– Tom Prendergast is resigning as CEO of TransLink

ED. One of the main reasons for Mr Pendergast’s abrupt departure was “…past decisions on rapid transit lines tipped too easily in favour of SkyTrain-type technology” (read government interference) and his pledge to vigorously analyze alternatives like at-grade light rail, were blocked by the Campbell liberals.

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“There’s something wrong somewhere. I think it is a bad sign,” says George Puil, former chair of the 10-year-old agency, which manages all transit and roads in the South Coast region. It has been plagued by money shortages and conflicts with the provincial government almost since its first day”.

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Departure of TransLink’s CEO ‘tragic’ turn for region

By Jeff Nagel – BC Local News

It’s a major blow for the region and hopes for transportation improvements.

Tom Prendergast is resigning as CEO of TransLink to return to New York.

Prendergast was a big part of the vision behind TransLink’s recent push for an ambitious expansion of the transit system.

He fused together a surprisingly strong coalition of both Metro Vancouver’s 21 mayors and a new professional board of directors that was installed to replace elected politicians in 2008.

Few observers thought the two groups would see eye-to-eye, but with Prendergast at the helm, they united to call on the province to deliver major new funding sources for TransLink, through controversial means like road pricing or regional tolling.

Victoria resisted and in the summer transportation minister Shirley Bond announced a new review of TransLink to be led by B.C.’s comptroller general.

The review threatened a new governance shakeup less than two years after the former TransLink board was swept away by then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon.

Prendergast denied he saw it as “meddling” but later admitted he was disappointed by the move. The results of the review have not yet been unveiled.

Mayors, blocked from new sources and an ability to launch a preferred $450-million-a-year transit expansion, settled in October for a $130-million funding increase that keeps the system on life support.

Prendergast had sparred with the province on other fronts.

He argued for a TransLink tax on container port shipments and a share of Victoria’s lucrative property transfer tax – both to no avail.

And he said past decisions on rapid transit lines tipped too easily in favour of SkyTrain-type technology and pledged to much more vigorously analyze alternatives like at-grade light rail.

Prendergast, who came here in the summer of 2008, will take over as president of the New York City Transit Authority, the top job in North America’s biggest subway system.

In a statement issued Thursday, Prendergast said it’s difficult to leave a “great organization” with “so much potential to build out the system to foster livability and the economic and environmental sustainability of the region.”

He said the offer to run New York’s system was one he couldn’t refuse.

“We’re obviously disappointed to lose Tom,” TransLink board chair Dale Parker said. “He’s done just a terrific job and we’ll desperately miss him.”

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, chair of the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation, said she is profoundly disappointed.

“It’s extremely disturbing to lose such a person of that calibre and knowledge,” she said. “It really is a loss for the region.”

Asked if she believes the conflict between the region and the provincial government over the future of TransLink was a factor, Watts said: “Tom, with the knowledge he had of transportation and the calibre of the work he brought to the table, I feel he probably wasn’t fully appreciated by some.”

Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, whose city is at risk of losing the promised Evergreen Line without more TransLink funding, called Prendergast a “breath of fresh air” and is sorry to see him go.

“My fear is that this will slow things down,” Trasolini said, adding it leaves him less optimistic about TransLink’s future. “It’s a pause that we cannot afford right now.”

SFU City Program director Gordon Price says the funding standoff with Victoria and now Prendergast’s departure signals a “tragic” turning point for the region.

“As of this moment, our future is going to be auto-dependent,” Price said. “The truckers have won.”

He said he has no hope the province will now seriously come to the table.

Metro Vancouver appears destined to have transit services capped, he added, while roads and bridges expand to carry cargo and livability deteriorates.

“We’re being hung out to dry on the future of the region,” Price said. “All the sustainable region initiatives, all the transit-oriented communities – all the stuff we talk about – we have to be honest about it. At best, it’s on hold. At worst, it has no future.”

Price predicts the province will push the Evergreen Line construction through, but without sufficient funding, forcing other transit cutbacks coupled with steep property tax hikes.

Other proposed rapid transit extensions will likely falter.

“Prendergast is the best judge of this,” Price said. “He looked at the situation, saw this wasn’t going anywhere and said ‘What am I doing here?'”

TransLink Chief Financial Officer Ian Jarvis takes over as interim president and CEO.

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