Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

It’s not about transit

with 4 comments

Pete McMartin in his comment piece in today’s Sun did a little digging in the archives. His analysis is spot on:

it’s about turf and taxation; When it reorganized TransLink, the provincial government gave itself the keys to the municipal property tax vault …

Which is, of course pretty much along the lines of what I wrote earlier this week when the Mayors said they want a slice of the carbon tax revenues. They do not want to keep on raising property taxes – which is what they have had to do as the province has steadfastly refused to allow them to collect new taxes – and the one they did get through (on parking) was snatched back.

I cannot say that I am in favour of dedicated taxes either. That is the kind of arrangement that was made in the US when their national gas tax was introduced – it could only be spent on roads. That made it more palatable to the people paying the tax but it quickly became apparent that road building can never satisfy the demands from drivers for more roads. Because traffic expands to fill available capacity very quickly. So the law had to be changed to allow for some transit projects – but, as here, not all the costs – only capital. With roads that means the states do not spend enough to keep roads and bridges in good shape and they have to be rebuilt more often. Bus life in the US had to be reduced from 18 years to 12 years. In Canada the same vehicles are made to last for over twenty years as there is no equivalent federal program. But, on the other hand, the US program at least has a requirement that all spending of federal money on transportation has to be part of a region wide land use and transportation plan. Not that that helped the City of Portland to buy its streetcars.

The current arrangement of regional government in Greater Vancouver is a shambles – and results from years of meddling and muddling. Municipal governments have little resources (they get only 8% of all tax revenues) and a parochial mind set. We need regional government that is directly elected and which has its own set of revenues. That is responsible for planning and transportation. That way a regional strategy has a chance of actually getting implemented. Whatever Metro Vancouver may say about sustainability after its years of studies and consultations matters not one whit if the freeway is widened. And if Gordo gets re-elected that is exactly what will happen. 

Meanwhile, Gordon Campbell — champion of the carbon tax, saint of zero-emission rapid transit lines, friend of the bike path — comes off as an environmentalist hero.

Well perhaps in his own mind and that of his funders. But the man who brought us the Seato Sky Highway widening through Eagleridge bluffs and the South Fraser Perimeter Road through both bog and farmland, who decimated the environment ministry rendering enforcement of regulations (also thinned drastically) moot and the environmental assessment process toothless, who is now busy forcing through private sector power projects with no effective local control (and not much justification either) and has wrecked the coastal salmon fishery in his dogged defence of fish farms on wild salmon runs is no hero to any environmentalist I know. At best a few think that a “green power up” is needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the puny carbon tax is a small step in the right direction – but few actually give the Liberals an actual endorsement. And of course green activists who run registered charities are very limited in what they can say about politics.

And I do not think anyone – and that includes the truckers and road builders – seriously thinks that building freeways improves traffic flow for very long or reduces greenhouse gas emissions at all. Everyone understands that this policy is about gratifying the wish of every driver not to be caught in a jam – but that every road building project simply boosts the need for more road building projects. And at the same time promotes low density suburban sprawl sprawl which threatens agricultural land and green space in general.   And locks us into car dependency at the very time when oil production has already peaked, and the threat of runaway global warming has ceased to be distant but is now a current reality.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2009 at 7:05 am

4 Responses

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  1. I was at one of Metro Vancouver’s meetings to review their MV 2040 plan on Thursday and the idea of increased regional land-use authority was a decidedly prominent topic. It seemed to me that there was a consensus in the room that Metro have at least some sort of zoning capacity (at least the idea wasn’t shouted down) for land use in the region.

    Although that would be pointless if the province can go off and do whatever they want with the roads.


    April 25, 2009 at 7:45 am

  2. Would’t Metro Vancouver have a better chance of standing up to the provincial government and protecting its own interest if it dropped parochial mentality and united in a mega-city with elected officials representing the entire region? What is the point of all these mini cities when they cannot make a bigger decision then picking the color of the flowers in their planters?

    Dejan K

    April 25, 2009 at 9:37 am

  3. […] White Rock [The Province] Transit is a taxing issue for Metro homeowners [The Vancouver Sun] It’s not about transit [Stephen Rees] Garbage in, garbage out: Vancouver to send trash to U.S. [CBC] Political leaders […]

    re:place Magazine

    April 26, 2009 at 6:18 pm

  4. Too bad municipalities and Cities cannot disband, reverting to provincial control, without approval from Victoria. Unless I am mistaken.


    April 28, 2009 at 4:40 pm

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