Referendum Myths: A ‘No’ Vote Is a Vote Against TransLink

At this point in the Metro Vancouver transportation plebiscite, the biggest myth is that by voting ‘no’ you’re voting for a reform of TransLink’s governance structure.

Plain and simple, that is wrong. If you vote ‘no’, you’re voting against the proposed tax. Nothing more.

The actual question posed to voters is

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan?

If you look at the actual ballot, there’s nothing on there about governance or how TransLink has an unelected board. That’s because TransLink governance isn’t on the ballot.

I can understand the frustration out there. TransLink is run by an unelected board. Mayors are only given a nominal role in suggesting action plans. The Ministry of Transportation might play some role, but that’s unclear too. It doesn’t look like there’s anybody captaining the ship, and that’s frustrating.

All of this is laid out in provincial law and, as such, can only be changed by the provincial government. Nobody else has the power to change this, regardless of what Christy Clark might think.

But if you think that by voting ‘no’ you’re sending a message that you’re frustrated, you’d be wrong. This plebiscite is the entirely wrong way to send that message. By voting ‘no’ you’re only voting against the proposed tax increase. In fact, by voting ‘yes’ you’re actually making TransLink more accountable, as the money raised will be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting. The money raised will also be dedicated to the projects listed in the plan, and nothing more, so absolutely zero dollars will be going towards executive salaries, to use a particular pain-point as an example. All of the money will be going directly towards improving our transportation and transit systems.

If you are really upset about how TransLink is run and want to send the proper message, email your MLA. Email Christy Clark at premier@gov.bc.ca. Email your mayor and city council. Get involved in the next provincial election and make sure that TransLink governance is on the agenda.

But by voting ‘no’, you’re not sending this message. It’s not ‘no, but…’, it’s not ‘no, and…’, it’s ‘no, I do not want this tax’. That’s the only message being sent if you vote ‘no’.

So if you want to see improved transportation and transit in Metro Vancouver, vote ‘yes’. If you want to make sure that this money gets spent on improving transportation and transit, and not on executive salaries, vote ‘yes’.

Ads I’d Like to See

On the outside of SkyTrains:

Is this SkyTrain full and you couldn’t get on? Vote YES for better SkyTrain service!

On the outside of buses:

Is this bus full and you got passed up again? Vote YES for better bus service!

On the outside of buses:

Waiting 20 minutes in the rain for a bus? Vote YES for better bus service!

On the light-up billboards on either end of the Pattullo Bridge:

Tired of getting stuck in traffic on the Pattullo Bridge? Vote YES for a wider, safer, and less congested Pattullo!

On the light-up billboards on either end of the Pattullo Bridge:

Tired of getting stuck behind an 18-wheeler taking up both lanes? Vote YES for a wider, safer, and less congested Pattullo Bridge!

General:

For the price of an extra-large double-double once a week, all this could be yours! Vote YES to make it happen!

General:

For the price of a grande Caffè Mocha every other week, all this could be yours! Vote YES to make it happen!

Anywhere along the Granville Entertainment District:

Wish you could take a bus home instead of an expensive cab? Vote YES for better NightBus service!

At all of the 99 B-Line stops along Broadway between Commercial and Arbutus:

Wish you didn’t have to stand in the rain to wait for yet another B-Line bus to pass you up? Vote YES for SkyTrain down Broadway!

Along the Fraser Highway between Langley and King George:

Tired of staring at brake lights? Vote YES for rapid transit along Fraser Highway!

Referendum Facts: The Pattullo Bridge

No matter what happens in the upcoming Metro Vancouver transportation referendum, the Pattullo Bridge will be replaced, and it will be tolled.

The Pattullo Bridge went into service in 1937. It was constructed to the standards of the time, which means that today it is too narrow, it’s dangerous, and if an earthquake hits it’s coming down. It’s so dangerous that TransLink closes the central two lanes at night to prevent head-on collisions. Cycling or walking over the bridge is nearly unheard of.

In short, it’s a bridge in dire need of replacement. It will be replaced.

And tolls? In 2008 TransLink announced its replacement would be tolled. That was six years before any hint of a referendum. Tolling the replacement Pattullo is a foregone conclusion. At current traffic levels, a $3 toll would pay off a $900 million bridge in about 30 years, so the tolls would eventually be dropped.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why voting ‘yes’ in the referendum is important for the areas around the Pattullo Bridge:

1) The 0.5% PST increase will fund its replacement.

2) Along with the big capital projects, bus and SkyTrain service will be improved. This means that transit in Surrey, Langley, Delta, and New Westminster will become more attractive, shifting some driving commuters to transit commuters. This will help to slow the increase in congestion around the Pattullo Bridge.

3) The LRT lines in Surrey and Langley will also help shift people away from cars to transit, as connections with SkyTrain from Surrey to New Westminster, Burnaby, and Vancouver will be easier for commuters to make. This will also help to slow the increase in congestion around the Pattullo Bridge.

And here’s what voting ‘no’ in the referendum will result in, around the Pattullo Bridge:

1) Property tax increases will fund its replacement.

2) Because bus and SkyTrain service is not improved, traffic around the Pattullo Bridge will get worse at a greater rate. In fact, keeping funding levels steady means that bus and SkyTrain service could get worse, as operational costs increase. This could shift transit commuters into cars.

Voting ‘no’ means you get a new Pattullo Bridge, have to pay tolls on it, and traffic gets worse.

Voting ‘yes’ means you get a new Pattullo Bridge, have to pay tolls on it, and traffic gets better. And with improved bus and SkyTrain service (and the Surrey/Langley LRT lines) you might decide to take transit and skip paying the tolls altogether.

Vote ‘yes’, not only for a new Pattullo, but for improved bus and SkyTrain service in Surrey, Delta, and New Westminster, and for less congestion over the Pattullo.

On the Firing of TransLink’s CEO

Yesterday TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis was pushed aside. This was widely seen as a surprise move, one that is supposed to “restore confidence” in TransLink’s leadership.

The timing is a little suspicious as it comes smack in the middle of Metro Vancouver’s campaign surrounding a 0.5% increase to the PST to pay for a number of transit-related improvements. The ‘no’ side has been using TransLink’s governance and “waste” as a stick, even going so far as to label Jarvis as “the face of the waste”. The ‘yes’ side’s message has largely focused on the benefits of the plan, largely ignoring the TransLink governance issue.

And even though TransLink governance isn’t on the ballot, this move brings it back into the forefront. Politically, it’s kind of odd to do this, because it gives more ammunition to the ‘no’ side.

Here’s one reason they might have made the move now, rather than potentially waiting until after the plebescite is over:

In 2012 Jarvis received $438,700 in total compensation, and in 2013 he received $468,015. While his salary plus transportation allowance increased by less than a thousand dollars, he did receive bonuses based on long-term targets that increased his total compensation. This rankled with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, because, as TransLink themselves say, “the CEO’s base salary has been frozen since January 1, 2013.” While his salary was frozen, he still took home more money because he did a good job, and rewarding performance in this way is apparently wasteful.

The CEO’s bonus consists of two parts: a short-term incentive plan (STIP) and a long-term incentive plan (LTIP). The STIP is based on the previous year’s performance, and can be up to 30% of his base salary. The LTIP was eliminated on December 31, 2012, but was based on targets between 2010 and 2012. This bonus gets paid out over three years, and the first year was 2013 (he received $43,400). He received the same amount in 2014.

Now, here’s the thing: TransLink has to file all of this information for the 2014 fiscal year, and they need to make the information public. They’re looking at all of this information now, and if past years are any indication, the year-end financials get released at the beginning of April. This is smack in the middle of the plebescite mail-in period.

A bombshell in the form of a huge STIP bonus (remember, it could go up to 30% of his base salary, up to $95,773) coming right in the middle of the voting? It makes it a lot easier for the ‘yes’ side to say “yes, and he is no longer collecting that bonus, and the interim CEO is collecting no such bonus, and the interim CEO will be examining executive compensation a lot more closely” than to say “yes, he got it for meeting targets”. A large STIP bonus would also play into the “TransLink is wasteful” myth and offer a huge distraction for the CTF to wield.

Is this what happened? I don’t know. We won’t know until April. But remember that the TransLink Board has a lot more information to go on than we do, and financial information is something they’re privy to that we’re not at this point. We’ll just have to wait until April.

Yet Another Way the CTF Is Wrong

The Canadian Taxpayers Foundation continues to say that the proposed 0.5% Congestion Improvement Tax will result in an average household tax increase of $258.

This number is wrong. Plain and simple, it is wrong. I’ve shown this before [here] and here], but I just found a third way to show that they’re wrong.

Back in 2011 BC had a referendum on keeping the Harmonized Sales Tax. An independent panel came up with a report titled HST or PST/GST? It’s Your Decision. In it they presented different statistics and facts to give a neutral viewpoint on the pros and cons of either keeping the HST or switching back to the separate PST/GST.

Page 7 of that report presents these statistics on how British Columbians spend their money, and what percentages are taxed:

This is what is now happening at the cash register.

  • 17 per cent of your spending has an extra seven per cent sales tax.

  • 29 per cent of your spending is subject to the same total sales taxes as before. It has not gone up or down.

  • 54 per cent of your spending is not taxable under the HST or the PST/GST. Nothing has changed.

Let me clarify those three items. The first is goods and services that were not subject to the PST but were subject to the HST. The second is goods and services that were subject to either only the GST or were subject to both PST and GST. The third is goods and services that were non-taxable.

BC returned to the separate GST and PST. What this means is that the first group of goods and services are no longer taxed under the PST. The third group of goods and services were never subject to the PST and they aren’t now. That leaves the second group.

Some of the second group (29% of spending, remember) is subject to GST only, and some of it is subject to both GST and PST. Let’s assume for a minute that everything that you buy that falls in this group is subject to the PST. Let’s also assume that you’re an average household and that your take-home pay is about $55,000 per year (remember, I showed that in an earlier post). Let’s further assume that you spend every dollar that comes in.

That means of your $55,000 you’ve spent 29% of that on goods that are subject to the PST, or $15,950. If you multiply that by the 0.5% CIT, your yearly increase in taxes paid comes to $79.75.

That means for extra taxes of 22 cents a day you get a new, safer, wider Pattullo Bridge. You get a SkyTrain tunnel down Broadway in Vancouver. You get light rapid transit in Surrey and Langley. You get eleven new B-Line bus routes, you get more buses, you get more SkyTrains, you get more SeaBus service, you get more HandyDART service, you get more West Coast Express service, you get more NightBus service, you get more bikeways. You get an improved transportation system in Metro Vancouver.

But just remember, when the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says “the average household will face an annual tax increase of about $258” they’re completely wrong.

Frogman

I got a good day gig. I got a good day gig. Every day when I leave work I come here, or wherever town I might be in, and I join up with the boys.

My day gig is, well, it’s pretty gruesome actually. It’s pretty horrible.

I’m a frogman. I’m a skin diver. I’m an underwater dude for the cops. I investigate, I investigate. I go down and I find people who actually had the patience to let their cars fill with water to the roof before they decided to open the door for pressure reasons.

And I always see them blue and bloated with the window about halfway down, hand clenching the handle, wife riding shotgun, couple of kids in the back. And it just… I see this every day, and it weren’t no thing, it weren’t no thing, and then I come here, and I paddle the stage around for a while, in our little pond, and it weren’t no thing, you understand? I can see them floating in their cars.

“Honey, the ferry takes way too long. Let’s drive across the ice, it’ll be much faster.”

I’m telling her to wait, to be patient, there’s a little spot next to the roof where we can breathe. She’s screaming. The little kids in the back, well they got their carseats, they’re buckled in.

I took a couple of shots of Chivas Regal. I put on my mask. I put in my regulator, and I jumped off.

I see it, it’s a red Toyota.

I talk to the ship through a transmitter.

“I see it, it’s a red Toyota. It’s on the bottom, it seems to be covered with weeds and things, stones. I think it fell through the ice, yeah, it fell through the ice. Headlights are still on, headlights are still on. I can see some exhaust. They didn’t let the water fill up to the roof, they’ve actually got an airtight red Honda, they’re sitting in there with about an hour’s worth of air having a game of crib between man and wife and the kids.”

So I open the door and flood them out and they float to the top like pieces of popcorn. We get them on ship.

“We thought we nearly lost you Mr. Kennedy, we thought we nearly lost you, we were so concerened, we thought we nearly lost you sir!”

I took another shot of Chivas Regal. I took another shot of Chivas Regal.

I think I’m going to quit that job. I’m gonna quit that job. I’m gonna quit that job.

From New Orleans Is Sinking, Chicago 1991

Referendum Questions: What Will It Cost?

Update: I forgot a couple of bills that I paid in January. Please see my update below for new numbers!

One of the questions surrounding the Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax is how much it will cost the average household in Metro Vancouver. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says $258 a year, and the Better Transit & Transportation Coalition says $125 a year. Keep in mind that those are for the average household, meaning roughly half will pay more and half will pay less.

So which is it? The actual answer is dependent on the household. Some households will buy a lot of taxable goods, some won’t buy many. I decided to take a stab at answering this specific question:

How much will I pay?

I kept all receipts for everything we purchased in January 2015. I added up the total amount we paid for taxable goods, and that came to $312.26. For those taxable goods, adding a 0.5% CIT would have cost us an extra $1.56 for the entire month.

That’s not all that we paid for that would be subject to the CIT. We are modo members, and car-sharing fees are subject to PST. In January 2015 we paid $26.10 in PST on our modo bills, which means we would have paid another $1.86 in CIT.

And we also bought a table. We bought this through a local company that makes tables, and it was a flat $1000, tax included. If you figure out what PST you’d pay to make the total tax-included amount $1000, it works out to $62.50 ($1000 / 1.12 = $892.86, 7% of that is $62.50), so we would have paid another $4.46 in CIT. This cost would probably have been eaten by the company, because they probably wouldn’t charge $1005 for a table. I only mention it because it’s an example of an expensive purchase that would normally be charged tax, but if you shop smart (and local!) you can find ways to reduce your tax burden.

So how much CIT would we have paid in January 2015?

$3.42

$3.42 for the whole month. 11 cents a day. And what would we get for that? A new bridge. A new SkyTrain line. New light rail lines. More buses. More walking and cycling routes. Less congestion.

All that for only 11 cents a day? Sign me up.

Update: I forgot my cell phone, internet, and TV bills that I paid in January. On these bills I paid a total of $18.27 in PST, which would have meant an extra $1.31 in PST. This means that in January, the CIT would have cost me an extra $4.73 in taxes, or 15 cents a day. My apologies for getting this wrong.

A Brewery District Follow-up

I want to do a little bit of a follow-up to my previous post about building heights in the Brewery District. I posted that because I kept getting annoyed at Sapperton residents saying things like “Wesgroup mislead us” and “it was eight storeys all along.”

I did a little more digging, and found the McBride-Sapperton Residents Association minutes from January 22, 2014. In this meeting, two employees of Wesgroup presented an update on the Brewery District development site, which includes this:

There will be a total of 4 tall structures with a maximum of 30 storeys, minimum 12 storeys being built.

Read that again. “…minimum 12 storeys being built.”

So in January 2014 the MSRA knew full well that the first residential tower was to be at least 12 storeys high. This meshes with the photos and statements I highlighted in the previous post.

So what really pisses me off is when MSRA acting president Ross Eichendorf says this:

“I’m sure the residents in the area will be glad to see three [fewer] storeys, but it’s sure not the eight they had been representing up until recently.”

“Until recently”? If by five years ago you mean “recently” then yes, Wesgroup has been saying that the first building will be eight storeys “recently”.

But no, you can’t say that you didn’t know that the first building was going to be at least 12 storeys when the information sessions in February 2010 showed models of at least 12 storeys. Or when a story in the New West News Leader in September 2010 said that “the building is still in the design development stage, but said it will likely be over 12 storeys high.” Or when Wesgroup staff came to your meeting in January 2014 to tell you that the residential buildings will be at least 12 storeys high.

“Eight [storeys] they had been representing”? Bullshit.

“It’s a Bait-and-switch!”

Letter to Council, May 10, 2007:

…the proposed bylaw change will enable the developer to go as high as 30 storeys in sub-district 4, 18 storeys in sub-district 3

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 7145, 2007, Section 581.3, adopted July 14, 2008:

The maximum height and site coverage of all buildings and structures in each sub-district shall not exceed the height and site coverage set out below.

Sub-Districts 3(a), 3(b) and 3(c) (High Density Residential and Retail): 180 ft. / 45%

Found at Royal Columbian Hospital, February 2010:

(The first residential tower to be built is the left-most in the second picture, which looks to be 12 or 13 storeys high)

New West News Leader, September 16, 2010:

The second quarter of 2011 will see Wesgroup begin to market the first residential tower on the old Labatt Brewery grounds. Nonni said the building is still in the design development stage, but said it will likely be over 12 storeys high.

Render from Bluetree Homes website, January 2013:

(Again, the left-most residential tower, this time 14 storeys high)

New West News Leader, December 4, 2014:

The McBride-Sapperton Residents Association (MSRA) is upset the developer wants to build three 18-storey residential towers and a 30-storey tower along Brunette Avenue as part of its Brewery District development. They have accused Wesgroup of pulling a bait-and-switch from their original proposal of buildings that were much smaller in height.

New West News Leader, January 7, 2015:

“I’m sure the residents in the area will be glad to see three [fewer] storeys, but it’s sure not the eight they had been representing up until recently.”

Huh.

Referendum Myths: “It’ll Cost You $258 a Year”

The biggest myth being perpetuated by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is that it will cost every Metro Vancouver household $258 every year in new taxes. That is completely incorrect, and here’s why.

First, the CTF’s math. The 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax (which I’ll shorten to CIT from now on) will generate roughly $250 million per year to pay for the myriad improvements in Metro Vancouver’s transportation system. In 2011, the Vancouver census metropolitan area (which is pretty much the same thing as Metro Vancouver) had 891,336 private dwellings occupied by usual residents. That number increased by 9.1% between 2006 and 2011, so assuming a steady increase, that turns out to be a 1.76% yearly increase. That means that in 2015 there are roughly 955,762 households in Vancouver. Divide the $250,000,000 equally amongst all of those households and you get $261.57 per year, which is pretty close to the CTF’s $258 per year.

Now here’s why that number is wrong. The CTF is making the assumption that only households will be paying the CIT. That is wrong. Plain and simple, the CTF’s base assumption is wrong.

Visitors to Metro Vancouver will also pay the CIT. In 2014 Metro Vancouver had nearly nine million overnight visits, and tourism continues to increase (and will get better if the Canadian dollar remains weak against the US dollar). In BC, hotel stays are taxed and one can reasonably assume that the CIT will apply here as well. Total spending by overnight visitors was $4.4 billion in 2006, and if you assume that 75% of this is taxable (food isn’t, but tourists spend roughly 25% of their money on food (at least, domestic tourists in the UK do)), that works out to $16.5 million. Take that number, scale it up by 5.5% per year between 2006 and 2014 and you get about $25.3 million per year.

Okay, so 10% of the $250 million will be paid for by tourists.

What about businesses? They’re going to pay the CIT as well! I don’t have any good numbers, but the Mayors’ Council pegs this at 45%. That sounds reasonable to me, but if someone wants to make the case that this number should be substantially larger or smaller, there’s a comment form at the bottom of this post.

Put those numbers together and you end up with households paying roughly 45% of the $250 million each year, or $112.5 million per year, or $117.70 per household per year.

But! The CTF also says, of the $250 million, “…that’s a tax increase – visible and hidden – of $258 per household.” They try to sneak in this “hidden” cost, assuming that businesses will directly pass on any taxes they pay to people purchasing their products. Here’s a simple example showing that is wrong:

There is currently a gas tax of 17 cents per litre charged in Metro Vancouver. Metro Vancouver does not include the city of Abbotsford but does include Langley, which borders Abbotsford. If this gas tax is directly passed on to the consumer, one would expect that a gas station in Langley would charge 17 cents more per litre than a gas station in Abbotsford. Is that the case?

No. That image is gas prices from January 27, 2015. To the west of the red line is Langley, to the east is Abbotsford. The three gas stations in Langley average to 100.6 cents per litre, and the five in Abbotsford average to 89.9 cents per litre, a difference of 10.7 cents per litre. Either gas stations in Langley are eating six cents per litre or gas stations in Abbotsford are charging an extra six cents per litre. I suspect reality is somewhere between the two.

There are also a lot of businesses in Metro Vancouver that either don’t directly charge consumers (mining companies are a good example) or are national (such as banks) or multi-national (such as shipping companies and large software companies). How does a mining company pass on the 0.5% CIT to Metro Vancouver households? How does Microsoft pass on the 0.5% CIT to Metro Vancouver households? They don’t.

How much will Metro Vancouver households pay in CIT? Probably around $100-120 per year. That’s a far cry from the $258 per year that the CTF says they’ll pay. Again, they’re only interested in fear-mongering instead of presenting facts.

And that they use this as a major part of their campaign? Relying on weak and incorrect math to scare Metro Vancouver residents?

That’s pretty weak.