There's no good reason for Langley residents to support car tax

Talks on Friday between Transportation Minister Todd Stone and Lower Mainland mayors about transit seemed to offer some hope of a way out of the transportation funding dilemma.

Mayors have been highly critical of Stone and the provincial government, stating that a proposed referendum is confusing and that no priorities were apparent. After a war of words escalated, Stone offered to give mayors more control over TransLink’s budget — a major point. He also backed off on insisting that a referendum on new funding options be held in conjunction with this fall’s municipal elections.

Some mayors are sounding a little more conciliatory, but one suggestion made by the chair of the Mayors’ Council on TransLink, Richard Walton, needs to be watched like a hawk.

Walton suggested Friday that perhaps a referendum could be held this fall, simply calling for a car tax on all Lower Mainland vehicle owners. The funds would go solely to expanding bus service.

TransLink already has power, under the legislation incorporating it, to implement a universal car tax. It was set to go down that path in its first few years of existence, in the late 1990s, when drivers revolted.

Many of those who fought the hardest came from Langley and Surrey, and other areas which were poorly-served by the bus system. They complained, quite rightly in my view, that they would be paying additional taxes to provide more buses to people in other areas, and they would get no benefit from the car tax.

Fast forward 15 years. Surrey and Langley have grown dramatically. The bus service is marginally better than it was — there is the new 555 bus to the Braid Station from Carvolth Park and Ride, and connecting routes to SkyTrain like the 502 and 501 are heavily-used.

But Surrey residents still have no bus over the Port Mann Bridge to SkyTrain, despite a promise to that effect when the new bridge was announced. Areas such as Willoughby have little or no transit service. And there are no plans to increase transit service in this area.

Nor is there any movement to expand rapid transit beyond Whalley. So if there was a car tax,  the benefits would mostly flow to Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and New Westminster residents, who are already very well-served with both rapid transit and bus service.

There is no good reason for anyone in Langley to vote “yes” to a car tax. The few who rely exclusively on buses won’t get much more in the way of service. The vast majority of people here own and operate cars (at a cost of about $10,000 per vehicle per year) in order to travel to work, shopping and school. They are not getting a break on tolls. In fact they must pay tolls to cross the river, unless they travel long distances to avoid them.

While a car tax might offer a quick fix for some mayors and for TransLink, it would be of no benefit to people here.

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