Referendum Yes campaigners play health card

Medical health officer says transit saves, extends lives, fosters healthier communities

Dr. Patricia Daly is chief medical health officer for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Public health officials are endorsing the transit expansion referendum as an important chance to help make Metro Vancouver residents safer and healthier.

Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, came out in support of the proposed $7.5 billion in transit upgrades Wednesday.

More transit use will translate into proportionally less driving by residents, resulting in fewer deadly crashes and a drop in the 680 Metro deaths per year attributable to air pollution, Daly predicted.

“That will benefit not only those intending to use the new transportation routes,” Daly said. “It will benefit the entire population with every breath they take.”

She said public health officers in the region agree the referendum can deliver the “next great public health legacy” for the region since the Canada Line arrived with the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Daly made the health argument in a webinar hosted mainly for Yes supporters by the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance in what is expected to be a recurring theme of the Yes campaign: Finding ways to hammer home the message that people who don’t use transit still gain from it.

“They may not feel it has personal benefit to them but in fact it will improve the air quality for all of us.”

Transit advocates have long argued more transit use frees up room on the roads for drivers, but Yes strategists hope an appeal for health and the environment will get more traction.

Yes campaigners also argue transit-oriented neighbourhoods tend to be more walkable, allowing residents to be more physically active and less sedentary than those who spend more time in cars.

Daly said more physical activity reduces the risk of many chronic disease, including cancer, while the risk of obesity increases about six per cent with each hour a day spent behind the wheel of car.

She cited statistics that Metro Vancouverites who take transit are 27 per cent less likely to be overweight or obese than drivers. That gap became an even wider 45 per cent for people who mainly walk or bike instead of driving.

“These are people getting more physical activity in their lives,” she said. “These are people that aren’t in vehicles contributing toxins to our airshed.”

She also said public transit is a key lifeline that improves health outcomes and social equity for people with disabilities, the frail elderly and the poor.

Yes campaigner Peter Ladner also gave tactical advice to campaigners, suggesting they not “waste time” with people who are strongly opposed to the new tax or be drawn into arguments about waste at TransLink.

“They are not going to listen,” he said, adding focus groups have found defending TransLink is “not something that is all that effective.”

He said opponents focus on TransLink’s failures but ignore its successes, which include high rates of transit use and North America’s first fully accessible system.

He said the 600,000 additional vehicles that will come to Metro Vancouver over the next 25 years with an extra million residents if the car-to-resident ratio remains unchanged will be “almost physically impossible” to accommodate, noting that many cars would occupy a parking lot nearly the size of Richmond.

Ladner, who chairs the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, also picked up the theme of urging voters to consider others even if they don’t need transit themselves.

“Everyone depends on someone who takes transit,” he said, listing hospital staff, store clerks and airport workers as some examples.

Besides a 25 per cent bus service increase, the plan tabled by Metro mayors promises 30 per cent more HandyDart service as well.

No TransLink Tax campaign head Jordan Bateman said claims by a UBC public health professor that a No vote will cause cancer, dementia and strokes are “ridiculous” and show the Yes campaign is desperate.

“TransLink tax supporters have already resorted to silly scare tactics, all because our fully-costed analysis has shown the TransLink mayors’ whole wish list can be built without this regressive sales tax,” Bateman said, referring to the No side calculation that enough money can be pulled instead from municipal budgets with modest restraint.

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