Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Who really owns the Metro Vancouver transit system?

Did you know that the Millennium Line is actually owned by the provincial government? All the tracks, guideway, bridges, stations, land, and even 40 SkyTrain cars was owned by Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd, a provincial crown corporation. Similarly, the Expo Line assets which include the tracks, guideway, bridges, stations, tunnels, and the SkyTrain operations and maintenance centre was owned by BC Transit. Even parts of the West Coast Express was owned by the province. TransLink actually leases these assets from the province.

As of May 21, these assets were transferred to the BC Transportation Financing Authority (BCTFA). This is a shadow crown corporation which is essentially the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Portions of the Evergreen Line will also be owned by the provincial government though BCTFA.

This is all very esoteric details about our transit system in Metro Vancouver, so why am I bringing this up? When TransLink was setup, the province could have transferred all assets to the new agency, but it did not. The province will tell you that they did this to make sure that the new TransLink didn’t have the pay for the debt servicing costs of these assets. There are ways around this. The BC government removed debt from BC Ferries, adding it to the provincial debt back when BC Ferries was a crown corporation.

If you look at all the fixed transit infrastructure in Metro Vancouver, the province has always mucked around to get what it wants. The Canada Line was a P3 and prioritized over the now Evergreen Line, all because of the province. Even the Evergreen Line was transformed from light rail to SkyTrain with a unilateral decision by the province which also decided to then build it.

TransLink was created as a way for the province to not have to spend money on operating transit in Metro Vancouver. In order to transfer this cost onto local government, the province agreed to allow our region to control the transit system on paper.

Unfortunately what really happens is that the province still controls major parts of the transit system in Metro Vancouver, and uses TransLink as a whipping boy when anything controversial comes up. This is why we just had a referendum on whether to fund transit improvements in Metro Vancouver.

If the transit referendum does fail, and it likely will, I hope more people will question how our transit system is setup. The provincial government says that Metro Vancouver has control over its transit system, but really TransLink is a puppet while the provincial government is the puppet master. If the province wants to control transit in Metro Vancouver, it should be honest about it and change TransLink to a provincial crown corporation.

If you want to see more information about the recent changes in transit asset ownership in Metro Vancouver, check out the most recent GVRD Board of Directors Agenda. Metro Vancouver produced a report that stated that the provincial government would have to pay local government back all the federal gas tax funds used by TransLink to improve provincial transit assets if the province decided to not renew it leases with TransLink. The leases between TransLink and the province expire in 2017 and 2018. It is extremely likely that they will be renewed.

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