The 'Leap Ahead' transit plan proposed by two transit advocates envisions new light rail lines (dark green)

Advocates push 0.5 per cent TransLink sales tax

Proposal calls for $6.5-billion rapid transit expansion

Two South of Fraser transit advocates are pushing for a long wish list of transit expansion projects in Metro Vancouver and they want a new 0.5 per cent regional sales tax to pay for it all.

Surrey’s Paul Hillsdon and Nathan Pachal of the group South Fraser On Trax say the package of upgrades they’ve designed offers something for every part of the region.

Most of the $6.5 billion in capital spending they propose would go to a $2.9-billion SkyTrain extension down Broadway to UBC and for $2.1 billion to build new light-rail lines in Surrey to Guildford, Langley City and Newton, with a B-Line express bus route south to White Rock.

They also want TransLink to build a previously proposed but shelved $144-million transit gondola to SFU atop Burnaby Mountain.

And they propose several additional B-Lines that would extend quasi-rapid transit bus service to Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge on Hwy 7; down the 200 Street spine of Langley; along Marine Drive connecting West Vancouver and North Vancouver; as well as on Hastings Street and 41st Avenue in Vancouver and Burnaby. Existing buses over the Port Mann Bridge on Highway 1 and on Highway 99 from Surrey to Richmond would also be upgraded to B-Lines.

They say a half-point hike in the provincial sales tax levied only in Metro would raise $250 million a year – enough to cover the operating costs of the new lines as well as one third of the capital cost, on the assumption Victoria and Ottawa pay the other two thirds.

“We’ve spent 10 years squabbling about what kind of tool can be used to fund the service,” Pachal said, adding the sales tax wouldn’t rile motorists as much as other TransLink sources like tolls or a vehicle levy.

“This is fair and equitable.”

He said a higher regional PST would grow with the economy and pull in money from visitors and tourists, while providing exemptions for basics like groceries to help shield lower-income residents.

B.C. residents have paid higher sales taxes not long ago.

Over the past decade, the federal GST has been cut by two per cent and the provincial PST was trimmed by 0.5 per cent.

“We feel there is wiggle room,” Pachal said.

Metro Vancouver mayors also suggested a small regional sales tax early this year.

But mayors’ council chair Richard Walton said he envisioned something smaller – perhaps 0.1 or 0.2 per cent coming from that source – as part of a mix of other transit funding tools.

Walton said there’s no doubt sales tax could generate a lot of revenue, but affordability would be a concern.

He said the advocates’ claim a 0.5 per cent regional tax works out to just 35 cents per day per resident still adds up to an extra $42 per month for a family of four.

“It’s not a trivial or insignificant amount,” Walton said. “We’re not advocating that outright at all. We’re advocating an approach that is going to look at a number of different funding sources.”

Walton said a solution must fund not just transit expansion but other transportation projects, like the replacement of aging bridges and tunnels.

The report by Pachal and Hillsdon, dubbed Leap Ahead, is the first major volley of return fire from transit supporters who are dismayed public debate has centred on complaints of waste at TransLink and opposition to any tax hikes.

The document, at leapaheadyvr.com, claims the the number of rapid transit stations in the region would be doubled from 65 to 138 and all the new lines could be operational by 2020, providing a viable transit alternative for motorists who may by then face tolls on a replaced Pattullo Bridge or Massey Tunnel.

It predicts major economic, social and environmental benefits would spring from the transit investment.

It remains unclear what question will be put to voters in a promised referendum, but Walton said he meets Transportation Minister Todd Stone again Sept. 3 to discuss that issue as well as governance reforms for TransLink.

Mayors in the spring opposed going to referendum.

“We’re going forward with an open mind, in a spirit of cooperation,” he said.

But Walton said the “huge questions” outstanding are who will pay for the referendum and who will champion the ‘Yes’ side.

He said the HST referendum had millions in government money and the finance minister behind the pro side but still failed.

“We’re being asked to do something that isn’t in the legislation, without resources and with no time.”

TransLink must also decide by year end what projects would get built if a referendum on new funding sources passes.

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