? A growing economy is the main reason.

There may be good policies around to tackle congestion, including deregulation and allowing commuters to devise their own congestion-fighting behaviors. How about privatizing transit? But the idea that traffic can be controlled and reduced with massive new taxation schemes to fund zillion-dollar sprawl-inducing public transit created by central planning bureaucracies and politicians has become part of our modern urban mythology. Vote ai???No.ai???


5 Responses to “Terence Corcoran: Hey, Vancouver: Just say ai???Noai??i?? to transit tax”
  1. Rico says:

    Congestion won’t be eliminated or reduced for a significant period of time if you build new roads or new transit (latent demand for vehicle trips will fill new space). What new transit lets you do is move way more people with the less space, fewer environmental issues and better public realm. The only thing that will solve congestion is a bad economy or congestion pricing. That said imagine what would happen to London or Vancouver if transit shuts down. And before you mention the 2001 transit strike Eric Chris’s experience is certainly not what I experienced or what the newspapers reported.

    Zwei replies: As I worked in town and took the bus until transit reliability forced me back to the car, I commuted to downtown Vancouver. The fact is, I could drive to downtown Vancouver faster during the strike, than before. I think Eric is correct!

  2. Dondi says:

    One of Canada’s leading voices for big business says, “…a new line to the Vancouver suburb of Langley to give a fresh boost to urban sprawl.”

    Almost every urban planner I can think of would say that LRT to Langley would *moderate* rather than *boost* urban sprawl. Both sides can’t be right.

    Who should we believe?

    Zwei replies: I think LRT to Langley will not do a thing as traffic flows along the route will not justify construction. That being said Surrey and Langley councils will ensure massive densities along the route to increase ridership. The question should be asked; “Should not a BRT operate on this route first to see if ridership materializes?”

    A much cheaper alternative would be instating the interurban with direct service to downtown Vancouver. Commuting by tram to the Expo Line for trips to Vancouver breaks the 1 hour rule, where a TramTrain service from Langley to downtown Vancouver could be no more than 50 minutes. The cost would be minimal compare to the Surrey LRT and Broadway subway.

  3. Dondi says:

    Zwei, the other issues aside, are you agreeing or disagreeing with Corcoran about sprawl? By imposing “massive densities along the route” would the councils promote boost sprawl at the urban edge or moderate sprawl at the edge?

    Zwei replies: As only a few of the new people along the route will use transit, urban sprawl will increase. We saw the same thing with the West coast Express as it contributed majorly to urban sprawl on the North side of the Fraser. The huge cost for “rail” transit will encourage densification and urban sprawl, especially when Vancouver is now unaffordable for the average worker. How it works out depends hoe local councils resist those fat plain brown manilla envelopes that tend to slide under doors!

  4. eric chris says:

    @Rico, too bad, the GS censors all my comments now and I can’t reply to yours there. During the strike in 2001, while UBC was in session, air quality dramatically improved (GVRD) and the road congestion from all the buses disappeared. It was bliss and nobody who I know found the road congestion worse while many of my neighbours were amazed at fast their commutes had become without the stinking diesel buses cutting them off in traffic.

    For you, Rico:


    “Although there are likely more cars on the road because of the strike, our members are reporting faster travel times and less-than-usual congestion during the past five weeks in the Lower Mainland,” says Landry.