Metro Vancouver mayors have voted to go to referendum on a new carbon tax and eventually road pricing to pay for an ambitious transit expansion that would bring more buses, new light rail lines in Surrey and a SkyTrain extension in Vancouver.
Their newly unveiled plan asks the province to reallocate $250 million in annual carbon taxes to TransLink – something the province immediately rejected – but the backup request is to create a new regional carbon tax charged only within Metro Vancouver.
That would effectively force motorists and homeowners, as well as business and industry, to all pay more for the fuel and natural gas they burn.
It also calls for tolls to replace the aging Pattullo Bridge, although that toll, along with those on other bridges such as the Port Mann and Golden Ears, could be reduced or replaced with a shift in several years to a system of region-wide road user fees.
That eventual road pricing system would take five to eight years to prepare, but mayors aim to reduce gas taxes by six cents per litre when it takes effect.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone said there’s “no chance” the province will reallocate existing carbon taxes – which offset income taxes – but said he is willing to discuss an additional regional carbon tax as well as road pricing.
The 10-year plan with $7.5-billion in capital spending would end a tussle by the region’s two biggest cities for new rapid transit dollars.
Surrey would get priority for a new $2.1-billion “L Line” connecting Guildford, Surrey Centre and Newton by light rail trains, with a later light rail line running to Langley City via Fraser Highway.
Vancouver would get a $2-billion extension of SkyTrain’s Millennium line running west on the Broadway corridor as far as Arbutus. A further extension to UBC could be considered later.
Also resolved is a scrap between Surrey and New Westminster over the Pattullo replacement – the new bridge would be four lanes but expandable to six later.
The package first requires tentative approval by the provincial government and then a yes vote by a majority of Metro residents in a referendum expected as early as spring 2015.
Transit improvements pledged include:
- 11 new B-Line express bus routes.
- 25 per cent increase in bus service, with more routes getting frequent service of every 15 minutes.
- 30 per cent boost in HandyDart service.
- 50 per cent increase in SeaBus service at peak hours to every 10 minutes from 15 now.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan was the only mayor to vote against the plan, while the mayors of Delta and Anmore were absent.
Corrigan said he pushed for a more modest plan with better odds of success, but said others wanted to “go big” to ensure both Surrey and Vancouver got their new transit lines.
“They went for virtually everything and I don’t think that’s going to be palatable to the majority of people,” Corrigan said, predicting there won’t be enough contributions coming from the provincial and federal governments.
It’s assumed Victoria and Ottawa will each pay one third of the cost of major projects, or $3.5 billion over a decade.
“That’s a lot of money,” Stone said when asked by reporters if the package is affordable.
The province previously pledged a third of major rapid transit projects as well as the Pattullo Bridge, but Stone said it’s important to phase the work and added the offer is subject to a solid business plan and the province’s ability to afford them.
He congratulated mayors for their work and said he believes a referendum is winnable.
The province is already reviewing its tolling policy and Stone said road pricing is “likely where things are going in the long term.”
An extra million new residents are expected to arrive over the next 25 years, along with 500,000 more cars, making today’s road congestion look minor without much improved transit to carry many more people, mayors said.
“We need to make sure people have options to the automobile or we will be in gridlock,” Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson the current freeze on funding has pushed transit service into decline and has “caused chaos” around the region.
“I hate to raise taxes,” said Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese, but predicted residents will save time and money in the long run by investing in better transit now.
The plan would generate $110 million per year in new funding initially, rising to $390 million a year by the end of the 10 years.
It also forecasts TransLink will eventually collect an extra $500 million in extra transit fares annually as a result of increased ridership.
Property taxes would continue to rise at the current rate of three per cent each year.
Not proposed are other previously discussed taxes such as a vehicle levy or regional sales tax.
THREE BIG PROJECTS
- Surrey light rail lines to Newton, Guildford and Langley – $2.1 billion
- Vancouver Broadway SkyTrain underground extension Commercial Drive-Arbutus – $2 billion
- Pattullo Bridge four-lane replacement – $1 billion
Express buses that now run on Broadway in Vancouver or King George Boulevard in Surrey would come to 11 new routes:
- Surrey Centre to Langley (in advance of light rail)
- Scott Road to Newton
- Extension of 96-B Line on King George to White Rock
- Coquitlam Centre to either Maple Ridge or Langley
- Richmond Brighouse to Metrotown
- Metrotown to Capilano University
- Dundarave to Phibbs Exchange
- Lynn Valley to Downtown Vancouver
- Joyce-Collingwood to UBC
- Downtown Vancouver to SE Marine Drive
- Downtown Vancouver to SFU Burnaby