The province has introduced legislation to raise gas taxes two cents a litre in Metro Vancouver to help fund TransLink’s expansion plan and build the Evergreen Line.
The increase, requested this month by a majority vote of Metro mayors, would take effect next April and is expected to quickly pass with the support of the NDP.
Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom said the province will then formalize its agreement with TransLink, issue a request for proposals for the Evergreen Line to three pre-qualified bidders and get shovels in the ground “as quickly as possible.”
He was reluctant to promise a construction start by year-end but vowed it will be soon.
The long-stalled $1.4-billion SkyTrain extension to Coquitlam was once sidelined by a decision to build the Canada Line first and had been derailed in recent years by a deadlock with the province on how to fund TransLink’s share.
Lekstrom and mayors agreed earlier this summer to raise the gas tax and work together to find new funding sources over the next year.
He repeated that pledge and said he’s very aware Metro mayors oppose any scenario that would increase property taxes, which is the backup mechanism if talks with Victoria fail to yield new sources.
“I’m an optimist,” Lekstrom said. “I believe we’re going to find a solution that’s going to work for everyone.”
That’s critical, he said, because TransLink needs a long-term funding solution so it can build more infrastructure beyond what’s contemplated in the new Moving Forward plan.
“There has to be some certainty going into the future.”
Lekstrom also repeated a commitment to meet the mayors and look at how to fix any problems in how TransLink is governed.
Mayors complain they have no control over TransLink’s priorities – decided by an unelected professional board – and that their only role is to vote on tax and fare increases.
The gas tax increase will give TransLink an extra $40 million of the $70 million per year it needs to fund the new plan. The transportation authority will take in an estimated $364 million in fuel taxes in 2012 from its dedicated 17 cents a litre.
B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins opposes the gas tax hike and said the decision of both the Liberals and NDP to support it leaves the Tories as “the only fiscally responsible party” in the province.
“This is a tax essentially on the working poor,” he said, adding transit doesn’t work for many Metro Vancouver residents. “It’s a tax on the commuter.”
Local residents are already paying the highest gas taxes in Canada, he said.
He said a one-per-cent cut in the budgets of Metro Vancouver cities could have funded the Evergreen Line and that other taxes already collected could be reapportioned to finance other TransLink needs.