Referendum poll shows slim lead for new transit tax

Survey finds tepid Yes support, distrust of TransLink strong among No voters (with interactive charts)

Anger with TransLink over SkyTrain shutdowns and other issues could sway the outcome of the transit tax referendum next spring.

A poll of Metro Vancouverites gives the Yes campaign a slim early lead in the upcoming referendum on raising the sales tax 0.5 per cent within the region to fund transit and transportation upgrades.

The Insights West poll found 52 per cent of respondents would probably or definitely vote Yes, while 39 per cent would vote No. Nine per cent were undecided or won’t vote.

But Insights West vice-president Mario Canseco said there were more definite No voters (24 per cent) than definite Yes voters (18 per cent), suggesting more entrenched opposition and less enthusiastic support.

“Support is very soft at this point,” Canseco said. “That is very, very problematic for the Yes side.”

Anger and lack of trust with TransLink are a major factor for opponents, the results showed, with 71 per cent of No voters saying they do not have confidence in the transportation agency to properly deliver the promised projects.

A similar number suggested TransLink should instead find other ways to fund transit expansion and 60 per cent suspect the regional sales tax, once created, would climb higher.

Supporters said they were voting Yes because of the need to address traffic congestion and service problems in the region, and said the promise of independent audits on how the new money is spent will increase transparency.

Canseco sees more potential for a No campaign that hammers TransLink’s failures to  gain ground than for Yes support to firm up and grow.

“The No side is motivated mainly by a high level of disagreement with the way TransLink operates,” he said. “That is very, very tough to change.”

He said mayors and other Yes campaigners are left promoting the promised upgrades and telling voters “You may be angry with the way TransLink was run or the difficulties on SkyTrain but if you vote No we get nothing.”

Mayors last Thursday unveiled the proposed PST hike to raise $250 million a year to fund – with federal and provincial contributions – a $7.5-billion expansion that would include a Broadway subway, light rail in Surrey, 11 new express bus B-Lines and a general 25 per cent increase in bus service.

RELATED:Metro mayors vote to hold transit sales tax hike referendumPST hike for transit may push Metro shoppers east into Fraser Valley

The level of support dropped to 47 per cent among drivers and rose to 69 per cent among transit users.

Canseco said that was in line with generally higher support among young voters (58 per cent) who are more likely to take transit versus older ones (44 per cent) who tend to drive.

“Young people see those benefits as something that is tangible,” he said.

“But if you’re a driver and you never go to the Pattullo Bridge, there’s really nothing here for you. You can talk about road safety and maintenance but those are things that have to happen regardless of the referendum.”

Asked if the concentration of support among younger voters – who generally have lower turnout rates in elections – means Yes support may end up even lower, Canseco said it’s too difficult to say because the spring referendum will be by mail-in ballot.

“This one is completely uncharted territory.”

He noted Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was re-elected last month on strong backing and turnout from younger voters who may also strongly support transit expansion.

SFU marketing professor Lindsay Meredith said TransLink is a stained brand and agreed anger over TransLink salaries and SkyTrain shutdowns is a strong threat to the Yes side.

“From a marketing stand point, they’ve run it into the ground so many ways I’ve lost count,” he said. “It’s hard to get out of that hole once you’ve dug down so deep.”

The poll also asked what new tax would be the best method to pay for the new projects. Thirty per cent agreed it was the proposed PST hike of 0.5 per cent, 16 per cent said a vehicle levy, seven per cent said higher gas taxes, eight per cent said higher property taxes and 39 per cent weren’t sure.

Meredith said that suggests the mayors have chosen well and their sales tax hike may be just low enough to eke out a win.

“But I think they’re very close to the breaking point.”

The online survey of 601 Metro residents was carried out Dec. 12-14 – immediately after Metro mayors unveiled their referendum question – with a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.

REFEReNDUM POLL |Create infographics

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