Stop Punishing Surrey With Gas Tax, Tolls, And Poor Transit

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North Surrey drivers will soon pay significant tolls for leaving the city via the Golden Ears, Port Mann, and Pattullo bridges. Meanwhile, no one else in the province pays tolls. Not Coquihalla drivers. Not drivers crossing the Bill Bennett Bridge in Kelowna. Not those who drive the Sea-to-Sky. Meanwhile Mayor Dianne Watts recently wrote a full-page op-ed in the Surrey Now newspaper advocating a two-cent-per-litre gas tax increase recently approved by mayors in Metro Vancouver.

By Stephanie Ryan

Mayor Dianne Watts recently wrote a full-page op-ed in the Surrey Now newspaper advocating the two-cent-per-litre gas tax increase recently approved by mayors in Metro Vancouver.

Within a week of its announcement, this gas tax was a popular topic among people I spoke with in the community.

Here are the facts.

TransLink charges a 15-cent-per-litre gas tax in Metro Vancouver, while the province charges a 6.03-cent-per-litre carbon tax, which will increase to 7.24 cents per litre on July 1, 2012.

Surrey drivers crossing the Golden Ears Bridge pay $3.45 each way without a transponder. And Surrey transit riders pay some of the highest per-kilometre fares in all of Canada (it costs $3.75 to SkyTrain from Scott Road Station to Columbia Station—one stop away—during peak hours).

And Surrey commuters are going to be hit even harder in the next five to 10 years. Significant tolls are being proposed for the Port Mann and Pattullo bridges when they’re rebuilt.

I get it. The Evergreen Line is some 20 years overdue, it’s the next capital project in line for TransLink, and the people of the Tri-Cities have been waiting long enough (they did get pre-empted by the Canada Line to Richmond). It’s not their fault the province has neglected to cough up money to get the project moving.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong proponent of improved public transit service, sustainable development, and responsible growth management.

But it feels like Surrey commuters are being taxed to death, and getting little in return.

For anyone who actually believes the level of transit service south of the Fraser is acceptable, I challenge them to try and catch a bus on Fraser Highway during rush hour, or on any other route outside of peak hours.

Here’s what I propose.

Put more buses on Surrey roads immediately. A significant boost in service hours south of the Fraser will help ease the pain for those who have little choice right now but to drive to work. Re-establish the #351 bus from South Surrey to downtown Vancouver, and accelerate a route from Surrey to Coquitlam via the Port Mann Bridge.

Stick with the new two-cent tax in Metro Vancouver with some sort of guarantee that all monies collected will actually be used for transit and further guarantee that the Evergreen Line will finally get built. In addition, redirect all current carbon tax revenue into boosting transit service across the province, especially south of the Fraser.

But read my lips—no more tolls.

North Surrey drivers will soon pay significant tolls for leaving the city via the Golden Ears, Port Mann, and Pattullo bridges. Meanwhile, no one else in the province pays tolls. Not Coquihalla drivers. Not drivers crossing the Bill Bennett Bridge in Kelowna. Not those who drive the Sea-to-Sky.

People in Surrey will not stand to be unilaterally punished with ever-increasing taxes, the only three tolled crossings in the entire province, and no reasonable transportation alternatives.

If we are going to swallow the bitter pill that is another two-cent gas tax, it should be on the condition that there be no more tolls in Surrey before there is world-class transit service south of the Fraser—and everyone else in the province pays their share of tolls too.

Stephanie Ryan is a candidate for City Council for the Surrey Civic Coalition in the upcoming civic elections in November.