Letter in response to Dick Hamilton’s “GERTIE’s Future” letter in March 22 Sounder

Wednesday, March 30 2016

I promised the editor that my previous letter on GERTIE would be my last; however, Dick Hamilton’s letter of last week drags me back into the fray. He bluntly asks if I would be willing to increase my taxes further to subsidize GERTIE’s riders to the point of free rides, and the answer is, “not a chance.” Increasing ridership by making the fare free and thereby decreasing the per ride subsidy is a pipe dream. As Mr. Hamilton himself points out, further ridership requires larger infrastructure and consequently even more taxes. The point of reasonable return would probably exceed the population of Gabriola’s ability to sustain it. I firmly believe that a person has to have a stake in something, i.e. a nominal fare, to fully appreciate the value of the service being offered. 

 I must point out to Mr. Hamilton the redundancy of GERTIE in some of his arguments. The last time I checked, we have a school bus system for the children on the island. And thanks to another new tax there is the Taxi Saver program offering subsidized rides for the elderly and disabled. And what were people thinking when they located themselves in a situation with no public transit, but suddenly now require it for work? And as for comparing it to the efficiency of cars, four people can share a taxi from the ferry to Silva Bay cheaper than the subsidized GERTIE cost for four riders.  

Watch your future tax bills people! There are a lot more special interest groups out there waiting to pick your pocket. I see the fire department is again priming us for a cash infusion to upgrade the south hall. If common sense had prevailed and we hadn’t built that gold-plated money pit on Church Street, we could have built two perfectly acceptable fire halls with the same budget. Then there is the theatre group lurking in the background looking for money to build a dedicated theatre where they can play out their fantasies. Then there are the subsidized housing people…and the list goes on. 

This is not the same Gabriola mentality I admired when I first came here 25 years ago. I look at some of the most successful projects here, and they are non-tax dependent and volunteer built and run. The Community Hall built and operated entirely by volunteers. The clinic, a state of the art facility built and run by volunteers. GIRO built by volunteers, and run by a majority of volunteers. These successful operations accept no taxes, and in the case of the clinic actually pay substantial property taxes. Some very nominal grant money was accepted in all cases, but low enough to be considered insignificant. I am sure there are many excellent similar organizations out there like the Commons, the Agi Hall, Rollo Centre, but I am not familiar enough with their operation to comment.

Now it just seems like we have a small core of entitlement-driven special interest groups that expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab for all their whims: “I want my free transit to take me to my subsidized housing, beside the free theatre, and a well-paying job driving the bus.” Meanwhile, we have our infrastructure falling apart and Highways tells us there’s no money. Some of our roads haven’t seen line painting since they were first paved. EMCON endlessly patches the same old, and several new, potholes year after year. The road is caving in at Taylor Bay and North Road. Nowhere else in BC would Highways get away with a blind corner and unstable banks like on Easthom. The ditches in my neighbourhood are plugged and the culverts crushed, and there has been a tree across half the road for over a month now. And I could go on. However, at the risk of sounding like the tiresome bridge advocates, (it’s only a bit of water guys, get over it!) I don’t want to flog a dead horse. The referendum passed so let’s just get on with it. So again editor, I promise this is my last letter on the topic.

~ Graham MacDonald