Friday, March 13, 2015

Referendum: Hold your nose, vote 'yes'

Below is the unedited version of my latest column in the Maple Ridge News. It's about the Referendum, of course.

Any day now you'll find the referendum ballot in your mail box and you'll finally have your say. Now before you angrily mark a "no" on your ballot, please reflect on what it is that you're voting on.

I must admit, I'm just as mad as anyone else who doesn't agree with the way this whole thing has been set up. But I do feel that the only right thing to do for Metro Vancouver - including Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge - is to seriously start investing in transit, walking and cycling to work towards a better, more sustainable transportation system that works for all, and a more livable region for future generations. Therefore I can only vote 'yes', while cursing under my breath.

There's no space provided for comments, unfortunately. We're not being asked if we're okay with the excessive salaries of Translink executives, or if we have a problem with the governance structure of Translink (set up by the provincial government by the way).

Maybe you want to vote 'no' because you feel that there's not enough in it for Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, another very valid concern. Or you just don't trust Translink to deliver on its promises.

They're not enquiring if perhaps we're angry about the cost over-runs and continuing delays of the Compass Card (a system mandated by the provincial government by the way), or if we're upset at all with the provincial government for putting us in this position.

There are many possible reasons why people might consider voting 'no'.
It is totally understandable that Mayor Read intends to vote 'no'. As a mayor, she has the responsibility but lacks the authority. The flawed governance structure of Translink will need to be addressed.

Judging from the discussions I hear and read, a lot of people don't seem to know what the actual question is. So here it is once again:

"Do you support a one half percentage point (0.5%) increase in the provincial sales tax in Metro Vancouver, dedicated to the Mayors' Transportation and Transit Plan, with independent audits and public reporting?"

What it basically comes down to, is that with our vote we will be giving a message as to the direction that we want the region as a whole to take. How do we want to live?

Consider the likely consequences of a ‘no’ vote. No level of government would have any appetite to touch this subject in the next 5 to 10 years at a minimum. The proposed infrastructure improvements will be put on hold, while more people and cars move to the region and communities continue to sprawl out adding more traffic to the already congested arteries. We can continue to complain about the inefficient bureauracies, and, as some of us would have it, get to kick out a bunch of inefficient bureaucrats, only to replace them with another bunch of inefficient bureaucrats. In the end, everyone who moves will lose.

A 'yes' vote means that we're all going to contribute to the promised improvements by paying more taxes. More people will be able to choose transit, cycling or walking more often. It will also mean less congestion than without the improvements. Everyone who moves will win, but some (sometimes a lot) more than others.

If we vote yes, Translink promises that we will finally be getting our long awaited B-line bus in three to five years, and there will be expansion of service to Albion and Silver Valley. We'll get increased West Coast Express service. Improved transit will help support and encourage the needed densification in our downtown and along transportation corridors. Improved transit elsewhere in Metro Vancouver also helps drivers who need to commute farther afield by relieving the congestion there.

With a 'yes' vote, the investments in cycling by Translink are going to increase from the current $1.55 million (less than $1 per resident, or about 0.1% of Translink's annual spending) to $12 million a year, which will put the region on track to implement the Regional Cycling Strategy within the 20-year time frame.

Cycling improvements in Maple Ridge will consist of various cycling projects listed in the Maple Ridge Transportation Plan, approved by the previous Council (and hopefully to be amended by the present one).

What will be, will be. The BC government has chosen to hold this extremely risky referendum, downloading the responsibility for what happens on us voters by giving us a choice of two options neither of which we can agree with.
It is extremely difficult to ask someone to boil down a complex set of questions to a simple yes or no answer. Does the good outweigh the bad? Amidst the opposing voices against Translink and taxation in general, all of which are legitimate, the transportation vision for the region gets buried. Hopefully, we will separate the ‘what’ (transportation improvements) from the ‘who’ (Translink governance). Voting yes would at least settle the ‘what’ so the region can move forward with the vision while different governments and the voters can then tackle the issue of Translink governance. Voting no, on the other hand, puts both the ‘what’ and ‘who’ in a deep freeze, guaranteeing more of the same plus more congestion to boot.

The lesser of two evils tells me to hold my nose and vote yes.

By Jackie Chow, member of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows chapter of HUB, with contributions from Ivan Chow, Chair.