TransLink thinks a recent poll demonstrates that a referendum on transit spending is winnable.
Despite the naysayers among the region’s mayors, who sometimes seem to be the biggest obstacle to transit improvements, the idea of a transit referendum makes a great deal of sense.
Instead of ad hoc tax increases like the two cents a litre which mayors came up with at the last minute to help fund the Evergreen Line, residents will get a specific list of suggested transportation improvements and how they can be funded. They can then choose to accept or reject that proposal.
The poll results indicate that a majority of those paying attention to this issue would likely support added spending on transit. There is significant support in areas where transit is already a reasonable alternative to driving. But even in areas like Surrey and Langley with fewer transit options, there is decent support.
However, the poll indicates that south-of-the-Fraser residents are more opposed to additional taxes to fund TransLink.
This is not surprising. People in this area are already paying bridge tolls – something that drivers in other parts of the region do not have to deal with, except on the rare occasion when they venture out on Highway 1 or cross the Golden Ears.
The 35 per cent of south-of-the-Fraser residents who oppose tax hikes also likely pay more in car expenses than many others. They likely pay higher fees for driving to work, put in more gas, and pay more to maintain their vehicles, which run up mileage faster than many cars owned by people in Vancouver or Burnaby.
Interestingly, the two most popular tax options in the poll were universal bridge tolls, which would even out costs among all vehicle owners, and a $75 vehicle tax, also a more evenly-distributed tax burden. Both received 27 per cent support. A one per cent rise in regional sales tax was less popular and a carbon tax had only 15 per cent support. Unlike many mayors, residents know the province isn’t giving any carbon tax revenue to TransLink and they will simply pay even more for fuel than they do now.
Simon Fraser University City Program Director Gordon Price, a former Vancouver councillor and transportation expert, says the referendum has a better chance if it is framed about building for the future. If TransLink becomes a focal point, it has less chance of success.
That’s likely even more true after a series of SkyTrain breakdowns and the revelation that TransLink senior staff got hefty raises when there was supposed to be a pay freeze.
Surrey could benefit from more transportation funding. The mayors’ ambitious plan calls for more rapid transit and significantly more bus service south of the Fraser.
For many Surrey residents to consider a “yes” vote, those improvements must be seen to be coming soon. There have been too many promises over the years that have been slow to materialize – such as rapid bus service over the Port Mann Bridge which only began for Surrey residents last week, with the #555 bus now making a stop at 156 Street. It took the concerted efforts of 18-year-old Daryl Dela Cruz to push the city into spending $193,000 to make the stop finally happen. It should have been done by the province as it was promised as part of the Port Mann Bridge.
Nonetheless, it is now reality. Dela Cruz deserves thanks from Surrey residents. Hopefully he and other transit advocates will pay close attention to the promises made about improvements to transit here, as the referendum date nears.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.