Wednesday, February 5, 2014

TransLink, trust, and the referendum

This probably comes as no surprise, but at my work Nathan and transit can be synonymous at times. People regularly come up to me with their transit questions and even transit complaints. Sometimes people can get pretty passionate and mistake me as TransLink (which I am not.)

Yesterday I was at work and one colleague said loudly to another, “Nathan wants to increase my taxes that go to TransLink.” He continued to go one about how TransLink delivers nothing but broken promises and was a black hole for money. Of course, this was to get my attention.

I said, “Weren’t three audits of TransLink enough?”

The colleague shot back, “They were government audits and can’t be trusted. I want an audit done by a real businessman before I’d give one more dime to TransLink.”

He then went on to explain that he knows a guy who knows a guy at TransLink. This guy basically said that TransLink burns $20 bills instead of diesel fuel because it is so wasteful.

This is an exaggeration, but the point is that many people don’t believe that TransLink is a good stewards of taxpayer’s dollars.

Interestingly through the whole conversation with my colleague, he implied that he actually valued transit and would be willing to increase funding for transit.

I’ve said in the past that the TransLink brand would likely be the root cause for a lose in the upcoming transit referendum. I’m even more convinced of this after my conversation yesterday. People don’t trust TransLink, and I don’t think that yet another audit would improve that trust.

One of the major issues with TransLink is a lack of direct accountability to the public. Hopefully this will change as Transportation Minister Todd Stone hinted last week that governance reform is coming soon for the agency.

Another positive sign is that the Premier has hinted at delaying the transit referendum until after the municipal elections this fall. As it stands now neither the province nor the region’s mayors are championing increasing transit funding. The delayed referendum combined with the governance reform will hopefully allow TransLink to become more trusted in the eyes of the public. It hopefully will also allow all levels of government to champion increasing transit funding.

Having a referendum on only transit is silly, as no other part of our transportation system goes to referendum. Ideally the whole idea would be ditched, the province’s update to TransLink’s governance would restore accountability to the public, and a long-term funding source could be secured to allow improved transit service in our region.

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