DISTRICT of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton says he's hopeful the province will consider a new vehicle levy or carbon tax to fund the region's transit system, despite an initially chilly reception to those proposals.
Walton, who chairs the Mayors' Council on regional transportation, said this week those are the only two short-term solutions - other than property taxes - to fund expansion of the TransLink system.
He added for North Shore residents, vehicle levies would probably cost less than additional property taxes, because of high property assessments in North and West Vancouver.
"Property taxes are very, very unfavourable to North Shore residents," he said.
Walton said vehicle levies - paid as an annual fee through vehicle insurance - make sense, because they fund the transit system though a system that also provides an incentive to drive less.
Other cities, including both Seattle and Montreal, already have vehicle levies, he said.
But Walton also acknowledged the charges have proved politically unpopular here in the past - so much so that the provincial government refused to allow them.
A vehicle levy was first proposed in the late 1990s and again in 2009. Victoria rejected it both times.
In a letter sent last week, Walton asked Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom to consider both the vehicle levy and a regional carbon tax as short-term solutions to make up an approximately $30 million funding shortfall in TransLink's capital budget.
"We're backed into a corner," he said. "It's property tax or this."
Walton said in the long term, regional mayors think it makes sense to look at a system of road tolls to fund transit expansion. He said he favours a system based on distance travelled in the Lower Mainland - rather than bridge tolls. That would be fair, he argued, because everyone who lives in the Lower Mainland is dependent on the transportation system, even if they don't cross particular bridges themselves in a commute. For the most part, "You wouldn't be eating anything (in North Vancouver) if it didn't come over the Port Mann Bridge," he said.
So far Lekstrom hasn't indicated what he'll do with the Mayors' Council request.
Walton acknowledged none of the options are popular with the public - as evidenced by the emails he's received on the topic.
"Ultimately people don't want to pay any more taxes. I understand that," he said.
But he said spending the money to expand the transit system has already been committed to. Raising fares isn't much of an option either, he added, because it would likely cause ridership on public transit to drop.
Last year, faced with a tightening budget and a growing ridership, TransLink concluded it needed an additional $70 million on top of its existing annual revenue to maintain and expand the system. In October, the mayors voted to add another two cents to the region's existing gas taxes - expected to cover about $40 million of that shortfall - and to make up the remainder with a temporary rise in property tax, unless other measures like the vehicle levy is approved.
The Byzantine governance structure of TransLink is also not well understood by the public, said Walton. Local governments tend to take the public heat for decisions, he said, but "the key decisions lie in Victoria."