Car-loving businesses launch anti-Translink tax revolt

B-Line bus riders jammed shoulder-to-shoulder during this morning’s rush hour must have been scratching their heads at the news that downtown businesses are launching a mass protest against Translink’s increases in parking stall taxes today — including “anti-tax advocates manning the entrance to pay parkades throughout Metro Vancouver.”

Translink charging more to drive to work? How dare they?

The downtown business coalition is taking aim at a tripling of the sales tax to 21 percent for paid parking in lots like those downtown and at YVR. (In “drive out the tax” math, that makes the tax increase 200 percent.)

The business groups, including the Downtown Business Improvement Association, the Building Owners’ and Managers’ Association and the Board of Trade, claim parking costs could rise as much as $540 a year ($45 a month) because of “the highest parking taxes in North America.”

Of course, businesses won’t pay the taxes themselves, they’ll pass them on to the drivers. And year after year, Vancouver has some of the cheapest downtown parking in Canada. Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton are all more expensive and as for New York and London . . . don’t ask.

It’s all part of the funding package approved by the Translink Council of Mayors in September, after months of debate and consultation, to avert massive cuts to transit services. The $130 million in revenue — in fare increases, property tax increases, gas tax increases and parking sales tax — is what it takes Translink to stand still in the absence of new funding sources from Victoria to pay for a much-needed $4.5 billion, 10-year program of transit investment that won unanimous support from the mayors.

Beleaguered riders are paying their own 11 percent increase April 1, when the price of single-zone fare books will rise to $21 from $19. Farecards are rising too. Property owners take a hit, as well.

But the ‘drive out the tax gang’ is okay with those hikes. Apparently they’re not worried about the people — taxpayers all — who walk, cycle or bus downtown.

Hard as it may be for the downtown businesses to understand, it takes money to pay for improvements in 2009 like these, including the Canada Line, 240 new buses, and a third Seabus, all of which support their bottom line.

So what’s the problem? According to the business coalition’s website, the number of cars in the region is rising faster than the population. We have to put them somewhere! And those Translink execs are overpaid.

Actually, the parking tax problem began in 2007, when then Transport Minister Kevin Falcon gave in to surburban mall owners and businesses to eliminate the parking stall tax, a levy on the free parking provided in the car and sprawl-loving suburbs.

Although the stall tax leveled the playing field for downtown businesses already charging for parking, they sat silent while the stall tax was eliminated. Now those chickens are coming to roost downtown.

What do downtown businesses propose? Nothing, actually. If their campaign is successful, they will force a further increase in fares, gas tax and property tax to pay for Translink to tread water.

In the wake of the Canada Line’s success, it should be obvious where the future lies for business committed to real sustainability: a major investment in public transit and even (gasp) lower transit fares.

Unfortunately, downtown businesses have turned their guns on Translink when that organization that needs courageous leadership from stakeholders to achieve the clear gains available from a major investment program.