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Mayors back sales tax to pay for TransLink

An eastbound Skytrain departs from Main Street-Science World Station in Vancouver, Jan. 8, 2013.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A regional sales tax that would generate $250-million a year is the new solution for transit funding that Lower Mainland mayors are asking the province to consider.

In an open letter to Transportation Minister Mary Polak, the chair of the TransLink mayors' council says his group is recommending a regional sales tax of 0.5 per cent and a vehicle registration levy to help pay for a system that is struggling to keep up with demand.

And, Richard Walton emphasized in the letter that mayors are prepared to stand up to the political shrapnel that would fly over any new fee.

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"We're not going to duck and run for cover," said Mr. Walton in an interview, stating forcefully the letter's promise that mayors will "take responsibility for approving [any new fees] and communicating them to the public."

It is the first time mayors have pitched a regional sales tax in their years of making suggestions to the province for other sources of money to pay for expansions to the $1-billion TransLink system, as stakeholders tried to figure out how to grow it to match the region's population growth and increasing ridership.

The idea had been listed as one of many in a technical report on possible revenue options last February, but relatively far down on the list.

The analysis noted that it would generate a lot of money and be broadly based, but added there may be: "Questions of fairness since high-volume consumers may not be heavier users of transportation. Payments easy to calculate and understand but link to transportation could be obscure."

Mr. Walton said the mayors started considering it in the past couple of meetings because "the more we looked at it, the more we realized how common it is in other jurisdictions."

Local politicians have been trying to find a new revenue source for TransLink since the transportation agency was created in 2000.

Mr. Walton said he believes people in the region support spending more money on transit and it just needs a willing coalition of politicians to make it happen.

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The mayors are there.

"All we're saying to the province is to come to the table with us," he said.

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