Here’s The Thing

by Bob Woolsey

illustration by Michael Shantz
illustration by Michael Shantz

On January 1, 2012 transit fares in the Lower Mainland will be going up. Before you think that you see where I’m going with this, and stop reading because you’re tired of people bitching about transit prices when at most times no one checks the tickets on the bus or the Skytrain anyway, please enjoy this brief disclaimer: I ride transit every day. I actually really like the Vancouver transit system. It gets me where I need to go on a pretty consistent and dependable basis. I don’t make enough money to take cabs where I need to go and not even close to enough money to think about owning a car. Thus, I rely on the city for this essential service. I’m not one of those people who like to complain about the fact that you can’t get a bus late at night or that Translink is a corporate hog who wastes money like a 16-year-old Bob Woolsey at a Star Trek convention[1]. End of disclaimer.

The situation in Vancouver is clear: we actually need more transit infrastructure. I don’t normally have to ride the bus at 8:30 a.m. or 5 p.m., but when I do, I’m reminded of how crowded a lot of our main commutes are. The Evergreen Line and other upgrades to our system are desperately needed and prohibitively expensive. This is, of course, the reason why the government subsidizes Translink through many ways; one of the largest and most noticeable is the fuel tax.

Last year, 24 per cent of Translink’s revenue came from the extra 15 cents per litre that was tacked onto gas bills in the lower mainland. As of July 1, that rate rose to 17 cents per litre.

Before you get too dazzled with all these numbers and facts while still being distracted by the image of my 16-year-old self standing in line for an autograph from red shirt crew member number three at that Star Trek convention[2], think about this: while the B.C. government has been funding Translink through this fuel surcharge, the City of Vancouver has been pursuing an aggressive anti-driving campaign in an effort to get more cars off the roads of the city in favour of bikes, pedestrians and, yes, transit. Remember that other outcry over government spending recently? Does the term “bike lane” mean anything to you?

This leads to the kicker. In our efforts to get drivers off the roads in favour of more environmentally friendly options, we’ve actually taken Translink out at the knees. If you couple this declining fuel tax revenue with the projected shortfall of funding over the next three years, Translink starts to look something like Bobby Orr circa 1977[3].

My question is, why was anyone surprised by this?

I have a theory. While all this hoopla with the bike lanes was going on and Gregor Robertson was avidly pursuing his dream to make Vancouver the Netherlands of the Pacific Northwest, no one actually thought he might be successful. It never crossed the minds of any of the Translink executives or B.C. government officials in charge of this fuel tax. Why? Probably because a lot of them drive cars. Again, this is just a theory.

Here’s the thing about sustainability and the three Rs, and all that other environmentally friendly stuff everyone is talking about these days: we have to mean it. Like David Suzuki means it. Otherwise, what the hell are we doing? I assume the idea behind the fuel tax, at least in part, was to discourage people from driving and to try to get them to take transit instead. And no one in that meeting said, “Hey, this could be a slippery slope guys!” because no one in that meeting actually thought that anything could tear the dedicated North American commuter from their beloved car. Just like how the red shirt crew member never thought twice about going on that away mission[4].


[1]   I only actually spent about $60 at that convention, but adjusted for inflation, that’s nearly $87.50 by today’s standards.
[2]   I’m not actually that lame. I only stood in that line because my parents wouldn’t let me stand in the Captain Kirk line since it was way too long and would have taken hours.
[3]   Bobby Orr had really bad knees.
[4]   The red shirt crew member always died. Always.