New tools to fund TransLink would mainly take more cash from the pockets of motorists.

Mayors seek car levy, extra carbon tax and road pricing

All proposed new sources of cash for TransLink would take more from drivers' wallets

Metro Vancouver drivers may pay either an annual vehicle registration fee or a new regional carbon tax to shore up TransLink’s finances for the short term.

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation wants the provincial government to enable both of those sources as possible ways to raise $30 million a year that will otherwise get added to TransLink property taxes starting in 2013.

And the mayors are also asking the province to authorize a comprehensive system of road pricing that could add tolls to bridges, highways and other major arteries throughout the region to fund future rounds of transit expansion.

In addition to road pricing, long-term funding sources proposed in a letter from the mayors to Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom include higher gas taxes, the vehicle fee and either a regional carbon tax or a share of revenue from the existing carbon tax.

All of them would hit motorists up for more money.

“Most people get that if we want more we have to find a way to pay for it,” Mayors Council vice-chair Peter Fassbender said.

“We’re looking at putting everything on the table and seeing what makes sense. We’re initially zeroing in on those things that the work we’ve done so far suggests are the most equitable and fair.”

The mayors hope the province will pass legislation this spring to enable both the short- and long-term funding sources.

They would then decide exactly which of the two short-term sources to introduce later this year to avoid the property tax increase, which would charge the average Metro house an extra $23.

The mayors council would likely take a number of years to decide which longer-term funding sources to use and how to structure a road pricing system, if that is to be used.

Fassbender had no estimate yet of how much an annual vehicle fee might average, but the letter from the mayors suggests it should vary based on engine size, fuel consumption and emissions rating to reward fuel-efficient cars and punish high-emitting gas guzzlers.

TransLink previously proposed a vehicle registration fee in 2010 varying from $15 to $55 per vehicle per year, averaging $38. It was expected to generate $39 million but it did not proceed that year.

Fassbender said one option would be to charge a lower vehicle fee in parts of the region that are underserved by transit and more in areas with good service.

“We see it as [charged] across passenger and commercial vehicles – not just one category,” he said. “We want to be sure whatever we do is fair and equitable across the spectrum.”

He denied the request for enabling legislation now is an attempt to get new sources in place before they become a political football going into next year’s provincial election.

“When it comes to government policy, there are no guarantees,” Fassbender said, acknowledging the NDP could take power and dismantle new TransLink taxes.

“If it’s in legislation, they have one of two choices: they honour it or they change it.”

He said the mayors agree they must signal their preferred direction on TransLink funding regardless of political considerations.

The former NDP government once authorized TransLink to collect a vehicle levy but then refused to let ICBC collect it after the Opposition Liberals vowed to scrap the fee going into the 2001 election.

The decision led to a decade of underfunding of TransLink, during which a parking stall tax was briefly added only to be dismantled the next year by the province after vocal protests.

Lekstrom was non-committal on whether the province would approve a regional carbon tax or direct ICBC to collect the vehicle fee for TransLink.

He predicted many Metro residents would find the property tax increase “more palatable” than paying more to own a car or to refuel it.

And he stuck to the province’s position that it is not currently considering a change to its tolling policy to allow road pricing and any move in that direction would take strong public support after massive consultation.

“I think the mayors’ council has a lot of work to do there,” Lekstrom said. “I can tell you at this point the government has not entertained such a scheme.”

Asked if he’s concerned traffic will worsen from drivers diverting from toll bridges to free routes, Lekstrom said he’s not sure.

“We have the new South Fraser Perimeter Road,” he said. “If people are not going to use the new [Port Mann] bridge because of the toll, they will have a free alternative.”

Lekstrom said any further hike in the gas tax is likely a “non-starter” since TransLink is about to get a two cent per litre increase starting April 1.

And Lekstrom said the province definitely won’t hand over any share of the existing carbon tax, which he said is fully committed for income tax reduction.

Mayors also want ongoing independent performance audits of TransLink by either the province’s auditor general or its new municipal auditor to assure taxpayers they’re getting good value.

But they said in the letter they want Victoria to legislate the new tools even if an in-depth audit can’t be done first.

Lekstrom called that an apparent reversal from prior statements by mayors that an audit is essential ahead of new funding.

“They seem to have backed away from that a little bit,” he said. “I’m not sure the public would accept that.”

The mayors also hope more savings might be found within TransLink by the TransLink Commissioner, who reports next month on the justification for a planned 12.5 per cent fare increase next year.

The extra $30 million mayors are trying to raise is part of a $70-million increase in TransLink spending approved by the mayors last year to fund both the construction of the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam as well as a broader package of transit upgrades. The other $40 million comes from the gas tax hike starting next month.

In the letter, mayors said they want a veto over not just TransLink’s supplemental budgets – which require extra funding – but also over the base budgets, which the mayors say often don’t reflect their spending priorities but grow through an automatic three per cent a year increase in property taxes.

The mayors’ council also wants the unelected TransLink board to open its meetings to the public.

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

Just Posted

Video series reassures kids that Santa still coming to town, despite social distancing

Mission’s Junction Shopping Centre created the series to ease children’s fears

Permanent fish-passage solutions considered at Big Bar landslide

151,000 salmon detected this year north of site

CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of Sept. 27

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Action demanded over death of First Nations youth in Abbotsford group home

Family and Indigenous organizations push for thorough investigation

Expanded COVID-19 testing and collection centre opening at UFV

New Abbotsford service location will now conduct as many as 500 tests daily

105 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death as health officials urge B.C. to remember safety protocols

There are currently 1268 active cases, with 3,337 people under public health monitoring

U.S. Presidential Debate Takeaways: An acrid tone from the opening minute

Here are key takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on Nov. 3

Another death as COVID-19 outbreak at Delta Hospital climbs to 18 cases

Total of 12 patients and six staff in one unit have tested positive for COVID-19: Fraser Health

B.C. nurses report rise in depression, anxiety, exhaustion due to pandemic

A new UBC study looks into how the COVID-19 response has impacted frontline nurses

National child-care plan could help Canada rebound from COVID-induced economic crisis: prof

A $2 billion investment this year could help parents during second wave of pandemic

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Search suspended for Indigenous elder last seen mushroom picking in northwest B.C.

Mushroom picker Thomas (Tommy) Dennis has been missing since Sept. 16

16 MLAs retiring from B.C. politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation

Taxpayers pay $4 for every dollar MLAs contribute to their pensions

‘Bonnie’ and ‘Henry’ among latest litter of service dog puppies

B.C. Alberta Guide Dogs names two pups after provincial health officer

Most Read