Tough talk over TransLink

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows mayors anxious to get agreement.

The 10-year regional transportation plan could be picked to pieces by the province if the reports heard by Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker are correct.

That could mean a RapidBus link from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to the new Evergreen SkyTrain line in Coquitlam might not happen for a long time.

Nor would there be any additional West Coast Express service, if the provincial government decided it didn’t want to help fund that project.

“That would be appalling,” said Becker.

He’s waiting for a formal response from the provincial government to the latest attempt by the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation to reach a funding agreement with the province.

Weeks ago, the mayors pitched a plan to increase TransLink’s property levy, put in road pricing, take $50 million from the carbon tax, introduce road pricing, as well as fare hikes – all in order to raise its share of the $7.5-billion plan.

The mayors were awaiting a formal response to that from the provincial government.

Now, Becker said, it seems the province is only interested in funding the Surrey LRT line or Broadway subway.

If RapidBus is not considered a major project, does that mean particular projects are not being funded because they’re not big enough, he wonders.

“I find that appalling.”

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are not getting much out of the plan as it is anyways, he added.

“To think the province is not going to be funding the shallow end of the infrastructure pool here is doubly offensive,” he said.

“It’s quite disheartening and it makes you embarrassed to be even a local politician if this how these critical opportunities are being handled.”

Local mayors are anxious to get an agreement so they can qualify for increased federal funding being offered for infrastructure.

Becker doesn’t know the exact deadline, but considers it soon.

“If we can’t get some deal done to take advantage of 50-cent federal dollars, we’re all going to look like morons,” he said.

“If we can’t get our act together … there are other metro areas throughout the country that would be very happy to push us out of the line and get up there with their wheelbarrows.”

With the federal government increasing its funding to 50 per cent, TransLink would only have pay 17 per cent of the plan, or $5 billion for the capital cost part.

Becker said that Vancouver and Surrey mayors Gregor Robertson and Linda Hepner want the regional plan to remain intact so that every area gets something.

Last year, Metro Vancouver voters rejected a half-per-cent increase in the provincial sales tax as a way to help fund the plan. Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read opposed that proposal, at the time.

Read still has her doubts about the mayors’ proposal and remembers last year’s ‘no’ vote in the referendum.

There are still no firm commitments for service levels, she said, and people are still concerned about how TransLink is run.

“I feel I take my marching orders from the public.”

And many people can’t afford to pay for bus-fare increases, she added.

The property tax increase entails a one-time, two-per-cent increase in the TransLink levy of a couple hundred dollars that homeowners pay each year.

“People feel like there’s not enough in the plan to want to pay for it. Those things are still really clear in my mind,” Read said.

But she agrees it’s urgent that a deal get done.

She said Fassbender’s announcement of the $246 million last week and not responding to the mayors’ plan was a let-down.

“I think our citizens really expected some change in governance.”

The mayors are also asking to be given back control of TransLink.

Fassbender said that with the province now providing $246 million over three years, that will allow the province and region to take “full advantage” of the federal Phase One Transit Fund, creating a total of $740 million for new transit.