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Transit riders at the Vancouver downtown transit station on Granville and West Georgia on August 14, 2013 in Vancouver. (Jimmy Jeong For The Globe and Mail)
Transit riders at the Vancouver downtown transit station on Granville and West Georgia on August 14, 2013 in Vancouver. (Jimmy Jeong For The Globe and Mail)

B.C. mayors given powers over fare increases, 10-year visions for TransLink Add to ...

Mayors will get a few new powers at TransLink under proposed new legislation introduced by the province – the right to create 10-year visions for the regional transportation system, decide on executive pay and raise fares.

But they will still have no control over the transportation authority’s $1-billion operations budget – an appointed board will continue to decide how that will be spent – and they are still stuck with a referendum they never wanted on how to pay for their 10-year expansion plan.

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In spite of the limitations, some welcomed what they said was a first step. Others said they’ve gained no real power and now have all the unpopular jobs.

“They made a supreme effort to make sure we got all the dirty jobs, the jobs that tend to make the public crazy,” said Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who is one of the mayors most critical of the province’s handling of TransLink among the 21 in the region. “We get to raise fares – that’s a nice one to wear as mayors.”

Until now, the board has asked for fare increases and a commissioner has decided whether to allow them.

At the other end of the opinion spectrum, mayors in Surrey and Delta said they thought the legislation, brought forward by Transportation Minister Todd Stone as promised to mayors earlier, was a positive move.

“At least it allows us to have some input into the planning,” said Surrey’s Dianne Watts. “The next step will have to be the sustainable funding plan.”

Lois Jackson in Delta said the minister met mayors partway. “Maybe if we succeed at this, he will give us additional powers,” she said, adding that other mayors need to knock off their “us-against-them” attitudes.

Somewhere in the middle, such mayors as Greg Moore in Port Coquitlam and Malcolm Brodie in Richmond, along with Vancouver city Councillor Geoff Meggs, said the minister clearly carried through with the promise he made to mayors last month about changes he would make.

But they said the legislation is vague and confusing in many details, and still doesn’t give the mayors a clear answer on what their options are for new money to expand the system, or whether they will get real control over whether the priorities in their 10-year plan get funded.

Mr. Brodie said there have been examples in the past when mayors approved using the money from one of the funding sources they have control over – property taxes or gas taxes – for a particular initiative, but the board later decided, when setting the operating budget, to put the money elsewhere.

The draft legislation stipulates, as Premier Christy Clark promised during her election campaign last year, that there has to be a local referendum asking the public if and what they’re willing to support as new funding sources for transit improvements.

The mayors are currently working to develop a statement about what those improvements would be.

Mr. Moore, who is chairing that planning committee, said there are three major projects – the Pattullo Bridge rebuild, a Surrey light-rail system and an extension of SkyTrain along Broadway – that the mayors are weighing, along with improvements to the bus system.

He said they can’t ask the public to agree to pay for all of that in the next 10 years, so mayors are aiming to come up with a reasonable set of priorities by June 30.

The proposed legislation spells out, as Mr. Stone did already, that the referendum will have to be held by June 30, 2015. The province will write the question and pay for the cost, as far as mayors know now.

The issue of a new funding source for TransLink has been a point of friction between mayors and the province ever since the agency took over roads and transit for the Lower Mainland in 1999.

It’s paid for now mainly through property taxes, fares and the gas tax. The province has, over the years, refused to approve any of the new revenue sources suggested, from a vehicle levy in the early days to the mayors’ current preference for road pricing.

 

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