Voters in all but three Vancouver-area municipalities soundly rejected a new sales tax to fund transit upgrades, but that sentiment was strongest in outlying suburbs such as Maple Ridge and Langley, where a distrust of TransLink and a lack of major projects made the plan a nonstarter.
Of 23 juristictions, only Bowen Island, Electoral District A (which includes the University of British Columbia and surrounding areas) and the Village of Belcarra voted Yes, according to results released Thursday. The region's mayors asked voters to approve an additional 0.5-per-cent sales tax to help fund $7.5-billion worth of projects over the next decade, but the plan was rejected by a margin of 62 per cent to 38.
Maple Ridge topped the No votes, with 77 per cent of respondents opposing the new tax. Mayor Nicole Read said she wasn't surprised to learn her municipality held the strongest opposition.
"We have a lot of issues here with respect to transportation and transit; specifically, we just don't have enough of it," Ms. Read said, adding that there has been a long history of broken transit promises in the area.
"Do Maple Ridge residents trust that if they spend more money on transit, the money will actually come into this community and benefit them in some way?"
As well, Ms. Read said a lack of trust in TransLink was a hurdle that both she and Maple Ridge voters could not overcome.
The fate of a B-Line rapid transit bus connecting downtown Maple Ridge to the Evergreen SkyTrain line in Coquitlam is now unclear.
South of the Fraser River, both Langley Township and the City of Langley also strongly opposed the tax hike, with No votes of 75 and 72 per cent, respectively.
Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer said he was disappointed, but understood the sentiment of voters. He cited the expected loathing of a tax increase, "the transportation that they don't have now" and the governance at TransLink to be the primary factors.
"It's very hard when you count the number of SkyTrain stations in Burnaby and New Westminster and Surrey … and Langley has zero," Mr. Schaffer said, noting that many Langley residents already pay tolls to use the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, whose municipality voted 72 per cent against the tax, said TransLink governance has been broken for years and must be addressed by the provincial government.
"We can't just lurch from crisis to crisis trying to put Band-Aids on a system that is broken," he said.
Werner Antweiler, associate professor at the University of British Columbia's business school, said he expected the overall tally to be closer than it was, but had no doubt there would be more opposition out in the Fraser Valley, where major transportation projects are "intangible and indirect."
"If you happen to live out in Langley and you're asked to support building a subway in Vancouver, they're going to say, 'I'm never going to use that subway. Why should I pay for it?'" he said.
Mr. Antweiler also posited that some voters may have felt a "sense of hypocrisy" in the provincial government financing some major infrastructure projects while putting Metro Vancouver transit funding to a plebiscite.
"Why are people in Metro Vancouver asked to pay more when other parts of the province get infrastructure projects without going through the trouble?" he said. "There's a certain double-standard."
Meanwhile, the municipality of Bowen Island came out with the strongest Yes vote, at 62 per cent. Mayor Murray Skeels attributed much the strong vote to residents' affinity for a local TransLink operator who shuttles about 80 per cent of public transit commuters on the 72-square-kilometre island.
"People love him. He really goes out of his way to do a good job," Mr. Skeels said.
The mayor also cited island residents' environmentally conscious nature, as well as perhaps sympathy for commuters stuck in big-city congestion.
"We live here because we can't stand it," Mr. Skeels said with a chuckle. "We have rush minutes, not rush hours."
Editor's Note: The original version of this story should have made clear that the additional half a percentage point on the provincial sale tax in the Lower Mainland of B.C., proposed in a plebiscite, would not have paid for the whole $7.5-billion transit-expansion plan. This digital version has been corrected.