Frugality, thy name is not TransLink

Opinion researchers Insights West concluded in 2013 that an increase in sales tax was the least favoured funding option for TransLink. Nevertheless, that’s the option preferred by most municipal politicians and the province. They might theorize that a number of small drains in our pockets will be less noticed. Also, they see the 0.5% transit sales tax as a starting point that, once established, can be easily raised, as they’ve done with the various other transit taxes. After all, when Canada’s Conservative government introduced the temporary 1917 “War Tax Upon Income” bill, the rate for most people was under 5%. We know how that’s gone.

Recent polling shows a decline in support for the transit funding referendum and I surmise that has much to do with rather cavalier attitudes displayed by proponents. This recalls the HST referendum when groups that stood to benefit financially stood on one side while the lunch bucket crowd stood on the other side that that had to vote yes to say no to HST.

Supporters of the hated tax were well funded by governments and business groups and opponents relied mostly on social media and low-cost communications. In 2015, the transit tax is being sold by politicians, business groups and labour unions – a formidable coalition – and the opposition is again centred in social media. One difference in the current contest is that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which approved of HST, aims to defeat the transit referendum.

While the CTF position is based on its small-government libertarian ideology, much of the dissent involves reform-minded citizens who perceive profligacy and incompetence in transit management. There is no better example than the 2009 decision to spend $100 million on a faregate project to combat payment evasion. Six years later, the budget has doubled, the project is stalled and TransLink is doing everything it can to hide details of the delays and failures. (Read Bob Mackin.)

Repeated Skytrain shutdowns led to the revelation that ancient Pentium computers using floppy disks were at the centre of the control system. Despite a crew of senior executives who shared over $200,000 in bonuses last year, TransLink had to bring in a $1,200 a day (plus expenses) consultant from Ontario to review operations. Another part of the response was to shuffle the jobs of a few executives. The people that had just been awarded performance bonuses apparently were no longer performing.

TransLink is spending millions on transit police but taxpayers wonder why an operation with predictable 7-day a week traffic flows routinely pays vast amounts for police overtime. They also wonder if individuals, having taken early pensions from other police forces, are double dipping when they earn 6-figure wages in their new police jobs and build additional pensions through benefit accrual rates well beyond those gained by most people with pensions through employment.

TransLink’s board showed tone-deaf incompetence when it panicked over criticism directed at management and made a show of firing the $39,000 a month CEO and installing a $35,000 a month replacement, which meant they were then paying $74,000 a month for executive leadership. Moreover, the new blood was not all that new. Doug Allen moved from his job managing the rapid transit line that runs south to Richmond.

Perhaps TransLink should have looked further south; to Seattle, where they might have hired a CEO for less than half the price. Compare the rates of pay 140 miles away.

A comparison with America’s second largest transit system leaves questions to be answered.

Categories: HST, Translink

3 replies »

  1. The problem is even worse than you state. TransLink's planning is very dated and based on the now discredited “Hub to hub” transit where rapid transit services transit/economize hubs on the system, with buses feeding the rapid transit. The problem is two fold:

    1) The cost of operating buses to service the rapid transit after peak hours is very costly, which means transit services that do not serve the “Hubs” suffer from little or no funding.
    2) One can lose upwards of 70% of potential ridership per transfer; more if the transfers are forced.

    Currently about 14% of the region's population use transit, which is about average in North America, but because TransLink forces over 80% of the rapid transit ridership (about double he industry norm) to transfer from bus to R/T their statistics are greatly skewed to favour R/T. What is telling is that the cost per revenue passenger on TransLink is about one third higher than Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.

    Hub to hub transit suits R/T systems like the proprietary SkyTrain mini-metro but not modern light rail because modern LRT is much cheaper to operate on a transit route than a bus, when ridership exceeds about 2,000 pphpd. The reason is simple; one tram (1 tam driver) is as efficient as 4 to 6 buses (4 to 6 bus drivers) and for every bus or tram operated, one needs to hire a minimum of 3 persons to drive, maintain and manage the transit vehicle.

    Thus building with LRT on a transit route sees cheaper operating costs, while SkyTrain increases operating costs because it needs buses to feed it.

    It was predicted in 1980, the TransLink would bankrupt the operating authority in the near future and that prediction is coming true, yet TransLink builds more SkyTrain (in even more expensive subways) and designs LRT to operate as a poor man's SkyTrain, thus there is no economic benefit only more and increased operating costs.

    Because no one is looking at the real costs of operating SkyTrain in the region, say compared to LRT; overseas experts have told me that by operating SkyTrain and the Canada Line, TransLink's operating expenses and debt servicing could be 50% higher than if modern LRT were built instead.

    The region is paying upwards of 50% more for transit with SkyTrain R/T and with LRT, yet there is no benefit building with SkyTrain, which is echoed by the fact only 7 such lines have been built since the late 70's and not one was ever allowed to compete against light rail.

    I think TransLink knows this; I think both the BC Liberals and the NDP know this; I think the Board of Trade know this, but they desperately want the TransLink pork barrel to continue so they can get some of the taxpayer's funded six figured slop.


  2. You mention that $1200 per day outside report, that in itself was in my opinion a scam..I remember the day that report was released, it mentioned old computer system, mentioned the need to communicate better to stranded riders,….Neon station message boards and car intercom systems were mentioned as a need for the system..

    However, on the day of the report`s release Translink already had a cost estimate of $71 million dollars for those mentioned fixes..

    Logic tells me, tells any thinking person that the outside report($1200 per day) was a scam, for Translink to have precise costs associated with the fixes mentioned in the report would have required RFPs(requests for proposals) sent out to contractors, requests sent out, companies would have needed at least a month to estimate the cost of the fixes, RFP`s sent out, contractors doing their external estimating, labour, materials, profit then would have returned their bids back to Translink..

    So how was it on the very day that report was released Translink had fairly precise estimates in hand for the fixes?

    Clearly Translink already had these costs associated to address the fixes in hand(Before the outside report was even initiated)…In other words, that outside $1200 per day report was a ruse, merely to provide Translink cover…..No other conclusion makes sense.


  3. Agreed Grant. The entire matter was a dog and pony show for the public to swallow and swallow they did because the MSM told them to.


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