Editorial — Better transit system should be goal of TransLink changes

On the surface, the changes to the goverance of TransLink seem good. Mayors will be given significantly more power over the direction TransLink is going, not just a vote on a spending plan they have no say over.

At the same time, voters will be able to exercise some say over TransLink as well, for the first time ever. There will be a referendum on TransLink spending and tax priorities by next June, and this November, mayors can be held accountable for the decisions they have made about TransLink up that that point.

However, there are two key challenges which remain unresolved. One is the ability of mayors to access other sources of taxation, other than the gas tax, Hydro bill levy, and property taxes which are now used, and the vehicle levy that many politicians don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

Mayors have often said they want to use the provincial carbon tax to help pay for transit expansion, which seems to be a logical suggestion. However, the tax is revenue-neutral, with all revenue offset by other tax reductions. Unless that shifts, any carbon tax revenue TransLink gets would  simply be an additional drain on the provincial treasury to fund TransLink — something that is not popular in other regions of B.C. where there is less transit service.

The other major challenge comes down to the ability of mayors to think regionally. They are elected by voters in their respective cities, and quite naturally their main desire is to keep those voters onside.

Thus mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster have zero interest in extending rapid transit lines south of the Fraser, particularly if it would mean a reduction of local service in their communities. The same is true for mayors on this side of the Fraser River — they have no interest in a rapid transit extension towards UBC, fearing that all capital funds will go to that cause, leaving none for transit expansion south of the Fraser.

While some mayors do think regionally, they are in a minority. And their voices of reason are often shouted down by other loudmouthed parochial mayors.

These changes mean nothing if there is not a swift move towards better transit in all parts of the region.

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