1 free tip for the TransLink mayors

April has seen continuing turmoil at TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority, generating widespread coverage from mass media and from bloggers.

A root cause of TransLink’s financial and administrative problems, in the view of many, is the convoluted governance structure outlined in the authority’s Governance Manual and 2012 Base Plan.  This structure leaves the region’s mayors taking political heat but having little control.  Public and media blame the TransLink Mayors’ Council for the system’s failings,  but the council lacks even a dedicated staff person at the transit corporation’s offices.  Annual operating plans are devised by a Board, which is  appointed by a revolving Panel.  The mayors “review and provide input.”

The mayors are frustrated.  They want a different model of governance. They showed their frustration last week by exercising the one power they do have: they killed a supplementary funding and service plan they approved in late 2011, including promised new bus transit in Surrey.

An overhaul of the governance model would need changes to provincial legislation.  We already seem to be entering the pre-election period provincially, a time when institutional reorganization is likely to get a low priority.  This gives the mayors time to develop something like a consensus on what kind of change they want.  Perhaps they can present draft legislation, with rationale, to a transportation minister in the fall of 2013, along with evidence of widespread support.

We can assume they want genuine autonomy for the regional transportation authority, and an end to provincial micro-managing. They have to build in some protection for smaller municipalities in the decision-making process.  They’ll need to think hard about what levels of transparency and consultation are needed to earn and maintain public trust.

My one free tip for the mayors: start now. If you can’t get respect inside TransLink, go outside TransLink.  Recruit a cubicle from one of the city governments or Simon Fraser University.  Find someone with clean hands to start drafting a strategy.   Set up a rough-and-ready web page to receive public input.  Talk to transit-friendly groups. Talk to taxpayers.  Refine the strategy.  “Bring the public along,” as B.C. transportation minister Blair Lekstrom put it recently in a letter to the mayors.  The “public,” in this case, doesn’t have to be everybody; it’s whatever set of people is sufficient to persuade a provincial government to budge.   The issues at hand are clear: what does the next model of transportation governance look like.  Who should be in charge, and how are they accountable?

2 responses

  1. It appears the opposite is true when it comes to the regional government structure, especially in regards to the Livable Region Strategy. Here, moats and drawbridges abound. If this type of behaviour in perpetuating fiefdoms continues, amalgamation may be the only logical solution. The same as every other major metropolitan region in this country.

    • Thanks, Tom. You raise a number of points. Adherence by municipal councils to the Livable Region Strategy (1994) was uneven, resulting in a dispersed employment pattern that is increasingly difficult to serve by transit. It’s notable that the biggest offenders are now the biggest complainers with regard to transit. But this is not an all-or-nothing proposition; there has also been growth around the town centres – not just in Surrey, but also at Willingdon, Lougheed Town and Coquitlam Central and other places; and there has been progress on transit.

      On amalgamation, one of my first posts, on September 6, 2011, pointed to the expert view that amalgamation will tend to raise costs rather than lower them. However, I agree that there is political pressure to amalgamate; most often, people talk about sub-regional groupings, so we would have a unified city in the Tri-Cities, or on the North Shore. In this regard, it’s interesting that just as I was posting this item on TransLink, an online report appeared from Global TV about a meeting of south-of-Fraser mayors to explore joint action. The report even mentioned the idea of a new south-of-Fraser regional district, separate from Metro Vancouver; that’s interesting, but as with proposed changes to TransLink governance, I would ask, what’s the mechanism for getting there, and how will the public be engaged?

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