Don’t even think of a new rapid-transit system on Broadway, the busiest corridor in Vancouver. Forget about an extension of the Expo Line in Surrey. And ever seeing the long-awaited Evergreen Line go into Port Moody and Coquitlam.
Based on TransLink’s financial projections, no new rapid-transit lines will be opened in the Lower Mainland unless the province steps in to allow the regional transportation body to raise a total of $450 million in additional revenues per year.
“The problem we face is the municipalities simply can’t afford it,” Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs told the Georgia Straight. “And the province has not yet indicated an understanding of the problem, and they keep telling what we can’t do instead of what we need to do.”
Meggs was interviewed on June 16 after the assistant city engineer for transportation, Jerry Dobrovolny, made a presentation to council about funding options for TransLink’s 10-year plan starting next year.
According to Dobrovolny, TransLink needs to raise $260 million in new revenues a year just to maintain existing levels of service.
This would involve increases in the fuel tax and parking sales tax, as well as fares. Based on the transportation body’s figures, it needs to raise the fuel tax from the present rate of 12 cents a litre to 15 cents, the parking sales tax to 14 percent from the current seven percent, and transit fares above inflation in order to raise $110 million, still $150 million short.
One source for the extra $150 million is a vehicle levy, a tax that TransLink has the authority to impose. This annual levy may involve either a flat fee of $120 per vehicle or a range of $65 to $165, depending on fuel efficiency. Another source is property taxes, which municipalities are loath to raise. Dobrovolny recalled in his presentation that the Mayors’ Council, which approves plans and funding for the regional body, decided in a meeting in April this year that mayors will not support raising property taxes.
Meggs explained in the interview that the problem with increasing property taxes is that although this move can raise revenues, it doesn’t affect people’s transportation choices in the way that hiking parking taxes, for example, will discourage car use.
With $260 million in additional revenues, the regional transportation body could deploy 160 additional buses and 100 new SkyTrain vehicles over the next 10 years.
Dobrovolny told councillors that the expansion program being eyed by TransLink would require an additional $190 million from new funding sources on top of the $260 million, for a total of $450 million in extra money per year.
With $450 million, the transportation body projects that the region would have funding for not only a rapid-transit system on Broadway, an extension of the Expo Line, and the construction of the Evergreen Line but also for 138 additional SkyTrain vehicles and 400 new buses on the streets.
TransLink has identified funding sources for the $190 million, but all of these would require approval by the province. One revenue generator could be getting a share of the carbon tax. Designed to be revenue-neutral, the carbon tax is expected to generate a total of $2.3 billion from July 2008 to July 2011.
Another source is the tax being collected by the province on property transfers. Road user fees are also a potential funding source, as is what TransLink describes as a “goods movement fee”.
Dobrovolny indicated in his presentation that a third option is for TransLink to just maintain a base plan with no revenue increases except those resulting from adjustments for inflation. According to him, this scenario would entail drastic service cuts starting in 2010.
Mayor Gregor Robertson said that members of the Mayors’ Council will face a “real predicament” if no new funding sources are made available. “One way or another, we have to get the $450 million,” Robertson declared in council.
Acting on a motion by Meggs, council unanimously voted to endorse the $450-million transportation plan. The same motion also called for the implementation of a universal pass for postsecondary students.
“The biggest obstacle is that the province has been downloading too much of the cost of transit, especially capital cost, on municipalities,” Meggs said in the interview. “They [municipalities] may be able to afford operating costs, but we see a huge need, and it’s unanimous across the region, for a big investment in more buses, SkyTrain, light rail, everything.”
Meggs noted that Premier Gordon Campbell promised $14 billion in new investment for transportation about a year ago. “We don’t see that commitment coming through right now,” he said.