Transit MSP style tax

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I’ve been listening to talk on the radio and reading news stories about tolls on bridges in the lower mainland. I’ve herd ideas like adding tolls on all the bridges to charge $1.00 a crossing. On the radio a few nights ago, the host was proposing ICBC collect a yearly fee instead from drivers which would mean no tolls for bridges.

The tolls on all bridges which might sound like a good idea to only collect money from those who uses bridges will result in millions of dollars of infrastructure changes for each of the 15 bridges in the lower mainland to have the ability to toll cars. That is a massive upfront investment. That kind of investment has a short life span as we have seen on the Golden Ears bridge which is already in need of millions of dollars to upgrade/replace current tolling systems.

Another problem with tolling bridges is how unfair it is for motorist who only need to travel a short distance to work that live near a bridge. A trip from Surrey to Coquitlam can be as short as 5km from home to work yet the person that crosses the bridge is paying a toll which drivers who live in Coquitlam that commute to Vancouver do not have to pay. Those drivers get a free drive over the rest of the freeway which billions was spent on to upgrade. Same for drivers from Langley who travel only to Surrey. They travel on the same new billion dollar freeway upgrades but because they don’t cross the bridge they pay nothing extra.

The ICBC idea of collecting a few hundred dollars from drivers is a better plan but still not the best plan. Most drivers take bridges but not all. The idea does not address low income and fix income people. A grandmother who drives only 2km a day to go to the store that will never see a bridge is going to be hit with the same fee as someone that drives over 4 bridges a day on a 30km commute.

I am proposing a better solution. A MSP style tax on individuals and businesses. If you make less than 30,000 a year in income, you get subsidized. A fee scaled by income starting at $50.00 a month for people in the 30k to 60k income range and a higher rate as income increases would go into a new provincial transportation fund. This fund is used ONLY for transportation needs of the province. A highway here, a bridge there. But more import this also pays into transit to cover the user fee portion so effectively Translink and BC Transit become free to use. Additionally, the ferries could see a portion of this as well to reduce the cost of fares. The business portion of this tax would have many different models to account for the different uses businesses put on the transportation network. A hair barber wouldn’t be taxed nearly at the same rate as a trucking company.

The net benefit of this is the reduction of cars on the roads as the cost of transit is zero. People will use it more often. Those that still drive should see reduced congestion because of the free transit and because drivers will use the best bridge for them. Not spending an extra half hour or more trying to avoid a toll bridge. The Golden Ears and Port Mann will be utilized more. Low income people and fixed income people will be covered so it will be no barrier to them. Poor and homeless people will be able to use transit. And the costs of tolling and the cost of fare collection for transit would be removed. Fare collection is nothing cheap for Translink. The gate system built is way over budget. To address issues with disabled people requires a considerable increase in staff. The policing operations just to catch evaders is expensive. And now with gates it’s an inconvenience to users and disabled people. Most of the assaults on drivers are related to fare issues.

Photo Credit:  Jerry Meaden
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Government Debt

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Government Debt and what I means by the numbers.

When people talk about government debt they tend not to think of the cost to service the debt. They are just looking at the number as a total. I see the waste that debt represents in the form of Interest payments.

 

The Fraser Institute predicts that in 2016 the combined federal and provincial debt of Canada will exceed 1.3 trillion dollars. That represents a value of $35,000 dollars for every man woman and child in this country. This number seems smaller when it is broken down like that. $35,000 per person seems manageable. And I am sure it is.

The problem is the wasted money in servicing these debts. Local, provincial and federal governments combined pay over $60 billion a year to service their debts. This is money that could be better spent elsewhere. To put this into perspective, the federal government spent $23.9 billion last year on national defense.  Ontario spends about $11 billion on its entire welfare system. Quebec spends about $5.3 billion on post-secondary education. BC spends 1.26 billion on childcare each year.

The national defense, the Ontario welfare system, Quebec’s post-secondary spending and BC’s childcare combined is still 20 billion short of those interest payments. Getting the bigger picture now?

Sixty Billion dollars is a lot of money every year wasted. Its $1653 dollars per man woman and child in this country going to banks and lenders just to service debt.

The worst part is the debts continue to grow for all levels of government. And with the growth of debt comes the increased cost of interest payments.

The Federal debt is $616 billion dollars. That would require nearly $70 billion a year to reduce this to zero.  The 2015 budget for the federal government was 290 Billion. We need to raise enough taxes to account for $35 billion and we need to reduce spending on current budgets by another $35 billion. This would create 10 years of hardship. But the gains afterwards would absolutely make it worthwhile.

After all that federal debt is paid off imagine how much that extra 25 billion a year would pay for after returning to current budget and taxation levels. Imagine what the 60 billion a year extra would do for the country if all the provinces and other levels of government did the same thing. Increasing the GST from 5% to 10% would come close to the $35 billion a year needed for the extra tax revenue. Making 35% worth of cuts would be more painful. If it was drawn out for 20 years instead it would only require the raising of taxes.

My biggest fear is the continued growth of debt with it the interest to service this debt. Eventually we will need to raise taxes just to maintain spending levels and to take care of the ever increasing debt making it even harder and more painful to get out of later.

The solution really starts with us, the individuals. We need to really decide on what we need as services. And what we can do to reduce waste of services. Would a $50.00 user fee charged to those of a high enough income to support it really impact the health care of Canadians. The fear is people would avoid going to the hospital to save the $50.00 risking lives and possibly causing more expensive care later. Would making classroom sizes go from an average of 21 students per class to 28 really cause that large of an impact on the education children receive.

No answer is easy, everything results in a struggle. But we should take care of this now while the struggle is manageable.

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US Knee-Jerk Reaction affecting travellers world wide

This is amazing and seems like a typical knee-jerk reaction. If you consider the 14 people murdered in the San Bernardino terrorist attack recently in California, was a US citizen of Pakistani descent and a Pakistani born permanent resident of the US, which is a country not on this list, it seems like it misses the mark. Considering terrorists can come from any country because of radicalization over the internet there is no such thing as a proper list to thwart potential attacks. What is really troubling is the fact some countries in this list, such as Iran makes a person a citizen just by birth if the father is a citizen. And you can’t really renounce the citizenship. This “could” impact Canadian born citizens who happen to have a father that is a Iranian citizenship who for all intents and purposes have never been to Iran and never plan to go to Iran. I have read that reports from the BBC quoting how this affects UK citizens and other european citizens. I am not 100% sure if it affects Canadians but I can’t see anything that says it would be any different. But even if it didn’t the fact Europeans are directly affected is just as troubling. Ive quoted key points from the article and suggest readers here also read it in its entirety.

Quotes taken in part from theintercept.com

For more than 25 years, the Visa Waiver Program has allowed people from a select list of countries, currently 38 nations long, to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Those countries, in turn, must reciprocate, allowing Americans the same privilege on their own soil. Today, Congress voted to change the deal: People coming from countries covered under the Visa Waiver Program, including people who are citizens of those countries, will now need to get a visa if they are determined to be nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria, or if they have visited those countries since 2011.

This is worse than it sounds, because at least two of those countries, Iran and Syria, deem people to be nationals, regardless of where they were born or live, if their fathers are citizens. So it’s possible that someone who is a citizen of one of the countries on the visa-free travel list — the United Kingdom, say — and who lives there and grew up there and has never visited another country, could end up denied entry to the U.S. because of a parent born in Iran or Syria.

“Targeting people who are dual nationals is particularly discriminatory and unjust, since dual nationality is not something you choose,” Abdi said. “Under this legislation, if you’re a European of Iranian origin or your father is an Iranian citizen, you wouldn’t be able to travel without a visa to the United States. As we’ve already heard from the EU, this would trigger reciprocal measures that would result in the passports of Iranian-Americans being treated as inferior, essentially putting them in a category of second-class citizenship.”

The bill approved by the House earlier this month, HR-158, which is related to the legislation approved today, was initially written for the narrow and reasonable purpose of blocking or restricting from U.S. entry individuals who traveled to Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria or Iraq. But provisions later added by Republican lawmakers made the legislation more draconian, including by imposing restrictions involving entire countries — official “state sponsors of terrorism” like Iran and Sudan. (In those two countries, at least, the Islamic State is nonexistent.)

There is of course much more to the article and I encourage readers to go read it in its entirety before commenting.

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Lets talk about Mental Illness

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The state of mental health in British Columbia is nothing to be proud of. It is in a sad sad state and much of that comes from the closing down of Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, formerly known as Essondale Hospital. The hospital was founded in 1913 as a mental hospital for 480 patients. Over the decades additional buildings got constructed to deal with over crowding or specific issues and by 1956 over 4300 patients called Riverview home.

By the 1960s Essondale management and ownership transferred to the newly formed Department of Health Services. With it came the transition of patient reduction which continued on until 2004. Over those decades Riverview went from 4300 patients to 800 beds. The decision to downsize the hospital came as early as 1967. The idea was to have mental health services as accessible as physical health services. By 1970 there were 17 Mental Health Centres in BC with 12 that had opened up within the previous 4 years.

By 1990 a decision had officially been made to reduce Riverviews population to 358 beds. By 2002 it still had 800 beds in all of Riverview. Additional buildings closed over the years and by 2012 the hospital lost its last patients and officially closed. The number of beds started to be implemented in alternative mental health facilities and the actual amount that was implemented do not even amount to the beds that where closed in Riverview in its last year.

In 1992 about 8,000 of the yearly emergency admissions to Vancouver’s mental health were people with both drug addiction and mental illnesses. One of the reasons for this high number was stated it was related to Coquitlam’s Riverview Hospital being emptied with the sick being thrown to the coyotes.

in 1990 the provincial government was supposed to invest $26 million in addition funding over the following 10 years for mental health. Only the first payment was initiated and in 1992 the second payment came through 18 months overdue.

The Greater Vancouver Mental Health service only had 115 full-time workers with over 4000 patients.

The closing of Riverview hospital had a large impact on the region. Ex-patients of Riverview where often left without help or financial aid which caused them to flock to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and to a less extent the downtown cores or main business districts of the regions cities including Surrey, Langley City, Port Coquitlam and New Westminster to name a few. This facilitated the Downtown Eastside at becoming a mental health ghetto. Many of the schizophrenic patents committed suicide after discharge due to a failure to properly medicate form no professional supervision.

Essentially the province did not want to keep all these patients in a single centralized institution so mental health moved to a smaller more distributed and regionalized system.

I personally believe this was a mistake. While is helpful for families and friends if a patient is cared for closer to home, the amount of beds lost from Riverview has never been recovered provincially leaving less capacity to deal with mental illness then before.

I fail to see how this additional freedom to ex-patients benefits any one. The people are in distitude conditions, they lack stable clean safe housing, they lack mental health services and effectively live on the streets with no treatment. Further more the problems have spread through out the cities of the regions its no longer a Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster problem.

I personally would like to see the return of a single centralized institution like Riverview. I would like laws amended that give the health authority the power to force people in to the facility with very strict rules and guidelines to prevent mistakes. I would like to see the institution be developed into a small city that provides all the services of a city like a post office for example while keeping people confined to a hospital to treat. A mini city approach so the more well off can enjoy a level or normality.

Yes this approach seems like a solution tailored to removing these people from the streets. Yes it actually is. But its for the good of these people who need care. They shouldn’t have to figure out how to house themselves and feed themselves and not be expected to take medications right with out supervision. We need to get them off the streets for the safety of the homeless, addicts and mentally ill people into warm, caring environments something a large hospital of this nature can provide. I would also imagine it would be far cheaper to manage then hundreds of tiny facilities that just duplicate resources over and over again. A large hospital ground like Riverview can easily create a full and functional community for these people. It would clean up most of the streets around the cities and reduce a great number of homeless people. The modern approach of small facilities is not working because its to expensive to operate at the capacity we need.

I personally think its best for the patients to have a stable environment with the burden of day to day living removed. We need to look back at solutions that worked and asses the mistakes we made.

 

 

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New Chat Forums now Open

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Its been a long long time since hosting a forum. But I’ve set one up for this site. Not sure if any one is going to use it with every one being on Facebook todays. But I would like to believe that forums have not totally died out. I still think they hold a special place for people outside of Twitter and Facebook. So every one is welcome to come sign up and chat away.

 

Forum is setup at chat.lazytime.ca

e-cigarettes linked to lung disease

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Well folks here we have it. Before I make my comments the article source is here.

Article Source: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/12/popcorn-lung-seen-in-e-cigarette-smokers/

 

Harvard published a article a couple days ago about the chemical flavourings in e-cig juice which it has linked to lung disease. As the article mentions the focus had been on nicotine which was overshadowed by the other hazards of the device.
Me personally I have never been fond of them. People use them in my car (not going to mention any names but that person will know who he/she is when they read this) in public elevators, malls, on skytrain and well pretty much every where people can’t smoke now. As a former smoker its irritating because it drives me to want to pick up a cigarette and smoke again. And sometimes those damn things give me a headache. Anyways back to the article.

The chemical diacetyl which is the flavouring chemical is linked to cases of severe respiratory disease claimed in the first paragraph of the article. According to a wikipedia article on the chemical it is a avoidable risk for electronic cigarette liquid, can be taken out and eliminated with out limiting availability of flavours. In 2015 47 out of 51 tested liquids presented positive results to the chemical.

Further in the article the flavouring industry has warned workers about diacetyl because it is associated with bronchiolitis obliterans also know as popcorn lung because it appeared in workers who inhaled artificial butter flavour in microwave popcorn factories. OUCH, this makes me not want to each microwave popcorn again.

Essentially what they use to flavour the e-sigs is dangerous. Forget the nicotine aspect of the product.

Another article source is located here: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/15-10185./

Personally I think the products should be banned. They create a false sense of safety, are annoying as hell and clearly a potential danger to people. But of course thats my opinion.

 

 

Uber – My take on the issues

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For Article number one, or blog number one on my redesigned Lazytime website I decided to jump right on in on Uber.

 

What is Uber in a few words. It’s a technology company (not a transportation company) that provides an app to connect people with people. More specifically drivers and those needing rides. Essentially a backdoor Taxi service. Unregulated, hardly monitored and usually operating in violation of regulations and laws. But I will get to that part later.

 

In many major cities around the world where it is difficult to get a cab, especially on weekend nights the service Uber provides has taken off. Vancouver for example is one of those markets with very tightly controlled Taxi numbers resulting in great difficulty in getting a cab when you really need one after a good Friday night. Even if you live in a market with plentiful Taxi’s such as New York City, Uber still has taken off because of the ease of use and the affordability it allows. And lets not kid ourselves either, a lot of Taxi drivers are just plain jerks. Not all of them but enough of them that people are more then willing to explore a alternative.

 

Lets start on the good things about Uber before I drill down into the ugly side. Uber is a free market system. Supply and demand really works here. The traditional Taxi business requires scarcity in order to be financially viable. If you have to many Taxi’s for your market you end up not being profitable. The downside to this is the inability to adapt to needs like after a special event. Result is not enough Taxi’s and lots of angry people waiting hours to get home. Uber is mostly made up of part time drivers who have regular jobs already. So on special event nights that extra influx of drivers can really make the difference to the general public.

 

Uber is more affordable. This is because the drivers have far fewer regulatory costs involved. This is also a very serious problem but I will address that in the bad things about Uber. For students, single moms, unemployed people and those just looking to save a buck Uber can provide a affordable alternative and a convenience that many could not make use of before.

 

Stimulate local economies, this is one I might be going out on a limb for but the more affordable transportation is, the more people go out and do things. You might have a entire segment of the population wanting to go out on Friday and Saturday nights that don’t because of cost and issues with accessing reliable transportation home after a night of drinking.

 

Now let’s look at the bad side before I offer my suggestions on how to fix it. Uber currently ignores regulations and out right rejects them. These regulations are in place to protect the public and also creates a monopoly for the traditional Taxi services. These regulations are mostly for the good of people which include fare disputes, pricing, insurance, maintenance upkeep, record tracking, driving qualifications and so on. Uber for all intents and purposes hardly does a good job on the criminal background check and essentially nothing on vehicle checks, insurance checks and so on.

 

Uneven playing field is by far the greatest problem presented by this issue on regulations. Taxi companies and Taxi drivers spend a lot of money to be compliant with regulations. And when they are angry that any one with a car and a phone can start picking up paying customers I feel they have a right to be because of this. Taxi drivers spend thousands of dollars a year to be compliant with rules. This is a cost that Uber drivers do not have. Taxi drivers just can not compete in any level against this cost disparity.

 

As for the rest of the regulations that get ignored, Uber has allowed many people with criminal records to become drivers. With no way to really enforce vehicle condition, driving knowledge, experience and liability insurance the public is at the mercy of the driver in personal safety from assaults to just having a capable driver getting a person from location to location and safely. And worst when accidents occur that the Uber drivers insurance will cover the passenger which most often is not the case. A quick google search identifies hundreds of incidents world wide of people being assaulted by Uber drivers, left personal belongings being held at ransom for hundreds of dollars, drivers getting completely lost and even drivers robbing customers. Accidents are another big item with hundreds of passengers world wide being left with no compensation because the insurance companies refused over the commercial activity and the drivers having no liability insurance.

 

At this point in the game I personally find the negatives to outweigh the benefits of the service and support the position currently on cities demanding they stop operating. But only because of these problems that can be fixed by changing the regulations that control the market on the Provincial and State levels.

 

Changes I would like to see include:

State and Provincial Level, drivers expected to do these independent of any company they work for.

1) Drivers require a certified criminal background check every year.

2) Drivers vehicles (company or personal) must be inspected yearly by a Provincial or State agency.

3) Drivers must have a acceptable driving record with at fault accidents, and years of driving experience.

4) Drivers must pass a special road exam at the start of certification and redo the exam every 5 years.

5) Drivers must pass a medical exam of good health every year.

6) Drivers must have liability insurance.

7) Drivers auto insurance must be commercial insurance. (Taxi company owned vehicles would cover this)

8) Drivers must display in view of passengers the rights they have and a number to file complaints against the driver.

9) Drivers must display the permit that allows them to be a driver.

 

On the city level I believe the city has the right to conduct a knowledge test of the city’s roads, landmarks and layout. A driver should be able to mostly navigate free of technology aids like GPS. I am not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to have GPS, but in order to be licensed as a driver they should have a working knowledge of the market they intend to work out of.

 

All these exams, and tests apply to ALL drivers. Taxi drivers and Uber Drivers. A single yearly fee can be collected by a central authority that licenses individuals to operate a passenger vehicle. Taxi companies can not reimburse employees for these expenses. These are all out of pocket of any one that wants to drive for either a Taxi company or independently or for online services like Uber.

 

This creates a level playing field. This also ensures the drivers that are independent or working under Uber or any commercial company are equally vetted and current with licensing, insurance and deemed safe to do the job. This will add cost to Uber drivers but it’s the same cost commercial Taxi drivers will also incur. This levels the playing field greatly while addressing the issues of insurance, liability and safety. More important this would require the cooperation of Uber with the State/Province and Cities to work. Uber would have to rely on the State and Provincial authorities that issue permits to allow an Uber driver to operate under Uber. With out that cooperation all these changes would amount to nothing and Uber would continue to operate in a illegal way. I personally think Uber has a lot more to gain by the legitimization of its drivers through a process like this. It also provides the safety the public needs and smashes the monopoly that Taxi companies enjoy now.

 

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