– TransLink faces $97 million deficit

Province abandons TransLink, mayors fill in the blanks

By Sarah Chung

The Lower Mainland will be facing higher transit fares and an increase in fuel taxes after the Metro Vancouver Mayors Council approved a $130 million supplementary plan for TransLink last Friday.

The $130 million approval means an increase in fuel taxes by three cents a litre, and a ten per cent increase in transit fares. The alternative was for mayors to refuse any funding increase, which would force an array of cuts, including a 40 per cent reduction in bus services.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan voted against the motion to approve funding. “I expect the province is laughing right now because the mayors have made the decision to hand over the money to TransLink,” he said. “Mayors didn’t have courage to stand against the province; they took the easy way out, without the guarantee that it will last.”

“It’s a decision that takes us nowhere,” Corrigan added. “The ten per cent increase to fare costs is a significant amount for transit users while we can expect there will be basically no change to their services, or expect even less in the future due to funding cuts.”

TransLink’s Ten-Year Funding Stabilization Plan provides no scope for expansion, and no ability to finance the operation or construction of new rapid transit extensions, including the UBC Rapid Line to UBC and the university’s underground bus loop project. However, students can be assured that the U-Pass program will not be affected, since it is part of a contract agreement with the university.

Ken Hardie of TransLink media relations said that TransLink is expecting a $97 million deficit by the end of this year due to a series of operational costs that were accumulated with the enormous increase of services between the years 2005 and 2009.

“There was no surprise; we had expected a deficit,” he said. In September, the <ital>Vancouver Sun</ital> reported that TransLink’s strategy to raise $57 million annually by increasing a tax on commercial parking spaces has been eliminated by the proposed harmonized sales tax (HST), which will eliminate the parking tax since it is a sales tax and will be combined into the HST on July 1. This, plus the increase in fuel prices and changes to tie the company’s salary increases to the rate of inflation, contributed to a significant loss for TransLink which quickened the process.

“We are maxed out,” said Hardie. “What we need is a new source of revenue that is sustainable.”

Corrigan said that now the province needs to step in.

“The province is constantly seeking ways to minimize their contributions but expecting large outcomes,” he said. For example, the province said that the Canada Line will be a top priority but only covered 17 per cent of the total costs, leaving the remaining 83 per cent for TransLink to pick up.

He added that the province has suggested placing more emphasis on property taxes, something the Mayors Council disagreed on.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said that property taxes can’t be touched and that Victoria must recognize that the region needs more tools to fund TransLink.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who chairs the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors, said that local taxpayers will already face huge utility cost increases in the years ahead to pay for sewage treatment plant upgrades and garbage disposal solutions.

Corrigan said that it’s up to the province: “In their small contributions, they are the ones driving the decisions.”

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