Metro Vancouver mayors are being urged to approve a two-cent gas tax increase and work with the province to slap other new fees on motorists to finance TransLink’s latest expansion plan.
The Sustainable Transportation Coalition, a group of planners and transportation advocates, says TransLink’s Moving Forward supplement must be approved for the long-term health of the region.
“People have to keep in mind the cost of not doing this,” said coalition spokesman Peter Ladner, a former Vancouver councillor.
“Do they want to be waiting for three buses to pass them by before they can get a seat on a bus or have a system where they can count on getting to work on time?”
The proposed revenue increases would raise an extra $700 million over 10 years, with $400 million to be TransLink’s share of building the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam and $300 million earmarked for upgrades elsewhere, including express bus service in Surrey and along Highway 1 to Langley and more frequent SeaBus sailings.
The gas tax lift would raise $40 million annually while $30 million a year would come from other sources to be negotiated with the province.
The coalition’s first preference for filing in that blank is that the province turn over part of the next increase of the carbon tax, slated for July 2012.
Its second choice is a vehicle levy, which is already permitted under TransLink’s legislation and could vary according to a vehicle’s carbon footprint – or perhaps other factors, such as the usability of local transit service.
A third option, the coalition says, is to create a system of road pricing that charges all motorists something when they make any significant trip in the region, not just when they cross a tolled bridge.
Ladner said he believes road pricing will eventually be necessary and is smarter than a continuing policy of gradually rebuilding and then tolling bridges – which has been denounced as unfair.
“Just as people use buses and pay every time they use the system, why shouldn’t people who drive cars pay every time they use the system?” he asked. “At that point, everybody should be paying a little bit.”
The Sustainable Transportation Coalition includes the Pembina Institute, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, South Fraser OnTrax and local chapters of Architecture Canada and the Planning Institute of B.C.
Ladner conceded it’s a politically challenging time to pass new tax increases, with B.C. fresh from the referendum defeat of the HST and headed into bigger deficits and a cloudier economic outlook.
Area mayors vote on TransLink’s supplemental plan in early October, just weeks before most of them hope to be re-elected in November civic elections.
The financing strategy had the support of a slim majority of mayors when they tentatively approved it this summer with transportation minister Blair Lekstrom, who pledged the province’s support.
But it’s contentious and several mayors say they can’t support the proposal because it would force TransLink to raise property taxes as the backup funding source if no deal is reached with Victoria on other mechanisms.
Ladner said the coalition also opposes higher property taxes and agreed it’s a “big gamble” to trust that the provincial government will approve something else.
“I’d be wary of that if I were a mayor too,” he said. “But I think an even bigger gamble is not to do it and gamble the social and environmental future of the region on a seized-up transportation system.
“If we don’t provide more options for mobility, it will be more difficult to create business here, get employees to and from work and there will be more congestion. That comes at a huge cost.”
TransLink is taking public input on the plan until Sept. 23. There are also public meetings on it Sept. 14 in Surrey and Sept. 15 in Coquitlam. See www.translink.ca for details.