Two local transit advocates say a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax is the best way to fund transit expansion in Metro Vancouver.
Paul Hillsdon and Nathan Pachal, who blog regularly about transportation, spent more than a year researching a proposal they say will secure funding for a long list of expansion projects — including a SkyTrain extension to UBC.
The "Leap Ahead Plan" touts $21.5 billion in economic returns, a net benefit of $15 billion for taxpayers, 234,000 jobs over 30 years and a significant expansion of rapid transit to Surrey, White Rock, Langley, Maple Ridge and the North Shore.
All this, the bloggers say, can be achieved with a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax.
"With a two per cent decrease in the federal GST and 0.5 per cent decrease in the PST over the last decade, there is room for the proposed sales tax," the authors write. "A 0.5 per cent regional sales tax would amount to just $0.35 per day, per resident."
Voter-approved regional sales taxes for similar transit expansions have been successfully introduced in Los Angeles, Seattle and Denver, according to the authors.
"Folks here in Metro Vancouver want more transit service and we need it to unlock some of the economic potential," said Pachal, who founded the South Fraser OnTrax blog.
"This will actually end up saving people in the long run. Once people south of Fraser have the choice, they might have to get rid of vehicles."
Pachal said if the "Leap Ahead" plan was approved, many projects like a SkyTrain to UBC and a light rail line in Surrey could be built and operational within seven years.
'Tax upon tax'
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said she agrees Metro Vancouver's transit system needs to expand but says the taxpayer shouldn't be footing the bill.
"It just seems like tax upon tax and upon tax upon tax," she said. "People that are really paying for the freight here are tired of being taxed to death."
Jackson also said she was wary of the plan because she feels there isn't enough transparency within TransLink.
"I'm not sure because we don't have any real opportunity to analyze where money is really going and what efficiencies are in place," she said.
A regional sales tax would have to be approved by the B.C. government, which has said any new funding sources for TransLink must go to a referendum during the province's municipal elections next year.
Vancouver Counc. Geoff Meggs calls the plan ambitious and says he supports it in theory, but he doesn't think the province will get behind another sales tax.
"Politically, let's be real here, the voters of B.C. recently had a referendum provincewide on the HST and turned it down."
Meggs notes the provincial government has also already rejected a vehicle levy and and increase in the carbon tax.
Spending decisions questioned
Meanwhile, TransLink is coming under fire for spending $165,000 on a public art installation, due to be erected outside the Main Street Skytrain Station.
It has not yet been revealed what form the installation will take, but some say the cost is too high.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson believes the money should be spent on improving stations and increasing service instead.
"You know in some stations we don't even have escalators for some of the seniors to go up and down, yet we've got all this extra hundreds of thousands of dollars for art. And I think that's totally wrong-headed," she said.
A TransLink spokesperson said having public art is a priority because it creates a welcoming environment.
Earlier this year, TransLink was criticized for funding the installation of a white poodle statue in Mount Pleasant at a cost of $100,000.