Unfortunately, there is not much municipalities can currently do to better finance public transport. Like their Canadian cousins, municipalities in the Lower Mainland are very much ‘creatures of the Province’ with few taxation powers. Any better funding sources would require provincial approval.
Then there is the question of financing operations versus financing expansion. Operations should be financed in ways that are sustainable and grow with improved service. Fuel taxes and road charges do not. Fares do, however, raising them hurts low-income users. The level at which low-incomes users are subsidized and whether this should be done through vouchers or a percentage of operations should be determined by the public.
Expansion could be better funded through development capture or sales taxes. Development capture could be done through development cost charges, tax-increment financing or some other means of capturing the property value increase generated around rapid transit stations. Many cities in the United States have used temporary voter-approved sales taxes to fund specific transit projects; Canadian cities should follow their lead.
Finally, new means of financing public transportation should be fair and encourage behaviour that benefits the economy, our health and the environment. In this context, road tolling should be seen as a way to ‘level the playing field’ by having road users pay for what they use like any other utility. It should be viewed as a replacement of the unfair and regressive property taxes currently used to fund roads instead of as a potential cash cow for public transportation.