Maple Ridge tops No vote

77 per cent opposed sales tax increase for more transit expansion

It's back to square one in figuring out how to pay for transit in Metro Vancouver.

It's back to square one in figuring out how to pay for transit in Metro Vancouver.

Maple Ridge led the way in stuffing TransLink’s mail-in referendum on transit expansion into the trash can.

Seventy-seven per cent of those who voted in Maple Ridge said no to raising the provincial sales tax by half a per cent to pay for better transportation in Metro Vancouver.

Pitt Meadows followed closely with a 72-per-cent no vote.

“I’m disappointed, but not surprised,” said Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker.

He thinks people voted no because of their anger with TransLink and not because of the Mayors’ Council Transportation and Transit Plan.

“It does not appear to be a rejection or condemnation of the plan itself.”

The mayors rolled out the plan for the provincially ordered referendum. The plan called for a SkyTrain extension in Vancouver, light rail in Surrey, express bus lines in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, as well as more West Coast Express service.

Becker said polling and opinions showed that people were opposed to the tax and TransLink, not the plan.

“We, as a mayor’s council, need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath [water].

He wants to keep this plan and deal with antipathy to any kind of additional taxes.

“Mainly, it’s people’s mistrust, misunderstanding of TransLink.”

After the results Thursday, the Mayors’ Council demanded progress on reforming TransLink.

If it sees no progress by the end of the year, it may pull out of its advisory role to TransLink and disband.

“The mayors, almost to a person, don’t like the fact we have to go cap in hand to the provincial government for governance changes or funding changes,” Becker said.

“There needs to be a much better process over the next few months.”

Becker added that there’s no new provincial money on the table.

And neither will there be any new money from homeowners.

The Mayors’ Council also rejected any increase on increasing the TransLink property tax levy.

“We’re saying, ‘enough is enough.’ We’re not prepared to put more property tax burden for TransLink on the back of our taxpayers. That’s not on. That was reaffirmed this morning.”

Premier Christy Clark said in February that a referendum defeat could force mayors to raise property taxes.

Taxpayers in Metro Vancouver had more than two months to mail in a ballot voting yes or no.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read had opposed the entire referendum process because the provincial government was making mayors responsible for the system without giving them the authority to do so.

“We don’t have any control over true governance, control over TransLink,” she said in January.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said the result was a “resounding” no. “We need an immediate change of governance.

“Maple Ridge certainly sent a loud message,”  that people want more accountability and transparency. She wants mayors to create a model for TransLink.

The mayors  need more say in how the system operates. “Some of the stuff that went on in the campaign made no sense.”

She added it was a chance for the local MLAs to take a position.

And she hoped their position isn’t that the public was just against higher taxes, because it’s more than that, she added.

“We have a huge need for transit in the Lower Mainland,” said Read. “We’re growing steadily.”

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing said it’s time to reflect on the result. He didn’t want to comment until Transportation Minister Todd Stone addressed the result.

Bing also sees the no vote as a comment on TransLink because it had made so many mistakes and people ignored the positives of the transportation plan.

“Maybe the mayors are correct, maybe we do need to go in a different direction.”

She had said earlier that she was skeptical about TransLink promises for transit improvements in Maple Ridge.

Despite a letter from TransLink executives, she questioned whether an express bus service could be operating within three years after a PST increase.

TransLink was also “very non-committal” on a new West Coast Express station in the Albion area and said then that West Coast Express improvements wouldn’t come until the impact of express bus service is analyzed.

The proposed Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax that would have funded $7.5 billion in upgrades over 10 years was rejected with 61.7 per cent of voters saying No and 38.3 per cent saying Yes.

The Yes side lost in every major city of the region – even in Vancouver, where it got 49.1 per cent – and only won in sparsely populated areas like Belcarra and Bowen Island. (See breakdown of results by municipality below.)

The defeat leaves the region without an estimated $250 million in new revenue the tax would have brought to expand transit.

Surrey and Vancouver are expected to try to cobble together their own plan B strategies to built light rail in Surrey and a SkyTrain extension west along Broadway.

But the region will be without the funding required for a broad 25 per cent expansion of bus service, including many more frequent express bus routes that had been in the mayors’ plan, nor will it have money for increased SkyTrain, HandyDart, night bus or SeaBus service that was to have swiftly kicked in after a Yes vote.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner had warned that light rail would cost local residents more if the sales tax was defeated.

Nor is it clear if light rail in Surrey – assuming it can be built with hefty senior government contributions – will be as viable and efficient in covering its operating costs if it is not accompanied by much-bolstered connecting bus routes to bring riders.

“It sets up a really nasty situation where some people are getting improved rapid transit service in some areas but other people’s transit service is being cut back,” said Eric Doherty, a HandyDart advocate.

Yes forces had argued defeat would mean worsening congestion as the population grows and demand pressures worsen on a frozen transit system, spurring more transit users to drive instead.

No campaign head Jordan Bateman highlighted many voters’ unwillingness to pay more – especially to TransLink – and argued more money could be found if cities restrained their own spending and tax growth.

He successfully framed the campaign as a vote on TransLink, which he accused of mismanagement and which had come off major SkyTrain breakdowns and a failure to fully launch its new Compass card payment system on time.