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Mayors appear headed for .5 per cent sales tax to fund 10 years of transit improvements

December 11th, 2014 · 83 Comments

We’ll be hearing any hour now what the final wording and funding choice is for the regional mayors, as they head into the referendum. But all indications I’ve had the past two weeks is that it’s the sales tax only, as I wrote in my Globe story.

Fuel tax is seen as a losing proposition — revenues from fuel taxes are going down, as taxes plus other car costs are pushing drivers to drive less, buy more fuel-efficient cars, etc. A regional carbon tax would suffer from the same problems.

And a vehicle levy would be seen as penalizing drivers only, not the way to win a transit referendum. As TransLink surveys have shown in the past, people who predominantly drive tend to have more negative views of TransLink, are more likely to think money is being wasted, don’t have as positive views of transit as those who actually use it, etc.

So even though a sales tax has its problems, it’s spread around in a way likely to be perceived as more equal. (Yes, I know, transit riders will now be double-paying, through fares and the sales tax.)

And it seems as though Transportation Minister Todd Stone, after a strange wobble last week that threw everyone into a panic, is back on board (pun intended) with the general idea.

So the Retail Council of B.C. likely won’t be on side with this, and Langley businesses probably won’t be unhappy. But there are no great choices.

I know the mayors’ council and many others would like to move to a total road-pricing scheme at some point, i.e. billing people for their road use based on kilometres, size of vehicle, and time of day that they past through certain congestion points. A system like that could encourage people to travel during off-peak times to save money, which is as good as building new roads in terms of creating more capacity. And there’d likely be some kind of discount for people who have to drive, because there’s no decent transit in their areas.

But all of that will take time to figure out and the mayors figured they needed a money source they can tap into instantly, so the buses can be ordered, and the planning for the Broadway subway and Surrey light rail can start.

We’ve seen the announcement of the coalition supporting this emerge. Now waiting to see who will be lining up on the No or Nitpicking about Details side.

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