The people have spoken—and they don’t trust TransLink with more of their hard-earned money.
Who can blame them? The No TransLink Tax campaign, led by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, highlighted more than 80 specific examples of TransLink waste and mismanagement, and made a strong case for major change at TransLink. More than that, many referendum voters have had several bad experiences with the system. TransLink itself canned its CEO, effectively admitting their organization was not well run.
Now is the time to change all that, and rebuild the taxpayers’ confidence in their transportation authority.
TransLink should start with a core review, drilling down into program spending with the intention to cut anything that doesn’t move a single person a single inch. No more poodles on poles, no more $40,000 TVs, no more leasing empty buildings, no more TransLink vanity projects. The core review would go deeper than any audit, recommending cheaper ways to deliver necessary service.
This push for efficiency isn’t about cutting money from the transportations system; it’s about reinvesting it in things that actually matter to riders and taxpayers and restoring confidence in TransLink. Saving money should be a bridge to better service.
The review should include a move to cut the six boards of directors to one, and collapse all the various subcompanies. TransLink doesn’t need multiple human resources, communications, administration or purchasing departments.
The transit police force, which ran $2.2 million over budget last year, should be scrapped. Response times and public safety wouldn’t suffer if local police took over the big files, while cheaper transit security officers handled fare issues on the system.
The mayors should be sent to prioritize their spending plan, with fresh estimates, not the four-year-old ones claimed by TransLink during the campaign. Mayors Linda Hepner and Gregor Robertson, so desirous of big projects, should find savings at both TransLink and in their own city halls to help fund the regional share, or find ways to ensure existing taxpayers aren’t on the hook for growth.
TransLink projects like the Pattullo Bridge refurbishment should be independently reviewed by the Ministry of Transportation or another peer agency to ensure they are being done in a safe, cost-effective manner.
Legislative changes are needed as well. The B.C. government should make it clear that the transportation minister has the authority to fire the TransLink board of directors. Either the provincial Auditor General or Auditor General for Local Government should be given regular access to TransLink’s books.
The transportation minister can no longer be an idle spectator. The hiring of the next TransLink CEO—which should come at a far cheaper price and with a fixed-term contract—is too vital a decision for the minister to miss. Further, the minister should give the TransLink board an annual mandate letter, with clear, specific goals.
One more thing. Politicians of all stripes, at all levels, should also hear the clear concern of taxpayers in this region. Many of them are struggling to make ends meet, and the ever-growing tax burden is not helping. Don’t come back to taxpayers for more cash—find the savings within the billions we already send you. The No TransLink Tax campaign has already done the work for you on a plan B: Earmark just 0.5 percent of your nearly 5 percent annual revenue growth and you could fund your entire wish list.
Hundreds of thousands of Lower Mainlanders voted for change in the referendum. A huge swath of the public has lost confidence in TransLink: It’s a message the premier, minister, mayors, TransLink brass, and the rest of the Yes side, can no longer ignore.