How will anti-TransLink vote influence transit referendum?

Looking forward inside a Vancouver transit bus. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Cyprien
Looking forward inside a Vancouver transit bus. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Cyprien

Also featured on: Metro604

A comment on the recent Price Tags article on the upcoming November 2014 TransLink Referendum (TransLink Referendum: Can It win? What do we need to know?) strikes a chord on the instruments of an upcoming transit expansion funding referendum. Commenter “David” posted:

Sadly there will be an anti-TransLink vote, even by people who favour additional funding for transit. Some will choose a non-TransLink supported idea just to spite them while others will switch to the “no” side. Unfortunately TransLink has been the victim of bad propaganda for the last 20 years and a significant number of people believe it needs to be reformed or scrapped despite numerous audits showing that it’s actually doing a good job. The people in BC never let facts get in the way of ideology.

Sadly, he is correct.

Votes in the upcoming Metro Vancouver transit funding referendum will be filled with the votes of people who may want transit expansion, but don’t want TransLink. These people want a Metro Vancouver transit future where the only service expansions will come through finding of additional “efficiencies” in TransLink, or the scrapping of TransLink altogether in favour of a different agency. A referendum, thanks to its ability to define a direct result, is dangerous in that it can be easily seen as a tool for these people to “get their revenge” on TransLink.

Sometimes egregiously bad propaganda, such as the recent wash on TransLink for providing free coffee to employees (let’s face it, TransLink is being singled out wrongly – it’s probably not the only transit management agency that does this), has been all over the local media for the past several years. In many ways, it has already had its effect on TransLink; as in recent years TransLink has indeed been put through a lot of scrutiny, and then through audit after audit.

The ironic thing is that many of these audits found TransLink to be a well run company doing a good job. One audit on TransLink efficiency stated that TransLink’s funding formula is the “best in Canada”, because it has allowed it (TransLink) to maintain transit expansion during the recession whereas others across the country were cutting service; its progress report has noted that TransLink has an interest in pursuing efficiency and has has made significant progress in taking initiative. A later review of its governance system, while noting that TransLink’s system is unique in the world, found that it is still seen as “state of the art” internationally.

However, these audits were also successful in fulfilling their main purpose – to be audits. While they found that TransLink has not been doing badly, they also found that changes can be made, and in those changes there are those opportunities to make TransLink’s efficiency “better”.

Because of bad propaganda, there are a lot of people and groups in Metro Vancouver who hold TransLink to absurdly high expectations of efficiency; and, so long as there are absolutely any potential “inefficiencies” in TransLink, even if a “solution” to that inefficiency is a reduction in service or an unreasonable impact to management (as were some of the recommendations in these recent audits), there will be an anti-TransLink vote.

An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the "efficiency" recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.
SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the “efficiency” recommendations in the recent TransLink audits. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Andrew Ferguson

Look around: the results of this bad propaganda are everywhere. An online news article that has to do with transit expansion in Metro Vancouver will often yield a number of comments made by folk who will oppose transit expansion just for the sake of TransLink being in charge.

Article after article, editorial after editorial, letter after letter, and decision after decision, bad propaganda has probably already dealt its damaging blow to the future of the Metro Vancouver transit system, and there might not be much that can be done about that.

With a referendum on transit funding, we just won’t know.

Pictures from TransLink of mockup Mark III Skytrain vehicle
On the top is a next-generation Mark III SkyTrain vehicle, a product we will see with the coming of the Evergreen Line and perhaps again if more SkyTrain expansions are approved in Metro Vancouver.

As I was looking at how referendums on funding (especially transit funding) have been done in other cities like in Los Angeles and Seattle, as pointed out by some others, it hit me that those referendums have always focused on just one-matter at a time.

In essence, what I’m saying is that when Los Angeles decided a sales tax on transit, only a sales tax was decided that day. A proposal to extend that sales tax by another few years (Measure R) was put to the test in a separate referendum (where it lost). The same has occured in Seattle, and the same in other American cities that have put transit funding decisions to referendums. There was not ever an instance where more than one option was decided at a time.

What the B.C. Liberals have proposed to do in Metro Van is not going to be simple like this at all.

With a single matter, it is not difficult to inform the voter on what that funding means for him/her as a taxpayer, and exactly what will be built out of that funding if it passes. Perhaps that is why it worked so well in Los Angeles and in Seattle.

In Metro Vancouver, we don’t know what the referendum question will look like. However, in this referendum, we may be required to decide between a multitude of options (at least, if anything former minister Mary Polak said before the elections holds true, save for the no status quo part – there will be a status quo option), which is completely different from how the same decisions were made in the numerous cities in the UNited States. With a multitude of options, not only does informing voters require far more effort (because voters will need to know what each option will mean), but it will also be impossible to make promises out of this referendum.

Because there will be no way to be certain how many of those options will pass and how many won’t (or if any will pass at all), there will be no way to know how many projects will be able to proceed; and – for however many that do – that still leaves the debate of which one will be built first/at all. So, that opens up the possibility that some parts of the region will be simply left out. But, we won’t know which – and I think that in particular will leave some of us very worried.

So, there’s another key problem I have with a referendum on transit funding. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to inform people which payment option will pay for what improvement. We just won’t know.

LETTER to Mayor Watts and Council: FCM choices were inconsiderate

The Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver
The Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver, the staying place of Mayor Watts and Council during the FCM conference. Photo: CC-BY, Flickr – Karen Neoh

I was unhappy enough about the Mayor and Council’s decision to stay at a hotel for the FCM conference rather than commute that I decided to send a letter to them expressing my displeasure. A shortened version of this is being sent to the Surrey Now as a newsletter in response to a news article.

To Mayor Watts and Council,

There’s some legitimacy in the arguments you made to stay overnight in Vancouver, one I can recognize as a previous participator in Model United Nations hotel conferences, where students can and will dish out cash to be closer to the debate and enjoy the full experience of the conference.

I understand that there are costs for doing business. However, I think that the fine line between spending that is necessary and spending that is inconsiderate was indeed crossed last weekend when you decided to make US pay for your hotel bills.

For one, I don’t understand how commuting completely takes away from business and productivity, or costs nearly as much at all. It shouldn’t be excessively expensive to arrange a carpool or take the SkyTrain (you were given transit passes for free).

You mentioned that the time that was taken to commute was used to do your day-to-day business in terms of returning emails and phone calls. I thought that’s what your shiny smartphones (you should have them) are for, because I do this all the time during my commute. I have been learning to read and write Japanese on the SkyTrain. Keeping up with what’s going on in my life during a commute is an integral part of my daily life, because like most Surrey residents, it takes me so long just to get to places, and it would eat my time otherwise if I did not utilize transit for productivity.

Every day, tens of thousands of Surrey residents set aside their OWN money (and their time) for what they can buy out of Surrey’s transportation network. They don’t get a lot. They get high gas prices, substandard transit options, long and stressful commute times, and (by far) fewer options for jobs and schools compared to citizens North of Fraser.

No matter whose fault those issues are, I think it’s very inconsiderate that you have to take that same money – which Surrey doesn’t collect a lot of (lowest business & residential tax rates in Metro Vancouver) – and subsidize transportation breaks that the rest of Surrey doesn’t get, at the expense of the transportation improvements that are also paid for by those taxes.

$180-380 is a small part of your yearly salary. I promptly request that you re-insert those funds into the city budget and pay your share like the rest of us.

Daryl Dela Cruz
Surrey resident, Johnston Heights Secondary School 2013 alumni

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Don’t expect the Surrey Board of Trade to care about nature

Panorama of Crescent Beach and nature in the fall. Photo credit: CC-BY-NC-SA - Flickr: Jeremy Hiebert
Panorama of Crescent Beach and nature in the fall. A Fraser River coal terminal proposal will result in coal trains regularly passing this area. Photo credit: CC-BY-NC-SA – Flickr: Jeremy Hiebert

I wanted to remind our citizens what the Surrey Board of Trade really stands for.

They will not side with you, and they will not side for sustainability, if doing either of those means having to side against their own primary mandate and purpose: to protect money.

Apart from any of mine, there have been a lot of great letters sent into the Surrey/North Delta Leader in the past few weeks. Do check out the Letters page [CLICK HERE] for more.

Don’t expect the Surrey Board of Trade to care about nature – Surrey Leader

Re: “Money over environment – again,” The Leader, Letters, May 30.

Your readers shouldn’t bother expecting the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT) and Anita Huberman to have any legitimate, consistent concern for the environment.

When the province announced the Gateway Program, despite the cries from activists regionwide on its unsustainability, cost, and potential to offset transit investment, the SBOT ignored those concerns and fully supported it.

When Gateway Casinos proposed a massive casino at the edge of South Surrey – in an unsustainable, outer-city greenfield location with no transit access – it spawned marathon council meetings where hundreds spoke out against it, many for the reason of its unsustainable location.

Siding against concerned citizens, the SBOT fully supported it.

Their other new endorsement – Light Rail and the Light Rail Links coalition – has largely ignored studies and finished research on Surrey rapid transit, which have found that a Light Rail network will fail on modal-shift from car to transit and will not cause any net reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The SBOT has long dismissed the only option that will actually reduce emissions, which is SkyTrain expansion.

I’m not surprised that the SBOT is now supporting the Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal proposal. Our business leaders clearly prefer money at any environmental expense.

Daryl Dela Cruz, Surrey

Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.

It’s been more than one year now since that day when we stood there protesting Bill 22, outside and in the rain and snow, probably close to some 20000 strong students all belonging to a generation that researchers of this society have labelled with the letter “Y”.

We weren’t just a random group of high school kids who wanted to skip school just to take the opportunity to join a bunch of other people doing it. Granted, there were probably some of us who were out of school for that purpose, but in spite of that, there were a lot of us had real concerns about our education – and we showed it in rallies and protests that, for that one day, attracted attention across the province. We were everywhere. The average joe who kept up would have seen us in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Penticton, Squamish….. and even in a small town somewhere north of Prince George.

And then, after that, we had to go back to school.

The reality of being young and needy in British Columbia

It’s hard enough for a young person in BC to show their concerns about their society and their environment; the majority of us, under 18, don’t have a vote in any elections. However, facing school and pressures that take up our daily lives, we really don’t have the time to commit to involvement in protecting our own futures and prosperity. Less yet do we have time to be skipping school and making a big show of it like we did that one time on March 2nd, just to show people that we’re concerned about what’s going on. We don’t have time to launch mega-massive protests like the ones Montreal students did at about the same time over rising tuition fees.

Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012
Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012

So, what we don’t have an ability to do in this society is properly represent ourselves. We rely on the 85 important and older people who go to Victoria with the hope that they will make decisions that do accomodate us, and steer us towards the prosperity that other generations of past got so that they could become great and successful people, in much the same way we want to be. We have to rely on you, and we can’t rely on ourselves – and that, I believe, is becoming one of the most critical mistakes in modern-day politics in every democratically-run sovereignty.

In May 2012, a few months after the March student walkout and after months of job action, teachers across the province were forced to give up. They accepted a horrible legislation that was called Bill 22, a legislation that has brought to B.C. the worst student-educator ratio in Canada and the associated effects to students and to our society in the indirect ways.

Our say, in addition to their say, just simply wasn’t enough.

Young vs old in BC polls

Yesterday, when thousands of British Columbians took to the polls to get in their vote in the 2013 elections, elementary and high school students across the province participated in Student Vote: a parallel election program coinciding with the British Columbia provincial election. They elected a majority NDP government. But, when the actual elections came, they were then out-voted by the rest of the population.

When British Columbians in a surprise flip elected back the same government that brought us the horrid Bill 22, young people under 18 in British Columbia didn’t have a say in it at all.

We won’t have a say in facing another 4 years of the B.C. Liberal government that has brought us inferior education compared to other provinces in Canada (including the worst student-educator ratio in the country). We won’t have a say in the cutbacks in skills training programs that will affect us as we graduate from high school and look for these programs to get us the skills we will need to start benefiting from (and contributing to) the economy in the future. We won’t have a say in any of this.

On top of that, we also have to face the fact that well over 70% of people in this province simply didn’t think about us when they made their vote. That 70% being: the 52% of people who didn’t show up to the polls at all (only 48% of voters voted in the May 2013 provincial election, a record low), in addition to the voters around the province who brought back the party that has largely governed without our interests in mind for the past 12 years.

There is a growing disconnect between the young population of British Columbia and everyone else.

I think that, starting today and proceeding as more and more of the issues young people face in their society get worse and worse as little is done to effectively solve them, young people in this province are going to lose hope in our modern system of democracy. They’re going to lose hope in their ability to be accommodated in a society that really doesn’t care about young people, has given them a much more difficult situation than was faced years ago by the generations that are now voting their concerns out, and doesn’t have a way to allow them to properly represent themselves in modern politics. (see video above, titled “What Is Generation Squeeze?“)

They’re going to start favouring something much more convoluted and scary in nature: something else.

In my view, this will create a tendency in British Columbians’ generation Y and (as they grow) generation Z: a tendency for us to be generally dissatisfied, unhappy, rebellious, and perhaps violently rebellious in our futures, as a result of the inconveniences we faced as a result of an incompetent government surrounding us at our young age. It will have dire consequences on the stability, economy and strength of this entire province.

That, I believe, is going to become this province’s single biggest future issue.

That, or the fact that based on the elections results there are probably few – if any – educated people in British Columbia who will ever take my concerns about the growing disconnect between young people and their society seriously.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Low tax rate in high-growth Surrey appalling

Surrey City Hall construction. Photo credit: Neg Ratarajan
Surrey City Hall construction. Photo credit: Flickr – Neg Ratarajan

The Surrey Now has published my letter responding to Michael Booth’s awesome editorial [CLICK HERE] exploring how Surrey’s low tax rate could be adding to the city’s strain.

Low tax rate in high-growth Surrey appalling

The Editor,

Re: “Low tax rate adding to city’s strain,” the Now, April 11.

The fact that Surrey has the lowest tax rates in Metro Vancouver, in spite of not only fast growth but also infrastructure shortages, is appalling.

Surrey has more young people than any other city in Metro Vancouver, and every one of them is losing out on their futures because of the city’s current finance policies.

Low taxes create spending limits, which especially hurt children and the youth because they rely on the services provided by taxes. The city’s infrastructure investment plans seem aligned with low taxes, because they will fall short of what this city really needs.

With only five pools and five arenas, Surrey has less recreational facilities per capita than other cities’ average nationally. The current Build Surrey program has proposed only three major pool or arena projects – Surrey needs 11 by 2021 to catch up to the national average.

Surrey has suffered a significant disparity in the amount of transit service hours and buses per capita when compared to cities north of the Fraser.

Surrey wants to address transit issues by building at-grade Light Rail Transit (instead of SkyTrain expansion). However, light rail will provide slower and less reliable service compared to SkyTrain, and will be less attractive and useful to riders. According to TransLink’s final study, not even three light rail lines will meet a shift commuters to transit objective that was set before the study began. The city hasn’t revealed this to the public because it is opposed to SkyTrain (mostly for visual and cost reasons).

It’s time for a significant increase in infrastructure spending in the City of Surrey, which is going to require an increase in tax rates. Both are long overdue.

Daryl Dela Cruz, Surrey

© Copyright (c) Surrey Now

Surrey Now: Low tax rate adding to city’s strain (editorial)

Guildford Rec Centre. Photo: Wikimedia Commons - Leoboudv
Guildford Rec Centre. Photo: Wikimedia Commons – Leoboudv

This is probably the best editorial or article about Surrey that I have read in the local papers lately, because I think that the points and the pains that have been mentioned are absolutely correct, and are legitimate concerns that need to get more attention.

I’ve had a feeling that spending limits have been a part of what I perceive as a city-wide infrastructure shortage on many fronts. Many new growth areas are so far from existing services because they haven’t been serviced with new ones, and many of our services (i.e. roads… sidewalks anyone?) are crumbling and underbuilt. I’ve pointed it out a few times in other newsletters and I’ve been hoping for more people to bring it up to light. I guess that with this excellent editorial by Surrey Now’s Michael Booth, the battle can begin.

I submitted a follow-up newsletter response to this editorial that points out how low taxes have created spending limits that are affecting our young population. I hope it gets published.

By Michael Booth, Surrey Now April 11, 2013

In the world of politics, nothing turns off voters like the notion of raising taxes.

The very notion of giving more of our hard-earned money to government at any level evokes a reaction not unlike a small child encountering a large bug – shrieks of terror followed by a determination to squash the source of the anxiety.

And woe be unto the politician who has the temerity to suggest a hike in the tax rate may be a prudent move to address a given fiscal problem. Such a statement inevitably brands the poor soul with a stigma that makes Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter look like a participation ribbon at an elementary school’s sports day. The day after the next election, voters can observe the crows picking at the desiccated corpse of the offending suit’s political career.

These thoughts come to mind after reading Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts’ latest State of the City Address, which she delivered last week.

Watts heads the Surrey First civic political party, a group that holds every single seat on Surrey city council.

In keeping with the party’s title, Watts’ speech is littered with rah-rah, civic-booster language, including such delightful terms as state-of-the-art, world class, culturally vibrant, brightest minds and, of course, “the largest construction and investment plan in the city’s history.”

New civic plans include renaming a stretch of King George Boulevard (last year it was King George Highway, but hey, signs are cheap) as Innovation Boulevard and investigating the expansion of a Canarie fibre network from SFU to Surrey Memorial Hospital.

What’s a Canarie fibre network you ask? Well, it’s not a carrier pigeon network using canaries. Nope, it’s an “ultra high-speed fibre optic digital infrastructure” that is “highly coveted in the health technology and research community.” Nothing but the best for Whalley.

The city also wants to “leverage new opportunities in the arts and culture sector” as well as foster growth in the aerospace industry. On top of all this, Surrey will strive for improved transit service with a light rail transit system, create “significant infrastructure projects” such as the new city hall, two new swimming pools, a new community plaza and a “district energy system” in City Centre (ie: Whalley).

And don’t forget the new walking and cycling trails that will link up the 8,000 acres of parks in the city.

Now juxtapose these grandiose plans with a niggling little phrase mentioned in passing near the start of the mayor’s speech: Surrey has the lowest residential taxes and second lowest business taxes in the region.

Now I’m no math wizard, but something has to give here…..


Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@

© Copyright (c) Surrey Now