Regional Transportation plebiscite fails

A regional plebiscite on transit and transportation improvements in Metro Vancouver held from March to May failed.

It was based on a transportation plan prepared in late 2014 by the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, proposing it be funded by a dedicated 0.5 percent sales tax increase, which the provincial government subsequently called the Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax. The levy was to be an extension of the provincial sales tax applied to all goods sold in the region. Transportation improvements totalling $7.5 billion were to include a Broadway extension of SkyTrain’s Millennium line, light rapid transit in Surrey, a Pattullo Bridge upgrade, bus improvements, increase in SeaBus and HandyDart services, and cycling and pedestrian projects.

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Significance
A provincial government-mandated plebiscite on transit and transportation in Metro Vancouver failed in Vancouver and almost all suburban communities with almost 62 per cent voting against it. Of the member municipalities, only three voted in favour: Belcarra, Bowen Island, and Electoral Area A which includes the University of B.C. The plebiscite and its result illustrated the provincial government’s control over transportation and the municipalities’ lack of it.

Most mayors in the region and a coalition of community, unions and business groups campaigned for a Yes vote, saying the improvements would ease congestion, protect the air quality, strengthen the economy, and prepare the region for the one million more people expected to move here in the next 25 years. During the campaign leading up to the spring, 2015, mail-in vote, the Yes side emphasized that the regional transit system could not accommodate passenger demand.

The mayors’ transportation strategy supported the goal of Transportation 2040, Vancouver’s transportation plan, which forecasts that Vancouver is expected to grow by about 130,000 residents and close to 90,000 jobs by 2041. “More people and more jobs means adding more trips to the transportation network, but the amount of road space remains the same,” it says. “Commute mode share will be key to accommodating more trips.”

The mayors’ plan also backs Goal 5 of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (Metro Vancouver) Regional Growth Strategy, which is to support sustainable transportation choices. It calls for complete communities with a frequent transportation network with residential development close to it.

When it came to the vote, however, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation had led a successful No campaign that centred on accusing TransLink of waste and excessive executive pay.

Around the same time as the plebiscite, the government announced a new bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel over the Fraser River between Richmond and Delta, plus a freeway expansion, which would result in 10 lanes of highway, reduced to four at the Oak Street Bridge joining Richmond and Vancouver.

Little progress was made on the regional transportation plan after the plebiscite, although in 2016 the mayors began looking again at funding options after the federal government promised $370 million for transit-related projects as part of its plan to improve infrastructure across the country.

Background
Vancouver and other local governments in the Metro Vancouver region had been asking for transportation improvements for some time, arguing that full buses pass passengers by and that transit services are inadequate for a growing population.

In its 2013 provincial election campaign, Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal party responded to regional requests for transit expansion by calling for a referendum on transit and transportation improvements in Metro Vancouver. After winning re-election, the government decided the vote would be a non-binding plebiscite.

Sources
Brown, Scott. (2015 July 2). Full Voting results for Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite. Vancouver Sun. http://vancouversun.com/news/staff-blogs/full-voting-results-for-metro-vancouver-transportation-and-transit-plebiscite

Johnson, Lisa and Baluja, Tamara (2015 July 3). Transit referendum: Voters say No to new Metro Vancouver tax, transit improvements. CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/transit-referendum-voters-say-no-to-new-metro-vancouver-tax-transit-improvements-1.3134857

City of Vancouver. Transportation 2040 Moving Forward Retrieved from: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/transportation-2040-plan.pdf

Metro Vancouver. Regional Growth Strategy. Retrieved from: http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/regional-planning/metro-vancouver-2040/about-metro-2040/Pages/default.aspx

Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. Minutes and Reports. Retrieved from: http://www.translink.ca/en/About-Us/Governance-and-Board/Mayors-Council/Council-Minutes-and-Reports.aspx

Laanela, Mike. (2015, May 26). Mayors and province roll out separate Metro Vancouver transit funding proposals, CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/translink-funding-fassbender-1.3601019

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