One Metro Vancouver mayor says Fraser Valley residents should be forced to make some contribution to TransLink because they also benefit from Metro’s transit system.
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin suggested a fuel tax of a few cents per litre imposed in the Fraser Valley would be one way for that region to pay an appropriate amount in the name of fairness.
“I think they’re getting a bit of a free ride,” Daykin said, citing the ability of residents there to ride the West Coast Express commuter train to downtown Vancouver from Mission, or to drive to one of TransLink’s park-and-rides that connect to SkyTrain.
Mission contributes $770,000 per year to support West Coast Express service, in recognition of the station there, but other Fraser Valley communities pay nothing.
Daykin said licence plate checks of vehicles at the West Coast Express parking lot in Mission have found 30 to 40 per cent belong to Abbotsford residents.
Despite Mission’s contribution, service on the Mission-Haney WCE leg is heavily subsidized by TransLink, which pegs its net cost at $1 to $2 million.
Daykin also pointed to the heavily used express bus over the Port Mann Bridge from the Carvolth park-and-ride in northwest Langley to SkyTrain in New Westminster.
“I wonder how many from up the Valley drive there, park their car and hop on the bus and have access to all the transit system? It’s hard to believe it’s all Langley people.”
This month’s doubling of Port Mann Bridge tolls to $3 for most drivers may spur even more Fraser Valley motorists to park and ride transit instead, he added.
Metro Vancouver households pay hefty amounts to TransLink regardless of whether they use transit.
TransLink gets $235 per year in property tax from the average Metro home as well as 17 cents for every litre of gas sold within the region. Fares generate the biggest piece of the $1.45-billion budget.
Any payment from Valley communities would be very modest, Daykin said, and would not go far to raising the extra billions of dollars TransLink needs to expand service.
“It’s not going to be tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “I’m not delusional. But there should be an acknowledgement that there’s a benefit of our system in Metro to the Valley.”
Daykin said he recently made that pitch to Transportation Minister Todd Stone, but got a “cool” response.
Fraser Valley Regional District board chair Sharon Gaetz said there’s no justification.
The Chilliwack mayor said studies show few people – about 10 per cent of trips by locals – leave the FVRD to shop, work or play in Metro, and most of them go only to Surrey or Langley.
“Given the small numbers it wouldn’t be reasonable to have our taxes go to support that,” Gaetz said.
She also called it an “apples and oranges” comparison because of the way TransLink was created in 1999.
Metro taxpayers were absolved of the requirement to pay tax to support hospital capital projects in return for them taking responsibility for regional transit costs.
The FVRD’s transit costs, in contrast, are mostly subsidized by BC Transit, but Fraser Valley residents still pay for hospital capital.
If the Fraser Valley was to pay into TransLink, Gaetz suggested, Metro taxpayers ought to resume paying hospital taxes as well.
The notion of extending TransLink taxes into the Fraser Valley has been mooted by the province before.
When TransLink’s structure was reformed in 2008, then-Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon suggested its boundaries should ultimately widen to include the Fraser Valley to Hope and the Sea-to-Sky region to Whistler and Pemberton.
As a result, the agency’s formal name was changed in provincial legislation from “Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority” to “South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority” and provision was made for a 10-year phase in of taxes extending to new areas that agreed to join.
Gaetz said that was “soundly rejected” by the Fraser Valley and Squamish-Lillooet regional districts.
While no other cities have clamoured to join TransLink, some South of Fraser politicians have at times suggested pulling out.