A senior member of the union representing transit drivers has claimed that TransLink 2009 budget figures don’t add up.
On December 8, 2008, the authority announced in a release that it would have to dip into operating reserves for an anticipated $103-million operating shortfall unless additional funding sources were found. Jim Houlahan, CAW Local 111 vice president, told the Georgia Straight by phone that this was “not unforeseen”.
“They knew they were going to draw down on the reserves and that they would be gone by 2011,” Houlahan said. “The part that troubled me is, what the hell is the cause of the huge increase in the annual operating budget? In ’07 it is around $800 million, and now we jump to $1.3 billion?”
TransLink approved an operating budget of $1.3 billion, according to the same December release. Revenue and expenditure budget figures from the TransLink 2009 budget and business plan summary reveal that total operating expenditures are about $1.27 billion this year, up from approximately $1.08 billion in 2008. The 2007 annual report lists the operating budget for that year at $896.3 million.
“How the hell did we go up by $400 million in the operating budget [between 2007 and 2009]?” Houlahan asked. “They haven’t put that much new service on the road. And even if their RAV [Canada] Line debt-servicing came on-line that year, that’s only $30 million [per annum]. This is a $400-million increase in the budget.”
Houlahan claimed that this does not mean a commensurate increase in service for transit riders.
“Not to the tune of $400 million,” he added. “We’ve still got pass-ups and overcrowding.”
Houlahan has spearheaded a public campaign, More Buses Now, that he said relates to the fact “we are sitting in this dilemma.”
“The region is saying we don’t have any money past 2011, and if we don’t have an appetite for new taxes, we are going to have to cut half the bus service,” he said. “And [B.C. transportation minister Kevin] Falcon is sitting there saying, ”˜I gave you enough money to meet your needs.’ ”
In 2007, Falcon accepted the findings of the TransLink governance review panel he set in motion a year earlier to look at TransLink’s governance structure and the long-term funding issues facing the authority.
According to TransLink spokesperson Judy Rudin, the authority is not “on a collision course with the province”.
“We try to work cooperatively with all levels of government, and we are doing that and we are hoping that we will be funded,” Rudin told the Straight in a phone interview. “We are optimistic that things will turn out well.”
Rudin added: “We have been talking about some ideas around taxing and those were presented to the mayors’ council. The mayors’ council is going to help us make some of those decisions. At the end of the day, we will probably end up with five or six different revenue streams to finance what we are doing here.”
Rudin said another SeaBus has been added to the Burrard Inlet fleet and there was a 4.6-percent increase in transit service last year compared to 2007. Last year in bus service, she said, TransLink had 286,000 operating hours added and commissioned 100 new buses.
Darrell Mussatto, mayor of the City of North Vancouver, told the Straight he felt the funding questions “are a concern”.
“I agree with TransLink that we have to continue to move people through public transit,” Mussatto said. “However, I am not a big fan of doing a Cadillac system. I would have voted against the Canada Line, because I think we should do it at-grade. And the only way we’ll get more buses here is to continue to invest in public utilities, which is TransLink.”
Houlahan said he recently found out that the 1996-97 B.C. Transit operating budget—a year before the utility was handed over to the region—was $532 million. He said that means the operating budget has doubled in a decade.