Translink tax hike key to reducing Vancouver's carbon footprint

Post by Denis Agar in

6 comments


Agar says Metro Vancouverites have it good when it comes to TransLink 

On a day when millions of people around the world were making New Years resolutions about shrinking their waistlines, Vancouver quietly saw a policy enter into action that may end up seriously shrinking the city's carbon footprint. Effective January 1st, gasoline taxes rose in Greater Vancouver by three cents per litre, and the parking sales tax rose by 300%. While the taxes come amid fiscal turmoil at the region's transportation agency Translink, they are good policies that will help build a better city. If only Vancouverites knew how lucky they are. . .

When I first read this Vancouver Sun article, I was shocked to learn that Translink had all those powers. I knew they weren't your average transportation agency, but granting them the ability to implement gasoline taxes and parking taxes shows extreme foresight. I say this as a Torontonian hesitant to inflate Vancouver's already atmospheric ego, but credit must be given where it is due. When one agency is able to manage roads, transit and parking, it allows them to take a long view and shape exactly the transportation system that they want, rather than getting bogged down in jurisdictional squabbles.

The Greater Toronto Area, on the other hand, has almost been immobilized by ill-conceived governance systems. We have eight transit authorities, all of which have incompatible fare systems. We have Metrolinx, a provincial agency tasked with making sense of the mess, but struggling to rise above provincial political machinations to provide anything of real value.

One example of this is Presto, a region-wide farecard currently in the testing phase. Every one of the systems is unequivocally on board (even Ottawa is enthusiastic) except for the Toronto Transit Commission, the only system that could make or break the initiative. They've only committed to putting Presto readers at a handful of their 69 subway stations, and in none of their buses or streetcars. Instead, they are putting pressure on the province to fund rolling out the readers to the rest of the city's transit infrastructure. Even if they were successful in extracting the money from Queens Park, the farecards would not entirely sort out the fare jumble of the Greater Toronto Area. Travelling from Sheppard Station to Thornhill, a relatively short trip, would still involve paying $3 to the TTC and $3.25 to York Region Transit.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Metro Vancouverites have in Translink a single transit system that stretches beyond the urban fringe. They also have the power to impose on themselves a gasoline tax and a parking sales tax which are far more equitable ways of funding transit than property taxes. Transit offers drivers value for their gas tax dollar by reducing road congestion. With these measures in places, potentially scarier measures like road tolling or congestion charges might not be as necessary. According to the Wikipedia page, Translink is also permitted to coordinate land use planning around stations, allowing that land to be more densely populated which translates into increased ridership.

But all is not well in Vancity. Transit fares will be rising on April 1st, 2010. To make matters worse, the Province of British Columbia's new Harmonized Sales Tax comes into effect on July 1st, swallowing up preexisting sales taxes, including Translink's parking tax. BC does seem to have a plan to return lost revenue to Translink, but cheaper parking will still incentivize driving. Not being familiar with the new HST laws, I don't know what other funding options are available to Translink. Rather than a sales tax on parking, how about a fixed levy per space? This would also disincentivise free parking and would encourage land owners of all stripes to intensify urban development by building on parking lots.

Denis Agar lives in Toronto and his post was originally published at PlanningPool.com. CityCaucus is teaming up with PlanningPool.com to cross post columns of common interest over the coming months.

 

6 Comments

The ability to impose taxes without being elected by those being taxed is probably the most fundamental breach of democracy - no taxation without representation. We set our hair on fire about Harper proroguing parliament yet we sit by while real and, not symbolic attacks, on democracy (like an unelected Senate with regional imbalances) are quietly accepted.

By the way, the AGW balloon is full of leaks and there is no way the US Senate is going to pass a cap and trade regime for the US which means it is dead in Canada as well. Time to move on to another cause.

Bill, the tax and fare increases have to be approved by the council of mayor so it is in no way "taxation without representation".

Tea Party! Tea Party!

just ridiculous..a couple days ago you had an article on why no corporate headquarters are here....we are taxed to death... Translink "busses" are a very efficient model, but I would love to see a "carbon assessment / efficiency study" done on some other areas...like the huge GMC Gas Mini-buses that travel on the sidestreets with 3-5ppl on them or less ....I see these mammoths on Beach ave and Beach Crs; just off the Pacific Bus Routes...These things are very inefficient and are in communities all over... There high fuel useage coupled with low seat capacity, and the high wages / benefits / pension of the drivers make them very pool models when touting Transit for reduction of Carbon...
Futhermore the argument for Translink to reduce Carbon is about taking ppl out of their cars and onto the bus....Still the majority of users are carless...and it will be shame when soo many "car people" try the transit system in the Olympics only to get a sour experience with the waits and crowded conditions during this period...
Bring on more light rails / skytrain...

Global TV reported that the Harmonized Sales Tax will be in addition to the 21% Translink parking tax. It would make more sense for the HST to absorb this tax, but I think a lot of details surrounding HST are unclear.

Jeremy, the effect of taxes on office space in Vancouver has nothing to do with parking taxes.

Office space taxes are exponentially high compared to residential in Vancouver. This was to encourage high density residential DT, but it has also led to office exodus and "reverse" suburbanization (commuters leaving DT to work in suburbia).

If people could live closer to where they worked, people could drive and transit less. Walk and bike to work in minutes.

Meanwhile, parking spaces are too often not metered, even though they are extremely expensive to facilitate and they eat up a lot of land.

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