Province OKs TransLink referendum question

Mayors' Council proposal to raise PST by half a per cent gets the go-ahead

There's been no increase in the number of West Coast Express trains since the service started in 1995.

The province approved a TransLink referendum on Thursday for this spring, when Lower Mainland residents will vote on a 0.5 per cent increase in the B.C. sales tax to fund the transportation authority’s 10-year plan.

New B-line bus routes, shorter waits for buses and upgrades to the West Coast Express service are the main benefits that residents of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will get in the deal. That’s what Pitt Meadows council heard from Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore at their Tuesday night meeting.

The Port Coquitlam mayor is also a key voice for the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation, and explained the upcoming TransLink referendum, which will determine how to fund the transit authority’s 10-year plan, if successful.

If the plan is approved by voters, Moore said more busing will be the easiest for TransLink to roll out. So communities from Coquitlam to Maple Ridge will get their improvements first.

“We’ll see the most impact, almost immediately.”

Two new B-line buses will connect Coquitlam Centre to both downtown Maple Ridge and downtown Langley, via the Golden Ears Bridge.

There are currently three B-line routes in the Lower Mainland, but that would increase to 14, served by 159 new buses.

These buses have limited stops, greater capacity, have their own lane, can go through red lights, and are touted by TransLink as being faster than driving.

“It’s frequent, it’s fast, it’s convenient,” Moore said. “It’s almost as good a service as light rail.”

In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, 27 per cent of residents live near a frequent transit network – meaning a bus arrives every 15 minutes. Under the 10-year plan, that will increase to 57 per cent.

Moore said that is a significant improvement in service, because a transit user can walk to the bus stop at a random time, and their wait for a bus will be only 7.5 minutes on average.

“You don’t have to memorize the bus schedule,” he said.

About 50 per cent of businesses in the area are near a frequent transit network, and that would rise to 78 per cent after the plan.

Expanded service to Silver Valley and the Albion and Thornhill areas in Maple Ridge are also part of the plan.

Moore impressed upon councillors that a population explosion is about to leave car commuters “in the mud,” if more people don’t use transit.

Projections say Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will have an additional 52,000 residents by 2040, as part of a million-person hike in the Lower Mainland overall.

The challenge is how can the transit system serve an additional million people, Moore said.

“Because if we do nothing, we know that 600,000 more cars will be on the road by 2040.”

The mayors council voted to pursue a 0.5 per cent hike in the PST to fund the transportation authority’s $7.5 billion, 10-year plan.

Ballots will be mailed to voters on March 16, and the voting will conclude on May 29. A vote of 51 per cent or better will constitute support for what is being called the Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax.

The plan also sets out improvements to West Coast Express service. By 2018, there would be a new locomotive and five cars, and five more cars by 2024 – the end of the 10-year plan.

There would be an additional train in the morning, increasing the number of runs to six, with some additional capacity on some of those trains.

“We’ve been crying for that for ages, especially midday service,” said Coun. Janis Elkerton.

She asked whether there is any plan for runs beyond the morning and evening commuter trains, or on weekends.

“Probably not, to be straight up,” said Moore, adding that the answer would be to catch B-line service to SkyTrain in Coquitlam.

The plan also calls for increased SeaBus, Handy Dart and night bus service, light rail in Surrey, an extension of the SkyTrain Millennium Line and a new Patullo Bridge.

Elkerton noted that in TransLink’s material it says B-line service will go to Maple Ridge “or” Langley.

Moore said that “or” should be an “and.”

“That was the intent all along,” he said.

TransLink calculates that the 0.5 per cent increase in PST will cost the average family in the region $125 per year, and that the tax is a more affordable option than raising the necessary funds though a carbon levy or adding a vehicle registration fee.

Moore said only 30 per cent of residents are aware of the proposed plan and referendum, so a public awareness campaign is needed.

“If this plan fails, there is no plan B,” Moore told council, adding that the Mayor’s Council would then go back to the province and ask for leadership.

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