Metro Vancouver mayors want to increase PST

But Maple Ridge's Nicole Read votes against proposal, says it's downloading from province

Metro Vancouver mayors have opted for a half-per-cent hike in the provincial sales tax to pay for more transit – over the protest of Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, who voted against it.

“With all the problems with TransLink, I don’t believe they’re going to spend the money properly,” Read said Thursday.

Along with West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith and Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, she voted against the proposal to raise the PST in Metro Vancouver from seven to 7.5 per cent.

If taxpayers approve the tax hike next March, the new tax will raise another $250 million yearly for TransLink and cost the average homeowner another $125 a year. The new money will help pay for the mayors’ vision for transportation over the decade.

Read, though, said there’s no priority list in the vision saying when each part of Metro Vancouver will get its projects.

The mayors’ full $7.5-billion 10-year package of upgrades – unveiled last June – includes a Broadway subway, light rail in Surrey, 11 new B-line express bus routes, frequent SeaBuses and a 25-per-cent hike in bus service, plus more money for HandyDart and West Coast Express.

The Vancouver subway or Surrey light rail project could take all of the new tax money, leaving Maple Ridge with nothing, Read said.

“I want to be able to say exactly, this is what the increase is for and absolutely – this is when you’re going to get it.

“It’s not palatable any other way.”

The proposed referendum question will list key projects that would be built with the dedicated tax. It asks: “Do you support a half percentage point (0.5 per cent) increase to the provincial sales tax in Metro Vancouver, dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan, with independent audits and public reporting?”

Read said it wasn’t easy voting against the new tax, given she supports the mayors’ vision for transportation improvements, and acknowledged that the tax hike is likely the fairest way to raise money.

She and the two other mayors were outvoted 18-3.

“For me, this was a governance issue,” she said. “The province has basically downloaded the political accountability on to the mayors.”

She has no problem with being accountable, but said mayors then also need more responsibility in overseeing TransLink.

“Everything in my core says Maple Ridge residents will not sit well with having to pay more taxes and seeing very few services.”

She doesn’t know if the referendum will pass when Metro Vancouver residents vote next spring, assuming the provincial government OKs the question.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart called the plan “an enormous jump forward” that the region cannot afford to reject.

Read added that in Maple Ridge, TransLink’s service optimization plan, which has reduced some bus routes if they’re not used, doesn’t give people enough time to begin using transit.

“My sense from the public is that they don’t feel that they have enough options … shuttles coming every two hours.”

But she says Maple Ridge will eventually get a rapid bus service.

“We need a B-line that is truly an express bus. We need a fast B-line.”

People are looking for a rapid system, with signal priority, to connect quickly between Maple Ridge downtown and the new Evergreen SkyTrain in Coquitlam.

Coun. Gordy Robson, former mayor of Maple Ridge, supported Read.

“Because we’re not getting anything,” in the plan, he said.

Robson said it was ridiculous for TransLink to build a subway to UBC, adding that the university should share the cost, when considering all the condo developments that have taken place on UBC grounds.

Or, a light rail service should connect to UBC, he added.


– with Black Press files