Friday, April 23, 2010

Step One of Master Plan to Save Vancouver

For further explanation, please see the previous post, entitled ‘Vancouver, My Beloved,’ and ranting about all that’s wrong in the world of my city and how we should fix it. Or don’t. It’s really up to you.

The first step in Ivy’s Vancouver-Wide Master Plan of Positive Investment and Social Change?


As in, get rid of transit fares, and impose a tax across the lower mainland charging every adult the equivalent of $200 per annum for transit use. This will actually give our transit system more money than their current passenger-fare revenue and eliminate a great deal of administration costs, which is capital that can be used to invest in our infrastructure, which is in desperate need of expansion.

This change will give money back to current riders, who are now spending $81 a month for use of a single fare zone...or $970 per year. That, according to conservatives, will boost the economy. But the main benefit is that those individuals who are currently reluctant to spend on fares are far more likely to leave their car at home and hop on a bus, or a skytrain, and the benefits of this are huge.

Pollution, policing, and the cost of maintaining roads and bridges (which is a very huge amount)...all of these go down as transit ridership goes up. Driving a car within a city is a luxury, and always has been, and some individuals will continue to drive...but there’s no reason why anyone should have to. And without fares - or, more accurately, with a system which requires every citizen to pay - less people will drive, the transit system will improve, and we all reap the benefits.

As for a tax on those who may not use the transit system...well, tough. The system is there, free and accessible for your use, just like education, libraries, parks, and policing...none of which have a charge-per-use payment. Everyone in the lower mainland absorbs the cost of single-car use - we do this in the form of pollution, asthma, and health care, and in cost of maintaining our roads and bridges. All of problem areas stand to benefit from getting people out of their cars. In fact, the fiscal benefits of increasing transit use are overwhelming.

Added bonus? Tourism, which tends to boost in cities with an easily accessible infrastructure and no cost-per-use fares. Plus, Vancouver can actually put some weight behind that ‘greenest city’ crap they’ve been throwing around for years.

And...yes, full disclosure, I am a transit user. And I’m poor, and fares are really expensive and just increased, and I recently tried to initiate an employee program to lower transit costs through my work, but that fell through. So I stand to benefit quite a lot from this proposal. But that’s not the point. Or, actually, it is. Because I am a person, and so are you, and universal lower fees allow us all to benefit. Win, win, win?

...I'm right.

Vancouver, My Beloved...

Vancouver is the most expensive city in North America. More expensive than the city of New York...maybe even more expensive than London. (I’m not convinced on that - but maybe London only seemed more expensive because I drank a lot more when I was there. As did everybody else. Cheers, mates!)

As the cost of living skyrockets, wages are plateauing in hard-hit sectors and benefits being cut across the board. (My union cut my massage benefits, and I was sad.) Costs continue to rise. Housing strategists claim Vancouver’s ridiculous housing prices are due to a lack of land - nestled between the mountains and the ocean, there’s nowhere to go but up (in price). And since a functioning city depends on its people’s ability to function, and our collective ability to occasionally go grocery shopping, it seems like a recipe for impending doom. Much like an expanding city built on an extinct volcano and due for a major earthquake with a rapidly eroding infrastructure...which it is.

Others see Vancouver’s metaphoric rock-and-hard-place situation as an massive opportunity for social change. Environmentalist decriers of urban sprawl rejoice that Vancouverites have nowhere to sprawl to. Advocates for social justice see the rising visibility of poverty as political leverage. Proponents of all things green continue to have very high hopes.

And there is a solution. But it seems to be the exact opposite of what the current federal and provincial governments have in mind.

Take, for example, health care costs. Time and time again it has been shown that positively investing in individuals’ health yields greater returns down the road...that whole ounce of prevention to pound of cure adage, multiplied. Canada is proud of touting its ‘universal health care,’ but seems oblivious to the fact that health care cannot exist without nutrition, housing, drug coverage, or the ability to buy a bandaid when you’re cut and bleeding.

The most vulnerable are losing their ability to buy birth control, because clearly that makes fiscal sense. We continue to lack adequate shelter for the homeless, or a national housing strategy...and yet we know that housing someone actually saves $100,000 a year in health care costs. Investing in programs like parks and recreation has been shown to reduce the disparities in health between the rich and poor, saving massive health care dollars. And adequate childcare and education spending have been shown to have direct and immediate, as well as future health care benefits, as well as being a poverty reduction tool, which is good for the economy.

And can we not just make cigarettes illegal and have done with it already? Enough is enough. Smokers, your time has come. Free rehab and massage for you.

The Vancouver government is not responsible for many of these things. Federal and provincial idiocy are largely to blame. But we can demand better, and we can do everything within our power, locally, to act.

Positively invest, people. And give people on welfare their birth control back. We’re not the Vatican, let’s stop being ridiculous.