Gas tax to increase 2¢ a litre

Levy, more tolls could be added, as well

An artist's rendering of the Evergreen Line travelling along North Road

An artist's rendering of the Evergreen Line travelling along North Road

Maple Ridge’s mayor likes the idea of tacking another two cents a litre on to the gasoline tax to get the $1.4-billion Coquitlam Evergreen line underway, but also says a final financial fix has to be found.

“We need to work on longer-term options,” Ernie Daykin said Wednesday after TransLink’s Mayors’ Council agreed on the extra two cents, which would be effective next April, as well as other initiatives.

The tax increase will generate about $40 million more in revenue, which should cover most of the annual borrowing cost of TransLink’s $400-million share for the project.

If the province agrees, TransLink fundraising could include longer term measures, such as a vehicle levy or road and bridge tolls.

“I think we need to be open enough to consider a range of options.”

Like his colleagues in TransLink, Daykin doesn’t like raising property taxes to pay for transportation.

“If we can find long-term funding sources, then additional property taxes won’t be necessary.”

But he would only support a vehicle levy that would be graduated – with motorists in areas such as Maple Ridge and Langley with less transit, paying reduced rates, while those with better transit, pay a higher levy. The levy should also be geared to the fuel efficiency of a vehicle.

“A flat fee – no, forget it.”

Daykin says even residents outside Metro Vancouver should contribute.

For instance, Abbotsford residents drive on Metro Vancouver roads and make up 40 per cent of the riders boarding the West Coast Express in Mission, while the City Abbotsford pays nothing for the service. Maybe a penny a litre could be added to gasoline in that city.

“I think we need to be open enough to consider a range of options.”

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom has said he’ll introduce the legislation in the fall to add the extra two cents on to the 15 cents a litre of gasoline that TransLink already charges, while the other funding sources will be discussed over the next several months.

If more sources of cash are found, TransLink can start on other items on its to-do list, like RapidBus, SeaBus, SkyTrain station and road improvements.

But Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are not on that list.

However, Daykin pointed out that new funding will allow the $900 million earmarked for the major road network to remain, which will help fund projects in Maple Ridge.

Meanwhile, building the Evergreen line, “gets options to the car closer to Maple Ridge.”

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean thinks the gas tax should just be increased by 3.5 cents a litre, bringing it 18.5 cents a litre.

That would solve all of TranLink’s financial problems, he said.

“I think the gasoline tax is the closest to demand management that there is,” MacLean added.

“If you don’t use your vehicle much, you don’t pay as much gas tax. If you take transit or a have a fuel-efficient car, you reduce your gasoline tax.

“Either that, or start messing with the vehicle levy.”

But he pointed out that the transportation ministry says increasing the tax to that amount by next spring would be too much of an increase, too soon.

MacLean said there’s a mindset that transportation services ideally, just have to break even.

“In the rest of the world, nothing happens unless you make a modest profit.”

Ottawa’s $417-million commitment to the Evergreen Line remains on the table and will be there when required, federal transportation minister Denis Lebel promised at a stop in Surrey Monday.

The province has pledged $400 million, but Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom has indicated that could rise to cover any shortfall – mayors won’t be asked for more.

The Evergreen Line has been stalled for months since mayors last fall rejected a TransLink proposal to pay for the contribution solely through property taxes.

– with Jeff Nagel files