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July 8,2011 Vancouver Sun


Metro Vancouver mayors are all for raising the gas tax to pay for regional transit, but when it comes to road tolls and vehicle levies, there's a major rift.

The division was clear just a day after the mayors' council recommended a "moving forward" transit funding plan that would raise $70 million annually for projects like the longawaited Evergreen Line, more buses for Surrey and Langley, rapid bus lines for Surrey and the Port Mann and upgraded SkyTrain stations.

About $40 million of the plan would come from a twocents-a-litre boost in the gas tax, which would see a British Columbian who drives 17,500 kilometres a year spend roughly $25 more on gas.

The mayors agreed the other $30 million would come from "new long-term revenue sources" such as a graduated vehicle levy ranging from $10 to $40 per vehicle, a regional carbon tax or road pricing.

Or, as a backup plan, the mayors recommend an increase in property taxes amounting to $23 per average homeowner.

Most mayors remain opposed to any more property tax increases. But when it comes to who should pay what in terms of tolls or levies, there is major disparity in the region.

"We should go to a user-pay system as much as we can," Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said. "If people make the choice to drive their vehicle rather than take public transit, they should pay the price."

But Brodie balks at any tolls on the bridges leading into Richmond, while Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said people driving over the North Shore bridges, the Sea to Sky Highway and arteries into Richmond should have to pay tolls.

TransLink already collects tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge and plans to slap them on the new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge when it opens in 2013, and possibly the new Pattullo Bridge.

"Why should the people in Vancouver or Richmond or the North Shore not pay tolls?" Fassbender said.

"Maybe they should have them on the Oak Street Bridge or the tunnel."

In Surrey, Mayor Dianne Watts believes built-up cities like Vancouver and Burnaby should be hit with vehicle levies while her city and Coquitlam are gradually taxed after they build up their infrastructure using an "area benefit tax," a levy on those living or building around transit stations.

She said vehicle levies, or "transportation improvement fees" are unpalatable in places where there's a lack of infrastructure, and should be gradually introduced once transit is in place. "It's fair and it's equitable and it makes sense," she said.

Fassbender acknowledged there will be difficult challenges ahead as mayors try to find the most fair and equitable way of paying for regional transit in the next 30 years.

TransLink's biggest revenue generators are transit fares (35 per cent), fuel tax (27 per cent), property tax (24 per cent) and the Hydro levy and the parking tax (each four per cent).

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said the transportation authority has also tried to find corporate sponsors interested in the naming rights at SkyTrain stations, but nobody has come forward with an appropriate offer.

TransLink is expected to present the "moving forward" funding plan to the mayors' council this fall, after public consultation, which is expected to start next week.

The provincial government has promised to introduce legislation this fall to increase the gas tax.

Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini said mayors have to work quickly to come up with a plan, warning they could be sent back to the drawing board if the province calls an election before the legislation for the gas tax is passed. "If an election is called before the house sitting and passing this, it will be back to square one."


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