Transit plebiscite: David Suzuki's perspective

Broadcaster Bill Good was at it again this week, moderating telephone town hall meeting #7 on Metro Vancouver's transit plebiscite. This time, instead of hosting mayors and councillors, his guests were environmentalists; Dr. David Suzuki and Peter Robinson, CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation and former CEO of MEC.

Said Good of his decision to come out of retirement to moderate the transit plebiscite town hall meetings, "I really wanted to be involved in this. I want people to be informed." Far from being an impartial moderator, he's an impassioned advocate for improving transit in the region.

If the Vancouver telephone town hall was a study in contrasts with guests Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillors Adrienne Carr and George Affleck, all from different political parties, this one was decidedly homogeneous.

Suzuki, Robinson and Good all belong to the over 55 crowd and discussed the Transportation Plan and transit plebiscite from an environmental perspective. Much of the evening's focus was on generational differences in transportation usage and why older adults should vote 'YES' for their kids and grand kids.

Peter Robinson noted that the average age for drivers obtaining their first B.C. drivers licence is now 27. Suzuki and Good mused at how when they were young, getting a drivers licence at age 16 was a "rite of passage."

"There’s an absolute direct correlation that transit use decreases with increasing household income," said Robinson. "So, when you put those two together, you see that younger people, those in their teens, twenties and thirties who are going to school or starting jobs, are overwhelmingly using other forms of transportation than cars."

That's why, he said, for young people, "it’s actually quite critical to find a way to get a ‘yes’ vote."

One caller, Fredericka, commented that our young people are "already paying for air pollution." She said a new study from Barcelona linked high air pollution rates to lower cognitive development in children.

As a kid growing up in B.C., Suzuki said he'd never heard the word "asthma." Now he says, "you can't go into [an elementary school] classroom without finding all kinds of kids with asthma." 

"If we treat the air as a garbage can, it's going to have a direct effect on us," he said.

Peter Robinson noted that commuting is causing air quality problems throughout the region, even outside of Metro Vancouver. If we do nothing for the next 35 years, he says "green house emissions and all the other atmospheric pollutants that come out of those tail pipes," won't stop. In fact he says, "we’ll see a 10% increase."

The Mayors' Council Plan says Robinson, will actually reduce air pollution by 15% even with more newcomers arriving. 

Indeed, noted Good,  Dr. Patricia Daly, the Chief Medical Officer of Coastal Health, called this [transportation] plan 'the biggest investment in public health in our generation.'

 Said Suzuki, who had just spent the past four days with his youngest grandchild, "whatever happens in the environment is going to have very little effect on me or Bill Good but our grandchildren are going to live with the consequences of what we’re doing right now."

The Mayors' Council plan, he said, and the 35 cents a day most people will pay to fund it, is, "an investment in the health of your children."

















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