Gabriel Yiu: How about a super-luxury vehicle tax for TransLink?

Now that the transit referendum is over, here’s a Plan B

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      The transit referendum result is finally out and, as expected, voters vetoed this desperate loose-tongue promise made by Premier Christy Clark during the last provincial election campaign.

      I refer to it as a “desperate loose-tongue promise” because this referendum is unusual in light of the years of B.C. Liberal rule, or the way Clark usually governs. While the premier wants to demolish the George Massey Tunnel and replace it with a bridge in Richmond, she did not include this in the transit and transportation referendum. Why? When she wants to spend $10 billion to build Site C, the most expensive and controversial construction project in this province, why did she not consult us by way of a referendum?

      Premier Clark’s loose-tongue promise was being treated as the golden rule, whereas the governing party kept a distance from it. When the plebiscite was launched, the transportation minister stressed in the media that the Liberal government was standing on neutral ground, whereas the Opposition teamed up with the mayors to lead a campaign to support the transit and transportation improvement plan. It is indeed intriguing that the governing party abandoned its role to support a government initiative, unless they saw this as a lost cause.

      Since there are a lot of discussions on why the referendum has failed, I am going to skip the cause. My interest is in providing a Plan B that could raise funds for transit and transportation improvements and yet would be supported by the public.

      My proposition is the government should bring in a super-luxury vehicle surtax.

      B.C. has been collecting a surtax on luxury vehicles since the ’90s. The current practice is this: if a vehicle costs over $57,000, the provincial government will charge an extra three percent tax. If we could add a new category for super-luxury vehicles, say set the bar at $80,000, that would fetch considerable new tax revenue.

      People might notice nowadays that more and more super-luxury vehicles are rolling down the streets, be they Porsche, Maserati, Bentley, Austin Martin, Ferrari, or the price-unlisted Lamborghini. If you live in Vancouver and Richmond, you can see these cars every day. Sometimes you may even see an N plate hanging in the back of the vehicle.

      I once wanted to find out how much a Ferrari or Lamborghini costs in Canada, but I couldn’t find the list prices on the dealers’ websites. All I could find on the web were two 2008 used Lamborghinis and the listed price was over $200,000. Well, if a seven-year-old used car costs over $200K, what do you think a new Lamborghini would cost?

      In a capitalist and democratic society, everyone has the freedom to choose and drive the vehicle they like. In an advanced civilized society, the government often has a progressive tax system (i.e. low-income earners pay less while the wealthy pay a higher tax rate). Our income tax system is like that, so tax on vehicles should be like that too.

      According to recent consumer studies, B.C.’s sale of luxury vehicles topped the country in 2014; it was 41 percent over the national market-share average. For super-luxury vehicles, B.C. was 69 percent over the national average!

      For the wealthy folks from China and Hong Kong, driving a super-luxury vehicle in Canada is a bargain. In Hong Kong, when the government collects a first-time registration tax on new vehicles, the tax for the first HK$150,000 (i.e. around $24,000 Canadian) is 40 percent, then 75 percent for HK$200,000, and for a vehicle valued over HK$500,000 (around $80,000 Canadian), the tax rate is 115 percent. In China, driving those super-luxury vehicles is even more expensive.

      So that is why there are these super-luxury vehicles on the streets of Greater Vancouver. Not only are the owners wealthy, it’s a real bargain for them here in Canada.

      In B.C., a 12 percent sales tax plus three percent luxury vehicle surtax means there is still quite a bit of room to move up. If the province implements a five to eight percent super-luxury vehicle surtax, the revenue collected should be able to cover the 0.5 percent sales tax that was rejected.

      If merely collecting a surtax on purchases is not sustainable enough, the government could consider adding a super-luxury vehicle surcharge to auto insurance. Then there would be more funds for public transportation.

      For the general public, the super-luxury vehicle surtax has no effect on their wallets. To those who can afford it, the extra tax is merely small change and it’s still a great bargain to drive these magnificent automobiles. Perhaps their extra financial contribution to our public transit system could earn them some respect.

      Gabriel Yiu is an award-winning commentator, immigrant, and small business owner, and a former B.C. NDP candidate.



      @ Gabriel

      Jul 6, 2015 at 4:24pm

      How about you comment on the following first:

      First, we went from not so bad road congestion to the worst road congestion in Canada after overspending on subway, b-line and s-train lines by TransLink over the last 16 years. Transit by TransLink does not reduce road congestion. As a corollary, transit is increasing carbon emissions and air pollution by not reducing road congestion and by putting more noxious and noisy carbon emitting diesel buses on the roads, especially on trolleybus routes.

      Second, housing prices in Vancouver have always been high but after years of family housing being wiped out along subway and s-train lines to build condos for investors, housing prices have reached stellar heights making home ownership impossible for anyone who isn’t a multi-millionaire. Transit by TransLink is linked to the housing unaffordability in Vancouver.

      Third, people who can’t afford to live and work in Vancouver are fleeing Vancouver to live in Surrey, Delta and Langley. This has mushroomed the urban sprawl causing the added road congestion on the highways. It has also led to more roads and bridges being built (Port Mann, Golden Ears... George Massey). Ironically, transit by TransLink has been the catalyst for the urban sprawl in Metro Vancouver

      Incompetent fools at TransLink are the problem. Solving the urban sprawl, housing unaffordability and road congestion in Metro Vancouver, all hinge on doing away with everyone at TransLink.

      steve y

      Jul 6, 2015 at 4:37pm

      What do you expect from a communist like Gabriel? Never mind that this tax will never get the money necessary and probably cost more to collect than it would ever collect in revenues. Just attack the rich because... communism.


      Jul 6, 2015 at 4:42pm

      I agree. Those damn Austin Martins.

      Can't Believe This

      Jul 6, 2015 at 5:20pm

      Hi Mr. Yu,

      Can I have your wife, since I can't find a woman who would marry me...

      No Need

      Jul 6, 2015 at 6:04pm

      How about Translink use the $300 to $400 million Per Year in its EXISTING Budget sanely.

      1. Scrap Compass, $200 Million pissed down the drain there, it will NEVER pay for itself,

      2. eliminate the $32+ million Per Year on a private security force when existing Police can and do respond to emergencies,

      3. Stop paying $550 to $600K +++ Per Bus!!! Put it to competitive World Wide Tender,

      4. Stop all spending on Compass, $30 Million +++ Per Year direct and indirect,

      5. Eliminate the Gold Plated Sub contracts for Services and running Trains (Canada Line) 30 Year Contracts at inflated prices bring all those in house save HUNDRED Million per Year MIN!,

      6. Raise Capital on the public by selling more Bonds etc,

      7. Don't overspend on Capital Projects like Bridges, use global Competitive bidding best practices,

      8. Eliminate all the wasteful spending like $20+ Million per year in "studies"

      Easy to find money within the current Translink Budget.

      This is not Hong Kong nor do we want any bloated Hong Kong Public Policy here.

      Look at the mess that is Hong Kong, locals can barely afford the housing.

      Traffic congestion and a two tier society one mostly wealthy mainland Communist displacing Hong Kong residents for Healthcare and Housing while the poor who service the rich come in droves from all over communist China looking for a better life in Hong Kong.

      Only to find a closed, overpriced unaffordable polluted wasteland with little in the way of social safety nets for the poor and the home of SARS and other Animal to Human transmitted diseases due to piss poor hygiene standards in the public markets for all kinds of meat.

      No thanks don't want to go down that Shark Fin Soup road, thank but No Thanks.


      Jul 6, 2015 at 10:39pm

      what a ridiculous idea - and a decent example of why the NDP tanked last election.


      Jul 7, 2015 at 1:09am

      This article doesn't put any real numbers on the amount of luxury or "super" luxury vehicle sales in BC. A glaring omission on the writer's behalf especially when it's central to the writer's whole point of this piece.


      Jul 7, 2015 at 8:25am

      I agree the super rich who are buying up the city should pay more, but that goes against Moonbeam's plan. How about taxing bicycle's more???

      ursa minor

      Jul 7, 2015 at 9:05am

      @ No Need, in response to your points:

      1. That $200 million isn't coming back, so TransLink may as well roll out the system. Compass does need to be simplified to eliminate the stupidity of having to 'tap out', something I've never seen in any city I've visited that uses a universal card.

      2. SkyTrain security attendants were already taking care of things, and fare checks should be unnecessary once Compass is in place. The only major accomplishments by the Transit Police since they started are harassing poor people and acting as jackboot stooges for the CBSA. Good riddance.

      3. That's actually the going rate for a diesel bus, with natural gas buses going for slightly more. However, savings might be found by running more electric trolley lines (why isn't the 99 B-Line a trolley?) and deferring new buses in favor of reconditioning older vehicles.

      4. As per item 1, that money isn't coming back. Compass would be cheaper to implement, however, if it was used exclusively as a method of payment rather than an Orwellian system of tracking passenger travel.

      5. When municipalities and the province see campaign finance reform that bans corporate donations, politicians won't see that much value in signing long term contracts anymore.

      6. The MTA in NYC earns revenue from retail and merchandising. TriMet in Portland actually sells naming rights to streetcar stops. Translink has never thought that a tourist may actually want a SeaBus or SkyTrain T-shirt and AFAIK, has a sparse retail beyond Commercial-Broadway station.

      7. Move away from Public-Private Partnerships that only serve to privatize the rewards while the public assumes all of the risk. Taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for guaranteed profits.

      8. For a region with two major research universities that have a vested interest in improved transit, TransLink has really gone out of their way to consulting them about. A quid pro quo to exchange transportation research for transportation infrastructure should have happened a long time ago.

      I like the idea...

      Jul 7, 2015 at 10:49am

      I would vote in favour of a Super Car Tax.