TransLink funding woes began under NDP government, former transit leaders recall

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      Now both retired, George Puil and Jim Houlahan were around during the early days of TransLink.

      Puil, then a Vancouver councillor, was the first chair of the regional transportation body, while Houlahan was president and later, vice president, of the union representing bus drivers.

      They’ve seen how TransLink has been underfunded over the years, and according to them, it would be foolhardy to reject a proposed half-percentage-point increase in sales tax to support transportation improvements.

      Although Puil and Houlahan agree that a “yes” vote in this spring’s transit referendum is good for the region, they’re not about to forget one of the reasons why Metro Vancouver residents are even having to go through this exercise.

      While provincial New Democrats are prodding ruling B.C. Liberals to ensure the success of the referendum, Puil and Houlahan recall that it was a B.C. NDP government that backed out of an agreement with the then newly created TransLink to collect a vehicle levy.

      Averaging $75 per vehicle each year, the levy would have raised $100 million annually to support the expansion of public transportation.

      In late 2000, before the NDP was almost wiped out in the election the following year, the province reneged on its commitment to collect the vehicle levy.

      “To me, it was the way to go but it didn’t go that way and it was unfortunate,” Puil said about the failed levy in a phone interview with the Straight.

      Told that the NDP is pushing B.C. Liberals to support a “yes” vote, Puil said chuckling: “So times have changed.”

      For his part, Houlahan was also amused to know that New Democrats want the referendum to succeed.

      “I’ve never understood why they did it in all these years,” Houlahan told the Straight by phone about the NDP’s junking of the vehicle levy.

      According to Houlahan, the vehicle levy would have been in place until some other funding source for transit was found.

      “That was going to be a sustained funding source,” he said. “And TransLink, in its first year before they lost the vehicle levy, had pretty reasonably ambitious plans to catch up because under B.C. Transit, nothing has been done to the bus system.”

      With the NDP government backing out of the vehicle levy, Houlahan recalled that TransLink cancelled its new bus orders, and began cutting services.

      Houlahan related that he was president of the bus drivers’ union when negotiations were being done between the province and the Greater Vancouver Regional District for the eventual creation of TransLink in 1999.

      “Everybody knew when the region took that on and they voted unanimously to take it, looking at the funding sources and the monster they were taking on, and it was clear everybody knew that they needed the vehicle levy to fund this thing and do any expansion or keep up with growth,” Houlahan said. “And when that failed, it’s been an issue ever since.”

      Puil was GVRD chair at that time, and Houlahan recalled that the region was “just irate when the province balked” at collecting the vehicle levy.

      “It was what they agreed to,” Houlahan said. “They knew the region needed that funding. That was going to generate almost 100 million a year.”



      ursa minor

      Jan 22, 2015 at 2:56pm

      Funny how Puil and Houlahan blame the NDP for not passing the vehicle levy when the rabidly pro-Liberal media at the time were whipping the public into a frenzy about it. It's not like the TransLink board was doing anything to sell people on it.

      However, they seem to be cool with this Sophie's Choice...Christy's Choice of a referendum between Translink corruption and perpetual Gridlock. Nice piece of revisionist history this is...

      Not impressed

      Jan 22, 2015 at 3:25pm

      Yes, the NDP reneged...fifteen years the insistance of the BC Liberals.
      I do not recall the Libs standing up for 'right' at the time; quite the contrary...they harped on it as an affront to the taxpaying public.
      The BC Liberals have had well over a decade to correct the problem, and have only made it worse. Politicians of all stripes love to tell us that their predecessors lacked foresight, usually while asking us to believe that they do. If we're going to dig up and dwell on the past, we should discuss the failed governance of Translink, imposed on us by a more recent government.
      If Christy, or any BC Liberal has or had a solution (or the guts to lead), we would not be holding a referendum. This is nothing more than the fruition of a desperate need to avoid the issue during the last campaign. She managed to waste another two years in the process, while she 'Stone-walled'. Yes, lets discuss the decision to put a rookie on this file...
      By the way, that $75 was worth a lot more at that time than it is now...and we all know that if it had survived it would be in the neighbourhood of $200 by now, with the Libs blaming the NDP, every time they raised it.
      The region has responsibility, but Victoria pulls the strings and writes the legislation. Which means those strings have been pulled by the BC Liberals for fifteen years.
      It seems to me that those in office now should be worrying about their own performance, rather than reaching into the past for excuses. And those who once were, but no longer are relevant should just shut up.

      Mary Contrary

      Jan 22, 2015 at 3:28pm

      If it was such a great idea, and 'everybody' knew it was needed, why didn't Gordo follow through with it?

      Oh, right...the BC Liberals lead the crusade to prevent it...

      They've been quite short of brilliant 'fixes' themselves, in the many, many long years since.

      Vehicle Levy vs HST Increase

      Jan 22, 2015 at 3:51pm

      A vehicle levy would be better than an increase in our HST. The levy would encourage people to go car free. The HST doesn't shape behaviours.


      Jan 22, 2015 at 5:09pm

      The NDP created the transit problem. Period. It doesn't matter what the Liberals wanted then, the NDP was in power.

      Now the question as to why didn't the Liberals introduce such a levy? Do you really want to torpedo your popularity from the first day? Hence why nothing was done, and now the plebiscite so the province can say "oh the voters agreed to have this tax" instead of unilaterally pushing it on the voters.

      But the mayors screwed this up. Nobody wants a sales tax. Echos of the HST. The voters don't give a care about businesses, and businesses can't vote. Notice that the only people pushing for Light Rail in Surrey are Surrey business interests? Notice who owns property along the proposed rapid transit expansions?

      We should be holding referendums to vote for temporary taxes/levys to pay for capital projects, and then removing those once the capital project is paid off. The average project is supposed to be paid off in 30 years. If a project can't recover it's costs in 30 years, then we shouldn't be building it, as the tax base doesn't support it.


      Jan 22, 2015 at 10:57pm

      "Yes, the NDP reneged...fifteen years the insistance of the BC Liberals."

      So you are blaming the opposition for a decision made by a majority government? Let me guess: you support the NDP....right? Or perhaps your are simply a knee-jerk anti-Liberal. You certainly aren't a thinking person as that would necessitate laying blame and praise where due and not based upon conditioning. Translink is the result of left & right criminals and is run by incompetents like every other taxpayer funded bureaucracy. The solution the range of transit problems we face is not to simpy give Translink more money when they have shown themselves to be poor managers of what they get already.

      We need to tear apart the structure that is atop the actual delivery of services. Drivers, mechanics and other staff who provide or directly support services are not the problem here. The problem is the layers of "managers" that occupy every bureaucracy and in the case of Translink make every project an adventure in cost over-runs and missed completion dates. Right now the only other transportation boondoggle as far behind as Compass is Mayor Robertson's bike sharing program, maybe they can get a sales tax increase as well. Translink combines the worst aspects of public & private corporations, giving them more money will only guarantee more bureaucrats while "better service" will remain a fantasy.


      Jan 23, 2015 at 7:33am

      Lol. Wow people are sure having a hard time swallowing the bitter pill that the NDP weren't exactly good governors. Accept the fact that NDP screwed it up and quit trying to turn the cameras away from the obvious. There's a reason they have a hard time getting elected and it's mainly that they are trying to please the unpleasable.

      Evil Eye

      Jan 23, 2015 at 7:55am

      So Puil blamed the NDP for TransLink's fincial woes, that's rich, because the NDP suckered Puil and the GVRD with TransLink, in order to sell their very contentious Millennium Line.

      Let us remember that the NDP were going to build with LRT down Broadway but the long arms of Bombardier and SNC convinced Clark and McPhail to build with their proprietary light-metro instead. The fallout was, the next election the NDP were reduced to two seats!

      So Clark made a deal that king George could not refuse, accept the Millennium Line and the province will give the region TransLink and as a sweetener, the province will pay two thirds of all SkyTrain construction West of commercial Drive.

      There is a sucker born every minute and the greedy King George agreed.

      We things change and the Liberals reneged on the deal (anyways the Canada Line is not SkyTrain)

      So here is something to think about. The GVRD released in 1993 that the annual subsidy just for the 1 SkyTrain Line was $157 million in 1991 and this increased with every new SkyTrain line built. In 1993, Portland's (ORE.)Tri-Met's total operating costs, including the MAX LRT was USD $114 million!

      So one can see, it was the sucker King George that was conned to take on TransLink and all the high costs associated with it.

      Oh what fools we mortals be...................


      Jan 23, 2015 at 1:59pm

      No matter one's political bent, most reasonable people would agree that fifteen years of majority governments is ample opportunity to correct whatever 'errors' were made by the preceeding government.
      Only an unthinking partisan would accept a scapegoat from that long ago.

      Not Convinced

      Jan 23, 2015 at 2:44pm

      Fine and dandy.
      The beleaguered NDP caved to the political posturing of the BC Liberals, and did not follow through with a levy in 1999.
      Both parties have changed leaders since then.
      Many historical events have taken place, and much has changed.
      And yet, we still have no resolution of the Translink question...
      Here's a thought; since the rotten, old NDP 'created' Translink, why don't the 'much better' BC Liberals kill it? They could, you know.
      But, they won't.
      Why 'fix' a problem, when you can continually blame your opponent for it?
      Better hope the public doesn't get tired of this overused meme.