Province says transit plebiscite will be on “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax”

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      The B.C. government has approved the transit referendum question put forward by the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation, with some tweaks.

      While the mayors had proposed a 0.5-percentage-point hike to the provincial sales tax, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said it will be a new Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax that will be voted on by the region.

      Stone also confirmed that the vote will be a mail-in ballot plebiscite. Ballot mailing will begin on March 16, 2015, and voting will end on May 29, 2015.

      Here's Stone's letter to the mayors' council:

      Re: Mayors' Council Recommendations

      His Worship
      Mayor Richard Walton, Chair
      Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation
      287 Nelson's Court, Suite 400
      New Westminster, B.C., V3L 0E7

      Reference: 231980

      December 18, 2014

      VICTORIA - Dear Mayor Walton:

      Thank you for your letter of Dec. 11, 2014, providing me with the Mayors' Council recommendations respecting the question to be taken to voters in spring 2015 and the proposed new revenue source.

      As I committed, I have carefully considered the wording of the Mayors' Council proposal and am pleased to advise you that the Province is prepared to support your question and proposed revenue source, with some minor refinements that reflect input from Elections BC in order to meet their ballot fairness requirements.

      Revenue Source

      In support of the Mayors' request for a regional sales tax, government has approved a plebiscite on whether to enable a 0.5% regional sales tax to implement regional transportation and transit priorities as proposed by the Mayors' Council. This tax would be separate and distinct from the Provincial Sales Tax (PST). If approved, the Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax would be applied as a sales tax to the majority of goods and services that are subject to the PST and are sold or delivered within the region.


      In response to your suggested question, government has approved an amended question which substantially reflects the wording proposed by the Mayors' Council. The question will allow the voters of Metro Vancouver to have their say on whether or not the Mayors' vision and funding source meets their needs for today and future years.

      The final approved question is provided as an attachment to this letter.

      Vote Administration

      The vote will be administered by Elections BC as a mail-in ballot plebiscite under the Election Act. Costs of administering the vote will be provided by the Province. Provincial funds will not be provided for either proponent or opponent groups.

      Consistent with your recommendation on the voting period, I can also confirm that ballots will be sent out beginning March 16, 2015. To provide time for public dialogue and to allow voters to fully inform themselves about their choices, the voting period will extend until May 29, 2015. With respect to the outcome of the vote, government will consider a regional result of 50% +1 to constitute majority support for the question.

      Transit expansion is vital to economic development in Metro Vancouver and will be a critical component of ensuring that the region is able to accommodate the million additional people expected over the next 30 years. I appreciate your efforts to date and look forward to a positive outcome that will benefit the residents of Metro Vancouver and the economy of British Columbia.

      Todd G. Stone



      Ken Ohrn

      Dec 18, 2014 at 1:48pm

      This is a good step forward. I agree with Min. Stone that this vote will be fundamentally important to the future economy of the Province, and especially the daily lives of people who live and work in Metro Vancouver.

      Should the outcome be positive, I look forward to the Mayors getting immediately to work on their proposed "user-pay" plan for motor vehicles, AKA "road pricing". We need to stop subsidizing motor vehicles, and bring fairness to transportation use and costs.


      Dec 18, 2014 at 2:12pm

      Did the mayors propose a binding referendum? And did the province today reject that proposal and instead decide to hold a non-binding plebiscite?

      Or was the mayors' proposed referendum always planned to be non-binding?


      Dec 18, 2014 at 2:57pm

      What we need is for people to stop spreading lues about drivers being subsidized. There is not one study that shows the opportunity cost to the economy of not having a strong road system. Of course. I don't expect for HUB supporters to be truthful.


      Dec 18, 2014 at 3:05pm

      One option is missing: Pay for the upgrades via better fund management of current tax stream. Cut the fat where its not needed, and move focus where it is needed. I think its safe to say we are all taxed enough in this province.

      Reese Maddux

      Dec 18, 2014 at 5:28pm

      yeah I don't think congestion needs to be improved, its plenty good as it is. Seriously, why didn't they call it congestion reduction plan or something

      Efficent Cost Effective Transit Not Waste

      Dec 18, 2014 at 11:15pm

      I am for Cost effective Transit expansion but not Waste.

      Translink wastes $100's of Millions a year with little practical accountability.

      Compare vs Washington State who move about 2X the people for about 50% less!

      Examples of Translink Waste

      1. $171 + Million in waste for useless Fare Gates that will NEVER pay for themselves,

      2. $10 Million ++ to operate said Fare Gates, to save less than about $4 Million in Fare evasion per year,

      3. $25 Million +++ upto to possibly $50 Million for a Private Translink only Police Force + Security + Useless Sub Contracted Agents dressed in Green only,

      Note : I support full Police forces as in the various regional Police and Translink Cops would be better deployed as a Police Officer fighting Crime with any one of our fine Police Agencies ibn the lower mainland.

      4. Millions in executive compensation, wasted,

      5. Overpaying for Capital Projects & Equipment like Buses, $500K to $1 Million +++ for a Bus!

      - When Global competitive bidding would reduce that by at least 50% or more!

      6. Compare Translink to Washington States Transit System see the huge 50 to 80% disparity in Executive Compensation not to mention operating efficencies vs Translink!

      7. $160 Million Federal Funds + $30 Million from Translinks Budget for mostly cosmetic unecessary Station upgrades this could have been spent instead on additional Bus capacity.

      - But Translink cut back Bus service in 2014 instead!

      Fiscal Accountability Before Any New Funding!

      Until Translinks model is changed to be accountable & Fiscally responsible not a dollar more of free Tax money.

      Giving Translink money without real change & accountability is like giving a Crack addict more free Crack = bad outcomes!

      SS DD

      Dec 19, 2014 at 1:18am

      OK. I'll go for 'road pricing' soon as transit users pay 100% if the cost of their fares. 'User pay', right?
      Let us put the 'who is subsidized the most' argument out to pasture. Both groups are 'subsidized' to the extent that all public services are provided by tax dollars. Since goods move by road, and not transit, roads will exist until we perfect transporting from tele-pads. Which means that, really, transit is subsidized more, since we could conceivably live without it.
      It is irrelevant anyway, given that Translink has responsibilities to both modes of transport. Drivers have not 'prevented' transit from being improved or extended. In fact, without large numbers of us forced to drive due to inadequate service, the system would have derailed a long time ago, without the inadequate gas tax keeping it going.
      In point of fact, it seems that the goal was never to get everyone out of their cars; only some. If we really wanted driving reduced, transit would be provided to the oulying areas, where the trips originate. Instead, service is concentrated in the central portion of the region, where it is possible to get by without a car. The same option is not available to everyone, though everyone has contributed.
      I will be waiting until I see exactly what is planned, when, and where, before deciding whether to support this. Service in my area has not improved in twenty years, despite promises to the contrary...I'm going to need more than a nice picture and a promise. If there are no improvements to my area, because the plebiscite fails, it will just be 'same shit, different day'.

      L Leeman

      Dec 19, 2014 at 1:24am

      Don't be fooled by the .5 percent.

      It's .5 percent MORE. The question says nothing about the existing funding to Translink which will continue unabated.

      Those of you commuting by car, .. you already pay 17c per litre to Translink (about 15 percent of your fuel bill) in addition to a levy on your Hydro bill, nat gas bill, levy on your property taxes ... and more. These will all continue. You just get to give Translink .5 percent added to the cost of EVERYTHING YOU SPEND so it can run a few more trains and buses.

      Drop the other punitive taxes and I'll vote yes. Otherwise forget it Walton.

      critical thought

      Dec 19, 2014 at 8:27am

      "Do you support transit improvements?"is not the referendum (or is it now a non-binding plebiscite?) question.

      The overwhelming majority of the residents in Metro Vancouver support improved transit. It's the equivalent of a question that asks if people like sunny days and smiles. But, again, THAT is not the question we're voting on.

      The question is:

      -do you support a separate sales tax that applies to goods and services, but we're not ready to tell you which goods and services it will apply to

      -the 0.5% tax has no end date

      -we offer no assurance that we will not increase the tax rate in the future

      -we offer no assurance that we will not impose another form of taxation in future, such as road pricing or a vehicle levy which many of the proponents are advocating for.

      -we've dropped the audit language. What the heck. It's meaningless anyways because the South Coast Transportation Authority's annual financial statements are required to be audited already. All it means is that the financial statements report fact not fiction. It sure as heck didn't prevent Translink mismanagement. The financial statements containing the Compass card fiasco were audited.

      -oh yeah, and best of all, we're not changing the management or planning structure because a yes vote means that the residents of Metro are prepared to hold their noses, kick in another $250 million a year to Translink and hope for the best.

      Show these idiots that we're not naive. Vote no. Send them back to the drawing board. The propaganda about a no vote killing transit improvements for a generation is just nonsense. Vote no. There will still be transit improvements and a greater likelihood that management and planning will be improved too.

      L Leeman

      Dec 19, 2014 at 11:48am

      As SS DD said:
      "Let us put the 'who is subsidized the most' argument out to pasture."
      Fine, but at the same time let's put the 'Get them out of their cars" meme out to pasture as well.

      If ALL the cars in ALL of the lower mainland ( 1.8 million) were taken off the road, that could offset only about half of ONE coal fired electric plant's emissions at 4 tons CO2 per car per annum ( source: Translink). China brings onstream ONE new plant every 5 days and targets 350 more than it has now.
      India targets about 450 coal plants. Germany is building 12 coal plants.

      We could all take hydrogen fueled TRANSIT and get out of our cars but it would offset NONE of the globe's emissions unless... we continued to buy and voluntarily sequester the fuel for our former cars at the same rate. Otherwise... the fuel will be burned in USA or China. Just the truth.

      So buy Transit if you want it, but don't think you are being green by ditching your car. Oh.. and TRANSIT isn't emissions free, so in fact building it out will actually ADD to the CO2 footprint of Vancouver citizens.