Mr. Richard Walton, Chair,
TransLink Mayors Council
North Vancouver, BC Canada
Dear Mr. Walton,
Hasn't it been interesting to see just how much TransLink has been able to save when they wanted to ? Sort of like turning lemons into lemonade... Allow me to comment on where I think TransLink should go from here, starting by responding to the recent updated revenue generating proposals that you and the Mayors Council have presented to TransLink and the BC Government.
REGIONAL PROVINCIAL SALES TAX (R-PST)
NO - this is a non-starter, there is no correlation between the PST and road use and taxpayers feel like they are being over-taxed already.
NO - there are still a lot of questions regarding how well this tax is working at the Provincial Level and how fair it is.... Besides, TransLink is already benefiting from subsidies for hydrogen and natural gas powered buses for example, and I do not see what else TransLink can do to reduce its carbon footprint from what it has already been doing - and should be doing.
LAND VALUE CAPTURE
YES - this is good to do for the long-term as long as TransLink is not forced to sell off its land in order to pay for short-term obligations.
REGIONAL ROAD PRICING
YES - this is the most equitable solution, as it is only fair that those who use the roads should pay for the roads. The sooner this can be implemented the better in order to finally solve TransLinks funding problems for the long-term.
REGIONAL VEHICLE REGISTRATION FEE
YES - although this option has already been tried and soundly rejected three times, I believe it is still viable as it at least correlates with road-use. It is simply a question of compromise and creating value and fairness. I agree with the BC Liberals that whatever options are recommended need to be acceptable to the majority of taxpayers (voters). Especially in an election year.... The NDP is in a similar predicament... Mayors (& Councillors) would also be wise to keep voter sentiment in mind as well... especially if the Provincial Government decides to "wash its hands" of TransLink Funding and allows the Mayors (& Councillors) to decide...
Taxpayers are tired of TransLink trying to shove more taxes and fees down their throats without getting any perceived benefit in return. TransLink needs to show taxpayers, the majority of whom drive and rarely use public transit anyway, that whatever additional taxes or fees it recommends are going to deliver - real value - to them. Of course TransLink looks after the roads as well as Public Transit, but the public does not seem to understand or appreciate this... especially when it comes to fixing pot-holes for example, which is the City's responsibility... More education needs to be done by TransLink in this regard in terms of what it does for roads.
Problem - Too many cars on clogged streets (rated some of the most congested in North America) and half empty buses.
Solution - Get more drivers to take public transit instead of driving (at least for some trips).
The way to do this would be to create an incentive for drivers to take public transit by giving them free transit. Why burn gas and get frustrated in traffic when you can just take the bus ?
One way to do this would be to give drivers 50% of the value of a Regional Vehicle Registration Fee back to them in the form of a credit on a SmartCard they register for. When drivers pay their Regional Vehicle Registration Fee they could be given a coupon code to use when registering for a SmartCard. This credit would last for one year giving them an incentive to use it or lose it.
Additional incentives (to get drivers out of their cars and reduce road congestion) could be a lottery that would fully reimburse drivers for a full year of their vehicle insurance. The lottery would work through the use of their SmartCard, every time a driver used their SmartCard they would randomly have a chance to win.
Ideally, the lottery option would work in the second year of the Regional Vehicle Registration Fee and use any unused funds that were not used by drivers to take transit in the first year. The lottery winnings could also be applied as a credit to a drivers SmardCard but have no expiry date.
Other options are also possible... as long as they reward drivers for taking transit... and reducing road congestion...
YES - Scientifically-Proven, Incentive-Based, SmartCard-Enabled.
Problem - Too many people developing health problems due mainly to a lack of exercise.
Solution - Develop incentives that will encourage people to exercise more. Taking transit solves many problems at the same time.
It requires people to exercise (by walking to the bus stop for example), as well as enables them to travel without the stress of driving, burning gas or causing air pollution.
Activities that improve health can be scientifically-proven to save dollars, healthcare-dollars... by avoiding the need to spend on treating bad health... Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on wellness, many dollars are saved in the form of improved health and reduced healthcare costs...
Revenue can be generated for TransLink by paying TransLink for helping to improve peoples health and reducing health-care costs. Stress induced mental illness for example, can also lead to crime. Reducing stress and mental illness can help reduce crime and crime-care costs.
See my proposal and campaign which I have been talking to TransLink and the BC Government about since 2009. http://bcwellnesshub.ca/
Upfront costs for a TransLink Wellness-Hub Pilot Project to try this out could come from three sources who would have the know-how, commitment and enthusiasm to make it work:
1) Non-Profit Organizations - particularly ones involved in health issues.
2) Businesses - particularly ones who provide health and wellness products and services.
3) Transit Users - who would like to participate in a Wellness Program and help get this going.
Revenue for TransLink would come from the BC Government, but with a benefit to taxpayers in that government would only pay for results based on scientifically-proven healthcare cost savings.
But no-one is going to commit unless they know TransLink is interested, which has so far not been the case....
PARKS, RECREATION & FITNESS
In the name of Wellness, Community Centres need to be upgraded and enhanced, not cut-back on or enduring cash grabs.
- A TransLink Wellness-Hub could play a role in helping to enhance community centres, and be rewarded for doing so...
CRIME & VICE-INDUSTRIES
I am in agreement with the growing movement supporting evidence-based (http://evidencenetwork.ca/) sensible-solutions (http://sensiblebc.ca/) in dealing with the "vice" industries and other social ills.
- A TransLink Wellness-Hub could play an important role in helping to mitigate the harmful effects of "Vice" and the crime that accompanies it, and be rewarded for doing so...
Historically, TransLink has not been in favour of Fare-Gates because the cost of fare-gates could not be justified based on the low fare-evasion rates (typically under 5%) which Skytrain has experienced since it was built in 1986. The fact is that most Skytrain users are also bus users and fares are already checked on the buses by bus drivers.
The Skytrain users that do not pay fares are typically poor people (including drug addicts, mentally ill, criminals, etc.) who, in many cases do not even pay when they get on a bus (with the bus driver sitting right there) either... Do you honestly believe that flimsy (limp-biscuit) mechanical fare-gates are going to change this ?
Keep in mind also that many poor people collect welfare but don't have enough for transit, so taxpayers are essentially paying them to conduct fare-evasion. These fare-evading poor people are also "chased-around" by highly-paid Transit Police who waste time writing tickets that will never be paid.
Once fare-paying Skytrain users see that the fare-gates are not working, ie: not doing as advertised in terms of stopping fare-evaders.... they are not going to be happy... As a matter of fact they might even compare the fare-gates to the Fast-Ferry Fiasco... and we all know how that turned out...
A better option would be to REWARD Fare-Paying travelers by giving them a chance to WIN something every time they use their Smart-Card, thus not only encouraging people to use a Smart-Card but also encouraging them to use Public-Transit and reduce Road-Congestion.
A TransLink Wellness-Hub would not only help alleviate dissatisfaction with fare-gates, but ultimately (through wellness) be able to help the poor - as well - and be able to "fix" fare-evasion for good... once an for all....
HISTORY - FUTURE
Early in my discussions with TransLink regarding the Wellness-Hub, I received an email reply from Gordon Campbell in his position as Premier who appreciated my idea but did not seem to think it was doable.... as well as former Premier Glen Clark in his position with the Jim Pattison Group who appreciated me thinking of him and did not think my idea was not doable but unfortunately did not have time to help out.
In fairness to the BC Liberals, the NDP under Glen Clark were also in favour of Fare-Gates... but like the BC Liberals more for reasons of Political Perception rather than for (workable) Scientific Facts.
I am not giving up on the BC Liberals in terms of them doing something in this area and the more Ministers I hear from the more they seem to be coming around to understanding what I am talking about and maybe wanting to do something....
I have not traditionally been a supporter of the NDP as I do not like "boondoggles" or government debt... but if the NDP is elected in May it will at least be an opportunity for them to change their ways...
TECHNICAL SOLUTION TO A SOCIAL PROBLEM - and creating a "heaven on earth"
Fans of Start Trek understand and appreciate the amazing things that are (and might be) possible with technology, but they also understand that it is ultimately the social dynamic that often makes such things possible.
Is it possible to create a "Heaven on Earth" ? We will never know if we don't try.
- Consider the TransLink Wellness-Hub an opportunity to - try....
- Its not every day one gets the chance to create a - heaven on earth - consider this your opportunity...
To the Journey !
Rick Orser, Vancouver