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.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Chief Constable Norm Lipinski, Surrey Police Service. (Submitted photo)
Surrey Police Service to begin public consultation late June, early July

Community input, chief constable says, ‘will occur’

Surrey RCMP reunited three stolen puppies with their mom. (RCMP handout)
Puppies stolen from South Surrey home located, reunited with mom

Surrey RCMP said they found the stolen puppies on April 16

Welcome to your park sign marks the spot where 84th Avenue will continue east from King George Boulevard 
to 140th Street as part of a $13 million road project. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Road Rage: Opposition mounts anew to Surrey’s plan for 84 Ave. at south end of Bear Creek Park

Same place, same project, same fight as Surrey prepares once again to connect 84th Avenue between King George and 140th Street in Newton

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

John Wekking, Merritt Road Report - Facebook
 Coquihalla Road Report
Wildfire sparks off Coquihalla in Merritt

The wildfire is located near the Dollarama off of Highway 5

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read