» Meeting long-term transport needs will require a major new governmental commitment, as well as new financing options like central-city tolling.
This week, metro Vancouver’s TransLink presented three options for the region’s elected officials: with an infusion of new cash, the transit authority could dramatically improve service and expand rapid transit along three new corridors; it could maintain the status quo and cut bus service by 40%; or, it could do something in between. Politicians in the region’s cities and in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, have until October 31st to make up their minds. They’ll either have to find significant new funding sources or face dramatic cuts in transit service.
Though Vancouver is currently building a new rapid transit project called the Canada Line and is investing in a downtown streetcar project in time for the 2010 Olympics, the picture isn’t all rosy. TransLink faces a $4.6 billion funding gap between now and 2020. Municipalities and regional officials have a responsibility to come forward with $450 million of new annual funding if long-planned projects such as the Evergreen Line and Broadway extension of the Millennium Line are to be pursued. No funding at all would devastate plans to encourage more of the region’s population to choose transit over driving.
|Three Options for Vancouver|
|No new financing||$260 m more annually||$450 m more annually|
|Bus service||40% reduction||10% increase||20% increase|
|# New buses||Few||160||400|
|# New trains||48||100||138|
|Major expansions||None||None||Evergreen Line, Broadway Extension, Surrey Extension|
|Station upgrades||None||Expo Line||Expo Line|
|Cycling programs||$1.2 m/year||$10 m/year||$23 m/year|
Mayors are adamantly opposed to any proposals that would result in such reduced transit service as TransLink has suggested in the “no new financing” plan shown above. Cities alone would be able to raise about $275 million yearly from local revenues. Mayors may choose to levy automobile users an average of $122 a vehicle, with those in more polluting cars paying more. They could also increase taxes on parking, introduce higher gas taxes, and augment transit fares. Implementing all of these new funding solutions would allow the compromise plan to be implemented, basically allowing for a slight increase in transit provision.
TransLink is also proposing an even less expensive $130 million solution that would eliminate the need to levy an automobile fee but that would avert service cuts. Local officials have argued that an increase in property taxes would be politically infeasible.
Yet in order to fund transit service expansion at a cost of $450 million a year, British Columbia will have to get involved. Thus far, transport minister Shirley Bond has suggested that she isn’t a major supporter of rapid transit expansion. Nonetheless, mayors are continuing talks with provincial officials to find more money.
The province could choose to toll automobilists for bridge use or charge a vehicles miles traveled tax. Tolling drivers to enter the city core would be an effective incentive to take the bus or train. Together, at reasonable rates, these fees would raise $175 million a year. It’s unclear whether British Columbia officials will find such major new fees acceptable, but if there’s a consensus on the necessity of transit expansion in the region, someone’s going to have to find the money somewhere.