Traffic on the untolled Pattullo Bridge

EDITORIAL: Think inside the bargain bin

Some incentive beyond sacrificing for the good of Metro Vancouver is needed if residents are to vote for new TransLink taxes

Metro Vancouverites love a deal.

That’s why they line up like lemmings to cross the border for savings in the U.S. or drive far out of their way to cross an untolled bridge – never mind the waste of gas and lack of value they place on their time.

So the key to selling higher taxes to finance more transit expansion and bridge replacements will be appealing to their wallets with some personal benefit beyond paternalistic assurances that they must sacrifice for the livability of the region.

Some mayors have suggested reducing the existing 17-cent-a-litre TransLink gas tax if a vehicle levy or comprehensive road-and-bridge tolling is imposed.

That makes sense as it would give drivers less reason to fill up outside Metro.

Another proposal we’ve made before is creating a homeowner grant for the TransLink property tax, which now averages $235 per home. The tax rate could then be increased somewhat without any impact on the typical homeowner – non-residents and other investor owners would absorb the increase.

Here’s another idea.

Imagine a $200 per year vehicle levy is imposed.

But half of that – $100 – is returned to the vehicle owner in the form of a credit they can direct to either their TransLink Compass card account or their TReO tolling account.

Drivers who shun toll bridges would be encouraged to cross them at least some of the time, helping unclog traffic jams on free crossings.

Those who rarely commute across tolled bridges could take the Compass credit instead and would have more incentive to use transit, at least some of the time.

Either TransLink or the province would get the credits eventually, so the revenue wouldn’t vanish, and the credits could be time-limited if necessary.

The concept could form one of a series of value propositions that may better inspire a short-term focused me-first public that has difficulty imagining the gridlock of the future if nothing is done.

There is no magic wand to solve Metro Vancouver’s transportation challenges. The reality is we will all have to pay more somehow.

But it’s thinking like this that will be needed if the province remains determined to give voters the final say over TransLink expansion in an eventual referendum.

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