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Traffic moves along West Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver June 4, 2008.

Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail/jeff vinnick The Globe and Mail

Every time Vancouver's transportation agency expands its system, it has to draw on a limited number of revenue sources, or find a new one. In February, TransLink analysts identified 10 options for new revenue. Some, such as a vehicle levy or a regional carbon tax, were suggested as ways to close a short-term $30-million gap in financing for the current round of improvements. But the real goal is to come up with a new package for the whole system, gently lifted from taxpayers in different ways from the current mix of fees and taxes that is bringing in $730-million this year, about half of the TransLink budget. Below are the options, with projected revenue, along with the current dollars generated.

Road pricing: $100-million to $200-million (Current revenue: None)

Planners love pricing, but the public has no idea what it means. It could mean a new highway lane with a toll, or charging motorists based on the distance driven, or the number of city zones traversed. Or it could mean charging them if they go into congested areas at rush hour.

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Fuel tax: $30-million to $100-million (Current revenue: $331-million)

Although this is identified as a short-term fix, mayors and planners say it's a weak option. As gas prices and gas taxes go up, people are buying less gasoline. TransLink is already coping this year with $30-million less from gas taxes than it expected for 2012.

Regional carbon tax: More than $200-million (Current: None)

Levied not just on vehicle fuel, but on fuel used for heating and manufacturing, a carbon tax would add yet more to the existing gas tax and increase costs for homes and businesses. A charge of 0.13 cents a litre of gas would bring in $10-million a year.

Share of provincial carbon tax: More than $200-million (Current: None)

The TransLink mayors council tried unsuccessfully to get a share of B.C.'s existing carbon tax in the summer of 2010. Any new revenue from the tax is not legally committed to be returned to taxpayers after 2013.

Vehicle registration fee: $100-million to $200 million (Current: None)

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This could be a flat fee of $7.50 a vehicle (which would raise $10-million a year), or based on vehicle emissions ($3.50 to $10.50 a year), but the most interesting idea was to charge a variable fee ($5 to $10) based on whether the user was close to transit but chose not to use it.

Parking sales tax: $10-million to $30-million (Current: $51.6-million)

Like gas taxes, this one is favoured by planners because the direct cost makes drivers think twice about using their cars. Raising the current 21.5-per-cent tax to 25 per cent would bring in an extra $10-million a year. Biggest negative: only a few people bear the brunt.

Transit fares: $30-million to $100-million (Current: $454-million)

Raising the single-zone fare to $2.85 would bring in $10-million a year; an increase to $3.20, $50-million. But it gets bad marks on the analysts' score sheet because it discourages people from using transit and penalizes low-income users.

Property taxes: $100-million to $200-million (Current: $298-million)

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Mayors are uniformly opposed to adding to existing property taxes for TransLink.

"Benefitting area" tax: $30-million to $100-million (Current: None)

Upside: those who get the most direct benefit from new transit services pay. Downside: Isn't an incentive to take transit, raises the cost of housing nearby and is difficult to administer.

Project tolls: $100-million to $200-million (Current: $39-million from Golden Ears)

This is the kind of toll the public has said in polls it is most likely to support, because there's a clear link between the improved service and the money paid.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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