Choice of Capital Region transit levies awaits transit governance ruling

Greater Victoria leaders say big-ticket transit projects, like LRT, need regional voice

The region’s leaders are not yet ready to pick and choose from a new list of money pots that could finance a proposed $950-million light-rail rapid transit system, and other transit projects in Greater Victoria.

Instead, the Capital Regional District transportation select committee will wait for an independent review of B.C. Transit to wrap up in August.

That may lead the province to give the CRD control of Greater Victoria’s transit system, a regional voice that many leaders say is needed to manage such a big-ticket project as the LRT.

Last week committee members reviewed a draft report that outlines 17 possible funding sources that could pay for the local share of transit projects, such as LRT.

Fees on non-residential parking spaces, vehicles registered in the region and levies collected from the workers of larger employers were identified as the big money-makers.

At a June 27 committee meeting, chair and Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said there appeared to be little appetite around the table to discuss specific ways to pay for an LRT project that is years away from happening.

“People want to talk about the project, but no one wants to talk about funding it with taxes,” he said.

Among the committee members who spoke directly on the merits of the proposed options, Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto said most people who pay for vehicle registration wouldn’t balk at paying an additional $5.

“As a car driver, I think the vehicle levy is a great idea. It’s simple and it’s easy, it’s not very expensive and it generates $1 million a year,” she said.

Others voiced the need to start saving money for future transit projects now.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, the committee’s vice-chair, again championed the benefits of pumping a new local gas tax directly into a fund that would pay for the local share of rapid transit.

“It might be 10 years, it might be 15 years, but when you know that our local share will be in the $250-million mark of a $750-million project (for a partial build-out of LRT), then wouldn’t it be nice to know that we actually have one-third or half of that already in there?” he asked.

“Over the next 20 years we’re going to spend $250 million doing business as usual (to maintain transit services) anyways.”

Following the meeting, Leonard disagreed, preferring that people in the future pay for the local share of the transit project if and when it becomes reality.

“I don’t think we should tax people now for a project in the future,” he said.

It is “reasonable” to take out a loan to help pay for a large-scale capital project, and have the taxpayers of the day pay for the project over a 10- to 15-year period, he said.

“I don’t think we should increase taxes right now to build up a piggy bank.”

Next steps include finalizing the funding-options report, then posting it on the CRD website for public input, likely in August or September. Committee members also plan to meet with their Metro Vancouver colleagues to learn about transit financing options that worked there.

emccracken@vicnews.com

Ticket to ride

• The Capital Region’s public transit system costs about $100 million a year, and is covered by $34.8 million in fares, $34.4 million from the province and $29.9 million in local property and fuel taxes.

• Future transit improvements are projected to cost an extra $1 billion over 20 years. Divided equally between the region and provincial and federal governments, Greater Victoria would need to generate an extra $15 million per year – a 50-per-cent hike over current costs.

• View the draft technical report at http://crd.bc.ca/regionalplanning/transportation/index.htm under Current Initiatives.

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