British Columbia

Metro Vancouver Transit Referendum: lessons learned from Denver

The Denver Regional Transportation District says it has lessons to impart to Metro Vancouver about its transit referendum.

What can the Yes side learn from the Denver Regional Transportation District's 2004 winning strategy?

Denver, CO has won and lost a transit referendum similar to Metro Vancouver's (CBC)

The Denver Regional Transportation District says it has lessons to impart to Metro Vancouver about its transit referendum.

Denver, CO has had two transit referendums: one in 1997, which it lost, and one in 2004, which it won. Similarly to Metro Vancouver, residents voted on whether or not to add a regional sales tax to help fund transportation projects.

Metro Vancouver residents will begin voting on the region's transportation referendum in one month.

"You have to have a well thought-out plan so the people, the public — which is what it's all about — can actually see what's in it for them," said Pauletta Tonilas, the senior manager of public relations for the Denver Regional Transportation District.

To do that, Tonilas says the campaign clearly spelled out the advantages of better transit and how much it would cost.

"We tried to make it real for people," she said. "That was key."

It created maps that showed where all the new transit services would go, and broke down the math on the cost of the tax.

For example, the 0.4 per cent tax would cost the average family $80 a year. Comparatively, spending $10 a week at Starbucks adds up to $520 a year.

"That really resonated well with people," she said.

Tonilas says another key component to the yes campaign's success was to get all political leaders, businesses, and environmental groups on board.

The plan took two years to put together and was put into action in less than a year.

Given the time frame, her advice to Vancouver is to focus on the following three messages:

  • more transportation is needed to move people in the future
  • there aren't many opportunities to make a difference as a community, together
  • nobody wants to pay more taxes, but it takes investment to plan for the future and give communities something long-term to grow on

"I think Vancouver is in a very exciting time frame right now," said Tonilas. "This is jobs creation, it's economic development, it's transit-oriented communities building up around transit facilities and indirect and induced benefits."

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Lessons learned from Denver's transit referendum


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