As wheels continue to come off the TransLink bus, Vancouver’s mayors have voted to suggest cancelling transit improvements that had been planned for 2013 and 2014 until there’s a way to pay for them.
A letter issued late Thursday by TransLink mayors’ council chair Richard Walton said the mayors voted at their monthly meeting this week “for the two-year, $30-million in property tax funding for TransLink’s latest expansion plans to be cancelled, until alternative funding sources are determined.”
Those improvements – a rapid bus along Highway 1 and the new Port Mann Bridge, another rapid bus down King George Boulevard in Surrey, 615,000 extra hours of service throughout the region, and some station upgrades – were meant to assure taxpayers that everyone was getting something out of TransLink’s three-year plan for expansions.
If the plans to cancel go through, the Evergreen Line – funded by a two-cent-a-litre gas tax increase that kicked in April 1 – will be the only part of the improvements package. That was their response to a letter earlier in the week from Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom, turning down all three suggestions the mayors had made for alternatives – a vehicle levy, another gas-tax increase, or a regional carbon tax.
The vote was not unanimous.
City of Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender said three mayors from south of the Fraser, where most of the improvements would have occurred, voted against the call to cancel.
“It took us a long time to get these enhancements,” he said. “It would be ludicrous not to have buses on the new Port Mann Bridge. We are adamant.”
The mayors of the Township of Langley and of White Rock were also opposed to any cancellation. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts was out of town, and Councillor Marvin Hunt voted to support the cancellation in her absence.
The motion was another blow for TransLink management in a series of them this year.
It has already in the past two months seen some mayors lead a charge to have an audit, heard Premier Christy Clark order one while turning down any possibility of a vehicle levy to pay for new services, gone through a media grilling about bonuses for managers, and received the news Tuesday that Transportation Commissioner Martin Crilly would not allow fares to be raised more than the inflationary rate allowed.
All of that has meant the agency is being asked to come up with $45-million a year by running the billion-dollar service more efficiently – something that its planners are not sure is possible.
While they’ve said they believe TransLink is already on track to improvements, as a result of ongoing work to reduce less productive bus routes, tighten up administration costs, and streamline other services, they say there might not be $45-million worth of savings. That would mean cutting services to make up the differences.
In a statement released an hour after Mr. Walton’s letter, TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said: “In the past few days, we received two decisions that impact our business: the Commissioner’s decision to reduce our proposed fare increase and the recent Mayors’ Council motion to eliminate reliance on property tax to fulfill the Moving Forward Plan. We need time to review the information and understand what these decisions mean for TransLink, our customers and the public we serve.”
It’s still unclear how part of the transit-improvement plan could be cancelled legally.
The mayors’ council also asked for a new audit on the agency, but quite a different kind from those previously suggested.
Instead, they would like to see one done on whether the efficacy of TransLink’s new governance model introduced by then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon in 2007, which took away the mayors’ power to control the agency and gave it to an appointed board.
TransLink was the first regional transportation authority to be created in North America with the power to plan, finance and manage all transit, as well as regional roads and bridges.