The province has named Vancouver's former police chief and Surrey's former city manager to the board of TransLink, as it tries to demonstrate that it is working to improve the agency in the wake of a failed plebiscite on transit improvements.
But a former planner who has studied TransLink says that although the two appointees, Jim Chu and Murray Dinwoodie, are highly respected, they can't fix the essential problem at TransLink, which manages the region's transportation system.
"The basic model is broken," said Ken Cameron, the former manager of policy and planning at Metro Vancouver who did a comprehensive study for the TransLink mayors' council on issues concerning how the agency is governed.
"The model is just so basically flawed. It is unique in North America, in a bad way, where the top policy-making levels are not elected people," Mr. Cameron said.
The minister now responsible for TransLink, Peter Fassbender, said the appointments are an important step because it's the first time the province will have direct appointees sitting on the board. He called Mr. Chu and Mr. Dinwoodie "pragmatic, objective" people who will bring a regional and provincial perspective.
"They will bring a fresh perspective because of their experience."
Mr. Fassbender, the former mayor of the city of Langley and a TransLink mayors' council chair, said the province got a clear message from the resounding "No" in last month's plebiscite asking voters to approve a new sales tax to pay for transit improvements.
The proposal was rejected by almost two-thirds of voters, and Mr. Fassbender said the results were also a sign that "the public has clearly said the province has to be more engaged."
The plebiscite unleashed a torrent of public anger in the five months of campaigning and public voting, largely directed at TransLink, which was viewed as wasteful and inept. But the province was also criticized for forcing a vote on essential infrastructure, which doesn't happen with roads, bridges, schools, hospitals or other community necessities.
Many critics also blamed the debacle on the province's decision to take away power from mayors.
When TransLink was created in 2000 to give the region more power to co-ordinate its land-use and transit planning, it was governed at the top by a council of 12 of the region's 21 mayors.
In 2007, the province changed the structure so that an appointed board of business, academic and community representatives formed the board. The current seven-member board was chosen by mayors from a short list provided to them by a search committee. The province gave itself the right to appoint two representatives but never did so in the past eight years.
Under the new system, mayors, on a separate council, were only given the power to decide whether property taxes could be raised by more than 3 per cent a year. Last year, they got two seats at the board for the chair and vice-chair of the mayors' council. Those seats are currently held by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner.
Mr. Robertson, who is travelling outside the region, provided a statement in response to the appointments, praising the expertise of the two new appointees, but saying the real issue is the money needed for the system.
"While this is a helpful first step, TransLink urgently requires new funding tools to improve the transit system across Metro Vancouver – service has been declining since 2010," his statement says.
"The mayors' council made it clear that it is the B.C. government's responsibility to provide new funding options for TransLink and improve governance and accountability, and we await their proposals."