From the Vancouver Sun – “Financial review finds TransLink has “significant operational issues” – So, what else is new?


TransLink has come off its financial rails!

The province’s financial review was all too predictable, TransLink has problems. Well, for anyone who has tried to deal with TransLink’s bloated and arrogant bureaucracy, this is not news and the report is as I expected.

The problems with TransLink can be summed up as:

1) Building metro (SkyTrain & RAV) on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them.

Result:  Large annual subsidies must be paid to operate the metro system.

2) Operating buses on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them.

Result: Higher operating subsidies for West Coast Mountain Bus.

3) Offering deep discounted ticketing, in the form of U-Pass to university students.

Result: Large subsidies must be paid to offset the deep discounted student passes.

4) Political interference from the province.

Result: The province has forced and continues to force hugely expensive ‘metro’ rapid transit solutions on the region, but without any funding formula to sustain the the heavily subsidized mode.

5) lack of public input, lack of public representation at the board level.

Result: The public is stuck with expensive ‘government sponsored’ transit solutions that they do not want, or want to pay for, nor will not use. 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus to the metro.

TransLink’s financial ills will continue and with the province’s penchant to build metro mega-projects, instead of much cheaper alternatives, means TransLink has become a financial sink-hole.

What is needed is a new approach – TransLink needs to change and maybe a Royal Commission on Urban Transportation is needed before any more taxpayers money is invested on questionable projects.

What TransLink badly needs is an independent, elected transit board made up of a transit commissioner from each municipality, elected at the same time as civic elections. An independent transit board would be directly concerned with transit issues and represent the wishes of the taxpayer. To date, the taxpayer has been seen by bureaucrats and politicians alike as a ‘milch-cow’ forever paying taxes to support projects that seem to built more for political prestige than for the public good.

Financial review finds TransLink has “significant operational issues” – So, what else is new?

By Jonathan Fowlie and Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun

November 6, 2009

TransLink has been plagued by “significant operational issues” and has not worked hard enough to manage its finances, according to a report by B.C.’s comptroller-general Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland.

The report, released Friday, partly blamed TransLink’s woes on conflicting interests and “ineffective communication” with the regional mayors’ council, its board of directors and the provincial government.

It is calling for the mayors’ council to be converted into a transit authority with 20 per cent of members appointed by the province. This council would be given more responsibility on who is hired and fired on the board, how much they are paid, and overseeing the board without assuming a management role.

“Inaction by TransLink and the mayors’ council to maintain a balance between expenses and revenues has brought TransLink to a point at which substantial operating deficits in 2010 and beyond will be difficult to avoid,” Wenezenki-Yolland wrote.

She added TransLink should have taken “earlier actions” to contain its rising debt, which has tripled since 2005. Yet it continued with an “unfunded expansion” of more buses and SkyTrain cars to boost ridership.

The report comes just two weeks after regional mayors approved a $130-million funding supplement to maintain transit services at existing levels. TransLink had sought $450-million per year to expand services.

It also comes one day after TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast announced his resignation.

In her report, Wenezenki-Yolland also looked into B.C. Ferries and called for a joint Transportation Commission to oversee both TransLink and B.C. Ferries.

“A properly resourced, larger Transportation Commission with a broader mandate would be in a position to provide a stronger, more consistent regulatory approach to these vital transportation systems,” she wrote.

Transportation Minister Shirley Bond said the suggestion of a joint commissioner “will warrant some exploring” as will some of the 20 recommendations brought forward to improve BC Ferries and TransLink and ensure taxpayers are getting value for money.

While Wenezenki-Yolland found salaries at TransLink were appropriate as they are only slighter higher than other large corporations, she noted the organization has far too many senior executives.

She also suggested TransLink change its planning structure from 10 years to three to five years to make it easier to get consensus on funding issues from all parties.

The TransLink board and the regional mayors have said they plan to lobby the province for expanded funding sources such as road pricing to help pay for more transit.

But the report noted that TransLink should ensure existing revenue sources, such as property and vehicle taxes, are maximized before looking at other sources of revenue.

“What the reports do not do is recommend a change to the models in place,” Bond said. “The good news is the comptroller-general doesn’t suggest for a minute we start over. This doesn’t mean the work at TransLink has to stop.”

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, head of the regional mayors’ council, said many of the recommendations were in line with what the mayors had been seeking for some time.

“All the stakeholders are needed at the table in order to move forward,” she said. “We still have the issue of funding to resolve. When you don’t have one of the partners at the table, the communication flow is not as good as it could be.”

Former TransLink chairman George Puil said although local municipalities should have a stronger voice, it was “ironic” that the report called for provincial representatives on the mayors’ council.

He noted this notion goes back to the old system when the NDP representative appointed to the board refused to attend meetings, citing a conflict.

“I don’t think the governance structure they have is working; they have too many masters and mistresses, whatever you want to call them,” he said. “We’re going back to square one.”


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2 Responses to “From the Vancouver Sun – “Financial review finds TransLink has “significant operational issues” – So, what else is new?”

  1. BCPhil Says:

    You could have at least picked a news source that says Skytrain more than once if you are going to use it to rip on Skytrain.

    And in the Full report, the word Skytrain appears 3 times (twice of those are to describe the meaning of Skytrain). The word Evergreen appears twice, Millennium once, and Expo zero.

    In fact, the Report has this paragraph in it:

    “The majority of the $130 million structural deficit faced by TransLink is a result of factors other than Canada Line, such as the increase in the operational cost of the bus fleet, particularly into lower ridership, geographically sparse areas.”

    The report is concluding that expanding transit into the valley is actually the waste of money, and is what is driving up costs to Translink, not Skytrain or Canada line.

    The full 97 page report also doesn’t have the word U-Pass, or even the word University in it once. So I have no idea where you are getting that from. Besides, what’s wrong with offering subsidies to help out young University students? We help them out a bit through school, and encourage them to ride transit instead of drive, and after they are done they pay taxes for their well paying professional jobs.

    Zweisystem replies: You don’t get it, the review was a smokescreen for the real problems at TransLink, problems caused by the provincial government. Again I must stress, you cannot operate a metro system on routes that do not have the ridership to support it, if you do, you must heavily subsidize it. You cannot offer deep discounted tickets for transit and not heavily subsidize them. You cannot operate buses on routes with no ridership, if you do, you must heavily subsidize it.

    TransLink is doing all three and it is in a financial bind because of it.

    When you have a bureaucrat with no expertize in public transit, she will only look for the obvious and only come up with tax-heavy solutions; SkyTrain has been a financial drag on regional transit since it was built – it is a financial black hole. If Campbell wanted a real review done he should have had BC Auditor General look at TransLink or even invite an outside source, like the UK’s very efficient National Audit Office (NAO) to conduct a review.

    The review told us nothing we didn’t already know and didn’t offer solutions, but merely a vehicle for Campbell to escape public censure for our current transit mess.

  2. David Says:

    If Phil had looked at the scope of work assigned to the Comptroller General, it would have been apparent that the true sources of trouble at TransLink would not have been mentioned in the final report because they are out of scope. The report was essentially written before it was even commissioned because the bounds were so tightly defined.

    Smoke and mirrors to hide billions of dollars spent giving politicians a railroad to pose for pictures aboard. Nobody honestly thinks Campbell will allow that to be made public.

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