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Mayors okay TransLink tax hike on leap of faith
A fill-up in Metro Vancouver will cost motorists an extra two cents a litre in TransLink tax starting next April.
Sixteen mayors approved TransLink's supplemental plan Friday by an 81-34 population-weighted vote – a 70-per-cent majority.
It ensures the long-stalled Evergreen Line to Coquitlam is finally built and delivers a variety of other transit upgrades across the region, partly funded through the gas tax increase.
But more new fees targeting drivers could be on the way, such as an annual vehicle levy or road pricing, as a result of the vote.
At least that's what most mayors hope happens.
The Metro cities and the province are now committed to try to negotiate various new sources for TransLink to cover nearly half of the extra $70 million per year required to fund the transit expansion plan.
It's a big leap of faith for the mayors, who are trusting that Victoria will deliver and not leave them in the lurch once again.
If the province gets cold feet or otherwise refuses to sign off on new sources, a $23 average property tax increase takes effect instead.
"This is not the end of the road – this is the beginning of the road to the solution," Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said.
Surrey mayor Dianne Watts said a "fair tolling policy" must be part of the debate, to end the inequity of some Metro residents paying more in tolls than others.
"We have a year," Watts said. "If we can't do this in a year, I think we should all just walk away from the table. If for whatever reason it fails I will not be sitting at this table."
Approval was assured because Surrey and Vancouver had enough weighted votes to pass the plan with only a few other cities on board.
Six mayors opposed the plan: Burnaby's Derek Corrigan, Richmond's Malcolm Brodie, Delta's Lois Jackson, Langley Township's Rick Green, Pitt Meadows' Don MacLean and New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright.
Green said South of Fraser residents are underserved by transit and tapped out on what they can pay.
"I'm hearing it loud and clear," he said. "People have just had enough."
MacLean warned the fall-back property tax increase, if used, will not be temporary but will stay in place forever because rescinding it would trigger drastic transit service cuts.
Several mayors predicted Victoria will back out and refuse to grant new sources – especially ones sure to be contentious as the next provincial election nears – leaving them stuck with the unwanted property tax.
"Can you imagine how difficult a road pricing debate is going to be and how divisive that is going to be in our region?" Brodie asked.
"I'm afraid I don't have that kind of faith," Delta Mayor Lois Jackson added.
TransLink has tried to get on sustainable financial footing before.
It had the green light to impose a $75 per vehicle levy in 2000 but the Opposition Liberals fought it and the NDP government scrapped it in a bid to shore up votes.
More recently, TransLink adopted a parking stall tax, but the Liberal government decided it was unacceptable and killed it, amid a governance overhaul that took control away from the elected reps.
Some mayors, such as Brodie, wanted to approve just the two-cent gas tax for the $1.4-billion Evergreen Line, chop the other spending in the plan and avoid the risk of a property tax hike.
But others said they couldn't support an Evergreen Line only solution – nor was it possible because mayors had no power to amend the plan crafted by TransLink's unelected board.
Changes to the governance structure giving cities more control of the spending priorities is a key demand of the mayors.
Corrigan said the province will only grant real reform if the mayors take a stand and freeze the flow of new cash to TransLink.
"You cannot go on being treated like sheep," he told other Metro mayors. "We have to have our own Boston tea party."
The provincial government still has to pass legislation this month enabling the TransLink gas tax increase from a current 15 cents a litre to 17 cents next spring.
As soon as the increase is legislated, the province is expected to move quickly to issue a request for proposals for the Evergreen Line – likely before the end of the year – setting the stage for a construction start next year.
A jubilant Mayor Joe Trasolini of Port Moody said his city will reverse a development freeze as soon as the project advances.
NDP transportation critic Harry Bains said the Opposition will support the two-cent gas tax hike when it goes to a vote in Victoria to ensure the Evergreen Line proceeds.
He would not spell out the NDP position on future funding sources.
The upgrades promised in the plan include RapidBus service from Langley over the new Port Mann Bridge to Lougheed Station, White Rock-Langley bus route and a B-Line express bus route in Surrey running on 104 Avenue to Guildford and down King George Boulevard to White Rock.
Also promised are more frequent SeaBus runs, SkyTrain station upgrades and a general increase in bus service of more than 420,000 hours a year, along with restored funding for road work and bike routes.
The approval of TransLink's $400-million share of Evergreen Line costs also secures more than $1-billion in federal and provincial contributions.
The plan does not include longer-term priorities, such as new rapid transit lines in Surrey to Langley and White Rock, a Broadway corridor line to UBC or increased West Coast Express service.
Those projects all depend on much more money coming to TransLink in future years via new sources.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts
Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender
North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton
North Vancouver City Coun. Bob Fearnley
West Vancouver Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones
Lions Bay Mayor Brenda Broughton
Bowen Island Coun. Peter Frinton
White Rock Mayor Catherine Ferguson
Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin
Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew
Anmore Mayor Heather Anderson
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson
Langley Township Mayor Rick Green
Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean
New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright