Province tweaks transit referendum question

The provincial government has given the green light for TransLink to request a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax to pay for transit upgrades.

Minister of Transportation Todd Stone released an open letter to TransLink Mayors’ Council chair Richard Walton, along with a copy of the referendum question.

The Mayors’ Council had phrased their request in the form of a 0.5 per cent increase in the PST, to be applied within Metro Vancouver.

The new question keeps the tax increase the same, but dubs it a “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax.”

“This tax would be separate and distinct from the Provincial Sales Tax,” said Stone’s letter.

However, the letter goes on to note that it would be applied “to the majority of goods and services that are subject to the PST and are sold or delivered within the region.”

The new question will be as follows: “Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan?”

The mail-in ballot will be sent out starting on March 16 next year, and the voting period will extend to May 29.

Along with the question, the ballot will list some of the items in the plan for transit expansion:

• More bus service and new B-Line rapid bus routes

• Increased SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express service

• A new Patullo Bridge

• Maintenance and upgrades for the major roads administered by TransLink

• Rapid transit from Surrey Centre to Guildford, Newton, and Langley

• Rapid transit along Broadway in Vancouver

• Extended cycling and pedestrian networks.

The ballot also mentions the annual independent audits and public reporting that will be in place for the programs, should the vote go ahead.

While some business groups are lobbying in favour of the plan, the reaction was not as positive in Langley, where the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce announced it opposes the plan.

Local business owners are worried about customers avoiding the tax by heading to Abbotsford or the United States. The chamber has supported road pricing for some time as an alternative method of funding TransLink.

TransLink has suffered through years of funding woes, along with an over-budget and behind-schedule program to replace the existing ticket system with Compass cards.

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