Mayors hit transit referendum campaign trail

Metro Vancouver voters urged to say Yes to 0.5 per cent tax for transit and transportation system expansion

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote

Metro Vancouver mayors formally kicked off their referendum information campaign in support of a new 0.5 per cent sales tax Monday, saying it’s critical to the future of the region to improve transit and transportation.

Several mayors rode transit to Waterfront Station where they highlighted the broad expansion of transit service that would come under their plan, while emphasizing that a No vote will leave residents increasingly stuck in traffic.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson pitched the tax as a minimal cost – 35 cents a day per household – to deliver key upgrades ranging from a light rail network in Surrey, to a subway along Broadway, more SeaBus service and 11 new B-Line express bus routes.

“Our constituents have told us to fix the transit and transportation problems plaguing our growing communities,” said Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore. “Wasted time sitting in traffic jams, pass-ups by full buses or having no buses at all costs everyone.”

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said congestion now costs the economy $1 billion a year and that will rise to $2 billion without the promised improvements.

Mayors are promising to bring their campaign experience in town hall meetings and on social media to hammer home the message.

Hepner said environmentalists, business leaders and students all “get” the need for the transit expansion but said she believes more work is needed to convince seniors in particular.

“I’m not sure if they actually understand that it means more HandyDart service as well as more bus service,” she said.

Better bus service – a 25 per cent increase is promised to happen relatively quickly after a Yes vote – would mean much more of the region’s residents will live close to a frequent service route, with buses guaranteed at least every 15 minutes all day.

Surrey stands to gain from the light rail lines that would connect Guildford and Newton to City Centre and run southeast down Fraser Highway to Langley City.

“By the time light rail is finished, 200,000 of our residents will be within walking distance of rail,” Hepner said. “That will be significant in removing folks from their vehicles.”

She highlighted the promised new Pattullo Bridge – even though it would be largely funded by tolls – and various road widening projects for motorists and goods movement.

But she also said people who drive and don’t use transit need to realize they still benefit if there’s less traffic clogging the road in front of them, or if there’s an opportunity for their family to go from two cars to one.

There was little mention of TransLink at the launch – No campaigners have sought to raise the spectre of more money going to what they claim is a wasteful transportation authority.

Hepner said independent audits will ensure the money raised from the 0.5 per cent congestion improvement tax would only go to the projects identified by the mayors’ plan.

She said she’ll urge voters to “think in the broadest way possible of what’s in the best interests of the region” and not focus solely on anger with TransLink.

Asked if the mayors are considering further steps to assure voters it won’t be business as usual at TransLink, Hepner noted she and Robertson, the new chair of the mayors’ council chair, will now sit on the TransLink board.

“It allows us to have a better understanding of their operations and what we would like to see moving forward.”

The mayors aren’t all on board.

West Vancouver, Burnaby and Maple Ridge mayors are opposed.

The No TransLink Tax campaign launched last month and a dozens of groups supporting the plan under the banner of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition are expected to launch their own Yes campaign Thursday.

Ballots are expected to go out in mid-March and are supposed to be mailed back by May 29.

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