GTHA transportation coalition reacts to Vancouver referendum result

GTHA transportation coalition reacts to Vancouver referendum result

Posted on July 3rd, by Move the GTHA in Featured, Discussion. No Comments

Result shows that support for revenue tools for transportation takes time to build

TORONTO—The result of Metro Vancouver’s transit referendum provides an important lesson for other Canadian municipalities: more public education about the value of transit and active transportation is needed to secure support for dedicated revenue tools. This has also been the case in many American cities that voted “yes” in subsequent referendums.

The Vancouver referendum asked residents to vote on a half-point sales tax increase, which would be dedicated to regional transportation investments. At final count, only 38 per cent of those who cast a ballot supported the increase.

The margin shows that there is significant work to be done if we expect the public to support new revenue tools for public transit and active transportation. The result also shows that the referendum campaign matters, and that a well-developed and effective public education strategy is critical to achieving majority support.

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) faces similar challenges to Metro Vancouver in terms of traffic congestion and being underserved by transit. The Ontario Government has committed over $30 billion to support the Big Move, the GTHA’s regional transportation plan. That is an extremely important foundation, but with the need at well over $50 billion, additional revenue tools are needed to fund the full cost of the plan and pay for operations.

Quick facts

  • A poll conducted by Angus Reid Forum last year found that 60 per cent of GTHA residents would support an increase in taxes and fees to improve public transit infrastructure.
  • Similarly, 83 per cent of respondents in the GTHA were more likely to support new revenue tools if the dollars collected are put into a dedicated fund that is only used for transportation.
  • Since 2000, 10 cities in the United States have approved new revenue tools to pay for transit by referendum.
  • It is rare for a transit revenue referendum to pass on the first attempt. Of those cities that approved new revenue tools, 60 per cent did so on their second attempt.


“Failing to invest in sustainable, low-carbon mobility for our cities is not an option — not in Vancouver, and not in Toronto. In both cities, decades of under-investment are creating congestion, air quality and quality-of-life issues. The path forward requires new revenue to invest in transit infrastructure.”
— Julia Langer, Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Atmospheric Fund

“We should be very careful interpreting the Vancouver referendum loss as a lack of desire in the public to support new revenues for public transit. Polls and referendums across North America have shown that citizens are supportive of this investment under the right conditions.”
— John Brodhead, Executive Director, Evergreen CityWorks

“In the United States, where citizens are accustomed to referendums, many cities have voted ‘yes’ to raise money for public transit. This approach is new for Canadian cities. The referendum in Vancouver is a first step in building public awareness and understanding of this approach.”
— Cherise Burda, Ontario Director, Pembina Institute

“The result in Metro Vancouver reinforces that advocacy to support new revenue to build transit must begin well before a plebiscite is called. While the specific issues in Vancouver and Toronto are different it is clear that the public must understand how money will be spent and that it will be spent wisely.”
Jan De Silva, President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade.




John Brodhead, Evergreen CityWorks
416 358 3051

About Move the GTHA

Move the GTHA is a diverse group of health, labour, business, policy, environment and citizen advocacy organizations working together to build awareness, engagement and education in support of investment in our region’s transportation system.

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