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Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Oct. 21, 2018. Stewart says the campaign for the Congestion Relief Fund is about more than money.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Metro Vancouver mayors are calling on all major federal parties to commit to a permanent, stable fund for regional and municipal transportation ahead of the federal election in October.

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation announced its proposed Congestion Relief Fund during the busy morning commute at Vancouver’s Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station. The fund is aimed at securing direct federal funding for regional and municipal transportation to the tune of $3.4-billion annually starting in 2028.

“We need to get away from the one-off funding, the project funding of transit, and we need predictable, stable funding,” said council chair and New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, flanked by the mayors of Vancouver, North Vancouver, Surrey and Langley. The council said it would be partnering with other cities across the country.

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The Congestion Relief Fund would be delivered on the basis of ridership, with TransLink receiving an estimated $375-million each year. Council mayors say the money is necessary to complete the mayors’ 10-year transit and transportation plan, which includes the Broadway SkyTrain extension in Vancouver, rapid transit between Surrey and Langley, and converting TransLink’s fleet of buses to electric power. These projects would serve another million commuters the Mayors’ Council expects in Metro Vancouver over the next 20 years.

The federal government contributed $2-billion toward projects being developed as part of the second phase of the 10-year plan, with the B.C. government committing $2.5-billion. This year’s federal budget also includes a one-time transfer of $2.2-billion to municipalities and First Nations to address infrastructure needs. The money, which amounts to double what Ottawa transferred last year, comes from the federal Gas Tax Fund.

According to University of British Columbia professor Robin Lindsey, who also serves as the CN chair in transportation and international logistics, Canada does not fund transit at the level that other comparable countries do, which is why municipalities have argued for more money.

Mr. Coté shared this concern.

“If local governments are on their own, number one, there’s going to be far less that we’d be able to achieve, and the reality is the burden would fall too heavily on the limited sources that we have available.”

The Mayors’ Council maintained no “subsidies” from rural areas would be required.

“The majority of Canadians live and pay taxes in large urban centres that rely on good transit,” said the council in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “Transit funding draws on taxes collected in large urban areas and reinvested in them.”

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According to Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which endorsed the fund, $3.4-billion in annual funding for transit nationwide is equivalent to 0.59 per cent of federal revenues.

But Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the campaign for the Congestion Relief Fund is about more than money.

“We need Ottawa to change the way they partner with communities on transportation infrastructure.”

According to Dr. Lindsey, moving away from project-based transportation funding would help foster stability and efficiency in long-term planning.

The mayors released the results of a survey of 2,500 Metro Vancouver residents conducted earlier this year by Mustel Group, which found 88 per cent of people agreed the federal government should match provincial and municipal funding for future transit improvements and 49 per cent preferred a permanent transit fund.

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However, in the same survey, just 3 per cent of people identified transit, unprompted, as the most important issue in the coming federal election. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 per cent.

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