Metro Vancouverites have voted No in a plebiscite on a $7.5-billion regional transportation plan, making it uncertain how improvements to transit and transportation will be funded over the next decade.
Voters were asked whether they were for or against a new 0.5 per cent sales tax to help fund major infrastructure projects, a plan that would have put Vancouver on the same path as U.S. cities including Seattle, Los Angeles and Denver that voted to use sales tax for transit money.
The vote was 61.7 per cent No and 38.4 per cent Yes overall for the region, with 759,696 ballots cast in the mail-in plebiscite.
- Interactive map: Find out how your city voted
- Live reaction to the Transit vote
- Transit referendum: Who will pay for transportation improvements now?
"There is a clear No outcome, we must respect that," said Doug Allen, interim CEO of TransLink, Metro Vancouver's transit authority, to reporters Thursday.
Allen repeatedly characterized the results as a vote against higher taxes, and not TransLink itself, which critics have called inefficient and lacking in accountability.
The transportation authority will do its best to deliver service through cost savings, he said, but "it will not be easy because we will not be able to expand."
"I'm thrilled," said TransLink's loudest critic and the voice of the No campaign, Jordan Bateman, who called the result a "tremendous victory for taxpayers."
"Of course this was about TransLink," he told reporters Tuesday. "TransLink wastes too much money to be trusted with more of it."
'Transit service is going to be cut'
The tax and improvements were proposed by the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation and supported by most of the region's mayors, police and fire chiefs, and a coalition including business, unions, and environmental groups.
The mayors' council met after the results were released and still plans to push for the transit improvements the region needs, said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, speaking for the council.
He said without new funding, transit service will be cut at a time when the population is growing.
As for how to fund improvements, "there is no Plan B," said Robertson, who said mayors would not consider increased property taxes in the region. "We need an alternate solution from the B.C. government."
"Sales tax is off the table, voters have stated that clearly," said Robertson.
"Immediate governance changes to TransLink are critical," he said.
"This result likely means years of delays before any new transit comes online — with the unfortunate and predictable increase in road congestion and pollution as our population grows," said Iain Black, co-chair and Vancouver Board of Trade CEO.
"Our economy and businesses will continue to suffer without improvements."
Region needs to find the money: Transport minister
Premier Christy Clark promised the transit vote in the 2013 election, against the wishes of the region's mayors, and today the B.C. government is claiming a victory for Metro Vancouver voters.
"We are very proud that we fulfilled our commitment to give the people of the region a voice," said Transportation Minister Todd Stone on Thursday.
Stone echoed that transit improvements are needed, but said the region's mayors will need to find more money.
"Doing nothing is simply not an option," said Stone. "The region is going to have to decide how it's going to come up with its one-third of the cost."
The provincial and federal governments are each committed to pay one-third of the cost of transit projects, said Stone.
City by city results
The No votes were greatest in the suburbs. Maple Ridge voted 77 per cent against the plan, followed by 75 per cent against in the Township of Langley.
Surrey voters clearly rejected the plan, with 65.5 per cent opposed to the new tax, despite support from Mayor Linda Hepner.
The City of Vancouver was split almost exactly down the middle with just 50.8 per cent polling No of the more than 210,000 votes in that city.
Only three of the 23 voting municipalities — Belcarra, Bowen Island and Metro Vancouver Electoral Area A — voted in favour of the increased tax.