Metro Vancouver’s once-cohesive approach to transit funding is unravelling rapidly in the wake of TransLink’s announcement Tuesday that it is immediately suspending major transit improvements for the southern suburbs.
Mayors from the two Langley municipalities say their residents are getting shafted by the Translink decision after years of paying for transit in other parts of the region with property taxes and now a new gas-tax increase.
“For years, the residents in the eastern part of the region have been supporting those in the west with their tax dollars,” said Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese. “They feel all they do here is pay for the Evergreen Line with their gas taxes. To take away the funding now, it’s unacceptable. This is just playing politics. I’m extremely disappointed.”
The TransLink announcement follows a vote by the region’s 21 mayors – the two from Langley and Mayor Wayne Baldwin in White Rock opposed the move – to call for the cancellation of parts of the three-year plan. They’ve been unable to get the provincial government to agree on some form of alternative funding for the project. Last week’s vote, however, was considered informal and doesn’t legally cancel the plan.
Mr. Froese said families in Langley have bought housing near the park-and-ride lot being constructed to mesh with the planned new Highway 1 rapid bus, one of several pieces of TransLink’s three-year supplementary plan that is now being put on hold until the agency is certain is has the money to pay for them. Now those residents will be left in the lurch, he said.
The Highway 1 rapid bus was supposed to start when the new Port Mann bridge opened some time within the next year. The bridge in the $3.3-billion project includes special rapid-bus lanes, which the province’s website boasts will help get commuters from Langley to Burnaby in 25 minutes.
Other pieces of the plan that TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said would be frozen include a rapid bus along King George Boulevard in Surrey, most of the additional 615,000 hours of service that was being planned, much of it for south of the Fraser River, extra SeaBus service on evenings and weekends, and planned upgrades to several stations.
“We don’t have [certainty]of revenue at this particular time,” said Mr. Jarvis. “We have put expansion and upgrade plans on hold.”
But Langley city Mayor Peter Fassbender also said he believes it’s unacceptable for Mr. Jarvis to make a unilateral decision to suspend the projects, without a formal vote by the mayors to revise the three-year plan.
The mayors had originally agreed to pay for the plan, which included the Evergreen Line, by approving a two-cent gas-tax increase for the Evergreen and a temporary property-tax increase for the other improvements. They did this in the hope the province would agree to replace that second tax with some other form of funding.
However, the mayors did not actually rescind that original plan, which is a legal document.
“My understanding of the legal opinion is that it has to come back for a legal vote to make a change. I’m going to ask my colleagues to put their names on the line and tell Langley residents that they’re against those projects moving ahead,” said Mr. Fassbender. “I put my name on the line for the two cents of gas tax for the Evergreen. “
He and Mr. Froese said that mayors who supported that plan originally voted for it knowing that they might not be able to work out an agreement with the province on an alternative funding source in time for 2013.
Now that that might be a reality, they’re not willing to stick to their positions, they said.
The TransLink announcement Wednesday is just the latest in a rolling series of setbacks and squabbles that have beset the organization since the start of 2012.
It hasn’t been able to get an agreement from the province about an alternative, like a regional carbon tax or vehicle levy, to pay for additional services. The province’s transportation commissioner last week denied TransLink’s application to raise fares more than the normally allowable amount to pay for the existing service level. And mayors are at odds with each other on a number of fronts.
Special to The Globe and Mail