In the upcoming transit referendum, Metro Vancouver residents will have the opportunity to vote on a transit tax that would increase the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) by 0.5 per cent.
The referendum, if passed, would allow for improvements in transportation across the region.
The funding generated by the tax increase would go towards realizing the vision of the Mayors’ Council: its Transportation and Transit Plan.
The Plan includes light rail service through Surrey and the Langleys; a 25 per cent increase in bus service across the region; a 50 per cent increase in SeaBus service; and an 80 per cent increase in nightbus service.
The Plan also intends to implement 11 new B-line routes throughout the region, add rapid transit in the Broadway corridor, and replace the Pattullo Bridge between New Westminster and Surrey.
Gordon Price, a city planner and the director of SFU’s The City Program, argues that this transit tax is needed in order to help accommodate the region’s future growth in population.
It is projected that one million people will be coming to live in Metro Vancouver in the next 25–30 years. Price noted that, as of now, “the existing transportation system cannot accommodate them.”
In addition to accommodating population growth, Price sees the expansion and improvement of transportation as essential to the development of the Metro Vancouver in the areas of the economy, job creation, and sustainable growth.
“Whether you measure it in the time lost by congestion or pollution, we will pay.”
Gordon Price, SFU City Program director
He stated that there is widespread support for this transit tax, with a broad consensus among most of the mayors, city councils, businesses, the port of trade, environmental groups, community groups, and transportation advocates.
Mayor of Port Coquitlam Greg Moore explained that the plan would greatly benefit SFU students, with a new B-Line bus from downtown Vancouver connecting the Vancouver and Burnaby campuses. The plan also includes the expansion service from Surrey City Centre and at the SFU exchange in Burnaby at Production Way.
Specific to Burnaby Campus, Translink’s Executive VP, Strategic Planning and Stakeholder Relations, Bob Paddon, assured that transit going up the mountain to SFU would be improved.
If the referendum fails, Price pointed out that “we are still going to have to pay. In fact, we are going to pay to build more infrastructure to handle the growth of automobiles.”
He continued, “Whether you measure it in the time lost by congestion or pollution, we will pay.”
Price foresees cutbacks to mass transportation, which will result in the worsening of crowds on the 135 bus or buses going to Commercial/Broadway.
Opposition to the referendum is concerned that Translink will not spend the transit tax money efficiently.
The mayor of West Vancouver, Michael Smith, wrote last week in an op-ed, “Government does not have the right to ask citizens to pay more in taxes unless they can assure them that their money will be well spent.”
He continued, “Transit has been treated for too long like a political football, being kicked back and forth between the province and the region. The proposed plebiscite offers no relief from this.”
Paddon countered this by emphasizing that there will be continual audits and reports on how much money is raised and what it has been spent on.
Additionally, the referendum has been set up so that, if passed, the PST money would go into a separate fund, not in the account that handles TransLink’s general expenses.
Paddon asserted that he does not see any reason why the public should not trust TransLink, as they have been audited several times in the past, with the most recent 2012 audit having yielded a positive report.
Ballots will be sent out on March 16, and the voting period will last through to May 29.