Metro Vancouver mayors have voted in favour of a referendum question that will ask residents in the region if they support a 0.5 percent increase in the provincial sales tax to pay for a 10-year transportation and transit plan.
In a vote today (December 11), local mayors including Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson supported the ballot question, while Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, Maple Ridge’s Nicole Read and West Vancouver’s Mike Smith opposed it.
The 10-year transportation and transit expansion plan seeks to increase service for crowded bus routes, SkyTrain, Canada Line, SeaBus, and West Coast Express, add new B-line rapid transit bus routes, upgrade major roads, build a new Patullo Bridge, and add light rail transit for Surrey and a Broadway subway in Vancouver.
Lawrence Frank, a professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and School of Community and Regional Planning, called the ballot question “sensible”, and said it’s good to have one funding source that residents understand.
“I think it’s good that they explicitly, in a very short, easy to understand question, document and assert accountability,” he said in a phone interview. “I think that’s essential, and I think the voters will really care about that.”
Frank called the long-term transit strategy “the right plan”, but noted he wishes a referendum wasn’t necessary to put it in place.
“I think the investments that are being proposed…will really improve the quality of life in our region, I think it’ll improve public health, I think it will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be more economically competitive,” he said. “It’s really important that this passes.”
Non-Partisan Association councillor George Affleck said his party is supportive of the ballot question to improve transit options in the region.
“I think as long as they stick to the 0.5 [percent increase] and it doesn’t become a moving target, that we’re comfortable with that,” he told the Straight by phone. “We have to find a solution on this issue absolutely.”
Affleck added he thinks the provincial government needs to take a look at the TransLink governance model.
“I think this debate and discussion over the next couple of months will probably include that,” he said.
According to the referendum ballot question, revenues raised through a PST increase would be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.
A coalition of groups that support the mayors’ council transit plan was formed this week. The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition includes the Vancouver Board of Trade, Unifor, Tourism Vancouver, the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has launched a campaign against the PST increase.