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Students line up to catch a bus at the UBC bus loop in Vancouver in November 2012. UBC is urging the city to advocate for a rapid-transit line from Commercial Drive to the university along Broadway right away. (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)
Students line up to catch a bus at the UBC bus loop in Vancouver in November 2012. UBC is urging the city to advocate for a rapid-transit line from Commercial Drive to the university along Broadway right away. (Jeff Vinnick for The Globe and Mail)

Lower Mainland mayors want tolls, road fees on ballot Add to ...

Metro Vancouver mayors say they’re willing to work on a plan for a transit-financing referendum – as long as the province is willing to allow them to put all financing options on the table, including road pricing and bridge tolls.

As well, the mayors won’t consider increased property taxes as part of the solution to paying for billions of dollars worth of transit improvements.

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That position is the blunt counteroffer to the letter Transportation Minister Todd Stone sent the mayors two weeks ago, where he specified that the province wouldn’t agree to any referendum that included regional tolls and road pricing.

The province is responsible for several major bridges in the region and is already tolling one, the new Port Mann bridge.

Mr. Stone said the province wasn’t going to give up any of its revenue needed to pay for its bridges and roads in the region.

But the mayors’ letter back to Mr. Stone, released Monday, “underscored [the] expectation that all funding sources are eligible for consideration as per the 2010 Memorandum of Understanding between the Mayors’ Council and Province including fuel tax, vehicle levy, regional sales tax, carbon tax, road pricing and related bridge tolling (except on provincial bridges already tolled) and no further property tax increases in excess of the annual revenue increases currently permitted to TransLink.”

The exchange is just the latest in what has been a five-year tussle between Lower Mainland mayors and the province in trying to figure out a way to pay for major transit improvements.

The two big projects on the horizon are a $3-billion subway line in Vancouver, from Commercial Drive to the University of B.C., and a $2-billion light-rail system in Surrey that would connect its city centre with three other important nodes.

Right now, TransLink, the regional agency that oversees transit, along with some roads and bridges in the region, pays for everything mainly through fares, property taxes and gas taxes.

That doesn’t provide the money to take on any more big construction projects, since the agency is already making payments for its hefty share of the recently built Canada Line and the Evergreen Line, currently under construction.

TransLink’s bureaucrats and politicians have been lobbying the province for years to get another source of money for expansions, as the region’s population keeps growing.

But the province has blown hot and cold on various suggestions, including tolls, road pricing, a vehicle levy, a regional sales tax and carbon-tax revenue.

In the latest chapter, Premier Christy Clark promised during her spring 2013 election campaign that Lower Mainland voters would be able to decide in a referendum whether and how to pay for that expansion.

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