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Mayors back gas tax hike for SkyTrain

$40M annual revenue pays for Evergreen Line; $30M still wanted

Metro Vancouver's mayors agreed Tuesday to support a two-centper-litre hike in the region's gas tax to pay for a new SkyTrain route into Port Coquitlam.

While the tax hike won't provide any immediate benefit for North Shore commuters, West Vancouver Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones says residents should be cheered that the province is starting to look beyond property taxes to fund TransLink.

The gas tax increase will give the regional transit authority $40 million in new annual revenue, enough to cover TransLink's $400 million share of the Evergreen Line's $1.4 billion price tag.

Another $30 million annually has to be found to pay for the other projects in TransLink's Moving Forward plan, such as expansion of 15-minute SeaBus service, renovation of the Lonsdale Quay station, increased bus service and several other upgrades.

This money may end up coming from property taxes, but Goldmsith-Jones, who is vice-chairwoman of TransLink's Mayors' Council, said Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom is open to discussing other sources over the coming year.

The gas tax increase will take effect in April of 2012. There will be a new round of public consultation and negotiation between the province and TransLink to determine whether to draw the remaining $30 million from property taxes or one of the alternatives.

"The two things that are most discussed are the transportation improvement fee and the regional carbon tax," Goldmsith-Jones told the North Shore News. "We'd like to be able to distribute the ways we pay across various things."

Both options may be politically difficult for the province. The transportation improvement fee, also known as a vehicle levy, was abandoned a decade ago by the then-NDP government after fierce public opposition. The carbon tax was touted as being revenueneutral when the B.C. Liberals introduced it in 2008.

"Maybe the public is going to say property taxes are all right," said Goldsmith-Jones. "I doubt it, when we add up what the sewage treatment plants are going to cost and all the other regional expense we've got. So this is a good move away from property taxes."

Tolling of routes was another funding option discussed in 2010, when the mayors balked at paying for the Moving Forward plan with property taxes. But Goldsmith-Jones said the debate appears to have moved away from tolls.

"That might almost be an old-fashioned way of looking at it now," she said, "depending on how the gas tax can serve us to change demand and change use.

"Our goal by 2015 is to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. So what levers do we have in order to do that and what increased capacity do we need to create in terms of public transit are the questions."