TransLink is a model of how a transportation agency can operate — but at present, it is a broken model.
The blame for that squarely belongs on the shoulders of past and present provincial governments. The NDP government, which set up TransLink, provided it with some tax authority, but not enough to expand services — only to keep them at a status quo level. Yet the population of the Lower Mainland continues to expand, and bus service south of the Fraser is, in the words of TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast, all but non-existent.
Prendergast left a prestigious job to come and run TransLink. He has wide experience with transportation in the U.S. and England, including a stint as president of the Long Island Railroad, busiest commuter railroad in the U.S. He knows his stuff.
He came here because he believes a model that combines responsibility for roads and other transportation routes, as well as transit, is a model for the future.
Former transportation minister Kevin Falcon changed the TransLink governance structure several years ago, partly on recommendations from a panel which included former Langley City mayor Marlene Grinnell. The TransLink board is now made up of people with broad experience. The mayors in the Lower Mainland have some oversight over TransLink’s spending through a mayors’ council.
But Falcon did not give TransLink any more ability to raise funds. The ideas it has come up with have either been rejected as impractical or out of its jurisdiction.
Transportation is one of the major challenges facing the Lower Mainland. While senior governments have given major contributions to new bridges, roads and rapid transit lines, there has been no ongoing support to operate the existing system.
Property owners, transit riders and car drivers cannot pay for all these services by themselves. Ongoing tax support from Victoria, and possibly Ottawa, are needed. The only other alternatives are to give TransLink access to more existing taxes, such as the carbon tax, or allow it to set up a road pricing system.
The mayors’ council on Friday approved a small spending boost for TransLink, with funds mainly coming from higher transit fares and an additonal three cent tax on every litre of gasoline.
Better alternatives are badly needed.