The following email has been filtering into my inbox all day – and it’s worthy of posting in a slightly edited version here.  Just the beginning of what will be an animated and critical discussion leading up to the May election. 

Thomas Beyer is one of five elected directors of the University Neighbourhoods Association. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of the UNA, an organization that provides municipal like services for the 8000+ residents residing on UBC Campus. He is clearly biased towards a UBC rail-line.

Dear Minister Polak:

Clearly, the province wants to balance its books. Fair enough. A position as expected. TransLink and Mayor’s Council has to make the first move and offer some additional revenue and costs savings and then the province might match it, or top it up.

So, where IS the money coming from ? Answer: from ALL of us, not just “the other guy”. …

a)      Cities, including public transit concentrated in cities, needs far more money from the federal government, as all cities are hugely cash strapped as far too many taxes (primarily payroll taxes and GST) go to Ottawa and do not end up where people live, namely in the cities.

b)      Half the people of BC live in the Lower Mainland where public transit is most pressing. Clearly some significant money could be re-routed from the provincial road budget to public transit, although roads clearly are required in less dense parts of BC outside of MetroVancouver. Not having a car is just not practical in Abbotsford, Kelowna or Dawson Creek !

c)      Amenity/development charges equal to 75-80% of the increased land values levied by all benefitting cities.  For example, the City of Vancouver would hugely benefit and can thus contribute most of the cash for a Vancouver based UBC/Broadway line or Surrey for the extension in Surrey or Langley for an expansion in Langley. Example: a piece of property within two blocks gets rezoned from single-family house to four-storey building. This would substantially increase the land value, often dramatically, depending on location, from perhaps $1 million to $4 million. Property taxes would go up immediately, a benefit for the city immediately. Upon sale, the $3-million gain would be captured by the city to the tune of 75-80% and the lucky owner gets to keep 20-25% by being in the right place.

d)      Thus, the cities will get more revenues through intensification of zoning, more construction, more in-migration and more commercial enterprises, and therefore can borrow to invest. Public transit is a good investment for its citizen if done smartly, cost effectively and in the right locations. As shown in my earlier letter, an ROI of well over 6% can be achieved on the UBC line, for example, for Metro Vancouver citizens at large. Thus, borrowing at 3% makes sense.

e)      As stated in my early letter, car usage is far too cheap in Metro Vancouver. One revenue source therefore is road pricing on all major roads, perhaps 10 cents/km, on major throughfares such as Granville, Burrard, West Georgia, Cambie, Marine Drive in West Van and North Van, Hwy 1, Hwy 7, Hwy 17, Hwy 99, Oak, etc. .. ..

f)       Higher bridge & tunnel tolls: $1.50 on Port Mann Bridge ? A little low. How about $4 , plus $5 on Lions Gate Bridge and 2nd Narrows Bridge each direction ? …

g)      As stated in my earlier letter, higher gasoline taxes, $1 phased in over a decade at 10 cents a year, or for those less bold souls: 5 cents a year increase over 20 years. …

h)      Car use has two states: moving and parking. Parking a car on a surface lot must be one of the worst land uses out there. How about a playground, green space or more (market or affordable) housing on all those parking spots throughout every city ? Parking needs to be taxed far higher.  Free parking in Point Grey or Surrey in front of your house: Forget it. How about $200/month for the first car and $400 for the second ? UBC too could charge far more for parking with land values over $10M an acre and thus contribute somewhat to a UBC line – ditto with most cities that own parkades or benefitting land.

i)        Possibly 1% higher PST and 5% on cars over $50,000, or cars over $30,000 that are not hybrid or electric. Have you noticed how many fancy and large cars drive around in Vancouver, a city with no car industry? A person that drives a $80,000 Lexus clearly is not using public transit and is price agnostic. Some revenues can be had here without much pain, too.
In addition, we have to look at services delivery costs, too that are likely immense in a unionized shop like TransLink with heavy management and no competition. Like most municipalities, salaries plus benefits are likely too high given the low market risks of layoffs, often shorter working hours and higher benefits compared to private enterprises.

Perhaps Translink needs to be privatized, and run like other transportation firms like trucking firms, WestJet or Air Canada. How would WestJet run Translink, for example? Likely a lot leaner, with more private enterprise-oriented salaries, benefits and incentives based on customer satisfaction, costs and revenues. TransLink has quite a bit of room for improvement here I would surmise !

ALL options should be on the table, on both the revenue and the cost side. If everybody who is asked to contribute but cries “not me, the student; not me, the senior; not me, the university; not me, the commercial business; not me, the union; not me, the house owner; not me, the car user ..” is actually listened to and then contributes somewhat, we are on the right track !

Let’s move forth boldly and explain that there is no free lunch and most people will buy into it.

Yours Sincerely

Thomas Beyer