Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce has come out against the proposed “Congestion Improvement Tax,” which is being proposed to provide additional money for TransLink to extend bus service, replace the Pattullo Bridge and add new rapid transit lines.
The chamber board voted not to support the referendum, which proposes a .5 per cent dedicated regional tax to fund the transit and transportation infrastructure expansion plan in the Metro Vancouver Region. It is going against the position of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and most Lower Mainland chambers.
For the past several years, the Langley chamber has advocated for “mobility pricing” to provide a user-pay, sustainable funding source, which is equitable and provides the ability to impact demand management in the Metro Vancouver region.
“We are disappointed that the current proposals do not have concrete plans to ensure the regional tax is temporary and facilitate transition to mobility pricing in the near future,” said a chamber press release.
One of the board’s concerns was that the congestion improvement tax proposal has a “lack of stated mechanisms to mitigate the negative impact on Langley due to leakage of investment and consumers into Abbotsford and the U.S. to avoid a regional tax.” It is also concerned that South of Fraser projects may be delayed or deferred if other largher projects go over budget, or incur construction delays.
“We will continue to lobby for the implementation of mobility pricing to fund transportation improvements in the region,” the press release stated.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the provincial government released the question and approved the referendum, which will be officially called the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite.
In a letter to the Metro mayors council, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said the new tax would apply to “the majority of goods and services that are subject to the PST and are sold or delivered within the region.”
Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore said making it a separate tax may still amount to the same thing for most residents, but he noted it does provide scope for the province to allow different exemptions, potentially for large purchases like cars.
Last week, car dealers raised concern they may lose business to competitors in the Fraser Valley if vehicle buyers face an extra 0.5 per cent tax within Metro.
“I think they’re still analyzing whether there are any exemptions beyond the PST ones today and what those would be,” Moore said.
He noted treating the tax as a separate line item will be easier for businesses.
Minor refinements to the proposed ballot were done with input from Elections BC “to meet their ballot fairness requirements,” Stone’s letter said.
One change moves the promise of annual audits and independent reporting on how the tax money is spent out of the question and into the preamble.
The wording of the provincially approved ballot is also less specific about the promised projects.
Where the mayors’ ballot pledged to build “light rail transit” from Surrey City Centre to Newton, Guildford and Langley, the province’s now states “rapid transit.”
Likewise, the final ballot simply says “build rapid transit along Broadway in Vancouver” rather than the mayors’ version to “extend the Millennium Line tunneled along Broadway.”
Those changes may raise questions as to whether the province might go against Surrey’s insistence on light rail rather than SkyTrain or Vancouver’s preference for a more costly tunneled line, rather than cut-and-cover construction on Broadway as with the Canada Line on Cambie Street.
“That’s obviously one of the first questions I had,” Mayors’ Council chair Richard Walton said, but added it may just reflect the province’s desire for simpler wording.
“The minister indicated he wanted to use the more generic description of rapid transit. That was their edit.”
Stone has previously said final decisions on the scope and design of the Surrey and Vancouver transit lines will depend on their business cases.
Neither Stone nor his staff responded to requests to clarify the government’s intent.
The mayors’ ballot also said it would “add more bus service to crowded routes and add new routes in growing areas” and “add 11 new B-Line rapid bus routes, with fast and frequent service connecting town centres” while the final ballot eliminates the promotional language and simply states “add bus service and B-Line rapid bus routes.”
A new Pattullo Bridge is also part of the package of promised improvements.
The ballot also promises the tax will help maintain and upgrade major roads, extend cycling and pedestrian routes and increase service on SkyTrain, Canada Line, SeaBus and West Coast Express.
Also eliminated from the preamble is wording that “one million more people will live and work in Metro Vancouver by 2040” and added is a phrase stating the plan is “to reduce congestion on roads and bridges and to provide more transit to communities across the region.”
The final mailed-out ballot will also provide a link to a website for more information.
Ballots for the mail-in plebiscite would go out March 16 and the deadline for voting would be May 29.
It will pass on a 50 per cent plus one majority counted across the region.
The province will not fund groups on the Yes or No side of the referendum.