Metro Vancouver mayors voted Thursday to oppose a property tax increase to pay for transit across the region, instead giving the province an ultimatum to come up with a road pricing policy by the end of February next year.
The motion, by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, is intended to hold the provinces feet to the fire ahead of the provincial election next May.
The vote was weighted by mayors in Vancouver, the northeast sector and south of the Fraser, while others, including mayors in Burnaby and Delta were opposed.
Weve been around the table long enough, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said. The reality is these (existing) funding tools are maxed out and are unsustainable.
The motion suggests having TransLink draw up a new plan that stipulates there will be no cuts in transit service and no liquidity of assets to pay for transit. Instead it suggests TransLink would use its $300 million surplus to cover organizations funding gap. Although Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie voted for the motion, he said he doubts it will work, and the provincial government will be back next year begging us to leave the property tax in.
TransLink had factored the time-limited property tax increase, which amounts to $30 million annually, into its scaled-back 2013 base plan. The plan calls for the transportation authority to go ahead with the long-awaited Evergreen Line linking Burnaby and Coquitlam as well as a rapid bus along Highway 1 and the new Port Mann Bridge, an express B-Line bus along Surreys King George Boulevard from its northern end to Newton, and upgrading seven SkyTrain stations.
But the mayors, who agreed to the tax increase last year as a stopgap measure while they investigated other sustainable funding sources, voted earlier this year to nix it after the provincial government rejected their proposals to use carbon tax revenue and a vehicle levy to generate money for transit.
You have to come up with a solution, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan. Im not taking responsibility for funding a system I dont get to control. I dont think we should simply be looked at as a cash cow.
Mayors are now leaning toward a road pricing policy, which could include tolls on the regions bridges and tunnels, or charging drivers a fee per kilometre driven on the roads.
But Transportation Minister Mary Polak has now said she wont approve any new funding sources until TransLink and the mayors council have come up with a 30-year vision and gained support from the public. Any funding sources must also be affordable to families, she said, while the investment would generate funding for transit projects.
Don MacLeod, president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union which represents bus drivers, maintains without the property tax there will be cuts to service next year.
If they totally shut that down, theres no doubt in April we will see cuts to the system, MacLeod said.
Bob Paddon, executive vice-president of strategic planning, had acknowledged that was a possibility. As it is, Paddon said, TransLink cant fulfill all of its earlier promises.
The express B-Line bus service in Surrey, for instance, would run on King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue but wont extend to White Rock as promised, while the rapid bus service from Langley to New Westminster over Port Mann Bridge, will run every 10 minutes during peak hours and 30 minutes during off-peak hours. It was promised that the service would run every 10 minutes off peak.
Other projects put on hold include a plan to increase bus service by a further 306,000 hours, and restoring original funding promised for cycling programs and the major road network.
The base plan, which aims to save $47 million per year and boost revenue by $60 million by shifting bus resources to routes with higher demand, leveraging real estate assets, and increasing or introducing parking rates at TransLink-run park and ride lots, will will go to public consultation before being finalized in November.
TransLink maintains it is facing a financial crunch, mainly because of an estimated $30-million drop this year in its gas tax revenue, which is expected to be $145 million less in 2014 than the $380.3 million forecast. This is blamed on drivers filling up south of the border or in the eastern Fraser Valley, as well as an increase in the number of hybrids and electric vehicles.
The transportation authority was also told earlier by TransLink Commissioner Martin Crilly it could only raise transit fares by 10 per cent next year, rather than the 12 per cent it had proposed.
Paddon said less-used bus routes would already see reduced service, such as hourly instead of half-hour schedules, with buses reallocated to high-demand areas, while SkyTrain service will be trimmed during non-peak hours. TransLink would also trim its buffer fleet, which means fewer spare buses on standby, and will cut slack time, which had given drivers extra time to make connections if they were caught in traffic, and use smaller, cheaper buses where possible.
- Kelly Sinoski is a reporter with the Vancouver Sun
@ Copyright 2013