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Sep 4,2009

Last Updated: Friday, September 4, 2009 | 9:06 AM PT 
TransLink manages regional roads, bridges and public transit across the Lower Mainland of B.C. 
TransLink manages regional roads, bridges and public transit across the Lower Mainland of B.C. (Mike Laanela/CBC)

Metro Vancouver's TransLink needs to find ways to raise some cash if it wants to avoid slashing service and follow through on its expansion plans, says a report by the region's transportation watchdog.

Martin Crilly, the TransLink commissioner, said that unless the region's mayors find some way to raise revenue significantly through taxes, higher fares or a vehicle levy, there will be "drastic cuts in transit service."

"This is not recommended, unless keeping tax increases of any kind [including gas taxes] to the absolute minimum is the overriding consideration," said Crilly in a statement released on Thursday.

'TransLink doesn't actually have all of the powers … needed to produce an efficient, effective transit system,'—Martin Crilly, TransLink commissioner

TransLink needs to raise an additional $130 million per year just to maintain current services, or an additional $275 million a year to expand them, he said.

Crilly did give a thumbs-up to a 3.5 per cent fare hike on the price of FareSavers tickets and monthly transit passes next year to help pay for operating costs.

Revenue options lacking

The commissioner said the transit authority lacks the means to generate the necessary new revenue streams to pay for planned expansions, such as the Evergreen rapid transit line to the Coquitlam area and another rapid transit line to UBC.

"TransLink doesn't actually have all of the powers … needed to produce an efficient effective transit system," said Crilly, who recommended TransLink get a bigger cut of the provincial fuel tax.

But that idea was immediately shot down by Transportation Minister Shirley Bond, who said it is up to the transit authority to find the money on its own.

"We're not going to have a discussion about bailing out TransLink," said Bond on Thursday night.

TransLink has said in the past it will need an extra $450 million a year for its expansion plans, which would include the Evergreen Line.

In the past, annual vehicle levies, increased parking taxes and tolls on bridges have been floated as means of raising the cash, but all have proven to be politically unpopular.

HST could cut revenue

Meanwhile, TransLink could be heading for another funding crisis when the harmonized sales tax is introduced in July 2010.

The new tax will eliminate $57 million that TransLink was hoping to collect by raising an existing sales tax on parking. But TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said he expects the government will replace that money before the HST is implemented.

The regional mayors' council is expected to meet to draft a new funding plan for TransLink in October.

TransLink, which is also known as the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, manages regional roads and public transit across the Lower Mainland.

The TransLink Commission is both the watchdog of TransLink and one of the governing bodies of TransLink.

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