TransLink in a financial trap

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Don’t even think of a new rapid-transit system on Broadway, the busiest corridor in Vancouver. Forget about an extension of the Expo Line in Surrey. And ever seeing the long-awaited Evergreen Line go into Port Moody and Coquitlam.

      Based on TransLink’s financial projections, no new rapid-transit lines will be opened in the Lower Mainland unless the province steps in to allow the regional transportation body to raise a total of $450 million in additional revenues per year.

      “The problem we face is the municipalities simply can’t afford it,” Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs told the Georgia Straight. “And the province has not yet indicated an understanding of the problem, and they keep telling what we can’t do instead of what we need to do.”

      Meggs was interviewed on June 16 after the assistant city engineer for transportation, Jerry Dobrovolny, made a presentation to council about funding options for TransLink’s 10-year plan starting next year.

      According to Dobrovolny, TransLink needs to raise $260 million in new revenues a year just to maintain existing levels of service.

      This would involve increases in the fuel tax and parking sales tax, as well as fares. Based on the transportation body’s figures, it needs to raise the fuel tax from the present rate of 12 cents a litre to 15 cents, the parking sales tax to 14 percent from the current seven percent, and transit fares above inflation in order to raise $110 million, still $150 million short.

      One source for the extra $150 million is a vehicle levy, a tax that TransLink has the authority to impose. This annual levy may involve either a flat fee of $120 per vehicle or a range of $65 to $165, depending on fuel efficiency. Another source is property taxes, which municipalities are loath to raise. Dobrovolny recalled in his presentation that the Mayors’ Council, which approves plans and funding for the regional body, decided in a meeting in April this year that mayors will not support raising property taxes.

      Meggs explained in the interview that the problem with increasing property taxes is that although this move can raise revenues, it doesn’t affect people’s transportation choices in the way that hiking parking taxes, for example, will discourage car use.

      With $260 million in additional revenues, the regional transportation body could deploy 160 additional buses and 100 new SkyTrain vehicles over the next 10 years.

      Dobrovolny told councillors that the expansion program being eyed by TransLink would require an additional $190 million from new funding sources on top of the $260 million, for a total of $450 million in extra money per year.

      With $450 million, the transportation body projects that the region would have funding for not only a rapid-transit system on Broadway, an extension of the Expo Line, and the construction of the Evergreen Line but also for 138 additional SkyTrain vehicles and 400 new buses on the streets.

      TransLink has identified funding sources for the $190 million, but all of these would require approval by the province. One revenue generator could be getting a share of the carbon tax. Designed to be revenue-neutral, the carbon tax is expected to generate a total of $2.3 billion from July 2008 to July 2011.

      Another source is the tax being collected by the province on property transfers. Road user fees are also a potential funding source, as is what TransLink describes as a “goods movement fee”.

      Dobrovolny indicated in his presentation that a third option is for TransLink to just maintain a base plan with no revenue increases except those resulting from adjustments for inflation. According to him, this scenario would entail drastic service cuts starting in 2010.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson said that members of the Mayors’ Council will face a “real predicament” if no new funding sources are made available. “One way or another, we have to get the $450 million,” Robertson declared in council.

      Acting on a motion by Meggs, council unanimously voted to endorse the $450-million transportation plan. The same motion also called for the implementation of a universal pass for postsecondary students.

      “The biggest obstacle is that the province has been downloading too much of the cost of transit, especially capital cost, on municipalities,” Meggs said in the interview. “They [municipalities] may be able to afford operating costs, but we see a huge need, and it’s unanimous across the region, for a big investment in more buses, SkyTrain, light rail, everything.”

      Meggs noted that Premier Gordon Campbell promised $14 billion in new investment for transportation about a year ago. “We don’t see that commitment coming through right now,” he said.



      speak up or forever hold your peace!

      Jun 18, 2009 at 12:52pm

      Just the sheer number of funding sources is overwhelming, let alone their impacts! Has anyone checked out the online Translink game “Your Move” or gone to any of the public forums? I encourage everyone to check it out, as its not only incredibly easy to follow but it breaks down what each tax source represents and how it would affect our lives. We need to stimulate more discussion and gain public input surrounding this transportation development initiative if we want to sustain our quality of life and the livability of this region. Go to and see why your opinion matters.

      Evil Eye

      Jun 18, 2009 at 1:51pm

      When you build SkyTrain at $125 million/km instead of LRT at $25 million/km, one should not be surprised at the results. Gee - no one else builds with SkyTrain and like - eh - everyone else builds with LRT should send a strong signals to the TransLink Board, but they remain blind deaf and dumb.

      Hey Mr. TransLink stop running buses on routes that don't have any passengers!

      God, this lot couldn't even run a whorehouse at a profit!


      Jun 18, 2009 at 4:52pm

      "Meggs explained in the interview that the problem with increasing property taxes is that although this move can raise revenues, it doesn’t affect people’s transportation choices in the way that hiking parking taxes, for example, will discourage car use."

      The real reason is that raising property taxes is political dynamite. The bite shows up visibly, in hundred dollar lumps each Spring. Vehicle levies have the same political problem as the property tax. There has been a bias for a very long time against taxing real property in B.C. for local services, including transportation, compared to the average across other Canadian cities and towns.

      But gas taxes and parking fees are charged a few cents at a time. So they are the prefered source.

      The talk about discouraging car use is the greenwash on what is basically a very timid political decision to AVOID taxing real property, partly out of fear of what higher property taxes might do to property prices. For what it's worth, the use of the gas tax envisioned in these pronouncements, and possibly a vehicle levy too, goes far beyond principles of user-pay here and instead gets into deterrent pricing, rather like the "sin" taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

      Is it too late to ask for a provincial Royal Commission on taxation of all types where scholars in public finance could study the entire provincial and local tax system, its purposes and effects?

      Rod Smelser

      P. H. Finch

      Jun 18, 2009 at 5:32pm

      Now that we have SkyTrain it would make sense to buy enough cars to make the system work properly. But beyond that, it's a technology that is far too expensive for what it does: any major expansion would be absurd.
      The obvious solution for the Broadway corridor is to build a streetcar system. While we're at it, why not seek out alternative funding and look at building small local systems that would serve neighbourhoods and stimulate local economies by carrying riders for FREE? Local streetcar systems in the West End, False Creek, and Commercial Drive would have a significant positive impact.

      And what's with buying more diesel buses? Sure, trolley buses are far more expensive per unit, but there's no comparison when it comes to environmental impact. How does it make sense to replace the trolley buses on Cambie Street with diesels when most of the trolley infrastructure still exists? Or is it to punish Cambie residents and merchants who complained about building the Canada Line in such an inappropriate manner?

      Of course all of that is crazy talk. Considering that we have a provincial government hell-bent on building a 10-lane Port Mann bridge with no transit provisions, paving over Burns Bog and destroying our pristine watersheds so that Liberal friends can profit from run-of-river power projects......what chance is there that urban areas will see decent transit any time soon?

      Vancouver Resident

      Jun 18, 2009 at 8:50pm

      What business does the Assistant City Engineer for Transportation with the City of Vancouver, Jerry Dobrovolny, have promoting TransLink? Isn’t he supposed to be figuring out ways to keep TransLink from operating diesel buses on trolley bus routes? Does Jerry work for TransLink or does he represent Vancouver residents who are relying on him to show some integrity to stand up to TransLink?

      Doesn’t Jerry represent the residents who are not only choking on diesel bus soot along the 99 B-Line route but also being shaken out of bed from the earth shattering noise from the 99 B-Line diesel buses on the UBC trolley bus routes? How did we ever get to the point where TransLink is running the City of Vancouver Engineering Department?

      TransLink is dysfunctional. Transit fares have steadily increased and transit service has steadily worsened. TransLink believes that building another Toronto with its misguided Regional Transportation Plan is the answer. This plan is the problem.

      TransLink is creating an unnecessary transit demand by taking people, who would otherwise be living close to work or school, and putting them on diesel bus rapid transit routes such as the 99 B-Line route and future (unless we do something about it) 95 B-Line route. TransLink is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. So, more transit means either more taxes for taxpayers or more loses for TransLink.

      TransLink is trying to get you on board with more regional transit which is going to keep the executives at TransLink collecting their $300K plus annual salaries but it isn’t going to improve transit. Cut back on regional transit service, expand affordable streetcar and trolley bus transit for people to go to school and work locally and do away with diesel buses on trolley buses routes. Jerry, Be Part of Real Plan, you work for us, not TransLink.

      This city has gone to the dogs, and it is going to take a big shake up to turn things around if Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs has what it take to do it. Does he or is he content to pass the buck like his predecessors who just played kissie with TransLink?

      Point Grey

      Jun 18, 2009 at 11:28pm

      What's up TransLink with the "bepartotheplan" crap on this site? You must be getting worried that you can't censor negative comments here like you can on the Vancouver Sun which is nothing more than your sounding board. I noticed that there is going to be special this Saturday on the Vancouver Sun about "what must we do to raise TransLink more money".

      TransLink you are sickening. TransLink's fares are on average the highest in Canada, and TransLink provides mediocre service at best. TransLink has failed to deliver better and more economical transit service. What value do you add? TransLink isn’t anything more than an extra layer of transit bureaucracy skimming money from taxpayers. We can do much better without you.


      Jun 18, 2009 at 11:46pm

      Why doesn't Translink just invent the money?
      Thats all the banks do when they want more money... they just create it out of thin air.
      Doesn't seem that hard.


      Jun 18, 2009 at 11:49pm

      "Mayor Gregor Robertson said that members of the Mayors’ Council will face a “real predicament” if no new funding sources are made available. “One way or another, we have to get the $450 million,” Robertson declared in council." In other words, one way or the other we have to keep allowing TransLink to mismanage its finances so that we can pick up the tab. Come-on, that's NDP type nonsense which created TransLink in the first place. We’re all doomed if TransLink has found itself an ally in the Mayor of Vancouver.


      Jun 19, 2009 at 3:05pm

      Is the “Be-Part-of-the-Plan”consultation mainly a panicked attempt by TransLink to raise cash for its RAV Line or a sincere attempt to improve service? TransLink needs 100,000 riders daily to pay for the RAV Line but Richmond only has 300,000 residents who like to drive BMW and Mercedes vehicles. Are they going to switch to transit?

      My guess is that is its executives at TransLink are panicking for lying about the number of riders who might take the RAV Line and are trying to raise cash to cover up the lies. Is it better to let TransLink implode without more cash or to maintain its corruption by giving it more money?

      Evil eye

      Jun 21, 2009 at 12:40pm

      Of course Mayor Greg of Vancouver wants the 'rest of us' to pay transit taxes, because Vancouver has 3 (count'em 3) rapid transit lines that the rest of the Metro region pays for. Hey, I have a plan, let Vancouver rate payers pay for SkyTrain. let's see now.......3 rapid transit lines = 3 times the TransLink tax; Burnaby & New West has 2 rapid transit lines = 2 times the rapid transit tax; Surrey and Richmond pay the TransLink tax and the rest of the municipalities that do not have rapid transit do not pay the TransLink tax.

      Hows that for fairness?