public transit system

Information? No thanks.

As Judy Stewart (a long time steward of all things environmental in Cochrane) put it recently, the silly season has begun. Unfortunately, it’s actually been around for quite some time around a few hot topics in town (namely transit).

Recently, there was a motion before Town Council here in Cochrane that read:

That Council directs administration to prepare and submit a Transit Implementation Plan to the Alberta Transportation Green TRIP incentives program to confirm capital funding approval.

Now, you would think that this sort of motion wouldn’t cause a lot of fuss, and seems like a logical step in a process that’s been running now for a couple of years. Namely because the Green TRIP funding for Cochrane has already been approved (to a total of 6.1 million dollars), and this request is merely asking for information from the province, on which future decisions could be made. (Read the recommendations here).

Of course, if you’re a counsellor who’s already made up your mind that Cochrane is too small for transit, then this information is irrelevant, maybe even inconvenient, for your unwavering opinion on the matter. It seems that Councillor’s Brooker and Toews aren’t just anti-transit, they also take issue with gathering information on the topic.

I’m not always certain of the qualities I like most in a politician, but a stubborn unwillingness to gather the appropriate information prior to making major decisions that have long term impacts on the growth of a community, certainly isn’t one of them.

Bring on the silly season.

Socialist ‘ideas about fairness’…

So…I’m digging back a little bit (all the way to mid-December) for this blog post, but I figured that it was such a great train-wreck that it was worth reposting. I’ve taken the liberty of changing the other person’s name to “other guy”, and deleting his picture. Although he did post on a public forum (Cochrane Transit), so I assume he’s OK with his thoughts being a matter of public record on the internet.

Premier Stelmach announcing "Green Trip" funding for Cochrane

What’s most interesting about this exchange (in my mind), is the kind of arguments being tossed around. Lot’s of “ad hominem” (personal attacks) and “red herrings” (unrelated but emotional). See if you can spot them. And FYI, this is a bit of a read, but highly entertaining (I think, anyway). It’s a thread from
the afore-mentioned Cochrane Transit Facebook Page.
  • Cochrane Transit Cochrane’s population is currently estimated to be around 18,500. The Canadian Urban Transportation Association’s Public Transportation Fact Book from 2009 shows an average cost recovery of 39% for populations less than 150,000. Being town-sized, therefore, is not a deterrent to having a public transit system. Banff (popn 8,244), for example, is a very small town, albeit with a huge tourist demographic, which supports a local public transit system.
  • December 15, 2011 at 3:55pm · Like
  • Other guy: Cost recovery of 39% means that I have to pay the other 61% that I am not willing to do! Find an example where transit actually makes money and is not a burden to the tax payers!
  • December 15, 2011 at 4:33pm · Like
  • Cochrane Transit Hi (other guy), as always your comments are most appreciated. In the case of public transit, as with all public services, there is no such thing as 100% cost recovery. Even a system as successful as London Transit UK is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. It’s important, therefore, to look beyond actual cost recovery as the incidental economic benefits of transit.
  • December 15, 2011 at 4:48pm · Like
  • Other guy: I struggle to look beyond my tax bill every month. I don’t understand how this expense will benefit vey many folks here in Cochrane. I struggle to understand why I should have to pay for a service that only a few will benefit from. I struggle to understand who would move to Cochrane knowing fully well that they would have to drive to Calgary if they wanted to go to Calgary! I knew that I would have to drive when I purchased a home here and also knew that my children would have to drive to Calgary for work or university. This idea of public transit seems like a total waste of tax payers money. Because the provincial government has granted some money for transit doesn’t mean we have to take it. If the provincial government granted us some money for an air strip, would we feel the need to build an airport in order to use the grant? Just because something is on sale, doesn’t mean we have to buy it. I am not buying that Cochrane needs public transit. IF I felt that we would be better served as a community, I MIGHT agree to help pay or it BUT I do NOT think that we would be better served at all by having public transit. I think that most Cochranites moved here knowing we don’t have public transit and for those that didn’t know; shame on them for not doing their homework!
  • December 15, 2011 at 5:17pm · Like
  • Jeff Couillard Just because Transit is something that certain individuals won’t personally use every day doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support it. I don’t use the food bank. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have one. And we may like to picture Cochrane as a little ol’ town on the prairie…but the facts are that we live in the Calgary Metropolitan Area with a population of well over a million people. How are we managing the anticipated growth in the community? What are the REAL tax implications (not the random numbers sometimes quoted in the media)? And what are the benefits of that service? Of course no one likes tax increases (I certainly don’t). I also don’t like air pollution, traffic congestion, subsidizing parking lots, and most importantly…I don’t like to see segments of society marginalized by the elite middle and upper class that can afford/choose to drive a vehicle. Great if you can afford to live wherever you want and drive a private vehicle. Many people can’t. And why is there no discussion about the taxes that THOSE people pay (the potential users of transit). Why is it OK for them to subsidize our roads, but we can’t help them with their transit?
  • December 15, 2011 at 8:48pm · Like
  • Other guy: Then you can pay Jeff if you want to but don’t ask the rest of us to pay when we don’t want to pay for something we won’t use and will only benefit a chosen few. User pay I like… I don’t use…. I don’t pay! That’s why I moved from Saskatchewan 10 years ago! I am so tired of paying for services that only service a few. Maybe after you have seen 30+ years of Property tax increases you might see it my way! … “you can’t multiply wealth by dividing it”!
  • December 15, 2011 at 9:27pm · Like
  • Jeff Couillard Well, that line of “user pay” logic works really well…when the playing field is leveled. Why should someone who’s not driving a car on the road subsidize it’s construction and maintenance? Let’s get some toll booths up, or levy a private vehicle licensing fee here in Cochrane, to pay for all the new roads, intersections and maintenance. Owning and driving a car on public land is mistakenly seen as a right, not the privilege that it is. I find it interesting that the same people who are generally anti-transit are also anti-tiered water rates (which is a great example of a progressive, economic policy to decrease water consumption…and a great user-pay model). I’m not arguing with you on the merits of a level, user-pay system. It just needs to be level. Right now there is no way for me to CHOOSE to put my taxes towards transit, in the same way people who don’t drive a car can’t CHOOSE to not subsidize roads. The best we get to do is have a robust conversation as engaged citizens, and share our opinions and concerns.
  • December 15, 2011 at 10:14pm · Like
  • Other guy: I use water… The more I use it, the more I pay…perfect! Enough said.
  • December 15, 2011 at 10:53pm · Like
  • Jeff Couillard So you agree with the idea of toll booths? The more you drive, the more you pay? ;). Of course, for the market to be fair we would need to stop subsidizing road construction and maintenance as tax payers, in order for the free market to operate unhindered. I did some quick math this morning…Over the past 6 years I’ve spent on average 660$/month for one vehicle (gas, depreciation, maintenance and insurance). That’s what I’m willing to pay for mobility. That’s the true cost (not including any tax dollars that I’ve spent that have been directed at transportation infrastructure). If we’re going to debate the costs and benefits of creating different mobility options for society, we need to use the real numbers. I’m pretty sure we can build a transit system that provides reasonable service for much less than I’m paying for my car every month.
  • December 16, 2011 at 7:50am · Like
  • Other guy: Debating is a good thing Jeff for sure. Its costs us nothing finacially speaking (no pun inteaded…lol). I do however have a cost in mind when it comes to this issue. The number everyone can agree on is that it would increase our taxes by “X”. I don’t want to pay “X”. I would appreciate it very much if you would take your hand out of my pocket. I already have enough financial obligations as I am sure most folks do. Imposing any tax increase to help pay for something you would find useful leaves me with NO CHOICE. When it comes to taxes, there is very little reall opportunity to CHOOSE but in this case, there is going to be a plebicite next spring. Thats a great opportunity for me to CHOOSE to not pay anymore taxes. If the towns folk decide that they dont want transit, you are still left with some choices like moving into Calgary where you work and have family. Perhpas you could even find a residence that’s within walking distance of the C Train so you could enjoy evening and weekend service if you fell that this kind of service is important enough for you and your family. If you were to make those decisions, they would have zero impact on my pocket book. You do as you wish, we live in a free world. If you want a “level playing field”, maybe you would share in my finacial obligations that you dont agree with??

    December 16, 2011 at 9:21am · Like
  • Jeff Couillard Believe me (other guy), I don’t want my hand in your pocket any more than you do ;). I’m not sure we’re talking about the same playing field here…I already share in your financial obligations, many of which I do disagree with (like the recently introduced crime legislation..which I don’t know your actual stance on, so my apologies if you also think it’s terrible). From your education to your health care, to military and infrastructure spending, my taxes are as heavily involved in subsidizing your well being as my own. It’s called being a part of a caring and generous society. And that’s quickly where this debate is going, not so much about transit but about deeply held values and beliefs about what’s in the best interest of the broader public, and what is going to make our community the best it can be. There’s a place where hyper-individualism has ruled for a long time. It’s called America. They’re not doing so well, on the whole.

    December 16, 2011 at 5:44pm
  • Other guy: Jeff, sorry but I disagree…the debate is about transit and the cost to my family…nothing more. Socialist ideas about fairness for all and level playing fields sound like so much Liberalism that frankly, it scares the crap out of me. I have made choices in my life…some bad…some good… regardless they have brought me to where I am today and at no time have I ever had my hand out to the government or other entity to cover for me. I believe many folks that live in Cochrane would share this experience and opinion. I draw the line when I look at our town’s ability to carry the burden of public transit. For large cities, it’s a given… we are not a large city with a large tax base. Ridership numbers are expected to very low… look back in this thread and you will see that the Town of Cochrane anticipates a 39% cost recoevery.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:09pm · Like
  • Other guy: Continued… Roads and interesections etc are enjoyed by almost everyone so we all pay a little or a lot despite what we are riding when we are on them… a bicycle, a bus or a car. Roads and related costs are irrelevant in this issue: note – buses drive on these same roads. In short Jeff, (phew) please dont ask a large majority of tax payers (who wont ride) to fork it our for a few riders. It’s not a realistic expense at this time in Cochrane’s situation and/or growth strategy. Entitlement has no place here!

    December 16, 2011 at 6:28pm · Like
  • Jeff Couillard ‎39% is a helluva lot better than the 0% we get back on healthcare and education spending (in the short term anyway. I’m not suggesting we cut that, or that those services should have cost recovery). Your assertion that you’ve never been “covered” by the government or another entity is, unfortunately, entirely false. Unless of course you never went to school, have never used a hospital, checked a book out of the library, driven on a publicly funded road, swam at a pool…whether or not you had your hand out is irrelevant. You and I both benefit from government spending every day. And the debate IS about more than busses and trains. How are we going to grow a tax base when businesses won’t locate in Cochrane because they don’t have access to a labor market? Why do you think so many businesses are on board with pursuing Transit (including the Toyota dealership?) The tax burden in this town IS terrible, we rely way too much on residential taxes (something like 82% a few years ago). I absolutely agree with you on that. How do you propose we fix it? Transit is a part of a much bigger picture that leads to a more sustainable community. If you don’t look at the big picture and see how things are interconnected you miss opportunities for making smarter decisions about growth. And brushing me off as a liberal might be convenient, the fact is that I’m a born and bred small town Albertan that dislikes paying taxes as much as the next person, but I balance that with an understanding that I do better when my neighbors are doing better, and often the hidden costs of doing nothing are far greater than it would seem.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:35pm · Like
  • Other guy: Your access to a labour market arguement is so rediculous!! Do you really think that Calgarians will come to work in Cochrane??? Really??? How absurd!!! Why dont you find a job in Cochrane so you dont have to drive or want a bus???

    December 16, 2011 at 6:42pm · Like
  • Jeff Couillard So ridiculous that I know about a dozen people that commute from both Calgary and Canmore. To work in Cochrane. Crazy I know! But maybe they’ve got spouses that work in one of those towns, or are tied to their community and happened to get a job in Cochrane. Have you driven up the big hill at around 8:30 in the morning? Noticed the huge backlog of traffic coming IN to town? How absurd indeed.

    December 16, 2011 at 6:53pm · Like
  • Other guy: The “traffic coming down the hill” Jeff, is mommies driving their babies in their suv’s and cross over’s from Bears Paw to Cochrane High when they could take the school bus!

    December 16, 2011 at 6:58pm · Like
  • Jeff Couillard That may very well be…but I happen to know that over 50% of the teachers in a local elementary school commute from Calgary. I leased a truck recently from a salesman that lived in Calgary. I have a friend that works for the town that commutes from Calgary. Your post was about how absurd the “access to labor market” argument was, my post was refuting that. The traffic on the big hill is anecdotal…I will try and stop using anecdotal evidence while debating with you, and stick to the ‘facts’ as I know them :).

    December 16, 2011 at 7:15pm · Like
  • 3rd guy: Bravo Jeff, great points, couldn’t agree with you more.
    So… I’m curious to know YOUR thoughts. Socialist ideas of fairness? Liberal crap? Or a pragmatic and rational approach to ensuring that our community has diverse options for getting around (pathway 12 in the Cochrane Sustainability Plan)? Where do you fall on the Transit spectrum?