An Ipsos Reid poll has found rapid transit is a divisive issue in the region and residents want the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the plan.

When it comes to overall support for rapid transit, 48 per cent of respondents say they don't support the proposed plan, while 40 per cent say they do.

All of the residents asked the question were informed of the costs and the potential tax increase involved in implementing rapid transit.

Ruth Haworth of Taxpayers for Sensible Transit, which funded the poll, says "I was surprised, I thought more opposed, but I think this was a solid survey…That's what the truth is right now."

While support for the project seems to be quite evenly divided, there does appear to be overwhelming support for a referendum on the issue.

Eighty-three per cent of respondents say the region should hold a referendum, while only 16 per cent of residents oppose the idea.

The support comes just days after Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran called for a referendum. The motion is expected to be debated by regional council on June 1.

The earliest a referendum could be held is six months after a ‘yes or no question' is approved by council, and it is only binding if voter turnout is more than 50 per cent.

On the subject of projected ridership, while 28 per cent of people say they use Grand River Transit at least occasionally, 42 per cent say they would use the proposed rapid transit system.

That is a 14 per cent increase, but respondents say they're not likely to use it often or for their daily commute.

Sean Simpson, associate vice president of public affairs for Ipsos Reid, says whether rapid transit will be successful really depends on what the goal is for the system.

"What we found is only two per cent of people who say they never use buses now, will use this light rail transit system, or the rapid buses in Cambridge going forward. So it doesn't look like it's having much impact in taking day to day commuters off the roads."

The poll was paid for by Taxpayers for Sensible Transit, a group that has spoken out against the development of a light rail transit system in the past.

They say the funds to pay for the $28,000 poll were collected through donations.

The poll sampled 1,025 people living in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. Results are accurate within 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Politicians react to poll numbers

There has been positive reaction to the poll among local politicians, but for very different reasons.

Waterloo Regional Councillor Jim Wideman says "The poll itself, I think is really good news for the project that we have on the ground."

He doesn't want a referendum and says he was surprised at how many were in favour of it.

"It doesn't square with the emails that I'm getting. My emails on the referendum issue alone are running nine to one saying ‘Don't have a referendum.'"

But Halloran, who has proposed a referendum, says she is hearing the opposite.

"I think that now that we're getting close to that final decision, people are almost saying, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. When did this happen and how did we get here?' And there's just more of a realization that this is an imminent decision and people are stepping up and saying ‘I need to know more.'"

Tim Mollison of the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group, a light rail transit advocate, says a referendum would distract councillors from a decision they have been working on for nine years.

"At this point we don't have time for a referendum as well the referendum process doesn't allow for the kind of complexity that this issue requires," he says.

Halloran says that for such a big issue, time should be made to hear from citizens.

But Wideman says public opinion is being voiced at open meetings, and regional council wants to make the decision.

Regional council will vote on the referendum motion on June 1, and is expected to vote on the light rail transit plan on June 15.

Halloran says she will respect council's decision if they oppose the referendum and vote on the rapid transit proposal.