Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Province says no to local government control of TransLink; Metro Vancouver to use gas tax fund to get voice heard at table

It must have took 30 seconds for the provincial government to reject the latest call by Metro Vancouver mayors and councillors to take back control of TransLink. In 2007, the provincial government removed the TransLink board which consisted of elected local government politicians, and replaced it with an unaccountable board made up of unelected people.

This structure is good for the province because it ensures that the province ultimately controls the transit system in Metro Vancouver while shielding it from any political responsibility. When it comes to transit in Metro Vancouver, there are four things where the provincial government has drawn a line in the sand:

  1. The provincial government will not change the governance structure of TransLink.
  2. The provincial government will only pay for 1/3 of the cost of transit expansion projects.
  3. The provincial government will not invest one cent in the operations of transit in Metro Vancouver (expect what they are contractually obligated to do with the P3 Canada Line.)
  4. The provincial government will not approved a new funding source for transit until it goes to a plebiscite.

No report or recommendation from Metro Vancouver will change the provincial government’s mind on these matters.

While Metro Vancouver’s recommendation of taking back control of TransLink was ignored by the province, the report does make other recommendations which will help local government in our region have more influence on what TransLink does.

One of the recommendations is to create a new Joint Planning Advisory Committee. This committee will have no authority, but will provide a venue for local government, the province, and TransLink to discuss regional transportation matters. Metro Vancouver recommends that this new committee:

  • Include all TransLink Board Directors and Mayors’ Council members.
  • Occur quarterly, or as required, in order to adequately guide and inform the development of key strategies, plans, and policies.
  • Be supported by TransLink staff, and provide opportunities for input by Mayors’ Council and Metro Vancouver staff.
  • Include the Minister Responsible for TransLink as required to discuss the Province’s interests and investments in the context of transportation planning for the region.

The federal government gives back a portion of the gas tax it receives to local government to support local infrastructure project. Back in 2005, that money went straight to TransLink. A new agreement was signed in 2014 which now requires Metro Vancouver board approval before TransLink can spend that money. Over a five year period, it is expect that the total funding will be $652 million.

Proposed Joint Planning Committee structure. Select image to enlarge.

It seems that Metro Vancouver will be using their approval of this fund to ensure that the Joint Planning Advisory Committee is established, and that the discussions that take place on the committee are taken seriously.

Unfortunately, the TransLink governance and financing model is broken. Even with a new Joint Planning Advisory Committee, the funding of major regional transportation projects will remain ad-hoc while the quality of bus service will continue to decline.

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