Optimism is surging in Greater Victoria in the wake of the province’s recent promise to create a two-cent-per-litre Metro Vancouver gas tax that would help pay for a rapid-transit line there.
Members of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission say it’s a promising development as they look for ways to fund a light rail line between downtown Victoria and Langford.
“It’s encouraging,” said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin. “It is my hope that the provincial government allows us to bring in a gas tax as soon as possible.
“That, over the next five years, will give us about $50 million,” he said. “That will (give us) a strong portion of the $250 million we need for our portion of (a partial build-out of) the LRT.”
At a June meeting between B.C.’s transportation minister and commission members, Fortin asked Blair Lekstrom that an additional 3.5 cents a litre paid at Capital Region pumps be directed into an LRT capital infrastructure reserve fund, which doesn’t yet exist.
The Victoria commission currently receives 3.5 cents a litre at the pumps to pay for transit operations.
“We’ve got to start saving for this future rail, and it’ll lessen the impact of anything we have to borrow,” Fortin said.
At the meeting, Lekstrom said he would consider a request for an additional carbon tax, and possibly a new gas tax, but “I think we have to be very careful when people talk about new revenue sources,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who also sits on the transit commission.
Considering the cost, taxpayers should be allowed to weigh in on the issue in a November referendum, Leonard said, adding that the question can’t be developed unless the local share of the project is known.
But some Victoria residents say the gas tax is a “very prudent” approach, said Fortin, adding that motorists will also benefit from the LRT because it will reduce congestion.
The gas tax is so far the preferred choice to pay for the project since no one is in any hurry to raise municipal property taxes, said commission member and Victoria Coun. John Luton.
“Everybody’s feeling the weight of property taxes, particularly businesses – who pay a multiple of that – bristle at the idea of more (taxes) to pay for whatever transit project goes forward,” Luton said.