COLUMN: There are no free rides

Transit still an issue for newly elected officials

There will be an extremely short honeymoon period for newly elected mayors and councillors, although Surrey’s mayor and councillors may get a bit of a break.

The unhappiness with elected officials will come when hard-hit taxpayers find out just how much more of their money mayors want to go towards TransLink, to expand transit services over the next 10 years.

While most people favour improvements to transit, they want someone else to pay for them.

There won’t be any happiness if a car tax is proposed. Nor will there be a lot of cheering for a higher provincial sales tax, or other new taxes to fund an ambitious transit plan that mayors unveiled last spring.

The Mayors Council has until Dec. 11 to come up with the question for a TransLink referendum, which will be held in the spring. It will certainly involve new taxes, because current TransLink revenue is far short of paying for any of the improvements the mayors are calling for.

A car tax was part of the plan to pay for TransLink when it was first set up in 1998. When the TransLink board, which at that time was made up of elected officials, tried to proceed with it, it was met with howls of outrage from taxpayers. Many of them lived in areas like Surrey, Langley and Maple Ridge, where transit service was minimal when compared to that in the core urban area of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster.

It didn’t help that the province had recently imposed the Millennium Line on TransLink, which was paying part of the capital cost of that new line which primarily benefited Burnaby. The Millennium Line was neatly designed to travel through NDP-held ridings in New Westminster, Burnaby and East Vancouver, and its approval shoved aside plans for other lines, such as the line to Richmond (the Canada Line, now built) and the Evergreen Line, which is now being built.

The car tax became such a political football that no one wanted to touch it. The NDP government, facing a provincial election, wouldn’t approve it – even though it had granted TransLink the power to impose it. The BC Liberals, smelling power, also decried it.

TransLink has thus received most of its additional money since that time by raising property taxes, boosting the gas tax to 17 cents a litre and jacking up bus fares, which are among the most expensive in North America.

It cannot expand services without some new sources of revenue. However, reliance on the car tax is problematic, as many areas of Metro Vancouver are badly underserviced by transit, particularly communities south of the Fraser, along with Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Many suburban drivers ask why they should pay a tax on cars they must own to get around. Meanwhile, Vancouver residents can easily do without cars, and in fact more and more of them are choosing to do just that.

A boost to the provincial sales tax is fairer, and regional road tolling, which apparently requires years of study to implement, would also bring a much-needed element of fairness to the transportation challenges which face everyone, whether they drive or use transit.

Mayors were hoping for provincial carbon tax revenue, but that request was quickly denied by Transportation Minister Todd Stone. Indeed, the revenue from that tax is used to reduce other taxes such as income tax, so giving some of it to TransLink would mean boosting income taxes.

Surrey council may escape some of the criticism that is sure to come when the new tax plans are announced, as new mayor Linda Hepner has said LRT will go ahead whether or not the referendum is approved. She is suggesting it could be funded through a P3 approach, with at least some of the construction paid for over the years through fares.

It’s an ambitious promise, but there is no doubt that Surrey needs far more transit than it has today.

Whether that will lead Surrey residents to approve new taxes in a referendum is an open question.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

 

 

Just Posted

Man ‘seriously’ injured in crash after driving wrong way on Highway 17: Surrey RCMP

Police say the sedan hit a transport truck, then another car

Easter ‘eggstravaganza’ event planned for South Surrey

Event is to run from 12-3 p.m. at Dufferin Park (17355 2 Ave.).

Update: Surrey Mounties found missing man

Kuldip Sandhu, 41, had been reported missing

IHIT hunting in Edmonton for clues to 2017 Surrey homicide

Tanner Krupa, 19 was found dead in an alley in August 2017, in the 6900-block of 127A Street

Surrey youth ‘REWIRE’ in play-creating project that involves a lunar eclipse and video games

‘It was such a fun process to create a play from scratch,’ says Guildford Park Secondary student

VIDEO: Alberta man creates world’s biggest caricature

Dean Foster is trying to break the world record for a radio show contest

Should B.C. lower speed limits on side roads to 30 km/h?

Vancouver city councillor wants to decrease speed limits along neighbourhood side roads

Lawsuit eyed over union-only raise for B.C. community care workers

‘Low-wage redress’ leaves 17,000 employees out, employers say

Landlord of alleged Okanagan shooter recounts deadly day

Tony Friesen was working in one of the units of his Penticton building when he heard shots

Foreign national arrested in connection to thefts at YVR

A woman, 60, is being held in police custody as Richmond RCMP investigate

Police pursue pesky porker on Vancouver Island

‘This was allegedly not the pig’s first escape’

Rare ‘Snow Tower’ tree blooming in Vancouver city park

A plant rarely grown in Canada is now flowering at the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park

Westjet tries again to dismiss proposed class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination

Former flight attendant claims airline broke contractual promise to create harassment-free workplace

Man airlifted to hospital after apparent hunting incident in East Kootenay

The man was in stable condition when he was flown out of Fairmont Hot Springs to a Calgary hospital

Most Read

l -->