Why I’m voting Yes in Vancouver’s transit referendum

I took great exception to Jeffrey Simpson’s recent column implying the only people who will vote no in the transit referendum are either elderly, poor, or anti-establishment and anti-taxes on principle. I am neither elderly nor poor—and I actually believe taxes are the best mechanism we have to pay for public investments.

Yet I still want to vote no. I want to vote no because I simply don’t believe that a half-cent-levy on goods and services is an imaginative or progressive way to pay for the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan. I agree with the idea of asking citizens about the best way to fund that public investment, I just don’t believe this referendum asks the question fairly.

A fairer question would start with the presumption that the need to fund key Metro infrastructure is a given, and then ask people how they prefer to pay for it. What about increasing ICBC payments? And/or introducing a new tax on car sales? And/or raising the price of gasoline? And/or imposing a development levy on luxury car franchises?

I don’t know if any of these are viable funding schemes to this forward-thinking, comprehensive plan, and I guess I never will. As is too often the case with government consultations, this referendum presents a false dichotomy. It says, in effect, the only choice is this plan and this funding scheme, or nothing. And it suggests that people who don’t want the tax increase don’t want improved transit.

As a voter, I seriously resent being put in that position. And yet, I am going to vote yes, and here’s why: In 2013, my husband and I took a four-month hiatus to road-trip around America. In our baby-footprint, 2008 Honda Fit, we logged 25,000 kilometres exploring the southern states.


When we reached Georgia, we paid heed to the guidebook-warnings (their caps) DON’T DRIVE IN ATLANTA. We read that traffic congestion was heinous in that city, and wise travellers would never to try to traverse it by car. So we opted for a hotel at the outskirts and used public transit system to move around.

The MARTA was fine, but no more or less sophisticated or simpler to use than TransLink’s offerings. What was remarkable was what we saw on the streets around us. The downtown congestion and chaos described in our guidebooks was comparable to Metro Vancouver’s relatively mild, mid-day, mid-week flows. We thought: “And you guys call this traffic?”

As a third-generation Vancouverite, I think we’ve become inured to just how much traffic congestion plagues our city; we seem to think long delays going over bridges or reaching freeway entrances are part of the price of living here. And we say to ourselves, because “traffic is so bad,” that every inch you can grab in a car—from turning left on yellow or red lights, to sitting in pedestrian intersections to wait for car space—is just normal driving behaviour.

But it’s not normal; it’s dangerous. And given current growth predictions, it’s going to get much, much worse. It’s a truism in the transportation planning department that “traffic flows like water—it will always find the easiest course to take.” So the only way to change courses is to develop convenient public transit alternatives for moving people without single-occupancy vehicles. We need to put bike paths over viaducts and bridges, and we need to usurp roadways for rapid transit corridors and HOV lanes.

If the only way to do this is to say “Yes” to this unfair referendum question, then so be it. I just wish there were a different, more nuanced statement I could make.

– lb –