VANCOUVER, B.C. - The board of directors of TransLink, the authority that oversees public transportation in Greater Vancouver, will take a second look before imposing a levy on road users in the regio...
SAY CHEESE: The TransLink levy system, if adopted, could include photo tolls.
VANCOUVER, B.C. – The board of directors of TransLink, the authority that oversees public transportation in Greater Vancouver, will take a second look before imposing a levy on road users in the region.
At a meeting on Nov. 8, the TransLink board of directors went against staff recommendations to approve the plan, instead sending the issue to the “Council of Councils” to be debated and voted upon. The Council of Councils is made up of all the mayors and council members in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, which although it has no formal authority, also has been asked to review the issue.
“The idea of a vehicle levy has always been viewed favorably by TransLink as a way of funding transportation and infrastructure improvements on the Lower Mainland; it’s their Number 1 option,” says Landry. “By going through these various processes, they appear to be soliciting input on what to do, but it’s clear they want the vehicle levy.”
He insists that TransLink wants road users to pay the bulk of the cost of public transit as well as for roads and bridges.
“There’s no question that the public’s dissatisfaction with the proposed levy is influencing the TransLink board,” says Landry. “Our concerns are being taken seriously.”
To fund its Strategic Transporta-tion Plan for the region, TransLink needs to raise some $450 million between now and 2005. If the bulk of that funding is not forthcoming from the provincial and federal governments, a tax on road users is the most readily available option.
According to Landry, the plan being considered by TransLink would see passenger car owners in the region paying a road use levy of between $40 and $120 annually depending on the vehicle. Commercial road users will pay according to vehicle size and weight, starting at $190 annually for a two-axle delivery van.
“We think for larger trucks the levy could run to several hundred dollars,” complains Landry.
As for vehicles not registered in the region, TransLink staff has also recommended a plan to ask the provincial government to grant it the authority to photograph license plates of all vehicles entering the GVRD for billing for road usage.
The proposed funding scheme would see rates hiked five per cent per year until 2005 when the entire project would be paid in full. But the BCTA and the other opposing groups are suspicious of TransLink’s projections.
“After that, TransLink will begin to incur substantial debt, and its debt servicing cost will rise to one-third of revenues by 2009, up from one-sixth today,” Landry explains. “That tells me they are going to have to come back to the well, and the levy will continue to rise. This debt financing is absolutely frightening.”
In an effort to avert the levy, representatives from the BCTA and BCAA and a group of regional mayors met with federal Minister of Finance Paul Martin on Nov. 9, to discuss the possibility of federal funding for transportation in the GVRD. Although he wouldn’t commit any federal dollars towards the project, Martin did propose that a working group be formed to explore all of the region’s options, something Landry sees as a positive sign.
“Mr. Martin didn’t write us a blank cheque, but he recognized that strong cities are key to Canada competing with the rest of the world,” says Landry. “You can’t have strong cities without roads and transit that moves people and goods efficiently.”
Landry’s comments were echoed by John Ratel, BCAA director of government affairs.
“Clearly, Mr. Martin understands the frustration of local taxpayers and wants to ensure that federal tax dollars are invested appropriately,” he says. “(We) told him that transportation is the region’s number one priority and he made the commitment that the federal government would work with us.”
Still, that may not be enough to satisfy TransLink, which is eager to get going with its stategic plan.
“If TransLink has its way, the levy will be in place A-S-A-P,” Landry contends. “TransLink is pushing local politicians hard for the levy to be approved now, and if we get federal funding later, they say it will be reduced or removed. We want to put pressure on the feds to make sure it remains a top priority with them.” n