How will anti-TransLink vote influence transit referendum?

How will anti-TransLink vote influence transit referendum?
Looking forward inside a Vancouver transit bus. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Cyprien
Looking forward inside a Vancouver transit bus. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Cyprien

Also featured on: Metro604

A comment on the recent Price Tags article on the upcoming November 2014 TransLink Referendum (TransLink Referendum: Can It win? What do we need to know?) strikes a chord on the instruments of an upcoming transit expansion funding referendum. Commenter “David” posted:

Sadly there will be an anti-TransLink vote, even by people who favour additional funding for transit. Some will choose a non-TransLink supported idea just to spite them while others will switch to the “no” side. Unfortunately TransLink has been the victim of bad propaganda for the last 20 years and a significant number of people believe it needs to be reformed or scrapped despite numerous audits showing that it’s actually doing a good job. The people in BC never let facts get in the way of ideology.

Sadly, he is correct.

Votes in the upcoming Metro Vancouver transit funding referendum will be filled with the votes of people who may want transit expansion, but don’t want TransLink. These people want a Metro Vancouver transit future where the only service expansions will come through finding of additional “efficiencies” in TransLink, or the scrapping of TransLink altogether in favour of a different agency. A referendum, thanks to its ability to define a direct result, is dangerous in that it can be easily seen as a tool for these people to “get their revenge” on TransLink.

Sometimes egregiously bad propaganda, such as the recent wash on TransLink for providing free coffee to employees (let’s face it, TransLink is being singled out wrongly – it’s probably not the only transit management agency that does this), has been all over the local media for the past several years. In many ways, it has already had its effect on TransLink; as in recent years TransLink has indeed been put through a lot of scrutiny, and then through audit after audit.

The ironic thing is that many of these audits found TransLink to be a well run company doing a good job. One audit on TransLink efficiency stated that TransLink’s funding formula is the “best in Canada”, because it has allowed it (TransLink) to maintain transit expansion during the recession whereas others across the country were cutting service; its progress report has noted that TransLink has an interest in pursuing efficiency and has has made significant progress in taking initiative. A later review of its governance system, while noting that TransLink’s system is unique in the world, found that it is still seen as “state of the art” internationally.

However, these audits were also successful in fulfilling their main purpose – to be audits. While they found that TransLink has not been doing badly, they also found that changes can be made, and in those changes there are those opportunities to make TransLink’s efficiency “better”.

Because of bad propaganda, there are a lot of people and groups in Metro Vancouver who hold TransLink to absurdly high expectations of efficiency; and, so long as there are absolutely any potential “inefficiencies” in TransLink, even if a “solution” to that inefficiency is a reduction in service or an unreasonable impact to management (as were some of the recommendations in these recent audits), there will be an anti-TransLink vote.

An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the "efficiency" recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.
SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the “efficiency” recommendations in the recent TransLink audits. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Andrew Ferguson

Look around: the results of this bad propaganda are everywhere. An online news article that has to do with transit expansion in Metro Vancouver will often yield a number of comments made by folk who will oppose transit expansion just for the sake of TransLink being in charge.

Article after article, editorial after editorial, letter after letter, and decision after decision, bad propaganda has probably already dealt its damaging blow to the future of the Metro Vancouver transit system, and there might not be much that can be done about that.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Referendum on TransLink funding must be rejected

Referendum on TransLink funding must be rejected

The future of transit funding for Metro Vancouver hinges largely on a referendum scheduled for next fall. The use of a referendum to decide TransLink funding, at all costs and utilizing all effort made possible by activists and our leadership, is a policy that has to change.

Let alone the fact that a referendum will delay all decisions to November 2014 (and result in no progress and the status quo until then), below are three reasons why a referendum is not an acceptable, fair and equitable method of deciding the transportation future of Metro Vancouver.

1. Neglects the youth

I have previously talked [CLICK HERE] about how the decision to decide funding by referendum neglects the voices of one of the most transit-needy groups in Metro Vancouver: youth transit users under 18. This is one of the reasons that a referendum is not fair for all people in Metro Vancouver. The youth are one of the most transit-dependent groups, but have no say in their transit future.

Youth transit users have to rely on the potentially ignorant votes of the rest of the population – and may be disadvantaged significantly by the results. This can have a cascading effect on the future of society, as youth who are neglected from transit options are neglected from options that they need to get to school, and eventually to work opportunities.

2. Voters ill-informed about TransLink

Votes can be influenced by simple and silly things, which is another reason that having a referendum to decide TransLink funding is unacceptable. The general population is not well-informed about TransLink and this matter, and can be influenced by reports that are misleading.

I have heard from a number of people who have decided they will vote no to all types of funding for single reasons that have to do with silly things. For example: there may be a number of people who would reject more TransLink funding because they had read the numerous recent media articles scrutinizing TransLink for providing free coffee to its workers, and perceived this action as a waste of taxpayer money. These articles mislead people, because they implied that TransLink is the only agency doing this, whereas TransLink is likely not the only public transit agency or public sector agency in North America that provides free coffee to employees.

By the words of Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, “We’re asking the public to make wise choices with cumbersome information.

3. Voters ill-informed about the consequences

Many voters who will say “no” also do not know about the consequences of rejecting additional transit funding. Investing in public transit is one of the most efficient ways of spending money for transportation. Not investing in transit means more money has to be invested in upgrading alternate systems such as roads, because neglecting transit funding will neglect many people from being able to utilize their transit options. Additional congestion caused by a lack of expanded transit infrastructure has a cost to the economy that most people won’t realize when they enter the referendum polls.

TransLink funding decisions are best decided by our leadership (i.e. Mayors, MLAs, etc.) and not by the general population in a referendum, because our leadership has a better understanding of why more transit funding is needed, where to implement it, and what are the consequences of neglecting it.

A referendum on TransLink funding neglects the knowledge had by our leadership, and entrusts people who may have no idea about the consequences to shape regional results.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.