It’s No to Transit Support Tax – by Ray Hudson

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Transit in Surrey Photo: Ray Hudson
Transit in Surrey Photo: Ray Hudson
Transit in Surrey
Photo: Ray Hudson

Surrey: Sixty-one point seven percent of the voters in the TransLink tax plebiscite delivered a resounding no to the proponents of a .05% consumption tax increase to fund on-going operations and improvements in the Lower Mainland’s transit system.

South of the Fraser communities, seen to be the most poorly served by TransLink, were the strongest in opposition; Langley Township 74.9%, Langley City 72.3%, Richmond 72.4%, Delta 67.8%, Surrey 65.5%.

Much comment has ascribed the result to the late start the “Yes” campaign, lagging the “No” campaign led by Jordan Bateman which cast the question as more of a vote of confidence about TransLink as an organization, rather than a question about funding,

Gregor Robertson, the Chair of the Mayors Council presented two key points agreed upon by the council. They are seeking immediate changes to TransLink governance which they say is critical. The second point was that the council remains committed to the mayor’s plan. “We do see this as an important element to the regional growth strategy,” said Gregor Robertson

He said that the mayors had been unanimous in stating that property tax is not an option to fund the Mayors plan and they needed an alternate solution from the BC Government. He reiterated that there was no Plan “B”.

Robertson continued, that in the absence of progress on funding, the funding gap, accountability and governance, by the end of 2015, the mayors council will be forced to reconsider its role within the TransLink governance structure.

Robertson said that the Mayors council will pursue additional discussions following further consideration on this point in particular the work that is done over the next six months to address the funding gap, TransLink governance and accountability.

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said the organization was very disappointed with the results.

“But the public has spoken and we need to move forward on looking at how we are going to be able to fund the needed transit and transportation infrastructure that we need in Surrey, and that includes light rail transit and of course the rebuild of the Pattullo Bridge,” she said. “I’ve spoken to the federal Minister of Finance and his office, and made them aware that Surrey remains a key priority in the infrastructure building fund that was announced earlier this year in their federal budget, and we know that with the province, regardless of all of this with the transit plebiscite, Surrey remains a key economic priority for this province, especially knowing that we will be the largest city in the province in less than 15 years. But what we need to focus on now is a sum of money, seven-hundred million dollars, that needs to be raised through different funding sources, and maybe even looking to the private sectors, so we are going back to the drawing table, working collaboratively with the City of Surrey. This will delay us but it remains a key priority for the Surrey Board of Trade.

She concluded her remarks “I think the more pronounced focus of the result of the public’s decision today was about the governance structure of TransLink and their responsibility to handle what’s needed in terms of our infrastructure.”

Rick Hart, a strong community advocate, and participant as a transportation advocate for Surrey described the result as disappointing.

“I thought the vote was going to be a lot closer, but I guess that’s the normal course of people’s action in participation,” he said. “I think most often it’s the people who are angry that get the vote out. I think the length of time that the ballot was out was way to long so those votes just disappeared. That’s not the whole reason but I think that’s part of it.”

“I think most people were focused on TransLink more than anything,” he continued, “and their reputation had been tarnished for some time, and from what I heard in the coffee shops, pubs and even amongst the seniors that they were not happy with that aspect of it, and that was probably what was top of mind. I just hope that our local city council, Metro Vancouver and province can get back to the table again and find a resolution that can be supported by the general public.”

Peter Holt, who refers to himself as a local commentator, has long been an advocate for balanced transportation resources in the South of Fraser, put the onus on the Premier and the Provincial government.

“I think both the Premier and those in the Premier’s office who supported the plebiscite and pushed it through, and it was pushed through, should shake their heads,” said Holt. “What concerns me most of all is that the funding for transit was being funded as a consumption tax which targets the people who are most hard hit by economies at large. The people with families and children are paying the most in PST and we really should be finding ways of taking the money from those who can afford to lose a bit more money. I sat on a bus, beside a lawyer going into Vancouver recently and his response to the question was ‘why should I vote for an increase in taxes?” I think that was actually the question that they asked themselves, when people came to mark their ballots, should the vote yes and give the government permission to raise the tax point zero-five percent, and risk it then going up further in the coming years.”

“I think if you are South of the Fraser, there’s a very different attitude as to how effective transportation and transit is, and also I think underpinning some of this no-vote, is people south of the Fraser watching the tolls going onto the bridges going to the north. I think there’s definitely an ‘us and them’ (feeling) and it’s not been well managed over the years. I think there are a lot of people living south of the Fraser who have a lot of evidence to justify that sense,” said Holt.”

Although a frequent critic of TransLink, he did say that, “In many respects though we love to hate them, they don’t run such a bad system compared to other municipalities and other regions, and they do not make the decisions on where things go despite what people say.   I think TransLink, like any large organization has these challenges and is not easy to run. Whether the leader is an accountant, an engineer or a planner, it will have slightly different personalities,” he responded.