Transit tax gets rough ride in Tri Cities telephone town hall

Most callers say they plan to vote No in transportation referendum

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

Most callers to a Tri Cities telephone town hall on the transit referendum Wednesday night said they will likely vote No, citing many different complaints about the state of transportation in the area.

The phone-in forum was hosted by former radio talk show host Bill Good along with Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart and Vancouver Board of Trade CEO Iain Black.

Two callers cited the high costs they pay now to cross the Port Mann Bridge – which was tolled by the provincial government, not TransLink – as one reason they can’t afford the proposed 0.5 per cent regional sales tax.

“I’m not paying another penny until someone creates a tolling system that’s equitable,” one woman said, adding a consistent tolls would ensure motorists don’t clog traffic by driving far out of their way to avoid the charges.

Black said road pricing is proposed for the region and could reform the toll structure but said it isn’t likely to come for 10 to 15 years.

Another caller said he won’t pay more until TransLink is eliminated and a new system is introduced.

Other issues raised included poor transit service, the condition of local roads and the lack of parking in the Burke Mountain neighbourhood of Coquitlam.

Stewart said the city set parking requirements that way on the basis good transit would allow many households to operate with fewer vehicles, but TransLink has not yet been able to deliver the required level of service.

“These are things we are trying to fix,” he said, adding that to reject new money that could actually improve transit is equivalent to saying “I’m going to kick myself.”

Another caller who said he votes on the basis of the broader good of society, not self interest, said he can’t vote Yes until there’s prudent management at TransLink.

Black likened a No vote over confidence in TransLink  to saying you don’t want more doctors because you don’t like the management at the Fraser Health Authority.

At one point Good came to the defence of TransLink’s board over the recent demotion of the former CEO, noting it was a legal requirement to pay him out, whether he stayed on or not.

One caller said she doesn’t believe the vote is as critical as Yes campaigners claim.

“The world isn’t going to come to an end if we don’t vote this thing through in the next few months,” she said.

Stewart predicted there will be no investments in transit for a decade without a Yes vote.

“Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good,” he said of the proposed upgrades and the state of TransLink.

Black, a former BC Liberal MLA, said a No vote would send a strong signal to government that the region’s residents oppose more spending and would not create any impetus to find a Plan B.

A poll of those dialed in to the town hall found a more even split of opinion than was evident among the callers who asked questions, with 23 per cent intended Yes voters, 18 per cent leaning Yes but with concerns, 19 per cent undecided and 40 per cent intending to vote No.

Four more telephone town halls are planned – Thursday March 5 with Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, Monday March 9 with North Vancouver mayors Richard Walton (District) and Darrell Mussatto (City), Monday March 16 with Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese and Tuesday March 17 with Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

Each town hall runs from 7 to 8 p.m. The dial in phone number is 1-877-229-8493 and the access code is 114095#.

Surrey North Delta Leader