Another year, another TransLink funding proposal

Skytrain, BurnabyIn its most recently posted quarterly report,  Metro Vancouver’s transit authority forecast that it would provide 370 million passenger trips  during 2012. In the nine months ending September 30, traffic was up 5.5 per cent from the previous year.

TransLink is struggling to expand its system to serve more passengers, notably with the current construction of the Evergreen rapid transit line in the northeast sector. A growing transit system provides numerous benefits, including labour mobility, increased educational opportunity, and a better quality of life for seniors, kids and many other people who don’t drive.

However, this transit authority is hobbled by its governance structure, a rickety three-legged stool whose legs are a regional council of mayors, a provincially-appointed board of directors, and the provincial government itself, represented by whoever in Victoria happens to be paying attention. The council of mayors floats new revenue ideas from time to time — “float” is the term most often used by the news media, as in “message in a bottle” — but as pointed out previously on this site, the mayors are not organized to campaign on behalf of their proposals. The directors devise operating plans, but the Province won’t approve the revenue measures that would allow the plans to be delivered; and so we see embarrasing mid-year cave-ins, such as the cancellation of promised bus service improvements (among other services) last September.

A few days ago, the mayors sent a letter to the provincial government setting out this year’s revenue wish list — including an annual vehicle levy within Metro Vancouver, maybe a road pricing system (someday), maybe a reallocation of provincial carbon tax dollars to transit (the BC New Democrats, our government-in-waiting, have committed to this), and — for the first time — maybe a regional sales tax dedicated to transit.

I won’t quibble with the above list; I’ll only suggest, as I did last year, that sending a letter is not the way to secure new transit funding. The mayors float their ideas and walk away, leaving news media to swarm the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which then trashes the mayors, their ideas, and and anyone who has ever whispered “TransLink” in their sleep.  Reporter Jeff Nagel dug a little further, and found the BC Business Council ready to offer a hesitant defence of the sales tax idea; but seriously, folks, it’s the mayors who have claimed the right to set the direction for transit, and therefore (in my view) must take on the responsibility for selling these revenue options to the public.

By the way, the Premier’s response to the mayor’s 2012 revenue plan was to call for an audit that would find efficiencies in the system. The audit report, released in October 2012, claimed to have found $139 million in efficiencies. $98 million of these had ben built into TransLink’s operating plans by the time the report was published. Highest on the list of recommendations: cut late-night Skytrain services, cut community shuttle services, and convert some regular bus routes to shuttle services.

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