TransLink collected less money last year on its 15 cent a litre gas tax

Gas tax take down, riders up at TransLink

More motorists avoid fueling in Metro Vancouver – or paying bridge tolls

TransLink’s much-hated gas tax isn’t pulling in as much cash as it used to, as motorists either gas up outside the region or simply drive less.

The transportation authority took in $312 million in 2011 from the fuel tax, according to its annual report.

That was down nearly $12 million from 2010 as motorists bought 5.9 per cent less gasoline or diesel within Metro Vancouver.

“High prices of fuel and a strong Canadian dollar would have contributed to the decline in fuel sales volume, which likely migrated to the Fraser Valley Regional District and Whatcom County,” the report said.

It said other factors likely include more fuel-effficient vehicles, increased use of transit or cycling, and less commuting overall.

“If the trend continues, the impact of this reduction could be in the magnitude of a $450- to $550-million revenue loss in a 10-year period.”

The gas tax that goes to TransLink increased this month from 15 to 17 cents a litre and the hike is expected to raise an extra $40 million a year.

But concern that the gas tax may be an increasingly unstable source going forward is one reason area mayors have talked about using other revenue sources, like a vehicle levy or road pricing, to fund TransLink’s longer term expansion.

TransLink says 8.6 per cent more passengers took transit in Metro Vancouver last year, setting a new ridership record.

The annual report also says it spent $56 million less than it budgeted.

But officials say the savings have no bearing on TransLink’s need for an extra $30 million per year to cover the transit expansion committed to under the Moving Forward program approved by area mayors last year. Money from the gas tax is dedicated to TransLink’s share of building the Evergreen Line.

Overall, TransLink took in nearly $1.2 billion in revenue and spent $34 million more than that. It covered that deficit by drawing down its reserves to $288 million, which was less of a reduction than planned.

The reserve fund is expected to run out in 2016 but officials say they continue to search for efficiencies to stretch it further.

TransLink took in a record $444 million from transit fares and the higher ridership was partly due to more passengers taking transit for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Property taxes generated $298 million, up nearly three per cent.

Tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge generated $33.7 million for TransLink, $4 million or 10.8 per cent less than expected.

Nearly 9.8 million vehicles crossed the toll bridge in 2011 – up 12.6 per cent from about 8.7 million in 2010 – but well short of TransLink’s budget target of 10.5 million.

TransLink expects the Golden Ears numbers may improve in 2013, after tolls are added to the Port Mann Bridge this December.

Transit costs accounted for $816 million – two-thirds of total spending – while TransLink corporate costs accounted for $70 million, $46 million went to roads and bridges and $27 million funded the Transit Police.

Nearly $250 million went to either debt payments, interest or capital repayments for the Golden Ears Bridge.