JAMES: TransLink funding model needs closer look

"The purposes and objects of the authority are (a) to plan, acquire, construct or cause to be constructed public passenger transportation systems and rail transit systems that support regional growth strategies, official community plans and the economic development of the transit service areas..." - Chapter 38, Section 3(1) BC Transit Act (1996)

The South Coast Transportation Authority Act (TransLink) was surgically removed from the BC Transit Act (BCT) in 1998 and the two agencies are governed by separate legislation to this day.

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Until recently, I had not compared the updated wording of some important sections of the two documents - purpose/responsibilities and funding.

I did so following the June 12 release of the latest Mayors' Council $7.5-billion 10 Year Plan/30-Year Outlook because, yet again, the report recommends increased SeaBus service - presumably to appease North Shore taxpayers who have received little for the dollars they've poured into TransLink.

Now, I was curious to see whether BCT has experienced the same lack of provincial funding as has plagued TransLink for the past 16 years.

Although I still don't have that answer, my efforts were rewarded by some interesting information.

First, although the BCT legislation is noted to be "Current to May 21, 2014," it still makes reference to BCT's responsibilities as "an agent of the government" with respect to "RTP 2000" - a project better known as the SkyTrain Millennium Line which, at a minimum, became the 40 per cent responsibility of TransLink in 1998.

Next, when you compare the tightly drawn responsibilities BCT has for the "purposes and objects" described in the BCTA with those loaded onto TransLink and regional taxpayers, it's no wonder Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan suggested TransLink should be returned to provincial jurisdiction.

Why should the operating budget of TransLink cover development and administration of programs for "certifying motor vehicle compliance with Section 50 of the Motor Vehicle Act"? Why must TransLink "establish exhaust emission standards"; or determine and "specify the maximum levels of air contaminants that motor vehicles may emit into the outside atmosphere"?

Surely, items like those are better managed under the umbrella of ICBC, the agency from which the Liberals suck an annual $250 million in taxes and so-called "excess revenue" that we pay as our everincreasing insurance premiums.

Putting that in perspective for North Shore taxpayers, the 2013 quarterbillion alone could have purchased four SeaBuses and still had $150 million left over for other projects throughout B.C. More importantly, if we want to confine this discussion to transportation needs in the TransLink region, $400 million could buy outright approximately 14 kilometres of modern light-rail trams along the Broadway corridor and still have dollars available for a greenway along the route. Why so cheap? Well, as it happens, much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place for that option. To emphasize - international experience has proven that at-grade, "hop-on-hop-off" transit attracts ridership and thus is also good for business.

But Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson knows better. Deaf to the voices of Broadway business-owners and international experts, he wants a vastly more expensive underground tunnelling project. Is he hoping that another disruptive TransLink project would assume the costs of associated upgrades to City of Vancouver utilities? If so, are North Shore taxpayers content to subsidize that?

Meanwhile, District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton and the Mayor's Council he chairs continue to carry out their mandate.

With little encouragement from Victoria, they have presented years of reports and recommendations to a succession of ministers. Their support for the $7.5-billion recommendations carried with only one dissenting vote.

Corrigan opposed the overwhelming will of his colleagues, not because he thinks the transit options are unnecessary, but because the council has no control over how the projects are to be funded, prioritized or carried out.

So what was the reaction from the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Todd Stone?

Well, after receiving the report from people in the best position to understand the up-to-date knowledge of regional transit issues, Stone wants you to decide how you want your ox to be gored to pay for it all.

He's tasked the mayors with wording a referendum question that covers a widely disparate bundle of recommendations.

How can you vote Yes/No to a $7.5-billion levy/tax if you support only a few of the 17 "visions" in the bundle?

If we allow Stone to get away with it and we make an uninformed decision, then he can shrug and say, "Wasn't my idea; you folks wanted it that way, now pay up."

So, given the profligate history of TransLink, will you stay aboard for the ride? Or, like me, will you say, "Not a penny more for the black hole that is TransLink, until we can see the results of an arms-length evaluation of all major decisions by the entire operation"?

rimco@shaw.ca

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