Mayors tackle referendum doubts via phone forums

Callers from South of Fraser, Tri Cities critical of transit service, unfair bridge tolls

Retired broadcaster Bill Good hosted Thursday night's telephone town hall with Downtown Surrey BIA CEO Elizabeth Model and White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin. Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner connected by phone.

Mayors from two of the region’s fastest-growing cities – Surrey and Coquitlam – pleaded for a transit referendum Yes vote with mostly skeptical local callers in back-to-back telephone town halls this week.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner was joined Thursday evening by White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin, while Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart took calls Wednesday with Vancouver Board of Trade CEO Iain Black.

“This is one of those rare moments that is so clearly about the future,” Hepner said.

“If we let this fall apart – and that is a great fear of mine – it will be years and years and years in the making before we can come up with something else.”

RELATED:Watch replay of South of Fraser telephone town hallTransit tax gets rough ride in Tri Cities telephone town hall

Each mayor outlined the significant local improvements that will come in their cities, including light rail lines in Surrey, a B-Line express bus route to White Rock and much improved transit service, with buses connecting South Surrey to the Canada Line every five minutes in rush hour.

Baldwin appealed to voters to think not of how upgrades will benefit themselves, but their kids and grandchildren. “It’s not for me, this is for her,” he said Thursday.

Baldwin said much of the increased transit service under the plan would be concentrated South of the Fraser, which has historically been underserved.

“Finally, it’s going to be our turn.”

Just 20 per cent of South of Fraser residents currently live within walking distance of a frequent bus route running at least every 15 minutes but Baldwin said that would climb to 54 per cent under the plan.

Mayors also pointed to the planned 80 per cent increase in night bus service, helping late shift workers to and from work.

In both town halls, callers complained about unfair bridge tolling and suggested lower tolls be charged on all bridges so that all drivers pay fairly towards transportation improvements.

“Use that money so everybody pays instead of just people South of the Fraser,” a Surrey caller urged.

Hepner said the planned 0.5 per cent sales tax will result in “everybody paying their fair share throughout the entire region” and added tourists will contribute as well.

Hepner also defended the decision to keep recently replaced TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis so his “enormous skills” could continue to be used rather than just terminating him and having to pay severance.

Other issues touched on included difficult bus access from South Surrey to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal and the South Surrey Park and Ride expansion built by the province that’s been empty since it opened due to the imposition of pay parking there.

The Wednesday night Tri Cities telephone town hall heard even more callers vowing to vote No, citing various complaints about local transportation.

“These are things we are trying to fix,” Stewart responded, adding that to reject new money that could actually improve transit is equivalent to saying “I’m going to kick myself.”

Some said they can’t afford the new sales tax and will vote No because they pay too much now to cross the tolled Port Mann Bridge.

Black said road pricing is proposed for the region and could reform the toll structure but said it isn’t likely to come for 10 to 15 years.

One Tri Cities caller said she doesn’t believe the vote is as critical as Yes campaigners claim.

“The world isn’t going to come to an end if we don’t vote this thing through in the next few months,” she said.

Stewart predicted there will be no investments in transit for a decade without a Yes vote.

“Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good,” he said of the proposed upgrades and the state of TransLink, which came under fire from callers in both town halls.

Black, a former BC Liberal MLA, said a No vote would send a strong signal to government that the region’s residents oppose more spending and would not create any impetus to find a Plan B or reform TransLink.

Baldwin warned that the Plan B being pushed by the province is higher property taxes and said the sales tax is at least more equitable than that.

More phone forums

More telephone town halls are planned:

  • Monday March 9 with North Vancouver mayors Richard Walton (District) and Darrell Mussatto (City)
  • Monday March 16 with Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese
  • Tuesday March 17 with Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

Each town hall runs from 7 to 8 p.m. The dial in phone number is 1-877-229-8493. The access code is 114021# for the March 9th town hall and 114095# for the ones on March 16 and 17.