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The Globe and Mail

Mayors, TransLink grapple with $45-million transit question

A SkyTrain commuter train travels into downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday April 11, 2012.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

While mayors are floundering among several choices on whether to go ahead with transit improvements in Metro Vancouver's southern cities and how to pay for them if they do, the region's transportation agency is scrambling to figure out whether it can find $45-million in efficiencies by January to pay for both additions and the existing system.

TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning at which he is expected to outline whether TransLink can come up with those savings through running the billion-dollar system more efficiently or whether it will have to cut services.

Mr. Jarvis is expected to emphasize the difficulties in reaching that target.

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TransLink is legally required to provide transit access throughout the region and to serve the vulnerable, which forces it to consider more than just dollars or efficiency when contemplating cuts to its HandyDart service for the handicapped or suburban buses that cost a small fortune per rider but are the only transit available for residents of low-density areas.

Premier Christy Clark announced three weeks ago that she would not consider a new vehicle levy or gas tax to generate the $30-million the agency needs by 2013 to start putting new rapid-bus lines in Surrey, Langley and Cloverdale.

That prompted mayors – except for three south of the Fraser – to say any improvements to the system should be cancelled if an audit didn't find $30-million and the money had to come from property taxes.

And then B.C.'s transportation commissioner, Martin Crilly, told TransLink last week he would not approve new fare increases beyond the agency's permitted 2 per cent a year. That left another $15-million-a-year hole.

That has mayors and bureaucrats all over the map on solutions.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said he thinks perhaps the mayors' council needs to pull back from the thankless job of trying to find new money for TransLink and focus on its original mandate, deciding on approvals for additional spending only.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said she supports a "fair and equitable tolling policy" to pay for expansion in the region, even though the province said no to tolls.

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Calling the recent decisions a "significant setback" for better transit in Surrey, Ms. Watts agreed with most other mayors, however, that the expansions shouldn't be financed through property taxes.

One possible tiny light at the end of the tunnel: Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom has said that if the audit doesn't find $30-million in savings, he will continue to pursue alternatives with the mayors.

"My commitment stands. I will work with the mayors' council to find funding solutions for that $30-million and I won't walk away from that commitment."

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About the Authors
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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