Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Metro Transit Referendum: why I'm voting no.

Public transit is an important public good. If funded and designed well public transit makes our communities better places to live.  If underfunded and used as a political football public transit will never achieve it's potential.

Our current regional transit system is managed like a quasi-private corporation.  Executives are paid outlandish salaries [when there are children going hungry it is a crime for anyone to be paid as handsomely as these people are]. They are beholden, it seems, to next to no-one. The regional mayors, for their part, lack the real courage to stand up to the regional transit authority.  The provincial government has managed to absent themselves from meaningful involvement. The entire system is, true to BC form all about political oneupmanship.  One almost wishes for the days of highway patronage of the old style Socreds who built highways to win votes.

Everyone sings the chorus to "we want sustainability," but they are so off tune and dysrhythmically to sound worse than a run of the mill Sunday church choir.  One wonders if any one of the mayors, MLAs, or pundits lobbying for more transit dollars could define sustainability if asked. And, if they could define it, if any of them would define it the same way?  I suspect not.

The current transit referendum asks us to vote over millions of dollars for a transit system that kind of works with little idea of what the real plan is.

Here's one problem with the idea of a sales tax: the underlying basis of that tax is that it will disproportionately affect those least able to pay and most likely to take transit.  That is, poorer people who spend a higher percentage of their disposable dollar on basic needs will end up paying more for the basic items they need.  To add insult to injury those with lower incomes are more likely to live further out on the transit system, to have to rely upon the system more, and will already be paying an exorbitant amount in transit fares.

From a purely local UTown perspective improved rapid transit to UBC will only increase housing density.  Increased density, while making money for the Developers tied to UBC's business operations, will only decrease the quality of life for those of us already living in UTown.

Fundamentally the transit referendum is about subsidizing the real estate development industry of the lower mainland.  It is a wealth transfer from the majority to the elite minority who are raking in big dollars by revalourizing land through the development of public transit.  This is not a new plan, it's one used by developers historically and the world over: use the mechanisms of the state to take money from the majority to fund the profit making ventures of the minority.  UBC, for example, wants a subway so that they can realize the highest rate of return off the land they have.  The same goes for each of the town centers created by the regional plan and the expansion of public transit.

The push for transit in Metro isn't about ecology, sustainability, or making our communities nicer: it's about using public means to facilitate the accumulation of profit by a minority of developers.  It's a form of social theft.

So when I get my paper mail in ballot I'l vote no to social theft, no to the developer tax.


Bill Tieleman said...

Sorry Charles but your rationale doesn't make sense to me. Students, environmentalists, union members, small businesses, health and social service groups - all are voting Yes for better transit and transportation because its good for our environment, our economy and our quality of life.

Nearly 140 organizations from all sectors - who rarely agree - have come together in the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition to support the Mayors' Plan. To argue that we are all backing a "developers' tax" and "social theft" is wrong.

Charles Menzies said...

Thanks for your comment.

Public transit, like public roadways, allow the function of core industrial, economic, and social processes to take place. Spending billions on roads without going to a referendum each time is a time honoured practice. Voting on taxing ordinary people more for a poorly conceived drawn out and incomplete transit plan leaves much to be desired.

There is a good argument to be made that development needs to be slowed down, we need reasonable, affordable housing located where people work. Transporting people across great distances so that developers can profit does not seem to be a good idea to me.

UBC is so charged up to build transit because it will allow it to continue the manhatanization of the UBC campus. They try to sell it as eco-density, sustainable transit, but really it's a theft of the social good. Private companies build skyscrapers for wealthy newcomers. UBC recruiters target growing off shore markets to jump UBC's international students from 15 to 25%. Getting ordinary working people to foot the bill is part of the corporate model of UBC.

We need a reboot on our system and a rethink on development and transit. The mayor's plan is simply the status quo. Only the developers will win with it.