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Poll suggests transit referendum 'winnable'

Rapid transit expansion is one of the major planks of Metro Vancouver mayors
Rapid transit expansion is one of the major planks of Metro Vancouver mayors' vision released in June.
— image credit: File

New polling data suggests a planned referendum next March on new taxes to expand the Metro Vancouver transit system could yet pass despite waning public support for TransLink.

The survey was conducted for TransLink in two phases in May and late June by Maple Leaf Strategies, before and after the release by Metro mayors of their $7.5-billion expansion plan.

The first phase found found 57 per cent of respondents were very or somewhat likely to vote 'yes' in the referendum, followed by 56 per cent in the second phase. About a third said they were unlikely to vote in favour.

"That is very encouraging for us," said Bob Paddon, TransLink's executive vice-president of strategic planning. "A referendum is winnable."

The survey found 58 per cent were willing to pay higher taxes, fares or fees if the money raised is dedicated to new transportation and transit projects.

A larger majority of 75 per cent agreed that "even if taxpayers don't like new taxes and fees, they are necessary to build new transit and transportation infrastructure to deal with congestion."

A further 79 per cent agreed public transit investments help ease congestion for vehicle drivers.

The surveys of more than 500 residents have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 per cent.

"There's an appetite out there to solve this problem of congestion and people understand that's going to cost money to do it," Paddon said. "They also want ensure those are good investments and they'll be managed well."

SFU City Program director Gordon Price said he also thinks the referendum may be winnable, but cautioned there are major risks.

"Those are more optimistic results than I would have anticipated," he said of the polling data.

A companion survey from Mustel Group indicated declining overall support for TransLink – down to 68 per cent of respondents with a favourable opinion from 75 per cent in 2010 when the Canada Line opened.

And the polling was conducted before two major SkyTrain shutdowns fueled intense criticism of TransLink in May, as well as this week's release of rising payouts to senior executives.

Price also noted there's no final agreement between the mayors and the provincial government on what tax mechanism would be used and no clarity on what it would cost the typical household – answers that voters need as soon as possible.

Even assuming the mayors and province reach a deal, transit advocates like Price expect a difficult battle for votes against anti-tax opponents of TransLink spending.

Much, he said, will come down to how voters perceive the question.

"If it's a vote on TransLink, most people think it would be very tough," Price said. "If it's a vote on our future, the chances increase – provided the number is palatable, people believe they're getting value for money and all parts of the region benefit."

Also essential, he said, is that politicians across the spectrum and right up to the premier support the plan and the Yes campaign.

The poll results also suggest the mayors' top choice of increasing the carbon tax in Metro to fund their plan over the short time has less support than other options.

Fifteen per cent picked the carbon tax as their preferred revenue source.

In contrast, 27 per cent listed a $75 vehicle levy, another 27 per cent chose tolls of up to $2 on all bridge crossings in the region and 17 per cent picked a regional sales tax of up to one per cent.

According to the Mustel poll, those with good impressions of TransLink most often cited convenient, easy-to-access transit that takes them where they want to go.

Those who dislike TransLink had negative opinion of management (29 per cent), dislike TransLink taxes (21 per cent), or called it a waste of money, inefficient or a monopoly (20 per cent).

Sharply more South of Fraser residents in Delta, Surrey and Langley – 35 per cent – opposed TransLink taxes.

Others said bus service isn't convenient or accessible enough and needs to be expanded outside Vancouver. Some said transit is too expensive.

Those whose impressions had recently improved listed improving service or the construction of the Evergreen Line.

Those with worsening impressions listed poor route scheduling, poor money management, bad service outside Vancouver, fare increases and poor management.

Further down the list were concerns about fare evaders, the new Compass card system, security, taxes and bridge tolls.

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