Beginning March 16, residents of Metro Vancouver will be casting their votes as to whether they want to pay 0.5% more sales tax to pay for billions of dollars in transit improvements.
Arguments on both sides of the debate over the Mayors’ Council Transportation Plan are seesawing to and fro, with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and small business associations arguing for a No vote, saying that the tax collected will be squandered.
On the other hand, the mayors who drew up the plan, representing 21 municipalities and the Tsawwassen First Nation, say it will reduce traffic congestion by 20%. They argue that it will save drivers and transit users up to half an hour a day on commutes through some of the region’s most congested corridors. They also believe that the investment is necessary to prepare for the more than 1 million new residents that are expected to arrive in the region in the next 30 years.
If passed, the “Congestion Tax” being proposed would raise $7.5 billion over 10 years for projects such as building a new seismically-sound Pattullo Bridge, light rail transit in Surrey and Langley, and the Broadway subway along North America’s busiest bus corridor towards the University of British Columbia. As well the plan would add 11 new rapid bus ways, upgrade major roads and expand the pedestrian and cycling networks by 2,700 kilometres.
The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-British Columbia (ACEC-BC) has joined the “Yes” side. It has signed on to be part of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, a group of more than 65 organizations, including business groups, the labour movement, student groups, post-secondary organizations, health care organizations and tourism operators. ACEC-BC is urging its member firms and their 10,000 employees to vote yes in the plebiscite.
Meanwhile, the C.D. Howe Institute just released a report saying that existing congestion in Metro Vancouver carries hidden costs of up to $1.2 billion a year, in addition to other costs.
The Mayors have pledged to put in place an accountability panel headed up by B.C. billionaire Jim Pattison to ensure the money collected goes to the transportation projects. The funds along with revenues from fares and tolls would go into a provincial fund that is separate from Translink funding.
The Mayors’ Council drew up the plan along with TransLink and the Government of B.C.. Ballots are being mailed out to residents, and the vote will be open until May 29.
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