Tuesday, April 8, 2008
BC Electric, I mean the New Translink
The story of transportation in Vancouver is an interesting one to say the least. Our system has its routes in the BC Electric Company which, in 1886, started the streetcar service in Vancouver and the Interurban system that extended to Chilliwack. The BC Electric Company was a private enterprise until 1962 when it became the provincially controlled BC Hydro. By that time, the interurban system was decommissioned and streetcars replaced with buses or trolley buses.
In the late 1970’s, the BC government decided that BC Hydro should get out of the transit business and created the Urban Transit Authority that later became BC Transit. BC Transit was an agent of the provincial government like BC Hydro, but there was some local control. In Vancouver, a transit commission (based on local elected officials) had the authority to determining route configurations and transit service levels, setting fares, reviewing and making recommendations for the annual operating budget and capital spending, and raising the local share of the annual cost of transit service in the region. Mind you BC Transit, which was the provincial government, still had the final say.
In 1998 things would change for transit and transportation in Vancouver. The government at the time decided that it would create an authority that would not only control public transit, but also the major road network (old secondary provincial highways.) This was a good idea on paper as it combined all transpiration planning to one agency. It was hail as a revolutionary idea. The board would consist of 12 member from the GVRD and 3 from the province. In 1999 the Greater Vancouver Transit Authority (GVTA) was created. The GVTA probably would have served the region well, but the provincial government didn’t deliver on promised funding and refused to work with the authority. (It never appointed anyone to the GVTA board.) Now, the GVTA wasn’t prefect and there could have been some changes to the way the board and its funding worked. But in principle, it was a great idea.
Maybe it was bad blood with the RAV line and Gateway, but in 2006 the Ministry of Transportation decided it was time to reign in local control of transportation. The new South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority is pretty much only accountable to the provincial government and big business. The board is selected by the Province, the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council (special interest group), the Institute of Chartered Accountants, and the regional mayors. They each get to pick one member. As a note, the Gateway Council's idea of public transit is 10 West Coast Express trains a day.
There is a mayor’s council that gets to pick the board from a list by the selection committee. But if the major’s don’t like what they see, oh well. The selection committee gets to pick the board. It reminds me of a story my history teacher told me about elections in the USSR. You could vote, but there was only one choice on the ballet. The mayor’s council also gets to approve things just like in the days of BC Transit. But again, if the mayors don’t like what they see, oh well, SoCoBriTrans can do what it likes. It seems like the new Translink is like the only BC Transit. Well almost like BC Transit expect without local or provincial elected officials calling the shots… maybe it’s more like BC Electric with the power to tax you. As they say, everything that’s old is new again.
On the bright side, we get new SoCoBriTrans stickers to cover up the GVTA stickers that covered up the BC Transit stickers on all the warning sign on the SkyTrain…