Local mayors say TransLink is headed for a crash

The Straight

When the Canada Line starts rolling in November next year, expect to watch the “destruction” of Vancouver’s world-famed grid system of electric buses.

Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan outlined this bleak scenario to underscore the financial situation of TransLink following its official announcement on December 8 that it will be dipping into its reserves in 2009.

Although the transportation authority will need to cover a $130-million budget shortfall next year to maintain and expand services, it will also have to channel riders in the city’s bus system into the $2-billion project formerly known as the Richmond Airport/Vancouver line to make it viable, according to the former TransLink director.

“That system is going to be diverted entirely to be able to promote ridership on the RAV line,” Corrigan told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “The only way they’re going to do it is by driving existing north-south traffic east-west so that you have to go on the RAV line to go downtown.”

Corrigan chose to highlight the Canada Line because he believes that TransLink’s financial woes resulted from “a series of decisions that have been made over the past years that were made on a wish and a prayer rather than on good financial planning”.

And for Corrigan, TransLink’s decision, upon the prodding of the B.C. Liberal government, to push the Canada Line ahead of other transit projects, such as acquiring more buses or building the Evergreen Line, was “catastrophic”.

“This is entirely predictable,” he said. “I hate to be the person to say, ‘I told you so,’ because it’s not a pleasant situation, but I certainly have been telling for a long time.”

According to a TransLink media release, the transit body, which is formally known as the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, will have $298 million left in its reserve funds at the end of next year after it has covered its budget shortfall for 2009.

Like Corrigan, Port Moody mayor Joe Trasolini is hardly surprised by this development.

Trasolini recalled that when he was still on the TransLink board, directors as well as provincial government officials knew that reserves would have to be tapped starting in 2009. Unless new sources of funding are opened, he warned, those reserves will be depleted by 2011.

“I don’t understand how a problem could be allowed to persist stubbornly,” Trasolini told the Straight.

What’s clear is that Trasolini’s municipality and other jurisdictions in the northeast sector of Metro Vancouver—including Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Anmore, and Belcarra—have been left by the wayside for years as the Canada Line jumped the queue ahead of the Evergreen Line. That project will connect the Millennium Line at Lougheed Mall in Burnaby with Port Moody and Coquitlam Town Centre.

According to the business case for the Evergreen Line that was jointly released by the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and TransLink in February this year, the northeast sector’s population is expected to grow to 360,000 residents by 2031 from the current number of approximately 210,000.

The document also acknowledged that the need for this long-delayed project has been “long-established, with planning first undertaken in the 1990s”.

In fact, rapid transit in the northeast sector was called for in the Livable Regional Strategic Plan, the master plan for managing growth in the Lower Mainland that was approved in 1996 by the regional body now known as Metro Vancouver.

Karen Wristen is the executive director of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation. According to her, there has been a disconnect between land-use planning based on the LRSP’s guidelines and transportation planning.

In a phone interview, Wristen told the Straight that the provincial government is to blame for decisions on transportation expenditures that aren’t linked to sensible land-use planning.

“The province keeps interfering for political reasons in transportation decision-making, deciding that it will award cash to projects that it feels are politically desirable,” Wristen said, citing the Canada Line as an example.

Coquitlam councillor Fin Donnelly noted that TransLink has never been given the financing capacity by the province to do what’s needed in terms of transit priorities in the Lower Mainland.

Donnelly argued that with limited tax dollars, the provincial government will ultimately have to make a choice between building more roads and bridges, as outlined in its Gateway program, and focusing on more buses and rapid transit.

“If we continue to expand the roads, people will continue to drive and not as many people will take transit, and then…even if you do try to take transit, you will say, ‘Oh, boy, I can’t make my connection, there’s not enough buses, these connections are inconvenient,’ ” Donnelly told the Straight. “And it’s all because we’re putting more emphasis into road-building and bridge-building than we are into buying 500 more buses and expanding the rapid-transit line throughout networks in the Lower Mainland.”

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