UPDATED: TransLink tax rejected

It’s a no.

Lower Mainland voters rejected the proposed 0.5 per cent sales tax increase to fund expanded TransLink bus and rail service.

Voters were 61.68 per cent opposed to 38.32 per cent in favour.

In Langley, the results were even more strongly against the plan, with City residents voting 72.29 per cent opposed and Township residents 74.97 per cent opposed.

"It leaves us in limbo," said Township Mayor Jack Froese, who supported the project along with City Mayor Ted Schaffer.

"I feel the plan was a good plan, and still is a good plan," Froese said, speaking of the Mayors’ Council’s proposals for the expansion of bus service, light rail, and road improvements. 

Now the mayors will have to negotiate with the province on how to fund transit improvements, he said. With the No vote, it will likely take longer to add new services and bus routes, Froese said.

Although many business and labour groups, as well as most Lower Mainland mayors, including Langley City and Township mayors, supported the plan, there was also significant opposition.

The Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce was the only board of trade in the Lower Mainland to oppose the plan. There were fears that the tax increase would drive local residents to shop in Abbotsford or the United States, and that there wasn’t enough in the plan for Langley, said chamber president Scott Johnston.

"It’s a pretty definitive result," said Johnston.

As the only chamber to oppose the plan, they took quite a bit of "abuse" in recent months, Johnston said. But they were hearing fears from small business owners about business bleeding away to points east while there was little or nothing in the plan for most areas of Langley, he said. It would have been more than a decade before the light rail line reached Langley, Johnston noted.

"Even those on the No side like myself agree we need more transportation services," Johnston said. This was just the wrong funding model, and a better one is needed, he said.

Meanwhile, groups of transit users like the HandyDART Riders Alliance were upset at the failure of the vote. Increasing HandyDART service was part of the planned spending with the new funds; TransLink has frozen HandyDART increases for six years, resulting in more and more disabled riders being unable to access to point-to-point service.

Former Langley Township councillor Jordan Bateman was the public face of the No side throughout the campaign, as a spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Bateman excoriated TransLink for past overspending and problems with the system, and said they couldn’t be trusted with more money.

Local advocates had argued that much of the spending was coming to the South of the Fraser area. In the past, one of the most frequent complaints from Langley residents has been that TransLink service does not keep up with population growth and that locals are taxed for services they can’t use.

The projects proposed by the TransLink Mayors’ Council would have included a new light rail link connecting from the existing Surrey SkyTrain network all the way down Fraser Highway to Langley City.

In addition, more B-line style buses, with high frequencies, would have been added to Langley and Surrey. Increased bus service in general to Brookswood and Willoughby was planned.

The plan also called for a subway along Vancouver’s Broadway corridor.

The tax increase would have raised about $250 million annually.

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