POLITICS
02/06/2014 03:23 EST | Updated 04/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Victoria considers delay on transit referendum if mayors promise funding plan

VANCOUVER - Residents in the Vancouver region may have to wait until June 2015 before having a say on transit funding.

A referendum was supposed to be held in November but British Columbia Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Thursday the date may be extended on one condition — that regional mayors come up with a funding plan for an expanded transit system and present it by the end of June.

"If a vision is not ready by June 30, 2014, the next date the provincial government is willing to consider for a referendum is in conjunction with the subsequent local government election," he said Thursday.

Municipal voters across British Columbia go to the polls in November.

"If new funding sources are identified and proposed they must be generated in the region and not subsidized by taxpayers in the rest of the province," Stone said. "Also, the provincial government will not permit new funding to be collected from the provincial transportation network."

Stone has said the referendum would be tied to municipal elections in the fall to maximize public participation, but on Thursday he said several mayors wanted more time to consider funding options, and he wants their support for the referendum whenever it is held.

The topic of funding for an expanded transit system has become a thorny issue among the mayors of Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby and 15 other municipalities since Premier Christy Clark promised the referendum during last spring's election campaign.

Mayors have said the province is forcing the vote while Stone has suggested the civic leaders are concerned only about their own regions and not a transit system that would include much of Metro Vancouver, including major road networks and two bridges — the Golden Ears and the Pattullo.

Stone said that despite the fact the Pattullo is not a provincial bridge, but a TransLink bridge, the B.C. government will pay one-third of the cost to replace the crossing, which opened in 1937.

The mayors have also said they have no powers to deal with a transit system that's operated by an unelected and unaccountable board.

"We agree that the current model does not work very well," Stone said, in announcing changes to the governance structure of TransLink so mayors are responsible for policy decisions such as fares, the complaint process and tax adjustments to pay for the system.

"I believe that we are demonstrating tremendous good faith on behalf of the province and frankly on behalf of the region here by saying we are prepared to provide you with the tools from a governance perspective," Stone said.

The wording of the referendum question has yet to be decided, but he said that once mayors have nailed down a regional plan with costs, priorities and funding sources, the question will be the easy part.

Todd is scheduled to meet with mayors on Feb. 14 to discuss the changes and introduce legislation on the new structure that could become law in about three months.