TransLink's budget increase questioned

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      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.




      Jan 15, 2009 at 8:31am

      Time and time again, the fallacy of building with light-metro (SkyTrain and RAV) is proven. Time and times again, the fallacy of light-metro philosophy is proven obsolete. Yet we build more.

      More buses, means a lot more drivers or new Union members and here is TransLink's problem in a nutshell - wages account for about 70% of the operating cost for a transit system. Light-metro and buses are labour intensive and just add to operating costs. Then there is the debt servicing charges on light-metro, over $200 million annually!

      RAV/Canada Line and SkyTrain Evergreen line will only add to our financial woes. The following from Rail For The Valley Blog will enlighten many why our transit system is falling apart.

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      Jan 15, 2009 at 1:38pm

      The trouble with fixed rail is that it can only travel along one single route and from recent trip studies for the region's workers and students, these fixed rail routes only account for a small portion of the travelling public during the peak hours.

      Buses provide flexibility and without buses there would be no rail corridors operating in the region. Buses carry the majority of SkyTrain passengers to the stations and buses usually carry those same passengers further along in their commute.

      The argument between LRT and SkyTrain is bogus and just distracts from the very real need for transit throughout the region. Any rail project will prevent further expansion of transit into rapidly developing areas of the region.

      The up side to having more bus drivers is that their wages will cycle through the economy several times. The high cost of servicing capital debt for rail tends to disappear out of the region to other distant economies.

      Let's put the 19th Century behind us for awhile and get back to basics.

      If we had invested $2 billion in buses rather than the RAV Line we would have a B-Line type service on all arterial routes in the region as well as community shuttle buses delivering people to those arterial routes. Instead of providing for 150,000 persons per hour riding buses we wil settle for just 7,000 per hour riding the RAV line.

      Instead we will divert a very small portion of already transit users to a RAV station. Something costing less than $70 an hour to operate, a bus, will be substituted for a $2 billion chattanooga choo choo with unknown operating costs and debt service costs.

      Without buses, without adequate numbers of buses any rail line in an urban area is doomed to failure and will be an albatross around the taxpayer's neck for decades to come.

      More rubber less steel.

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      Jan 15, 2009 at 7:11pm

      I think there are some serious questions about why their operating budget increased so quickly. Honestly, I don't know the answer. However, I do know when TransLink was restuctured, the local mayors council kept a hand on the purse strings. There should be some accountability there. As for the increase last year, I would wager fuel prices had a lot to do with that. Plus TransLink isn't just responsible for buses and skytrain. What about the Golden Ears Bridge and other road projects and maintenance. Planning for the Patullo upgrade or Evergreen or Millenium Line expansion. Did those costs go up? What about salaries? Did they hire a lot of new people? We should be able to get a breakdown of those costs

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      Jan 15, 2009 at 8:14pm

      Note to PLG - Buses have proven not to attract the motorist from the car, they are also expensive to operate on heavily used routes. 1 tram/streetcar (1 driver) is as efficient as 6 buses (6 drivers) and for ever bus or tram/streetcar operated one must hire at least 3 people to drive, maintain and manage them. Thus on a route needing 60 buses (180 employees), needs only 10 tram/streetcars (30 employees).

      SkyTrain, even though it is automated and driverless, requires many more employees to operate it than LRT lines the same size!

      Sorry to say, buses though necessary to a transit system, do not provide the impetus to increase ridership!

      The following may give more insight into why buses just do not attract ridership.

      And the following accounts for light rail's success as a 21st century transit mode!

      The problem with transit in the region is 30 years of BS from politicians and the transit operating authorities. No wonder Vancouver and TransLink are seen as a laughing stock!

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      Dec 1, 2009 at 12:18pm

      Note to Grumpy- When looking at issues you should look at multiple sources, not just propaganda websites. Try the Bombardier website, Translinks website, and other ones that criticize our transportation system and how it is run. A common theme, that can be varified by looking at translink's budget, is that translink employs too many executives and pays large sums (50 million) to lawyers. They also have been put on the hook for new bridges which are the real reason people won't leave their cars. Put up a rapid transit line instead of the new Port Mann and you will coax people out of their cars. Skytrain is also more punctual than any other system (98% on time) and makes more sense in that it can transport people over long distances more efficiently than LRT.

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