TransLink’s new plan to raise property taxes, fares and create a new regional development surcharge to expand transit service appears to be on track to get final approval from Metro Vancouver mayors on Nov. 23.
That’s when the mayors’ council and TransLink board meet to consider the new investment plan, crafted to take advantage of the federal government’s more generous cost-sharing formula.
Public consultation wrapped up last Thursday on the planned funding sources and the specific proposals for rolling out more transit service in each part of the region, starting early in the new year.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said she’s optimistic most mayors will approve the 10-year vision next week after receiving generally positive feedback from the public.
“I was pretty encouraged,” Hepner said. “Primarily what we heard was ‘Get on with it, we support what you’re doing, and we just really are looking for action.'”
The turnaround in fortunes for transit advocates has been swift despite the sales tax referendum defeat barely 15 months ago that some feared would freeze transportation investment indefinitely.
Instead, the new federal government pledged to fund half instead of the traditional one-third of major projects, reducing the regional share mayors had to find.
The plan leans on existing sources like property tax and fares, which mayors can raise without triggering another referendum under the legislation passed by the provincial government.
Public responses were mixed on the proposed property tax increase, which would add an extra $3 in TransLink property tax each year for the average assessed home, over and above automatic increases in property tax TransLink is able to levy each year.
More than 500 commenters opposed the fare hikes, saying the system is already expensive and any hikes would hurt low-income riders and potentially spur others to instead drive and add to road congestion.
“The message there was that it’s already a costly place to live and any increase in fares has to be done with great care and over a period of time,” Hepner said.
The proposed fare increases would require riders who now pay $2.10 for one zone of travel with stored value on a Compass card to pay $2.20 in 2017 and $2.40 by 2019. One zone monthly passes would climb from $91 to $98 over the same period. Fares were last raised in 2013.
The proposed development cost charge on new residential and commercial buildings would be designed to generate $20 million a year, although details have not yet been determined.
Some respondents said the 10 per cent transit service increase is good, but not enough.
Also proposed is a 15 per cent increase in HandyDart service and a 20 per cent boost for rail, including SkyTrain and West Coast Express.
MORE INFO: Phase 1 plan details
Many mayors are unhappy about being forced to raise TransLink property taxes, rather than use a different source.
But Hepner said she believes most will agree it’s worth it.
“What we we’re facing is we have this once in a lifetime opportunity of this money being available and we have to solve this. For $3 approximately per household, that’s worth the change.”
Assuming the first phase of the plan gets the green light, Metro mayors will still have to find more revenue in the months ahead to finance the second phase, under which major rapid transit extensions in Vancouver and Surrey would finally get built.
Hepner said it’s not yet clear whether those talks will focus on an option such as an annual vehicle levy, mobility pricing, or something else.