TransLink’s Mayors’ Council voted last Thursday to pass a 1.5 cent gas tax increase to fund a $30-million funding gap to pay for regional transit upgrades.
The approved $7.3-billion improvements are part ofPhase 2 of the Mayors’ 10-Year Vision to deliver transportation and service improvements across the region.
The Mayors’ Council voted in favour to have the province introduce legislation in spring 2019 which will allow the region to increase the gas fuel tax up to 1.5 cents per litre. Currently, the gas tax is 17 cents per litre, so the 2019 increase will result in 18.5 cents per litre. A report in May revealed that Metro Vancouver drivers pay the highest tax on gas throughout Canada. According to TransLink, the gas tax hasn’t increased since 2012.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read was among those opposed to the increase in gas tax however.
Read said people in the eastern parts of Metro Vancouver have fewer transit options and are forced to pay the extra in gas tax.
“The gas tax is just a uniform tax that really penalizes the people who have to drive the farthest,” Read said.
Read said she voted against the investment plan to send a message on behalf of Maple Ridge residents that the fuel tax and unequitable funding mechanisms are not on.
Others to oppose the plan were the mayors of Port Moody, Anmore, Township of Langley, and the Tsawwassen First Nation chief.
Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker voted in favour of the investment plan but remains reluctant to the fuel tax increase.
“As a funding source it’s not sustainable, it’s going to go down over time with electric vehicles and it’s unequitable,” said Becker.
Becker said Pitt Meadows is not the beneficiary of transit improvements in Phase 2, resulting in residents spending more time in their vehicles and less time on public transit.
“Gas tax will fall unfairly on the shoulders of those who are poorly served by transit.”
Becker voted in favour of the overall investment plan because he said it didn’t make sense to oppose it because of his disagreement with the $30-million funding source.
“I supported the motion to defer the gas tax to allow staff to go back and discuss it, but the deferral motion was defeated so at that point, we were left with approving or not approving the investment plan. By adopting the gas tax and confirming we meet the legislative requirements for the investment plan in Phase 2, we can now move ahead with the implication,” Becker added.
Becker believes once the gas tax is implemented, Pitt Meadows residents will cross the Metro Vancouver border into Mission to purchase gas and avoid the tax.
Becker added that earlier this year, the Mayors’ Council presented a fuel tax as one of many funding options, but it was denounced as a viable option.
Before the tax comes into effect, Becker said he plans on suggesting through the Mayors’ council finance committee the decision be revisited.
Pitt Meadows Coun. Bill Dingwall also opposes the gas tax increase because of the unfair impact on citizens who commute to work.
“It unfairly penalizes our citizens who likely have further distances to travel for work, sports and social activities than others, as well as having considerably less public transit options that larger cities have. In Pitt Meadows, about 85 per cent commute by car because there’s not enough transit to get there in a timely manner.”
Dingwall believes transit users are not contributing in the same way drivers are and suggests a generalized tax for all citizens would be more fair and sensible.
“That way it hits everybody. They don’t have to raise it as much because they’d be hitting everybody.”
Phase 2 of the plan will include an extension of the Millennium Skytrain Line, construction of light rail transit in Surrey, more hours of bus service, and upgrades to the Major Road Network.
The region will also fund the plan through transit fare increases, property tax increases, parking tax increases and increased revenue from ridership growth.