British Columbia

Transit referendum: Who will pay for transportation improvements now?

Everyone seems to want more transit, but can't agree on how to pay for it. From road pricing to crowdfunding to an Ottawa bailout, here's what's being floated now.

Road pricing, crowdfunding, a property tax increase: What's being floated now to pay the transit tab

Metro Vancouverites seem to agree on the need for better transit service, but who will pay for it? (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

With a resounding No vote in the transit plebiscite, Metro Vancouver's old problem is new again: everyone wants more transit, but can't agree on how to pay for it.

"Doing nothing is simply not an option," said B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said shortly after the No vote.

A Yes vote would have meant higher sales tax in Metro Vancouver and $7.5 billion in transit improvements, including the Broadway subway in Vancouver, light rail in Surrey and Langley, and 11 new rapid bus routes.

Now, the B.C. government is pointing to the region's mayors to find their share of the money some other way — and the mayors are pointing right back, saying the province created TransLink and has to be the one to fix it.

From road pricing, to crowdfunding, to tightening the purse strings, here are some possibilities.

Property tax increase

The province is nudging Metro Vancouver's mayors to raise property taxes — something that, unlike the PST, municipalities control.

"Tomorrow, [the mayors' council] could convene a meeting to make some adjustments to property tax" to cover some if not all of the transportation improvements, said Stone after the results.

But the region's mayors repeated Thursday what they've said for a long time: that's not going to happen.

"The mayors have been unanimous in saying that property tax is not an option," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, speaking for the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation.

"Bottom line is we want to see the province come back with solutions to the funding gap and TransLink governance and accountability."

Road pricing

Robertson did allude to another possibility — road pricing, which could mean tolls on more roads to discourage driving and control congestion throughout the region.

The mayor's council has discussed the notion — which they call "mobility pricing" — before in their transportation plan.

"Work is underway by Translink to look at mobility pricing and a tolling system that makes more sense," said Robertson Thursday.

But that's an idea that would take five to eight years to implement, and hasn't been contemplated by the province, he said.

Private partners

Surrey's mayor has said light rail will be built in that city no matter what, and today reiterated it might take private partners to do it.

"I'm committed to that rail project even given the disappointing results today," said Linda Hepner on Thursday.

"I have had interested parties speak to me ... third private parties interested in financing that project," she said Thursday, saying Surrey could follow the model of the Canada Line with a public-private partnership.

"We cannot expect a million people to arrive here, many of them to the south of the Fraser, without improvements."

Efficiencies at TransLink

The voice of the No side, Jordan Bateman, said some of the money can be found in what TransLink already has.

"There is money to be saved internally. We are challenging them [TransLink] to go out and do it," said Bateman, who is also the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"As for the mayors, they need to re-prioritize their plan. They need to take it in bite-size pieces instead of making us choke down what frankly are decades worth of investment all in one shot."


When all else fails, perhaps the people themselves could step in.

An Indiegogo campaign, was posted Thursday by someone named Mitchell Sayers, trying to raise $250 million through online donations.

"If the country of Greece can have a crowdfunding campaign, so can big corporations!"

In the first two hours, Sayers raised exactly $0.

With files from Tamara Baluja


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