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Risky to bust up flow of gas tax to TransLink: Walton

Mayors' chair counsels cities against trying to go it alone
Light rail lines are big on the wish list of mayors South of the Fraser.

Any move to split up the stream of funding to TransLink from its share of the federal gas tax could threaten the integrity of Metro Vancouver's transit system, warns the chair of the region's mayors council.

North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton was responding to suggestions from Delta council that it might want to break from TransLink and use Delta's share of the gas tax to run its own transit service.

"It wouldn't be very easily workable," he said. "That's something we'd have to talk about as a group. It would have significant implications for TransLink."

The federal budget handed down March 22 included a pledge the Conservative government will enshrine the gas tax transfer in law.

It's worth $123 million a year to TransLink – half of what Ottawa collects from the extra 10 cents in federal gasoline tax added to every litre of fuel sold in the Lower Mainland.

The arrangement whereby the money returned to this region is used by TransLink for regional transportation needs was agreed to years ago by the Metro Vancouver board and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

"I think those funds should come directly to us," Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said.

"If we took the gas tax that's generated south of the river and put those funds into the things we need south of the river, would that give us a better opportunity to advance our options?"

Surrey council has also mulled the idea of striking off on its own to try to bring rapid transit expansion faster than TransLink.

"We know those kinds of challenges," Walton said. "The mayors at the most remote parts of Metro Vancouver question whether they're getting fair value from TransLink."

He said it makes more sense for those cities to pursue solutions directly with TransLink than to try to split up the mutually agreed pot of money that's a major part of the authority's budget.

The federal commitment to legislate the gas tax transfer had been requested by the mayors council.

The federal government in 2008 agreed to make the gas tax transfer permanent, but the pledge now to legislate the transfers is seen as a further strengthening of that commitment.

"We're all pleased about it," Walton said.

The change doesn't increase the amount of money TransLink can borrow for future transit expansion projects as it had already been counted as an assured revenue source.