BRITISH COLUMBIA

Residents to vote on 'congestion' tax to fund Metro Vancouver transit upgrades

12/18/2014 04:35 EST | Updated 02/17/2015 05:59 EST
VICTORIA - Residents of Metro Vancouver will be asked to agree to pay an extra 0.5 per cent sales tax after the province approved a plebiscite on funding major upgrades to the regional transportation network.

The B.C. government approved a referendum question on Thursday that will ask residents if they support the tax that would be added to the cost of most goods and services sold or delivered in the region.

"I have carefully considered the wording of the Mayors' Council proposal and am pleased to advise you that the province is prepared to support your question and proposed revenue source," Transportation Minister Todd Stone said in a letter to the council's chairman, District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton.

Ballots will be mailed out starting March 16 of next year, with the voting period ending on May 29. The referendum will require a 50 per cent plus one outcome to pass.

The ballot will ask, "Do you support a new 0.5 per cent Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors' transportation and transit plan?"

Stone said the government made only minor changes to the plebiscite question, in part to reflect input from Elections B.C. The tax would be separated from the seven per cent provincial sales tax, while revenues would be independently audited each year.

The proposed tax would help fund the $7.5-billion construction of a new light rail system through Surrey and Langley, a subway across Vancouver and service improvements on SeaBus routes, SkyTrain and the West Coast Express. A commuter train would be added between Mission and downtown Vancouver and the aging Pattullo Bridge would be replaced.

The plan covers 21 municipalities and will help to transport the one million additional residents expected to be living in the region over the next 30 years, Stone said.

"The question will allow the voters of Metro Vancouver to have their say on whether the Mayors' vision and funding source meets their needs for today and future years."

The province will fund the cost of the plebiscite, but won't provide money to either the yes or no camps.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who made expanded transportation a plank in his recent election platform, said the next step is to focus on ensuring the vote passes.

"We absolutely need to invest in transit. The transportation plan we've put forward will cut congestion and benefit everyone," he said in a statement.

"The alternative is crippling traffic congestion, more air pollution, cuts to transit and lost economic opportunity. The future of our region's economy and environment is at stake."