Jordan Bateman

OPINION: Who’s behind the wheel at TransLink?

It's going to be up to taxpayers to reign in transit authority's tax-and-spend binge.

Who is running the show at TransLink?

It’s certainly not taxpayers or transit riders. Both have suffered as the smorgasbord of TransLink taxes and fares rise over and over again, only to watch helplessly as their hard-earned dollars are blown on Transit Police, $40,000 TVs, blundering sound wall installations, and other waste.

B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone – safely ensconced in Kamloops, the home of the cheapest gasoline in the province and 300 kilometres away from TransLink’s taxation tentacles – is rightly sticking to the premier’s campaign promise of a TransLink tax hike referendum.

Several mayors are unhappy with TransLink – Delta’s Lois Jackson, a former Metro Vancouver chair, said last year that the agency is spending like “a drunken sailor.” This year, Jackson said she supports the B.C. Liberals’ referendum plan because “people need to have a say in how this damn thing is being run.”

Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan, a key swing vote between any Vancouver-Surrey divide at Metro, ripped TransLink’s expansion plans, noting that, “The idea that the property taxpayer is a bottomless pit of money is over. The reality is that we’re seeing, in every one of our communities, blow back from the public.”

West Vancouver mayor Mike Smith is ready to throw TransLink under the bus once and for all. Even his neighbour, North Vancouver mayor Richard Walton, the TransLink mayors’ council chairman, is sounding exasperated by the agency these days. Take the issue of lifetime passes, for example: “Quite frankly, the public transportation doesn’t need to subsidize people with free passes,” he said.

It took years of public criticism, but the mayors’ council is finally reviewing the Transit Police – an expensive, ineffective fare check regime TransLink continues to push on to taxpayers.

TransLink’s appointed board of directors don’t seem terribly enthused with the agency’s direction either. They have been virtually invisible in recent months, except for a fascinating opinion piece by chair Nancy Olewiler in the March edition of Policy Options magazine.

“A society of slow growth may be the tipping point for transportation,” wrote Olewiler, whose argument applies to roads, bridges and massive transit projects. “Slower growth may change the assumptions that go into our projections for new transportation capacity. That possibility is something for planners to think about before they take long-term decisions to pump billions of dollars into infrastructure spending, at the expense of investments in health or education, which we will need to improve our quality of life.”

Olewiler’s piece is stunning because it is the first time a TransLink official has admitted that taking taxes for TransLink means less for priorities such as health, education, emergency services, water, sewer, or others. Taxpayers cannot afford everything.

With such little support from taxpayers, riders, mayors, the minister and the board chair, TransLink’s push for a $23-billion tax-and-spend binge is coming from its senior executive team. They are trying to push for higher taxes. It’s becoming clear they believe the referendum campaign has already started, and the bureaucrats will spend as much of their time and your money as they can to get the result they want.

This flies in the face of the usual role of government employees, which is to let the politicians – the people accountable to the taxpayers – make the policy decisions. Good staff members make recommendations to their boards or elected officials, and then carry out their direction.

But at TransLink, the inmates are now running the asylum. With the board and mayors tied up in knots, it will be up to the taxpayers to take the keys away from the transportation authority’s senior executives.

Jordan Bateman is British Columbia director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

 

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