Opinion researchers Insights West concluded in 2013 that an increase in sales tax was the least favoured funding option for TransLink. Nevertheless, that’s the option preferred by most municipal politicians and the province. They might theorize that a number of small drains in our pockets will be less noticed. Also, they see the 0.5% transit sales tax as a starting point that, once established, can be easily raised, as they’ve done with the various other transit taxes. After all, when Canada’s Conservative government introduced the temporary 1917 “War Tax Upon Income” bill, the rate for most people was under 5%. We know how that’s gone.
Recent polling shows a decline in support for the transit funding referendum and I surmise that has much to do with rather cavalier attitudes displayed by proponents. This recalls the HST referendum when groups that stood to benefit financially stood on one side while the lunch bucket crowd stood on the other side that that had to vote yes to say no to HST.
Supporters of the hated tax were well funded by governments and business groups and opponents relied mostly on social media and low-cost communications. In 2015, the transit tax is being sold by politicians, business groups and labour unions – a formidable coalition – and the opposition is again centred in social media. One difference in the current contest is that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which approved of HST, aims to defeat the transit referendum.
While the CTF position is based on its small-government libertarian ideology, much of the dissent involves reform-minded citizens who perceive profligacy and incompetence in transit management. There is no better example than the 2009 decision to spend $100 million on a faregate project to combat payment evasion. Six years later, the budget has doubled, the project is stalled and TransLink is doing everything it can to hide details of the delays and failures. (Read Bob Mackin.)
Repeated Skytrain shutdowns led to the revelation that ancient Pentium computers using floppy disks were at the centre of the control system. Despite a crew of senior executives who shared over $200,000 in bonuses last year, TransLink had to bring in a $1,200 a day (plus expenses) consultant from Ontario to review operations. Another part of the response was to shuffle the jobs of a few executives. The people that had just been awarded performance bonuses apparently were no longer performing.
TransLink is spending millions on transit police but taxpayers wonder why an operation with predictable 7-day a week traffic flows routinely pays vast amounts for police overtime. They also wonder if individuals, having taken early pensions from other police forces, are double dipping when they earn 6-figure wages in their new police jobs and build additional pensions through benefit accrual rates well beyond those gained by most people with pensions through employment.
TransLink’s board showed tone-deaf incompetence when it panicked over criticism directed at management and made a show of firing the $39,000 a month CEO and installing a $35,000 a month replacement, which meant they were then paying $74,000 a month for executive leadership. Moreover, the new blood was not all that new. Doug Allen moved from his job managing the rapid transit line that runs south to Richmond.
Perhaps TransLink should have looked further south; to Seattle, where they might have hired a CEO for less than half the price. Compare the rates of pay 140 miles away.
A comparison with America’s second largest transit system leaves questions to be answered.