Sunday, July 10, 2011

Evergreen, Ever Needing Green

I've been following the details of the Evergreen Line since before I moved to British Columbia; in my understanding, it's been somewhat like a more well-known version of Toronto's proposed Downtown Relief Line, in that people have been talking about building it for a long time but nothing ever gets done about it. In the meantime the cities of Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam, which have been developing for years along the planned route of the Evergreen Line, continue to wait. If it hadn't been for the Olympics, they might have had it done by now - but if that was the case, it would probably be the Richmond-Airport-Vancouver line that everyone would be talking about now.

The big issue has been where the money to build the line is going to come from. A little while ago, the council of mayors on TransLink rejected a property tax increase to pay for it; a few days ago, they came out in favor of a two-cent gasoline tax increase with which to finance the construction. This has, predictably, not played particularly well in large parts of Metro Vancouver's motorist class, with the tax on a liter of gas already standing at forty-five cents.

While I'm glad that the mayors have finally agreed on something to move the Evergreen's construction forward - despite the fact that I would rarely if ever use it, being in New Westminster and very rarely having a reason to visit the Tri-Cities - I can't help but feel that this gas tax is based on short-term thinking. Sure, taxing gasoline is a reliable source of government income right now, because gas is, regrettably, an absolutely necessary component of society as it currently stands. It also fuels people who like to fulminate about how transit should completely pay its own way, who think drivers shouldn't have to pay one red cent for transit improvements, without any consideration of the nature of the society we live in.

It's purely wishful thinking to believe that this state of affairs will endure forever. It might come in the form of inexpensive and easy-charging electric vehicles. A change could be fueled a steadily decreasing supply of oil matched with ever-increasing demand, particularly among the new motorist classes of China and India. There has to be another way.

A Millennium Line train makes its way through New Westminster.

I've banged this particular pot before, but not for a while - not since I was in Toronto, and the Toronto Transit Commission's state of penury was very relevant to my day-to-day life. It's something that, I think, should be discussed here in Metro Vancouver as well - in fact, it's probably more easily applicable to Metro Vancouver than Toronto. It's stolen from Los Angeles, where it has been demonstrated to actually work. It's Measure R.

What is Measure R? It's simple - approved by a two-thirds majority of voters back in November 2008, it is a half-cent sales tax levied throughout Los Angeles County, with the proceeds funneled solely and explicitly to transportation improvements. Not just transit, mind you - as Los Angeles County is a patchwork of independent cities, some of them have little transit to fund, and so in many cases the Measure R funds go to work on roads or highways. As TransLink is responsible for roads as well as the public transit system, this could make things far more equitable for motorists as well as transit riders.

It's Measure R that backstops Los Angeles' 30/10 Initiative - a project to get thirty years of transit expansion done in ten, the centerpiece of which is the planned extension of the Purple Line subway from central Los Angeles to the Westside Cities and, eventually, Santa Monica. It may be that Los Angeles' history as a car-choked land of smog and sprawl has primed the people there for this, made them get behind the prospect of something better. I don't know many Angelenos, so I'm not sure if this is actually the case.

No matter what happens with gas in the near future, people will always be buying things. I believe something like Measure R would not only be a windfall for TransLink; it would be a windfall for all of us who want to get around Metro Vancouver easily and smoothly.

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