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Why Rafe Mair is begrudgingly voting “Yes” in Transit Plebiscite

Posted March 28, 2015 by Rafe Mair in Urban & Transport
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Why Rafe Mair is begrudgingly voting Yes in Transit Plebiscite

Rafe Mair trusts Mayor Gregor Robertson (pictured) with our transportation future a tad more than the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation – despite big misgivings about transit management to date (Vision Vancouver/Twitter)

I am a lifetime contrarian. Whatever I’m supposed to do, I rebel against. I have not changed much in my dotage.

But I’m going to vote “Yes” in the Transit Plebiscite, notwithstanding the fact that I have grave concerns about the Translink and the city councils offering their ideas about how to spend the money.

There are several reasons that I came to this conclusion.

Look at who’s leading the “No” side

To begin with, I always like to see who is lined up on each side of an argument so that I can judge a little better what the issues really are. There are a great many people who have expressed simple annoyance, deep annoyance in fact, at the way Translink has been run. I have a lot of sympathy with that but in a moment I will tell you why that is not my major consideration.

I will say this: I think that going into this plebiscite, Premier Clark ought to have got together with the various mayors and come up with a better way to administer transit in Greater Vancouver. But she didn’t and we must make our decision based on what is, not what we wish it was.

Looking at those who are leading the “No” vote, I see the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Fraser Institute – the former much more prominent, in the person of Jordan Bateman. This rings a lot of bells for me because these organizations have never seen a public institution that they didn’t want to see smashed to pieces and help in the process. They have a constitutional dislike of everything that is not run by the private sector.

As for the Fraser Institute, my eyes were opened a few years ago when I interviewed a man named Dr. Walter Block, a “fellow” of that organization, who believed in consensual slavery. If a single mom with children, unable to bear the expense, wanted to become a wealthy man’s slave, by consent, she should be free to do so!

Now I don’t for a moment suggest that that is the general view of right-wingers but Block was a “fellow”, his views are the logical extension of unrestrained libertarianism, and it’s places like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Fraser Institute where far right libertarians park themselves and erect their soapboxes.

I think it is fair to say that both of these organizations represent the far right wing in our community and don’t represent real people with real problems.

Voting “No” won’t solve our problems

Let’s get back to the question of management of Transit.

There is one fact that jumps out of all of this when you think about it. This isn’t the normal case where the “No” side says, “Let’s throw the rascals out and throw us in so that we can do a better job”. There is no such alternative mechanism ready to step in if the vote is no – we simply go into a state of limbo, fumble about, presumably try to work out a better governing arrangement, tackle the various issues piecemeal without any central direction and eventually work ourselves back to the position where we must have another plebiscite!

Being on the “No” side when you have no responsibility to do anything if you win, is pretty damn easy. It’s all very well just to say that things have been badly managed, but unless you have somebody to step in with a better idea, you’re simply protesting without a plan.

A streetcar I desire

Most of all I recognize that if the “No” votes wins we’ll be in the transit wilderness for years to come. That really doesn’t affect me personally as I am old and I live in Lions Bay, which is extremely well-served and stands to gain or lose very little in this exercise.

On the other hand, I am a native Vancouverite and have lived here most of my life. I go back to the days of the streetcar – I wish we could in fact go back to those days. I’ve seen my City grow from about a quarter of a million when I was a boy to 2,000,000-plus today. I’ve been through the debate which saw us reject freeways for better transit without coming up with the transit.

I’ve used public transit systems all over the world and I’ve never seen one where people didn’t bitch about it. It goes with the territory.

A lot of work to be done

A “Yes” vote scarcely guarantees that all will be peachy from here on. What it does guarantee is that there will be a plan, money to fulfill it, pursued by people who are very close to the voters, namely mayors and counsels.

No doubt there are better ways somewhere but given our history and situation in Greater Vancouver, this is the best we can expect and is certainly better than the chaos that will result from a “No” vote.

So the old contrarian is asking his fellow citizens to overlook the fact that they’re not pleased with the system as they see it but know that the best way to deal with that is not to ignore it and hope, as Mr. Micawber did, that “something will turn up”.

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About the Author

Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe continues to make regular appearances on radio and television, writes regularly for thetyee.ca, and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

25 Comments


  1.  
    Vitslav

    With all due respect, that is extremely flawed logic. In addition to that, the aspect of something tax payers must pay for that they cannot expect the level of accountability that any employer would expect from any employee suggests we are willing to tolerate being fiscally raped. Voting yes begrudgingly will put words in your mouth, specifically, you are supporting what they do. Voting no shows your refusal for their ongoing extortion. I gave transit a fair chance for many years, and it has proven to be inefficient for my needs, and it has also proven to be an undesirable method of transition, not to mention for some people, it has been a breeding ground for unwanted sexual groping, mentally and emotionally disturbed individuals and drug addicts on transit makes it unsafe for some people. In addition,m transit is a huge waste of time. It takes up to four times as long to get to some destinations as it does with your own vehicle and that is time you can never get back. I rode transit for well over a decade, and I decided it was time to happily get back into my own vehicle.




  2.  
    Ben H

    I hate voting with a gun to my head and that’s what it feels like from the Yes side, including all the Translink defenders. What is wrong with a No vote that sends a message about mismanagement? If mismanagement is fiction, why did they turf their CEO and why was Mr. Pattison called in to the rescue?

    And no one has yet explained to me why, after all the money spent on raising the ENTIRE Hwy 1 one level near Brunette R. in order to accomodate the Langley FastBus, the special freeway entrance remains unused THREE YEARS after completion of the Port Mann bridge!




  3.  

    Barry, again. Should have pointed out that the “left” NDP, Labour, leftwing commentators like David Schreck, Seth Klein were also regular guests.

    R




    •  
      dan

      There were a lot of people on your show from all walks of life. You gave time to all in a balanced way.

      I was never lucky enough to be listening when you might have had a show about the Kamloops lawyer who in the early 70’s defended Linda Adama, and subpoenaed J. Pifer (Pife) as an expert witness on morality.

      That must have been a well listened to radio show segment if there was one………




  4.  

    Barry. – I had the Ku Klux Klan on too. You may remember that Manning was on for constitutional reform. Michael Walker of the Fraser Institute threatened to sue me for calling him a fascist. Sometimes I thought these people had a good issue even though I didn’t agree with their politics.

    I also made mistakes.




  5.  
    Kiskatinawkid

    I agree with you 100% Rafe. You nailed it.




  6.  
    Don F.

    Before any talk of a .5 percent tax or any other method of ‘extra’ income ever hit the sound waves there needed to be some pre game organizational changes.
    Translink needs a pruning and that pruning must start from the top down.
    Like a tree left untended in a small yard it has gotten unruly and the damage it causes is vast.
    Why is no one asking for a serious accounting from them? Is that such an outrageous request?
    I’ll offer a good place to start. Why are executive wages and benefits the highest in north america?
    It is simply unfair to ask the public for more while these questions are avoided.




  7.  
    John Mitchell

    I’m sorry, but this plebescite is wrong on so many levels. If you vote “yes” you are enabling the provincial government and the mayor’s council to use blackmail to just do the job they were elected to do: Govern.Don’t avoid the tough decisions by having a lame plebiscite
    If it is true that we need more rapid transit, and I think everyone would agree that we do, then do your job and plan it and pay for it out of your fantastically balanced budget. If the government spends its money on roofs for stadiums, conventions centers that lose money and “feel good” things like that Olympics, and doesn’t have enough for transit, education and health care, then they have to accept the responsibility that they put their priorities in the wrong place. It’s called democracy, choices and the inevitable outcome: paying for those choices at election time.
    The whole process of responsible and representative governing is getting lost in the way this government does business, with the accent on business.




    •  
      Ben

      The plebiscite was a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean people should vote No. You’re voting on the transportation plan put forward by the mayors, not on whether or not they should have held the plebiscite in the first place. Voting No is a really bad way to make a political protest, and it will only hurt quality of life in the lower mainland. If you’re angry with Clark for pressing ahead with it against the protests of the region’s mayors, you should vote her out of office next election.




  8.  
    Sailjunkie

    Rafe, I always look forward to your blog posts, even when I have to disagree. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with you on this.

    You raise a very good point when you talk about who is leading the “No” forces. For myself, I find it ironic to be on the same side of this argument as Jordan Bateman, considering that he has blocked me on Twitter. I guess that I got under his skin one time too many. As for the Fraser Institute? What else needs to be said about BC’s version of the Flat Earth Society?

    However, this plebiscite isn’t shaping up as a typical BC Left vs Right show down. Lots of other progressives have joined me in voting NO. Being on the same side as Bateman et al has just made us consider our decision much more carefully.

    One major factor in my decision is my complete lack of confidence that Translink would spend the revenue from this tax wisely, given it’s horrific track record on spending. The list of specific examples (just think COMPASS, CEO’s and parking lots :) ) is too numerous to mention here. I would need to see credible evidence that Translink is taking steps to fix itself before I would be willing to pay more.

    Also, I’m very concerned that this tax is regressive, hurting the people who can afford it the least. A .05 percent sales tax increase may be a drop in the bucket for Jim Pattison, but how about for the single mother on income assistance?

    Finally, although we disagree, I respect your decision. Your comments clearly show that you made it only after careful reflection. In a democracy, that is all that we can ask for.




  9.  
    Jason

    Rafe,

    I have to agree with your call to vote yes, but disagree with this perception that Translink is some badly run organization. Everyone says that Translink is run badly and they point to one very complex project that has been delayed (i.e. Compass card) and that the executives make too much money. However, I think many people have pointed out that Translink executives’ pay is in line with other transit authorities and in fact other large organizations (public and private). There might be a larger debate about executive pay in society more generally, but executive pay makes up a small percentage of Translink budget and is not source of the funding shortfall. The final main complaint about Translink that I hear from folks is that service is poor. Poor service is the result to two main factors: 1) not enough funding for sufficient service levels which is why we are being asked to vote on additional funding 2) complexity and difficulty of providing transit service to a region where most people live in low density suburbs. It is expensive to run half empty buses long distances in large parts of Delta, Surrey, Richmond, Langley Coquitlam, South Vancouver, Lion’s Bay etc. The fact that we pay some of the lowest fares in North America and serve such a vast region is testament to how well our transit system is run. Several audits and many awards serve as testament to the good job Translink has done despite the unrealistic expectations of residents.

    Many would agree that Translink needs more direct accountability to voters (as it had in the past), but Translink also need champions to tell a truthful and balanced story about its achievements and it faults instead of just piling on because its the easiest and safest thing to do. That might be a good role for an old contrarian.

    http://www.vancouversun.com/Pete+McMartin+Believe+TransLink+does+things+right/10926555/story.html

    https://pricetags.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/another-audit-for-translink-another-futile-round/

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/translinks-short-term-funding-woes-unsolved-despite-audit/article4617167/

    http://thetyee.ca/News/2015/03/18/Transit-Vote-Myths/

    Jason




  10.  
    John's Aghast

    Slow day at the office today.
    Dan, evidently math is not your strong point. Three billion dollars for a 7 km subway is 428 million per km or 686 million per mile, which is LESS THAN a billion per mile.
    Which will indubitably rise to over a billion per mile after all is said and done. (I can remember, back in the ’50s, when we thought $1 Million per MILE for construction of the Fraser Canyon highway was outrageous. Obviously we should have built the subway then!)




    •  
      dan

      You are correct. my numbers where off. I was on my first liter of coffee.

      Not usually fully awake until consuming the third liter, but I am not hooked or anything……

      “Which will indubitably rise to over a billion per mile after all is said and done”

      I have every confidence in this, as do most.




  11.  
    dan

    Rafe,
    Good argument but I have to disagree on this point;
    We are being given a vote on how to fund MORE transit. MORE transit brought us by the same system that has created the mess we have now.
    This does not indicate in any way that these will be “transit improvements” but more of the same crap that does not serve the public well at all.
    How can they be characterized as improvements in any way as they are brought to us by the same dysfunctional, unaccountable, appointed board members.
    If indeed transit in this region served the public well, why have driving percentages remain at a stagnant level of 57% for more than two decades, even after 9 billion spent with this system that now requires more subsidies from the taxpayer?
    ——————
    OPINION:
    Unfortunately, rightly or wrongly, this entire exercise has morphed into an opinion poll of translinks and this provincial governments performance on this issue.
    The mayors are a moot point; they have no power on the board, there is no law that guarantees this fund will not be raided by the present government just as ICBC and BC hydro have been treated.
    I like transit. I use transit as much as I can. I will not vote YES to this funding model as that is what I am being asked.
    I am not being asked to vote for better transit. I am being asked to fund bridges, roads, and other assorted infrastructure which are not transit responsibilities in my view.
    Remember something important;
    We live in a city where the mayor expects us to fund a 3 billion dollar subway that is 7 kilometers long. That is more than a billion a mile.
    This is same mayor and council that paid market value of 11 million a kilometer for a 1.6 mile long piece of track between False Creek and the Cambie Bridge for the Olympics, but steadfastly refuses to pay market value for an existing rail line slated and zoned as a public transit corridor.
    This provincial government claims to be managing the economy competently. If indeed this is true why then is funding public transit which benefits the economy in a myriad of ways not a priority.




  12.  
    Randey Brophy

    I think we need to invest in transit, but not in the way it is being proposed nor the organization it is being proposed through.
    Trans Link is demonstrably incapable of managing regional transit. Even Gregor Robertson has asked for changes to its governance. Secondly, certain municipal governments, like Vision Vancouver have a demonstrable record of increasing congestion; The closure of Point Grey Road, rapid high rise development with no neighbourhood consultation or planning, etc. Third, the proposed transit plan is not detailed nor has it been peer reviewed. Why for example, is the Broadway subway ending at Arbutus? Arbutus is hardly the commercial epicentre of the west side, but it is next to single family homes and 4 storey units in Kits which will rapidly be developed into high rises. The so called link to UBC which the Arbutus terminal is supposed to be, doesn’t even have rapid transit connection from Arbutus to UBC in the plan. It to me is a con job. Simply being advertised as something it is not. It is simply an insult to the voting taxpayers intelligence to try to sway us with a $7-8M ad campaign rather than a detailed plan
    To sum, while we need to invest in transit, neither the incumbent organization, the incumbent Vancouver municipal party, nor their proposed plan provide any indication to me to be capable of answering our transit needs. So I am voting No. I think the only way to get change is to show that we as taxpayers are fed up with the current chaos that we are already paying heavily for. I think an honest look at what has happened recently as a result of a threatened no vote, with the CEO change, Pattison, Moonbeams call for better Translink governance,etc shows quite clearly that the only way to take a positive step forward to clean up this mess is to VOTE NO.




  13.  
    Don F.

    Rafe, I have read and reread your thoughts on this and I must take the position to disagree.
    You are saying that those who would vote no offer no alternative and for that reason their vote would lead to a transit wilderness for years to come. I ask why these people who’s pockets are being picked should be expected to have an alternative plan? Students and elderly, working class, whom really have no say of where there money will be spent.? Is it their responsibility now after paying for everything to offer an alternative to the failures of those they entrust that money to.
    It is the dysfunction of this government coupled with the wasteful mismanagement of translink that the no vote is intended for. In your view it would be better to accept the status quo than to go around in circles and end up back to another plebiscite. If that would be the case than that would be further proof that a no vote is needed. That would be absolute proof that the people being paid big taxpayers dollars to insure proper allocation of the resources already given to them and, smooth operations to the public for what they receive in compensation, are failing badly. That should be the alternative which you request, a thorough housecleaning of what exists rather than looking for other options from those who vote no.
    You seem to plot the yes vs. no camps as equal entities in this issue. Do you think that is fair?
    Comparing these government and translink sharks with bullet proof contracts and pension plans who bungle every task put before them , an I mean every, to the point of where is is sinful, to compare them to student who are being sucked dry by rising tuitions or service industry workers most of whom are being paid less than minimum wage to whom another tax hurts?
    The alternative Rafe should come from those being paid handsomely for doing just that, providing them.




  14.  
    George M

    All I read in this article seemed to miss the point. I don’t care who is for or against what, it makes no difference if a goof I don’t trust has taken one side or the other. I look at the facts and judge them on their own merits.

    A fact is that translink was flawed from the beginning, I remember attending a meeting when Puil was in charge, what a disgusting, dishonest manipulator. The former is not libel, it is truth. I could not believe his behaviour when no reporters were around. What made that public meeting totally insulting is that they had fake speakers who agreed with them. They were obvious fakes, no jeans, clean cut, button up shirts and spoke bland agreement. When all the reporters left the actors left too. All the real people were opposed to what translink was plotting. Next day all the media reported that opinion was mixed, 50/50. NO IT WAS NOT, all the real people were opposed. Why did a single reporter come back later? Or better still, sit with the people and observe undercover? The whole thing was a sham, and the media were in on it.

    People who understand transit and technology need to be in charge and not politicians and millionaires. Now a billionaire is supposed to have oversight? How about a group of people who rely on transit? They definitely would not have approved any poodle statues or the other waste.

    An example of their incompetence? Why are they still using the extremely expensive and inappropriate technology called the skytrain? On another site I challenged them to find one person who understands linear induction motor technology and transportation. I am sure that they will not be able to find one. All the new lines should have been standard electric trains, and that way they would have been able to serve the Valley. Why did they ignore all the public lobbying to bring back the Interurban?

    This voting now is another example of their incompetence. What will it take for them to understand that the public does not trust them? And wasting our money on this useless vote that really gives us no choice at all is another insult to our intelligence. How about another option, disband translink and hire professionals, I would vote yes to that




    •  
      George M

      Oops, couple of mistakes, I meant “Why did a single reporter NOT come back later?

      And the part about finding an expert who understands linear induction motors, I missed putting in that they will not be able to find one that agrees that it is appropriate for a train, and if they do find one I will listen with an open mind

      I guess I pushed post too soon, I am used to other places where you can edit your comments, I don’t think its possible here




  15.  
    John's Aghast

    I fail to see the significance of the outcome of the plebiscite. Its non-binding, meaning that TransLink will continue to do whatever they jolly well please. No?




  16.  
    Evil Eye

    So, let us put our cards on the table, I voted NO and I encourage everyone to vote NO, but, this is plebiscite and the government is not compelled to accept the vote.

    The big problem the “Eye” has with the mayor’s Plan is that it is one of stuff and nonsense as it will not reduce congestion and pollution.

    Subways are both notoriously expensive to build and notoriously poor in attracting ridership and a Broadway subway to Arbutus will drain massive sums of monies from the rest of the transit system. The huge operating costs of subway operation will eventually beggar TransLink.

    The poor man’s SkyTrain in Surrey, in the guise of light rail, is just that, a poor man’s SkyTrain, and carries with it the seeds of the failure of the SkyTrain proprietary light-metro system.

    Statistics are meaningless. In the USA, transit use is typically very low (making the subsidy for transit appear very high) and funding for transit is structured much differently from funding for transit in Canada.

    What the “Eye” suspects, is that YES side is relying on “boarded passengers” which TransLink publishes as subterfuge to hide its high tax subsidies and poor performance. By using imaginary boarded passengers rather than real revenue passengers, TransLink is able to inflate the apparent ridership at will by forcing more riders to transfer to B-Line, The Canada Line and SkyTrain.

    Hence, the big push to add more B-Line routes for TransLink to show big increases in boarded passengers which TransLink can then manipulate with its secret little formula to arrive at cooked up transit riders, making transit use appear much higher than it really is for TransLink to win awards and accolades – while vehicle use continues to spiral out of control. TransLink is a sham.

    TransLink is atypical in how it counts “passengers or people”. While other transit organizations use “revenue passengers” for key statistics to represent the real number of people taking transit, TransLink uses “boarded passengers” to represent the fake number of people taking transit.

    To exaggerate the number of people taking transit, TransLink uses the number of times that transit-users board or alight transit. TransLink in effect creates clones to inflate ridership on transit and to make certain key statistics for transit (tax subsidies) by TransLink seem less bad than they really are:

    “However, TransLink is unique in using that number — both Toronto and Seattle use “revenue passengers.” Seattle doesn’t even make “boarded passenger” counts public. Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC, questioned why TransLink would use a different term. He said… TransLink’s rationale is illogical.

    “If you are using different measures, people will naturally feel that you’re doing it because you don’t want to be compared,” he said. “If you don’t want to be compared it’s because you don’t think you’ll measure up.”

    TransLink is dishonest, rotten to the core and my gorge rises if even I contemplate a YES vote!




    •  
      nonconfidencevote

      Sorry Rafe but I’m in total agreement with EvilEye and (god help me) Don F.

      I couldnt care less what either Jordan Bateman OR the Fraser Insitute thinks.
      Translink has to be accountable for the financial morass it has itself created.

      Starting at the top (from awarding contracts to SNC-Lavalin, an admitted briber of public officials), to incompetant CEO’s earning $430k to sit on their hands, to $110k per annum police issuing “placebo” tickets for farecheats.

      Translink is rotten to the core and for them to expect even MORE of my hard earned tax dollars to be voluntarily shoveled into the furnace……..
      Aint gonna happen.
      ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

      I mailed off my “No” vote yesterday and I encourage any frustrated, fed up taxpayer to do the same and actually send a message loud and clear that we are as mad as hell and arent taking it any more.
      A pox on them all.
      Let the spineless gastropods that wanted the elected positions raise the inevitable transit tax.
      We’ll remember them on voting day.




  17.  
    barry

    Sorry Rafe, you don’t get a pass from me. I remember listening to your show and it seemed like the Fraser Institute types and others of their ilk were constantly on your show. Also, how many times did Preston Manning appear? It seems to me you have to share some part of the responsibility for these types getting the toe hold on the public consciousness that they have.





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