Stephen Rees's blog

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

Buses for BC

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You may have seen some back and forth on twitter today. It started off with a tweet from iPolitics

Former federal budget watchdog Kevin Page will deliver a blunt message to premiers this week about the costs of a future national pharmacare program: if Canadians want one, taxes will have to go up.

To which I responded that it wasn’t actually necessary to raise taxes. All we have to do is stop subsidizing fossil fuels (something Canada does excessively and compulsively) and bailing out Kinder Morgan – which is also quite a needless waste of billions.

Then I got into a similar grouch with Bowinn Ma (who is actually one of the better ministers in the current BC government in my opinion) over the Auditor General’s scathing report on how we are doing in our attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Once again, BC need not build Site C, nor do we need to subsidize LNG. The present plan to open up a new plant in Kitimat being no more economically viable than the earlier ones despite a slight firming in LNG prices.  The release of methane from fracking alone is reason enough to call a halt, but the lack of revenue and the paucity of employment in the new plant also make the whole idea look very odd for a province that is looking to cut its carbon footprint. If we were pursuing renewables and a distributed system – not trying to create a bigger grid and a dodgy megaproject, we could be enjoying the sort of benefits that California, Germany and even the UK are experiencing.

But the story that made me think I did need to start writing was a tweet I seem not have kept which cited Rob Shaw in The Sun about the demise of Greyhound here and what it means for BC. “Hold on to your wallets” was that message – I did a trawl of the hashtag and although I didn’t find the one I wanted there are plenty like it.

In fact Shaw is not opposed exactly

Likely, some sort of cash will need to be offered for remote routes where passengers are sparse but transportation is a vital matter of public safety. And why not? The province already subsidizes B.C. Transit in urban areas, TransLink in Metro Vancouver, B.C. Ferries on the coast and inland ferries elsewhere. Certainly, a case could be made to financially backstop rural bus service, too.

But of course he cannot resist slagging of the civil servants

Expanding government control of buses will easily cost tens of millions of dollars and further pressure the provincial budget. The drivers and workers will want to be unionized. A new fleet will need to be purchased. And don’t expect the provincial government to be as nimble, quick or innovative as the private sector. If you thought Greyhound was intransigent, wait till rural B.C. has to deal directly with the provincial bureaucracy for its bus schedule.

But actually we don’t do so badly with urban services: despite the lies that people like Jordan Bateman repeat, both BC Transit and Translink are doing quite well by North American standards. And there is no reason at all to think that the private sector would do any better. Just look at these letters to the Guardian about the mess the UK has fallen into with the privatization of its rural buses. Interesting how that popped up on the same day. I particularly like this quote

Between 1972, when cheap bus fares were introduced in Sheffield, and extended to the whole of South Yorkshire from 1974, and 1986 when our buses were privatised, we had an excellent and very well used bus service. Pauline Gaunt’s claim that bus use was declining before deregulation and privatisation is a travesty as far as this part of the UK is concerned.

Yes, the buses were subsidised, but all the fare money went into providing frequent, reliable and affordable services, not into the pockets of private companies, and our electors voted year after year to pay the extra rates for a service they valued.

It seems to me that people are not actually opposed to taxes. But they do question how comes there are always funds for idiotic things we definitely don’t need but never enough for essentials. It bugs the heck out of me that also today MoTI put out a request for bids to build “and finance” the replacement Patullo Bridge. Did we learn nothing from the last bridge financing fiasco?

And then at the end of the day comes a new piece from The Narwhal.

Mining companies are extracting billions of dollars worth of gold from Canada every year but are paying only a tiny fraction in taxes and royalties compared to operations in other countries,

I mean, yes I knew we were on the hook for the mine clean ups. What I did not realize is the entire country seems to be throwing away our irreplaceable resources for a pittance.

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 5.14.47 PM

I mean even Burkina Faso seems to strike a better bargain than we do.

So I am not going to listen to “budget watch dogs” who think that we ought to pay more in taxes for essential services like medical treatments or rural public transportation. It’s the corporations that should be paying. Just like the Norwegians get far more for their oil and gas than we do – and invest it better too. We need to be looking much harder at how resources are being extracted and how much of that flows back to the people. Not off shore to some tax haven for the benefit of 0.01% of them.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 16, 2018 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Transportation

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