VANCOUVER – The British Columbia government has come to an agreement with Metro Vancouver mayors to move ahead on a $7 billion transit expansion for the region.
The provincial and federal governments have previously promised to cover 80 per cent of a 10-year transit plan, but the remaining gap was the responsibility of municipalities to fill.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who is chair of the Mayors’ Council for the region, said reaching a unanimous agreement between varying municipal interests involved everyone “sucking it up” to come up with the funding options.
“When you’ve got the kind of money we had on the table from the provincial government, the kind of money that the federal government is bringing to the table, it would be foolish for us not to be prepared to make the necessary compromises to get that money into the Lower Mainland,” he said.
It represents the largest funding announcement for transit in the province’s history, Corrigan said.
“We achieved what seemed almost impossible,” he said.
The second phase of transit expansion includes the addition of 900,000 hours of bus service per year, Corrigan said. It will also see the expansion of a SkyTrain line for the Broadway corridor in Vancouver and the completion of the first 10 kilometres of light rail in Surrey.
To raise $40 million needed for the projects, Corrigan said there will be “moderate and balanced” increases to transit fares, development fees, parking fees and property taxes.
Transit fares are expected to go up by two per cent over two years beginning in 2020, which would result in a five- to 15-cent hike for single tickets while monthly passes could increase between $1 and $3.
A development levy would hit builders with a $300 to $600 charge per unit, depending on the type of residential dwelling being constructed.
Property taxes would increase on average by $5.50 per home annually, beginning in 2019.
The final amounts won’t be approved until after public consultations are completed this spring.
Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said the province is giving the region’s mayors more control over revenue sources to close a funding gap that was prohibiting projects from going ahead. It will also remove a requirement for the region to hold referendums on new revenue sources to speed up the approval process.
“There will be no more delays and the region can finally put shovels in the ground on important phase two projects,” she said.
A 2015 referendum to increase sales tax in the region to support the 10-year plan failed, leaving municipalities to start from scratch in search of funding alternatives.
The province is also relieving Translink from new financial burdens by kicking in an additional $30 million. But Robinson said details of how that relief will be provided is still under discussion with the transit operator.
Translink CEO Kevin Desmond said the region’s population is expected to increase by one million people over the next 30 years and the projects needed now must be completed to keep up with the demand.
“We need to continue to be thinking about what happens in the next 10 years and the following 10 years to maintain the liveability and prosperity of this region,” he said.
If consultations and approvals go as planned, Desmond said the rapid transit projects in Vancouver and Surrey could be completed by 2025.