Dermod Travis: Yes or No vote in TransLink referendum won’t make the problems go away

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      Depending upon your point of view, TransLink is either a wasteful, marginally competent transit authority or it's a wasteful, marginally competent transit authority.

      At least both sides in Metro Vancouver's upcoming transit referendum seem to agree on that one point, even though they may express it differently.

      In the weeks ahead, expect the No side to talk TransLink ad nauseum, while the Yes side will try and talk about anything but. “TransLink? Sorry, doesn't ring a bell.”

      Well—as the Yes side may learn to its chagrin—in politics it's not he who laughs last, who laughs longest; it's he who defines first, who defines best.

      And hate to be a party pooper, but the elephant in the living roomTransLinkcan't be ignored.

      With assets operating on the sea, the roads, under the roads, and in the air (well, at least elevated), TransLink is unique.

      It boasts that it's “the first North American transportation authority to be responsible for the planning, financing and managing of all public transit in addition to major regional roads and bridges.”

      Good reason for that. The two mandates don't go well together. It's kind of like Steve Nash Fitness World operating a chain of burger joints.

      TransLink has three subsidiaries, not including its own police force. All told there are 22 members on the four boards of directors, only one of whom is elected to local government. But then TransLink has that other layer of governance: the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation.

      In 2013, it had 232.5 million passengers. It's much vaunted Compass card will be deployed. Sometime. Really.

      Montreal's transit authoritythe Société de transport de Montréalhas no operating subsidiaries. It's one board of directors has 10 members, seven of whom are elected to local governments. No Mayors' Council.

      In 2013, it had 416.5 million passengers. Its equivalent to the Compass card was introduced in 2008 and fully deployed by 2010.

      But the real problem with half-baked campaign promises such as the transit funding referendum is that any one of a host of unforeseen factors can lead to a doozy of a political hangover. TransLink is one.

      Another? A No vote won't make the problems go away.

      As Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore told Pitt Meadows council last month: “If this plan fails, there's no plan B,” adding that the “Mayor’s Council would then go back to the province and ask for leadership.” Goody. Something you can always count on from Victoria.

      If the anticipation of having your say on transit has left you on the edge of your seat anxiously awaiting the campaign festivities, have no fear.

      This past week, charges and counter-charges picked up a bit when the No side unveiling its website and alternative transit plan. The Yes war room was fast out with this gem from Greg Moore: “If you don’t have good, quality content, then you come out with something shiny to distract the conversation.”

      Undoubtedlyif the Yes side comes out with a website before the voteit won't be shiny.

      In fact, they're even making grumblings about engaging in battle later this month. According to the Vancouver's Board of Trade president Iain Black, the Yes side hopes to launch its campaign at the end of January.

      Which won't come a moment too soon for Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason who, in a column on January 15, noted that if the transit vote is to succeed, the “campaign must start now.” One thing though, Mason reached that view on January 15, 2014. Last year.

      The Yes side may have great intellectual arguments, but the No side has one big emotional one. It's spelled T-r-a-n-s-L-i-n-k. And at the end of the day it may be the only one that counts.

      If the Yes forces do prevail, at least the New Car Dealers Association of B.C. stand a good chance at getting their money's worth from all those political donations to the B.C. Liberal party.

      B.C. finance ministry officials are already busy at work identifying what goods will be exempt from that 0.5 percent increase in the PST. Bet new cars will be at or near the top of that list.

      Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

      Comments

      18 Comments

      Eric Doherty

      Jan 19, 2015 at 11:49am

      Dermod,

      So you think car dealers are rooting for the yes side? Perhaps, but doubtful. (Or is this irony I'm missing?)

      But more importantly, do you have any constructive suggestions? (Yes I see that a good one is implicit - make TransLink into a transit agency rather than a transit and roads and bridges agency. How about making this suggestion explicit and working to make it happen?)

      I'm voting yes. I believe that a strong yes vote will make it easier to improve our transit governance. A no vote will send a signal to politicians that public transit can be safely neglected while they please the car dealers and oil companies with billions in freeway expansion (such as the $3b Massey Tunnel replacement boondoggle).

      Replacing Falling Gas Tax Revenues

      Jan 19, 2015 at 11:50am

      One of Translink's major revenue sources are gas tax revenues and they are falling rapidly. This will continue and we need to find a replacement. An increase in the HST is a start. I would prefer road pricing.

      Just sayin'

      Jan 19, 2015 at 12:09pm

      It’s telling all the Yes side can come up with is petty verbal jabs at the Premier mixed in with some fear mongering. If you don’t vote yes you’re dooooooomed for life. The bottom line is that the Mayors could show "leadership" and pay for their plan tomorrow yet they refuse to do so. Instead they’re fixated on playing the blame game. Some “leadership”. Plus, their plan is a joke and voting No will result in a better transportation system in the long run.

      Thomas Folkestone

      Jan 19, 2015 at 12:24pm

      Elected representatives on the Board.
      No bloated management salaries to pay.
      Needs-based planning process.

      We can use what we now pay more efficiently. Just get Christy Clark and the lying BC Liberals out of the way; right now we are just paying their friends big bucks to f*** us in the a**.

      L Leeman

      Jan 19, 2015 at 1:11pm

      Road pricing huh?
      I got a better idea. If you want TRANSIT then how about TRANSIT PRICING?

      Dermod Travis

      Jan 19, 2015 at 2:37pm

      Not irony, Eric more an allegory with a touch of sarcasm.

      As for ideas? Well, in 2013 I wrote of the very real dangers inherent with ill-thought out campaign promises. You can find it here:

      Dermod Travis: What will be the outcome of the TransLink referendum?
      http://www.straight.com/news/536846/dermod-travis-what-will-be-outcome-t...

      As for ideas in this commentary, as others have commented on already:

      1. The Yes side will commit a fatal error if it discounts the public's antipathy to TransLink
      2. Transit authorities should have one mandate: transit
      3. TransLink's organigram is seriously in need of reform
      and
      4. The Yes side is playing catch up, not a good place start if you support public transit

      sam

      Jan 19, 2015 at 3:06pm

      Sales taxes are pretty regressive, hitting the people living paycheck to paycheck hardest.

      I bet the increase in property values along the broadyway corridor, due to a subway, would cover the construction and operation costs many times over. The property owners and developers are going to make a fortune in less than a decade when the inevitable subway gets built. Its too bad there isn't really a mechanism to get the property owners and developers to invest in the city.

      Real Data

      Jan 19, 2015 at 6:30pm

      Translink wastes as follows;

      - $194 plus Million for Fare Gates, this will never pay for itself even with 100% Fare collection,

      - $15 plus million per year to operate the the Compass / Fare Gate system, this will never pay for itself even with 100% Fare collection,

      - This does not include all the other waste.

      The additional 0.5% would like wise be WASTED by Translink. So I'm voting No.

      You can see this Data from both Translinsk own Financials and analysis from other credible third parties.

      From Translinks Financials itself Compass allocated Funds for 2014 as follows;

      1. Administration (not incl. all Wages) $80 Million, Compass - $11.4 Million,

      2. Page 16 - Contracted Services - to Cubic (Compass Contrator) - $13.4 Million,

      3. Salaries & Wages - $ (not broken down by Translink) but add at least $2.5 Million per year as an ultra conservative estimate.

      This is what Translink said...

      "...new positions related to the Compass Card and fare gates implementation, and merit and length - of -service increases."

      Even if you just add # 1 & 2 above from Translinks own figures - $11.4 + $13.4 (Million) = $24.8 Million per year in operating Costs just for Compass!!!

      This is to Collect $7 to 8 Million in "Fare Evasion" mostly from the homeless.

      Oh by the way this does NOT include Transit Police ($32.2 Million per year) or any other Salaries related directly to Compass!

      I support Policing for real Crime within the established Police forces in the lower mainland not Transit mostly Fare Checker Police at $120,000+++ per year each.

      That money could go to fight real Crime 24 / 7 instead it's wasted on Transit.

      Regular Police can & do attend emergencies on Transit no need for Transit only Cops.

      Conservatively you are looking at between $30 and $40 Million are year to operate Compass! It is a financial BLACK HOLE!

      If they get the 0.5% than they are going to ask for Road Tolls additional Taxes etc without even making a real effort towards efficiency.

      We don't need $100,000+ per year Bus Drivers, Fare Checkers or Fare Gates that never pay for themselves instead it creates a $30+ Million per year + deficit.

      The 2014 Financial Statement / budget is source Translink here;

      http://www.translink.ca/~/media/documents/about_translink/governance_and...

      Martin Dunphy

      Jan 19, 2015 at 9:22pm

      incognito:

      Thanks for your posts, but try avoiding defamatory statements and they may see the light of day!

      400 ppm

      Jan 19, 2015 at 9:35pm

      And where might some of that Yes money go, Mr Doherty...

      "Eric Doherty, the principal of Ecopath Planning, is a Registered Professional Planner who has completed a wide range of projects for non-profit, public and private sector clients. He is skilled in assessing needs and opportunities, and finding effective solutions. Eric is also an accomplished researcher, writer, facilitator and educator.

      Eric has been doing environmental consulting and contract work with a variety of associates and organizations since 2001, completed an MA in planning 2008, and began operating as Ecopath Planning in 2011."