Email of the week: A no-voter on Metro Vancouver’s transit referendum

From John DeFazio.  He's responding to this post, or maybe to this one.  I have not edited for grammar or clarity.

you write like a scholar, using you master's degrees to cleverly make readers feel sorry for Translink and vote yes, even if they are confused… you know the adage, "bullshit baffle brains", thats what you and your kind are doing… and how much are they paying you Jarrett? 
there are many other ways that Translink can raise funding for transit and you bloody well know it… alternatively Translink should go public, make it competitive for private companies to run transit for the masses… look at BC Ferries, they run low on cheddar and they raise their rates, simple, you wanna ride, you pay…
Here's what professionals know:  Specialized transit services in monopoly positions or isolated intense markets are sometimes profitable.  BC Ferries, which cross water barriers where the only alternative is flying, are a great example.  But the entire transit system for a metro area the size of greater Vancouver is never profitable in a developed-world context, just as roads are not.  That's not why transit exists.  It exists, among other things, to protect the economy from being strangled by traffic congestion.
like [Vancouver] Mayor Robinson who makes stupid promises he cant even come close to keeping, and big ones too, you know, the "end homeless" bullshit he's peddling… Robinson wants a freebie from all lowermainlanders in the form of 0.5% tax hike to pay for his Broadway subway that he's been promising for years! Hey, what about if Vancouver raises their own money to do the subway? or lobby the provincial govt for cheddar or lobby the Federal govt for cheddar!! 
When the British Columbia government wanted to widen the Port Mann freeway bridge between the cities of Surrey and Coquitlam, they argued it was province-wide interest.  Nobody talked about it as "Surrey's and Coquitlam's bridge."  Likewise, the Broadway subway is physically in Vancouver but that doesn't make it Vancouver's.  If you ever want to be able to get from the northeastern part of the metro area to the airport, for example, you need the Broadway subway, because only with that subway do all the rapid transit lines into Vancouver connect with each other so that people can make suburb-suburb trips. 
I defer to locals to explain the cheddar metaphor.  
Im so glad i don't live in Vancouver where Robertson pretends he's the Mayor in…
Whatever supposedly high principles anti-transit campaigns may be espousing, a key motivating force is usually sheer hostility toward the region's densest city, and everything it represents.  If you want to understand why anti-transit campaigns are so fervent, this always seems to be part of the answer.
and who's paying for the yes advertising eh? taxpayers? who else… that's so shameful and in the end will see what a waste of resources this has been… pissing away good money when there is no chance of winning this plebiscite!
Why didn't you talk about Mayor Corrigen eh? remember him? he's opposed to the tax hike with validity…
Longtime readers know that I almost never write about personalities, because this is not about them.  It's about the freedom and opportunity of citizens in the region.
Ive voted NO, every one i know has done the same… the yes campaign hasn't a hope in hell to even come close and you know it Jarrett…
Yes, I'm sure everyone you know agrees with you.  That's how human beings withdraw from reality, by only "knowing" people who agree with them.   Personally, I get bored listening to people who agree with me, which is why I wanted to share John's email.  By the way, I didn't select this email from a whole pile to create a particular effect; it's the only one I've received on the subject, but it's typical of what Metro Vancouver seems to think is a credible opposition.

15 Responses to Email of the week: A no-voter on Metro Vancouver’s transit referendum

  1. BurnabyBobl April 3, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    This is sad stuff. I’m actually embarrassed for my hometown. I knew the plebiscite was a bad idea, and that they would have a hard time getting it passed, but I expected at least a higher level of debate regarding the merits of the plan itself being voted on. Instead, Vancouver seems to be having it’s tea party moment.

  2. Voony April 4, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

    I don’t see this lettter as typical of what Metro Vancouver seems to think as a credible opposition.
    The “NO” arguments to the referendum are best articulated by MLA David Eby:

    ” the proposed tax and this referendum are poorly planned, and the revenue will go to a broken and wasteful administrator in Translink, an organization that has very limited, if any, democratic accountability “

    And the credibility of them, have been given by the Yes side itself: Virtually all the Yes side advocates say the above including Vancouver’s Mayor Roberston.
    Considering the above, The No side, had just to frame the referendum as a confidence vote into Translink: a framing largely accepted by the “yes” side.
    Here, Jarret using Todd Litman study, reported Translink was rather well managed. The local “yes” promoters clearly disagree with that: They have fired the Translink CEO in the mist of the campaign.
    There is virtually no discussion on the plan itself. If it was the “Yes” campaign didn’t presented the “broadway subway” as a regional investment.
    PS: It could be a lot to say on the plan itself: in fact the “plan” submitted to vote is still a draft “to be updated”:
    The plan is not fully accounted and is only partially financed. It is neither abbiding to the local bylaw, the SCBCTA, in regard of Transit investment plan.

    The “NO” vote is dominating the Vancouver transit referendum: that is all the result of a disastrous “YES”.

  3. Voony April 4, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    the last sentence of my previous comment should have read

    The “NO” vote is dominating the Vancouver transit referendum: that is all the result of a disastrous “YES” campaign”

  4. A April 6, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

    If there’s one theme from the Vancouver transit plebiscite, it’s the prevalence of firm positions backed up by misinformation. It is unfortunate, as there are a variety of benefits and concerns that are worthy of discussion.
    One point of clarification. On the topic of BC Ferries, even when offering specialized services in a monopoly environment, it’s still not a guarantee that the operator will turn a profit. Although many fiscally conservative types enjoy pointing to BC Ferries as an example of the benefits of ‘privatization’ and charging ‘full user pay’ for those trips, BCF continues to rely on Provincial and Federal sources for 24% of their financial plan. The major routes are nearly self-sufficient (nearly, but not entirely)…they cross-subsidize all other routes on the network, where fare revenue doesn’t even come close to paying for service. As with urban transit systems in large cities, BCF would operate a MUCH smaller network if profitability was their sole objective, and much like urban transit, they must weigh societal goals (community access, economic development) against the cost of providing those services.
    Voony, one point of clarification. In Jarrett’s posts, I haven’t seen any statement claiming that TransLink is “well managed”, only that they deliver services in a “cost effective” manner. Typically, you would hope that those would go hand in hand, but they are not one and the same.

  5. bar April 7, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

    Unfortunately, the No arguments getting the most publicity are the ones that complain that Translink is inefficient.
    Many people opposed to the new tax, are opposed because the plan it is supposed to fund is so poorly constructed and explained. It’s more like a wish-list, with no details on what the priorities are, what will be built when, in what order, etc. And the Yes campaign for the tax completely leaves out the fact that the money raised by this tax is only good for half the region’s funding requirements (the other half will come from “mobility pricing”). (To say nothing of the fact that the flagship items – the Broadway Subway and Surrey LRT – can only get built if 2/3 of the money comes from a provincial and federal govt that has shown no interest in providing that money…)
    The proponents talk about “transparency” while deliberately obfuscating the details of the plan (Try finding “Appendix F” where all the financials are…). They talk about efficiency, when the plan document itself carried a large banner saying “This document will be updated before Feb 2015” well into March, by which time the No campaign had practically won the day. The funding section still says most of the funds will come from re-allocating an existing tax, when the whole referendum is about a new tax!
    Lastly, you talk about how the benefits are regional even though the most money will be spent in Vancouver. I live in Vancouver, and I keep getting calls from Mayor Robertson (the official face of the Yes campaign) urging me to vote yes because of all the benefits Vancouver will see. Not the region, Vancouver. So, I can understand non-Vancouver residents feeling like this whole thing is for Vancouver’s benefit, not theirs. Apparently, even the leadership sees it that way.
    My impression is that everyone, especially the Yes campaigners want this to fail, so they can point the finger at imaginary evil right-wing groups, and wash their hands of the hard decisions needed to make getting around easier for everyone.

  6. MB April 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    @ bar

    My impression is that everyone, especially the Yes campaigners want this to fail, so they can point the finger at imaginary evil right-wing groups, and wash their hands of the hard decisions needed to make getting around easier for everyone.

    I support the Yes side and that is precisely the antithesis of what I, and every colleague I know in the planning and design professions, believe is right. Your impression does not speak to me.
    The proposed rather inconsequential tax is a small tool to foster more economically and energy-efficient communities just as fossil fuel depletion, climate change and potentially greater financial instability cast their dark clouds on the horizon. Yet the effects of this vote will be measured in decades.
    One thing I’ve noticed is that the No commentary is very similar, no matter what the political background or source, and the email above is just a taste. Left and right, the comments are cast as a cavalier one-off event meant for today’s jerk of the knee topic and are loaded with inflammatory language, incoherence, cherry-picked data, evidence-free “facts”, a lack of knowledge or contextual understanding about how cities actually work, and as a promotion of class and economic divides and conspiracy theories, all disproportionate to the Yes side, which has now grown disconcertingly quiet.
    I’ve lost count of how many No voters started their comments with “I support transit BUT ….” How many progressive No voters will regret their decision in a monster bus rider crush in 2020 should the vote fail and the government responds by letting the transit system languish? Perhaps they won’t even connect the dots. After all, the people have spoken, and they do have the right to shoot themselves in the foot when given the opportunity.
    The fact that local public transit was singled out for this lowest possible denominator process and not roads is very telling. Holding this plebiscite on a sub-set local issue is nothing less than an abrogation of responsibility by the premier that could seriously damage long-term planning for the entire province, not just the metropolis that provides half its annual GDP. Maybe it won’t get that deep, but voting No will set back not just the funding of transit, but the planning and governance processes as well.

  7. Dexter Wong April 8, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    He reminds me of the commentors in the Star-Advertiser who harp of traffic problems in Honolulu and continually dream of building more freeways or building a bridge across the mouth of Pearl Harbor (something forbidden by the Navy).

  8. bar April 8, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

    The proposed tax doesn’t serve the purpose it’s being promoted for: to fund the future transit vision. It only raises about half the region’s requirements; it has close to no bearing on whether the two shiny trinkets (Broadway subway and Surrey LRT) will be built (2/3 of the funding must come from senior govt); and the use of regional sales tax is spectacularly inefficient compared to just raising property taxes in the region.
    My objection to this plan is that it’s a terrible plan. That has nothing to do with Translink or transit per se. The Mayors show political cowardice by refusing to use the tax powers at their disposal to fund transit (a property tax raise would NOT have required a referendum); the planners have come up with a fuzzy document that raises more questions than answers (exactly what is going to be provided, given the money raised is not sufficient to provide everything?); and the entire process has been completely mishandled (from terrible documentation to incompetent political campaigning – could the Yes side have possibly done anything worse?).
    Rather than pointing the finger at the general public who have pretty severe misgivings that this will turn into anything other than a tax-grab, it would be wise to study how poorly managed transit decisions can cause more damage than doing nothing at all. (Take one example where credibility is diminished – the proposed B-line express bus from Richmond to Metrotown that will supposedly make that commute shorter and more efficient. Anyone who commutes along that route knows the problem is the extremely congested Knight street bridge, not the number of stops the buses make along the Bridgeport. But there isn’t a hint of anything to make the bridge crossing more efficient. It’s laughable that the powers-that-be think people will see that as a great transit improvement. Rather, people see that as a group of planners out of touch with reality, or, more likely, a group of planners that simply don’t care about people not in downtown Vancouver. Not a way to inspire someone to vote for higher taxes).

  9. BurnabyBob April 9, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    ” It only raises about half the region’s requirements; it has close to no bearing on whether the two shiny trinkets (Broadway subway and Surrey LRT) will be built (2/3 of the funding must come from senior govt)”
    That’s been understood from the beginning. And both the Federal and Provincial governments have indicated that they would provide funding if the local governments provided their share. Provincial and Federal governments have helped fund major transit improvements in the past.
    “My objection to this plan is that it’s a terrible plan.” It’s not a terrible plan. It’s a good plan that will vastly improve transit across the Metro Vancouver region.

  10. MB April 9, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    @ bar, given the severely-limited allottment of time to come up with a plan, the mayors — and more importantly, the TransLink planners and tech staff who performed the majority of the work — did remarkably well.
    Your other conjecture and rhetoric (“tax grab”, “shiny trinkets”) needs backing. I suspect you don’t understand how the regional planning process works, and certainly fall short on understanding the huge benefits of public transit on urban, environmental and economic efficacy.

  11. bar April 9, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    @burnabybob, @mb,
    It’s this condescension from the Yes supporters like yourselves that really make me want to vote No. Believe it or not, I take an interest in urban issues, including transit (that’s why I’m here). I fully understand the benefits of public transit – I would much rather be able to use public transit to go about my daily business than driving everywhere. But, not living or working in downtown Vancouver, it’s not possible. I’m happy to pay for the services I use, so I have no objection to raising a tax to pay for this.
    Why do you presume that someone that has concerns about a transit plan is ignorant, doesn’t understand, and/or is somewhat morally deficient, especially compared to yourselves? This is not a way to win referenda or support for more transit, and that arrogance is showing in the way metro Vancouver residents are responding to the Yes campaign.
    To repeat some of my points: A property tax increase is a better way to fund this expansion than a regional sales tax. Because it’s simpler and more efficient to collect, it doesn’t distort the economy in the way this proposed tax will, it puts the local politicians on the hook for the way the money is spent, and it wouldn’t have required a divisive referendum. But that wouldn’t let y’all whine about the evil provincial govt and stupid voters like me.
    Secondly, the “plan” is a wish list of things that would be nice to do if there was enough money to do them. But there isn’t. So what will be done, and when? I can’t find anything in the plans that details priorities.
    Thirdly, there is no evidence that either the provincial govt or federal govts will provide the necessary money for the Broadway subway or the Surrey LRT. And the politicians have provided no information that they even have a plan to get that money. The Vancouver council’s vocal opposition to the pipeline project that both the provincial and federal govt support is not likely to win a lot of favours when they go looking for money…
    BTW, the plan says that construction of the Surrey LRT would begin in about 10 years from now. That been mentioned to the voters in Surrey?
    Finally, I have looked at the plan quite carefully. There’s no question transit will be improved in inner and central Vancouver, but to suggest it will be vastly improved across the metro region is a little optimistic. I notice neither of you have any comment on my specific point about the Knight street bridge, which is one of the key pieces of transport infrastructure in the region. How about the lack of planning for the greatly increasing population of the River district in southeast Vancouver?

  12. MB April 14, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    Bar, thank you for one of the more articulate No Voter commentaries I’ve read. But you are in the minority compared to the online comments sections on this issue in local news outlets.
    No one called you “morally deficient” or accused you of being ignorant. But you do tend to ignore the analysis of TransLink by Jarrett in an earlier linked post, and by others like Todd Litman in your discomfiture of the Mayor’s Council plan, or are you purposely dividing the two apart? I can accept the flaws in the plan, though I don’t think they are as onerous as you do, because this vote in my view is a general vote of confidence in public transit, a vote we do not get in any other singular form of transport.
    And of course there are the glib accusations of arrogance and elitism when the flaws in the No campaign assertions are uncovered, such as it’s the wrong kind of tax (or some other detail) when the evidence shouts in a chorus of 100,000 car horns a day and in blazing lights that freeways will be funded by ANY tax, regressive or otherwise, over transit by Victoria if No prevails.
    The assumption that a No vote will cause a change of heart in the premier about transit funding is not at all backed by evidence. The evidence is literally a decade of debt spending very heavily weighted toward asphalt.
    It’s hardly arrogant to point that out.

  13. Robert Wightman April 15, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

    Jarrett, how dare you write like a scholar; how dare you get a master’s degree in theatre arts, how dare you write a book that is both easier to understand and more interesting than those written by people with degrees in transit and urban planning; how dare you allow people to express their opinion on your blog when it disagrees with yours; have you no shame Jarrett?
    Thank you Jarrett for having a blog that is stimulating and allows for a vast divergence of opinion. Thank you for stimulating debate and imparting knowledge. Write another book soon please, even if it is in a scholarly style.
    Posted by: Robert Wightman |

  14. Chris Yuen April 26, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

    regarding BC ferries:
    Actually, BC ferries operates on an annual 175M subsidy. If it was made a private, revenue maximizing organization, it would probably focus on high-ridership routes, run smaller boats that would run closer to capacity and use “surge pricing” to suppress demand peaks. Revenue negative routes to the smaller gulf islands would be dropped or at least reduced.
    BC Ferries faces the same ridership / coverage dilemma that Translink has. The main difference is that that ferries don’t have to compete with other subsidized transportation modes- an added dimension to ground transit.

  15. Baylink September 7, 2015 at 7:25 am #

    I’ve just picked up your blog this week, Jarrett, in researching why Pinellas County FL has turned down monorail rapid transit twice now (Greenlight Pinellas discarded it out of hand without much explanation, in the face of a 14 year older Grimail-Crawford study that thought it would work out just fine, thanks, and yet also wasn’t proceeded with); as you might imagine, I’d like to see it happen…
    and of all the postings you’ve made that I’ve read so far, I think:
    “Here’s what professionals know: Specialized transit services in monopoly positions or isolated intense markets are sometimes profitable. BC Ferries, which cross water barriers where the only alternative is flying, are a great example. But the entire transit system for a metro area the size of greater Vancouver is never profitable in a developed-world context, just as roads are not. That’s not why transit exists. It exists, among other things, to protect the economy from being strangled by traffic congestion.”
    may be the single most important paragraph you’ve written, globally, in the entire blog.
    Transit isn’t a ‘product’, it’s a ‘service’, and even more, a ‘concession’ (in the baseball stadium sense); something that municipalities provision because, really, they have no other choice, not to be a profit center.
    Seems to me that is the misconception on which a lot of projects founder… and it also seems to me that it’s the sort of argument that’s so wide left that getting a board that’s sitting on a project to believe it requires flying in someone like yourself for several grand to put down your briefcase and explain it to them, cause they’ll never believe it from the locals. 🙂