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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to commuters at the Broadway.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

The Yes side in the Lower Mainland's transit plebiscite has gone into visible high gear.

Over five days last week, local mayors talked to 36,000 people through telephone town halls.

With well-known radio host Bill Good moderating the conversation, mayors explained to dozens of callers why it was in their own best interest to pay a new 0.5-per-cent sales tax for transit and road improvements in the next decade.

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Advertising started to appear on buses, with giant warnings about the million people due to move into the region.

Mayors and some councillors fanned out during the week and tackled transit riders at the SkyTrain in Surrey, the SeaBus in North Vancouver, West Coast Express in Port Coquitlam and the bus loop at the University of British Columbia campus.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, along with NPA Councillor George Affleck, Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr and Vancouver's medical health officer John Carsley, hustled the waiting lines of people at the Commercial Drive B-Line stop on Friday.

"This campaign is in gear full tilt," said Mr. Robertson after spending 40 minutes handing out flyers and talking to riders. "We need a Yes."

But it was an uneven ride.

The extremely unscientific count of pro and con during the telephone sessions showed that people (or the small minority among the callers who provided their opinion) were 39 per cent definite Yes in Vancouver, 18 per cent leaning Yes, 17 per cent undecided and 26 per cent No.

But in Coquitlam and Surrey, whose mayors played host to the town halls Wednesday and Thursday, things were tilted more toward No.

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The Surrey residents who chose to participate in voting were only 27 per cent in the Yes camp, with 16 per cent "Yes with concerns," 22 per cent undecided and 35 per cent No.

Some callers in Vancouver expressed unqualified support for the mayors' 10-year, $7.5-billion plan and the tax to support it.

But Coquitlam and Surrey lines were almost completely filled with anxious and sometimes angry questions from dubious residents.

Callers from those suburbs wanted to know why TransLink's spending hasn't been scrutinized to look for savings.

They were apparently unaware that it has been audited more than once.

Others didn't realize that mayors have developed a plan for specific projects in every part of the region.

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Many complained about their terrible suburban bus service.

One caller from Surrey asked the question that many mayors have also asked: Why not spend some time cleaning up affairs at TransLink and then ask voters for support in a plebiscite?

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said the mayors would have preferred that, but were only given the choice to have a plebiscite by June this year or wait until the next municipal election in 2018.

And, he pointed out, Plan B will be one that residents won't like so much: higher property taxes, something the province has pressed cities on for years. Mr. Baldwin insisted that a sales tax would be more equitable.

One of the better sessions of the week was at the Broadway bus stop.

There, with hundreds of people lined up waiting to jam themselves onto a B-Line bus, it was like shooting fish in a barrel for Mr. Robertson to find people willing to vote Yes.

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New Westminster resident Rana Hakani, on her way to her job at UBC, was one. So was Jessie Dhatt, a diagnostic technician who travels from Vancouver to her Surrey hospital job every day. And so was Fiona Sun, who commutes from Burnaby to the bank where she works at Granville and Broadway.

"To save our environment, it's good to take public transit," said Ms. Sun, after having made a video on her iPhone of the mayor talking to the lineup.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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