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With population rising and funding stagnant, trains will get more crowded on the Canada Line and other routes.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A referendum on transit funding will not be held at the same time as a civic election this November.

Lower Mainland mayors decided Thursday it's too hard to get ready for a referendum in just under five months. And holding it at the same time as municipal elections would likely mean missing a lot of votes from the university and college students who typically aren't included on municipal voter lists.

"If we do go ahead, it will have to be towards the end of March, beginning of April," said the chair of the TransLink Mayors' Council, Richard Walton. "There's a significant amount of work to be done on both sides."

Even holding the referendum in early spring will be difficult, because most politicians are going to be working flat-out from September to mid-November on their own election campaigns, leaving only two or three months to mount a referendum campaign.

The mayors and the province have been going back and forth for more than a year about the referendum that the province insists has to take place for TransLink, the regional transportation authority, to get more sources of money for improvements to the existing $1.2-billion-a-year system.

Premier Christy Clark promised during her election campaign last year that there would be a local referendum asking for citizens' input into new funding sources for transit improvements.

Originally, the province said the referendum should be held as part of municipal elections this November. But after an outcry from mayors, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said in February the province would be willing to delay the vote as late as next June.

Mr. Walton said the mayors, who met in private Thursday to come up with their response in the ping-pong game that has developed over the transit-funding referendum, are also going to be asking Mr. Stone for more clarification about the government's position.

Specifically, they want to know whether they can have a referendum question asking the public to approve multiple possible sources of new funding for transit or only one.

"We have found that when people ask for just one, the public tends to be more opposed than if there is a variety," Mr. Walton said.

As demanded by the province, mayors approved a plan June 12 that envisioned spending $7.5-billion in 10 years on a Vancouver subway along Broadway to Arbutus Street, three light-rail lines in Surrey, a new Pattullo Bridge, and eight rapid-bus lines.

They also suggested that a first source of money for those additions be the $250-million a year that the province gets in carbon-tax revenue from taxpayers in the Lower Mainland. The minister immediately rejected that, but said this week the province would accept a referendum question proposing an additional local carbon tax.

Mr. Walton said the mayors want to know whether they could ask the public to support a mix of a carbon tax, sales tax and vehicle levies.