Letter: Voting no on the GERTIE referendum.

Wednesday, February 10 2016

I have been trying very hard, but without success, to justify the existence of a public transit system on Gabriola as it is presently proposed. The concept is well intentioned and no doubt needed in some form or another, but the reality is that as presently put forward, it will be a very onerous burden on the taxpayer. Presently, every individual rider on GERTIE will be subsidized by the taxpayers by over $9 per trip. (Taxation of $136,000/15000 riders per year= $9.04 per ride.) I have been researching passenger subsidies for public transit and have yet to find a public transit system subsidized even close to this exorbitant amount. Trying to find a transit system comparable to ours is impossible, but the next highest documented subsidy I could find is the RDN with a subsidy of $2.98 per ride. Part of the problem is that public transit systems are rare in a rural environment like ours, and for good reason, they are unaffordable. 

These numbers are based on using the presently requested tax amount. If the full referendum allowance of $250,000 per year is utilized then the subsidy at present ridership would be $16.66 per passenger trip. Unfortunately, I can see the request for the full referendum amount coming soon. The present buses need replacing as they are unreliable and require constant costly repairs. Buying cheap old replacements just perpetuates the problem. Newer Sprinter buses are over $60,000. GERTIE has had two and a half years to build up its ridership, so I don’t see it increasing dramatically over the next few years to assist with fare revenue in any significant way. The brunt of the burden will be on us, the taxpayers.

If a person uses GERTIE five days a week with two trips per day, they are being subsidized by the taxpayers to the tune of $90 per week, or $4680 per year ($8663 if the full referendum amount is utilized). I am in agreement with subsidizing public transit but not at this ridiculously high rate. The lucky few who use GERTIE on a regular basis are getting an outrageously cheap ride on the backs of the taxpayers.

I also question the environmental benefits proposed by the organizers. I fail to see how having two aged diesel buses rambling around the island, often empty or with the published average of six riders per hour, is any advantage over the same passengers in two emission efficient cars. The use of bio-diesel has not been a roaring success, resulting in constant costly fuel system repairs. We already have an environmentally responsible method of disposing of used oil at GIRO so the net benefit from GERTIE to Gabriola is nil.

 Perhaps in this day and age it is time to think of modern alternative solutions to an old problem rather than take the easy way through increased taxation. Uber has revolutionized the taxi industry, so there might be some sort of solution in a type of Uber app for ride share or carpooling. Other islands have dedicated ride share stops.  

If the referendum passes, my annual contribution to GERTIE will range anywhere from a low of $60 to a high of $111. By comparison, my contribution to the hospital is $95, policing $56, recreation $45. By order of value I rank GERTIE of lower importance than any of these, yet it will exceed every one of them in funding. Raising our taxes in this manner just makes Gabriola less affordable for the majority for the convenience of a few. I would have no issue with a subsidy comparable to the RDN transit system with any shortfall coming from donations, grants, increased fares and continued volunteerism. I cannot support it as put forth in the present referendum. 

Please vote no.

~ Graham MacDonald