– Mayors likely to okay extra $130 million for TransLink

BC LOCAL NEWS

By Jeff Nagel

Metro Vancouver mayors are expected to vote Friday to approve a $130-million annual funding lift for TransLink to bridge a growing deficit and avert deep transit service cuts.

That would trigger a three cent a litre increase in fuel taxes as well as a series of transit fare increases in 2013, 2016 and 2019 (when one-zone cash fares will hit $3.25) to finance the new 10-year plan.

Riders who prepay would be hit harder faster, facing an immediate 10 per cent increase in the price of monthly passes and discount ticket books.

The transit system would essentially be kept on life support by the increases.

The alternative is for mayors to refuse any funding increase, forcing an array of cuts, including a 40 per cent reduction in bus service.

This week’s vote follows a closed-door meeting Monday between transportation minister Shirley Bond and area mayors, who say they didn’t get far in persuading the minister to help find new sustainable funding sources for TransLink.

“We have a long way to go to understand each other’s needs,” Langley Township Mayor Rick Green said.

His council is one of several in the region, including Surrey, Delta, that has agreed to vote in favour of the $130-million package, which Green predicts will pass.

While it would avert drastic cuts, it would also preclude any rapid transit expansion, including construction of the promised Evergreen Line to Coquitlam, which TransLink says is impossible without a much more ambitious plan requiring closer to $450 million a year.

Cities had been poised to consider a bigger funding increase, stumping up $275 million in large part by charging an annual vehicle levy, provided the province delivers other sources, such as road pricing, to add another $175 million.

That’s off the table because Victoria balked and Bond on Monday continued to argue that local cities can raise more for TransLink from property taxes – an option the mayors reject.

“There’s no way property taxation can take double digit increases,” said Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, who said he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who chairs the Metro Vancouver board, said local taxpayers will also face huge utility cost increases in the years ahead to pay for sewage treatment plant upgrades and garbage disposal solutions.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said property taxes can’t be touched and Victoria must recognize that the region needs more tools to fund TransLink.

“Intelligent and thoughtful people can find a solution,” he said, adding the region must continue to lobby Victoria for more money no matter what decision is made Friday.

He said it may be possible to trim TransLink’s $450-million expansion plan to around $380 million and perhaps lower based on savings that may be found by B.C.’s Comptroller-General.

An audit of TransLink by that office ordered by Bond still isn’t available and mayors won’t know its contents before they vote Friday.

At least one mayor won’t vote for any funding increase.

Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan will try to persuade the rest of the mayors’ council to freeze TransLink funding and precipitate a crisis.

“The provincial government would be forced to the table,” he said. “The timing is exactly right with the Olympics approaching. The provincial government is in a position where they have to deliver.”

Corrigan said TransLink will soon be losing $150 million a year in large part because of costly manipulation of transit priorities by the province, including the construction of the Canada Line as well as Victoria’s recent directives to build the Evergreen Line with SkyTrain technology and to install turnstiles on SkyTrain.

It will be a mistake if mayors okay more funding now, he said, because it will then become even harder to get the province to step up with more sources.

“They’re about to make another leap of faith and commit another $130 million of wages and taxes and fares but without any concurrent commitment from the provincial government.”

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