Mayors from Surrey, Vancouver and at least five other cities are poised to force through a two-cent gas tax hike to help fund the Evergreen Line and other transit expansion projects.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson and mayors from Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Langley City, West Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver issued a joint statement Tuesday saying they will vote for TransLink’s Moving Forward supplement on Friday.
The seven mayors represent 70 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s 2.5 million residents and hold enough population-weighted votes to force the plan through even if most of the region’s 22 cities object.
Burnaby, Richmond and Delta mayors said they will oppose the plan.
The extra two cents a litre in gas tax would take effect in April and raise $40 million a year of the needed $70 million annually to fund the plan.
Mayors and the province would have one year to negotiate another $30 million worth of new funding sources for TransLink – perhaps road pricing, a vehicle levy, a second regional carbon tax or other mechanisms.
If the province gets cold feet and refuses to approve new sources, the plan requires property taxes go up an average of $23 instead – a scenario that’s unacceptable to mayors in Richmond and Delta.
“I’m not going to support a package with a property tax,” Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said. “And I won’t support other funding sources when they’ve not been defined.”
He predicts there will be no deal with Victoria on contentious new mechanisms, most of which would raise the cost of driving as part of a wider strategy to steer more motorists to transit.
“I think they’re going to be too complex and too controversial,” Brodie said.
Surrey and Vancouver are big enough under the weighted vote system to sway the decision with just a few other smaller cities on board.
But Watts and other mayors have been busy trying to sway more cities to the yes camp and minimize the spectre of a divided region.
Yes votes were expected from Tri-Cities mayors, who are desperate to build the long-promised Evergreen Line there.
“It’s our turn,” Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini said of the 11-kilometre rapid transit line. “We can’t rewrite the proposal that’s what in front of us. We have to make sure it goes ahead.”
The other mayors pledging support were also expected to be on board.
North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton chairs the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation that brokered a tentative funding agreement with Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom in July.
West Vancouver’s Pamela Goldsmith-Jones is the mayors council vice-chair and Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender is the former chair, who also spent much time negotiating with the provincial government.
Others are still on the fence.
Langley Township Mayor Rick Green said he’s leaning against the TransLink supplement.
“I have a lot of difficulty with it,” he said, adding Metro residents are already “taxed to death.”
Big swaths of Langley get virtually no usable transit service for their contributions to TransLink, he said, while they face the prospect of paying more tolls to cross the Fraser River along with potential new fees on motorists.
Trust is also an issue – particularly with a plan mayors see as forcing them to commit now and fill in the blanks later.
Green noted Premier Christy Clark has “flip-flopped” on whether she’d approve the agreed-to gas tax hike or other mechanisms, like a share of the carbon tax.
He and other mayors also want reform of TransLink’s governance system, where an unelected board sets spending priorities, leaving mayors only to sign off on tax and fee increases.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said he’s disappointed in the opposition from Richmond and Burnaby.
“It’s odd that the two communities that have the newest SkyTrain lines appear to be prepared to vote down the supplement,” he said.
Watts said some mayors’ lack of trust in the province has been a problem, but added she has more confidence working with Lekstrom.
“Some of the communities have all the infrastructure, which is great for them,” she said.
“We can live in the past and do nothing – let the whole system fall apart,” Watts said. “I want to move forward. This is about making sure our kids and our grandkids have transportation choices.”
The supplement would allow TransLink to deliver its $400-million contribution for the $1.4-billion Evergreen Line, ensuring the long-stalled SkyTrain extension finally proceeds.
The plan would provide for RapidBus service over the Port Mann Bridge to Surrey and Langley, a new B-Line express bus route down King George Boulevard, a Langley-White Rock bus route, more frequent SeaBus service, SkyTrain station upgrades and various other bus service increases, along with some more money for road work and cycling routes.
The mayors’ joint statement calls it crucial to reducing gridlock, growing the economy and achieving long-term environmental goals.
“If it was just about the Evergreen Line, there’s no way I could support it,” Watts added.
Mayors say the negotiations with the province offer a chance to finally gain funding sources to set TransLink up for the long term.
That would be critical to launching more distant projects, such as rapid transit expansion deeper in Surrey area and in Vancouver along the Broadway corridor to UBC.
“Nobody wants to come back to this piecemeal nonsense every year,” Watts said.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said mayors who support the plan may feel the wrath of voters.
“Both Watts and Robertson may feel they can take that kind of hit and still get re-elected,” Corrigan said.
“But there’s a lot of people in my community and people around the Lower Mainland saying ‘I cannot take more taxes for TransLink.’ And you find people like that get out and vote.”
* Mayors get one vote for every 20,000 population or part thereof they represent. A simple majority (59) of votes cast is required to pass the TransLink supplemental plan.