TransLink pledges to open up board meetings

Transit authority waits to learn outcome of Metro Vancouver tax plebiscite

TransLink will open up its board meetings to the public starting this fall in what it says is a move to become more transparent and accountable.

“We welcome public scrutiny,” said vice chair Barry Forbes, who announced the change at TransLink’s annual general meeting Friday.

Exactly how much new information is released and actual debate on policy is witnessed by the public and the media is yet to be seen.

Fraser Health holds part of its board meetings in public, but that consists mainly of carefully staged staff presentations and a public question period, rather than real debate between directors on the critical policy issues, which all happens behind closed doors.

Forbes confirmed some topics will still be dealt with in camera, but indicated those would be the usual ones requiring confidentiality that prompt closed meetings by other public bodies – personnel, land and labour negotiations.

The move ends seven years of making decisions behind closed doors since 2008, when the provincial government remade TransLink’s structure, removed mayors and councillors who previously ran open board meetings, and replaced them with a system of appointed professional directors.

Since last fall, two mayors have sat on the board as well and the mayors’ council had been pressing for years for more transparency.

“What’s changed is the board has recognized it’s the people’s transportation system. It belongs to all of us, so we’ve got to be more open,” Forbes said.

Interim CEO Doug Allen said TransLink is waiting for the outcome of the transit tax plebiscite to see “what world we’re in.”

A Yes vote will result in immediate moves to boost bus service, particularly night bus service this summer, he told the AGM.

A No outcome would result in renewed talks between mayors and the province, he said, while TransLink does the best it can to deliver the highest quality service possible.

The system will slowly erode under that scenario – with revenue frozen and population increasing, the level of transit service per resident is ultimately expected to decline.

“If anyone thinks in a No scenario that we can simply move on and either deliver the status quo or more, we can’t,” Allen said.

Without new funding, transit service per capita is projected to deteriorate back to 2004 levels by 2020.

Even if the vote is Yes, TransLink still intends to continue its bus optimization process that shuffles service from less used routes to areas where more riders can be carried.

Many critics argue transit funding should never have gone to a referendum, but Allen argued the process has been beneficial.

“The debate we’ve had across the region has been a very good debate,” he said.

He defended TransLink’s record, noting transit operating cost recovery at 53 per cent is almost twice as good as most major U.S. transit agencies.

TransLink executives fielded several questions from the public.

White Rock resident Roderick Louis said Surrey’s plan for an at-grade light rail network is “visionless, needless and unambitious” and argued for reconsideration of elevated SkyTrain instead.

“We’re going to end up with Surrey again looking like it’s the dump of the region,” he said.

Allen responded the plan for light rail in Surrey was part of the mayors’ vision and was “not a casual proposal.”

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner later defended the LRT plan.

“It’s about both moving people and shaping the community,” Hepner said.

“We also know there’s a cost differential. When we’re looking at 27 kilometres of new transportation system there’s monumentally different costs with an elevated system, which would divide our community.”

Jill Weiss, a representative for people with disabilities, praised TransLink’s move last year to allocate more of the HandyDart budget towards taxis, and urged that policy be continued and increased.

“You get twice as many rides for the same amount of money,” she said, adding taxis are more convenient for many seniors with mobility problems.

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