Financial review finds TransLink has “significant operational issues”

ED. Finally a report that confirms what we, the public, have known for  decades – TransLink management is incompetent.

Vancouver Sun

By Jonathan Fowlie and Kelly Sinoski

TransLink has been plagued by “significant operational issues” and has not worked hard enough to manage its finances, according to a report by B.C.’s comptroller-general Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland.

The report, released Friday, partly blamed TransLink’s woes on conflicting interests and “ineffective communication” with the regional mayors’ council, its board of directors and the provincial government.

It is calling for the mayors’ council to be converted into a transit authority with 20 per cent of members appointed by the province. This council would be given more responsibility on who is hired and fired on the board, how much they are paid, and overseeing the board without assuming a management role.

“Inaction by TransLink and the mayors’ council to maintain a balance between expenses and revenues has brought TransLink to a point at which substantial operating deficits in 2010 and beyond will be difficult to avoid,” Wenezenki-Yolland wrote.

She added TransLink should have taken “earlier actions” to contain its rising debt, which has tripled since 2005. Yet it continued with an “unfunded expansion” of more buses and SkyTrain cars to boost ridership.

The report comes just two weeks after regional mayors approved a $130-million funding supplement to maintain transit services at existing levels. TransLink had sought $450-million per year to expand services.

It also comes one day after TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast announced his resignation.

In her report, Wenezenki-Yolland also looked into B.C. Ferries and called for a joint Transportation Commission to oversee both TransLink and B.C. Ferries.

“A properly resourced, larger Transportation Commission with a broader mandate would be in a position to provide a stronger, more consistent regulatory approach to these vital transportation systems,” she wrote.

Transportation Minister Shirley Bond said the suggestion of a joint commissioner “will warrant some exploring” as will some of the 20 recommendations brought forward to improve BC Ferries and TransLink and ensure taxpayers are getting value for money.

While Wenezenki-Yolland found salaries at TransLink were appropriate as they are only slighter higher than other large corporations, she noted the organization has far too many senior executives.

She also suggested TransLink change its planning structure from 10 years to three to five years to make it easier to get consensus on funding issues from all parties.

The TransLink board and the regional mayors have said they plan to lobby the province for expanded funding sources such as road pricing to help pay for more transit.

But the report noted that TransLink should ensure existing revenue sources, such as property and vehicle taxes, are maximized before looking at other sources of revenue.

What the reports do not do is recommend a change to the models in place,” Bond said. “The good news is the comptroller-general doesn’t suggest for a minute we start over. This doesn’t mean the work at TransLink has to stop.”

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, head of the regional mayors’ council, said many of the recommendations were in line with what the mayors had been seeking for some time.

“All the stakeholders are needed at the table in order to move forward,” she said. “We still have the issue of funding to resolve. When you don’t have one of the partners at the table, the communication flow is not as good as it could be.”

Former TransLink chairman George Puil said although local municipalities should have a stronger voice, it was “ironic” that the report called for provincial representatives on the mayors’ council.

He noted this notion goes back to the old system when the NDP representative appointed to the board refused to attend meetings, citing a conflict.

I don’t think the governance structure they have is working; they have too many masters and mistresses, whatever you want to call them,” he said. “We’re going back to square one.”

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