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Jan 24,2008 Vancouver Sun


Fazil Mihlar, Vancouver Sun

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008

When TransLink was facing a funding shortfall a few years ago, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan remarked that the agency was about to encounter a "perfect financial storm."

What Corrigan probably had in mind -- unwittingly -- was the soon-to-be heard footsteps of Premier Gordon Campbell, Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon and the newly installed TransLink (now known as the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority) board members on their way to raid the piggy banks of Metro Vancouver homeowners to make off with $2.75 billion for their grand $14-billion transportation plan.

But hang on a minute: It may turn out to be a whole lot more -- $5.85 billion if the feds don't pony up the $3.1 billion that Victoria expects them to. Oh, and did I mention that these costs don't include the operating expense deficits of the new lines year-in and year-out?

If Lower Mainlanders don't start preparations to defend their homes as the B.C. Liberal government and TransLink declare war on them -- as they did on small business owners by imposing a now rescinded parking levy on top of high property taxes -- they could be roadkill, too.

And all of this spending will only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.6 per cent of the 40 million tonnes that the premier wants the province to get rid of by 2020. This is not a plan that will pass any reasonable person's cost-benefit calculation.

What Campbell, Falcon and the TransLink board don't seem to understand is that while Lower Mainlanders support public transit, they don't support it at any cost.

So "Yes" to buses and SkyTrains, but not if it means not having enough money to pay the mortgage, buy the kids a pair of shoes, save for their education, pay car insurance or replace a worn-out furnace.

Then again, how could Campbell and Falcon, who make $186,000 and $147,000 a year respectively, understand how difficult it is for the average household in the Lower Mainland to balance its budgets?

Nor would the 120 staff members at TransLink who make an average salary of $95,000 understand the difficulty average families have in balancing their cheque books every month.

The average household income in the Lower Mainland is about $60,000. And here's the kicker: The average real after-tax income of British Columbians has increased by less than one per cent annually since 1991.

Still not moved by the plight of the average homeowner? Here's another dose of reality: Although real after-tax incomes have only edged up slightly, the cost of housing has gone through the roof.

The Lower Mainland is the least affordable place in Canada to own a home. According to the latest RBC Financial Group's Housing Affordability report, it costs B.C. families 68.5 per cent of their pre-tax income to own a detached home. In contrast, it costs a Calgary family only 40.9 per cent.

For an attached home, Lower Mainland families will have to spend 51.6 per cent of their pre-tax incomes; in Calgary, 31.5 per cent.

For a condo, the pre-tax income devoted to housing in Greater Vancouver is 35.4 per cent; in Calgary, just 26 per cent.

If these numbers don't depress homebuyers, here's one that might do the trick: To purchase an average home in Metro Vancouver today, a family has to have $21,150 more in annual income than it did at the beginning of 2007, according to the B.C. Real Estate Association. How many of you got a $21,150 pay raise last year?

Lest anyone who rents their dwelling think they are going to escape this tax, I say think again. Landlords will pass most of higher taxes/levies on to them.

Lower Mainlanders already pay for TransLink through a property tax levy, a Hydro levy and 12 cents out of the 37.5 cents a litre in gas taxes. So if TransLink wants any more money for its grand ambitions, it should go to Victoria or Ottawa and extract the gas tax money sent by motorists in the region. If Ottawa or Victoria doesn't transfer at least another five or 10 cents of gas taxes to TransLink and/or if Victoria doesn't scale back its projects, it will continue to have a funding gap.

Where is the $2.75 billion or $5.85 billion going to come from to pay for the ill-considered Campbell-Falcon transportation plan? Is the average homeowner willing to pay, say, $150 or $300 more annually to TransLink on top of municipal property tax hikes of at least $150 each year?

I doubt it. So homeowners throughout the Lower Mainland may want to put deadbolts on their doors and hide their piggy banks.

Campbell, Falcon and their TransLink puppets are on the prowl.

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