Gas tax the best way to fund new transit

We can take a different course in Greater Victoria.

The March 6 editorial on BC Transit’s proposal to fund transit improvements with an increase in the fuel tax from 3.5 cents per litre to 5.5 cents is right on when it states “In the big picture, it’s the right thing to do: reduce gridlock and do less harm to the environment.”

But some of the assumptions leading to the conclusion that a referendum is the way to solve the ‘transit funding conundrum’ are off base.

First off, the us and them perspective is misleading. Drivers also benefit from transit improvements as a result of lower congestion and even as users themselves. Second, the issue is not just about who benefits, but about impacts we’re trying to avoid. Automobiles impose significant costs on society because of emissions that damage our climate and collective health. The capital and maintenance costs associated with roads are also very large and growing. Third, the data shows the demand for transit exceeds current service levels and that improved service does actually increase transit use over time.

The editorial correctly points out that an increase of 2 cents is a very small proportion of fuel prices, which can fluctuate much more than this in a day. But a fuel surcharge would at least marginally increase the incentive to change behavior, unlike other funding sources like property taxes and transit fare hikes.

Even with a two cent increase, transit-related fuel taxes in Greater Victoria would be a fraction of those in Greater Vancouver where a Liberal-imposed referendum on a Translink investment plan may well fail, leaving the region struggling with a huge congestion problem.

We can take a different course in Greater Victoria. Funding transit improvements in a way that fairly reflects the huge taxpayer and environmental costs of automobile use and encourages a shift to transit, truly is the right thing to do. Let’s get on with it.

Gary Holman, MLA, Saanich North and the Islands