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Commuters cross over the road on a pedestrians bridge over Broadway in transit between Skytrains at the Broadway and Commercial Sky Train terminals in Vancouver March 24.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

Failure to get a Yes in the coming transit plebiscite would be a disaster for the region, Vancouver city councillors and staff were warned Tuesday.

But while all 11 council members support the proposed 0.5-per-cent regional sales tax, it was clear as they met that there remain many questions about how the plebiscite and the possible future levy will work.

"It would take a decade to get back to where we are today" if voters reject the tax that's designed to help pay for a $7.5-billion plan targeting transit improvements, Vancouver's transportation director Jerry Dobrovolny said as he laid out to council the city's campaign plan and benefits for transit users.

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"The stakes are tremendously high. There really is no other option for us."

But Mr. Dobrovolny had to field more than an hour of questions from councillors trying to get more information – an ominous sign when voting starts in six weeks.

NPA Councillor George Affleck asked about who will oversee tax revenue and spending.

"Some of this is new territory," Mr. Dobrovolny acknowledged.

The interim executive director for the mayors' council, Mike Buda, said mayors are pressing the province for more details on how that money will be monitored.

That means the money will now go to Victoria and someone will need to ensure that taxpayers and local mayors know how much was collected for transit.

It's not clear, either, exactly how mayors will ensure that the revenue gets spent only on mayors' 10-year-plan projects, since the plan includes a lot of general improvements, such as more buses or cycling upgrades, not just big items such as light-rail lines, bridges or subways.

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One question from councillors was "Will Elections BC be doing a big push to register voters?" Answer: Hoping to hear next week. Another query was "Will the Broadway B-line be less stressed once a subway is built to Arbutus?" The answer: That rapid bus will be eliminated along the stretch of Broadway where the subway runs, and its route start will move west from Commercial, where it is now, to Arbutus.

Mayor Gregor Robertson wanted to know how the new Broadway subway will affect future development.

General manager of planning Brian Jackson said no big new planning efforts will start until all the money for the Broadway line is in place. It will require provincial and federal contributions.

But, he said, once that happens, his department might need to take a look at whether there should be more room available for residential development targeted to students around the Emily Carr University of Art and Design station east of Clark Drive.

And, he said, plans for the former federal military base near Jericho Beach in Kitsilano would have to take into account the fact that a rapid-transit line would likely be extended from Arbutus to the University of B.C. at some point.

To deal with those kinds of questions likely to come from the public, Mr. Dobrovolny said all of the city's 311 operators will have scripts available to answer questions about the plebiscite.

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As well, the city currently has three staff working with the mayors' council, another five dealing with issues related to the plebiscite at City Hall and five more who might be called into action.

And Mr. Dobrovolny said his commitment to public information would be the same as for the city's last transportation plan – his staff will go out to talk about the importance of the plebiscite to any group of 10 neighbourhood residents or businesses who calls.

He's got a few appointments booked already.

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