Mar 8,2007 - Translink
March 08, 2007|
TransLink Governance Review Released - Chair's Statement
With the release of the government’s proposed direction for TransLink’s mandate, funding and governance, we will now have an opportunity to carefully analyze the potential it has to take Greater Vancouver’s transportation system to its next phase.
Because the details are still emerging, there are still aspects that need to be clarified before we can assess the implications of what is being proposed in more detail. As such, my comments now will reflect some high level observations that I have as Chair of TransLink’s Board of Directors. With the few hours we’ve had to analyze the information, I should note that my comments may not necessarily reflect the thoughts of other Board members and indeed do not represent the Board’s position on the government’s decisions.
First, I want to comment on TransLink’s record over the past eight years because so much has been accomplished under the current structure. Then, I want to offer some reaction to the government’s proposals. In this early stage of our analysis of the government’s proposal, I want to isolate some issues that both we and the government need to clarify in the coming weeks as the detailed legislation is crafted.
At this point, however, I would like to acknowledge the work of the Governance Task Force, which conducted its review with diligence and inclusiveness. It should be noted that the first review of TransLink’s governance began not nine months after it was created in 1999, and in one form or another, it has been under scrutiny almost continuously ever since.
TransLink’s record to date
The first thing I’d like to get on the record is that TransLink’s future will be built upon a solid foundation of accomplishments recorded in its first eight years of operation.
The list of road and transit improvements that TransLink has put in place is a lengthy one. It has done so in a very public environment that has challenged us to build a consensus across 21 municipalities. We’ve worked through some tough decisions on priorities and on ways to balance the revenue streams, most of which we have borne ourselves as a region.
The directors who served on our Board over these first eight years represented many perspectives and while some of those differences may have made the process heated at times, the debates ensured that all options got on the table and all perspectives considered.
But make no mistake, at the end, the tough decisions were made and, most importantly for our region’s economy, our environment and our quality of life, we got things done.
In these past eight years, TransLink became the region’s biggest road builder with hundreds of road improvement projects and major road expansion projects including the new Golden Ears Bridge.
We purchased over 1,300 new transit vehicles, began operation of the Millennium SkyTrain Line and increased transit service by over 25 per cent. Transit ridership is 33 per cent higher today than it was before TransLink took over the system.
In the past eight years, TransLink and its subsidiary companies found efficiencies that cut over $20 million from annual operating costs – every dollar re-directed to expanding road and transit services, moving our transit operating cost recovery from 51 per cent to 57 per cent system wide.
Our success at attracting new capital investment from senior governments and the private sector is the reason we’ve been able to build some of the biggest transportation projects in the province’s history as public/private partnerships – including the Canada Line, the award winningGolden Ears Bridge and, I say with some degree of optimism, the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam. These are projects that people talked about for decades, and we are doing them. Those in construction are on time and on budget in a difficult construction environment.
The financial health of the organization has been restored from the difficulties in 2001, when some of our first expansion had to be pulled back. Today, TransLink’s prudent financial management has been rewarded with high ratings from the bond rating agencies. We have built the financial strength to sustain our current transportation network until at least 2013 without new revenue.The region is at an important turning point
But without doubt, one of the key turning points for this region, as we move forward will be the resolution of the most durable problem we’ve had from the beginning – the lack of sustainable funding. This has to be addressed if we are to accommodate the growth in regional road and transit required to serve a million more people, triple the freight and reduce vehicle emissions by a third.
What the region really needs – what the public expects – is a solid, fully funded transportation plan that addresses the need for better transit, particularly in growing areas that are under-served, and a more efficient road system that does a better job of supporting our economy and our environment. Meeting the government’s recently announced targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions could require a doubling of our transit capacity – at a cost of billions of dollars.
This gets us to the proposed new mandate, funding and governance structure for TransLink.
On the issue of TransLink’s mandate, it is positive news that the government’s proposal reaffirms the value of an integrated approach to planning, funding and implementing the operation and expansion of all modes of transit and the major arterial road network. Agencies from around the world have recognized that this is one of the strongest aspects of our structure.
The proposal to expand TransLink’s service area to Pemberton in the north and Chilliwack in the east recognizes the reality that those who use the transportation system throughout the Lower Mainland share common interests.
However, I do have concerns over how we ensure that the land use and transportation plans are linked, other than by a review of the Commissioner at the end of both the TransLink Board and Council of Mayors’ processes. This link is essential and we will work to ensure there is sufficient coordination in the development of both plans.Funding
On the critical issue of transportation funding, the government’s proposal recognizes that TransLink has the resources to sustain our current system, but not to support expansion beyond 2007. TransLink is not ‘bankrupt,’ but it does not have the resources to meet the region’s growing transportation needs.
The government’s plan recognizes the need to sustain TransLink’s current level of revenue, although it will be necessary to shift the mechanisms to offset the absence of the parking site tax and Hydro levy. The plan provides up to three cents of new gas tax within the region if the Council of Mayors also agrees to raise an equal amount in property tax and fare revenues by the end of the Ten Year Plan.
We are pleased that existing revenues will grow with inflation. We were hoping to see a greater share of existing provincial fuel tax revenue returned to our region. However we are pleased to have access to additional fuel tax revenue in Greater Vancouver.
We need to ensure that the approval structure for these proposed new revenue streams are not overly complex, involving two boards and a commissioner representing interests that could be extremely diverse.
It is troubling that in spite of the importance of our transportation system to the provincial and national economies, and the fact that TransLink’s Ten Year Plan is supposed to reflect ‘the provincial vision,’ it appears that the burden of improvement costs will still fall mainly on the region’s commuters, property owners and transit customers.
With respect to the proposed governance structure, we have to stop and once again recognize how difficult it must have been for the Task Force and the Minister to grapple with so many different and strongly held opinions.
There are many aspects of the structure that are not yet clear. Still, it is a positive development to see the strong commitment to local governments maintained through the proposed Mayors’ Council, which will approve the long term plan and funding strategy, and to have a professional board develop the plan based on their expertise. The council is intended to provide leadership in the approval of long term strategic transportation plans and to solidify a mechanism for public accountability.
The new Commissioner could address the concerns of many that planning, implementation and funding processes equitably balance costs and benefits among residential and business taxpayers, road users and transit customers.
The ‘board of professionals’ will fulfill the wishes of those who want to see oversight by people with the expertise to understand the complex dynamics of providing road and transit services across such a large and diverse region. And the government’s proposal will finally bring some continuity to TransLink’s governance by providing longer terms for directors and a staggered rotation of members on the professional board.
However, we need to ensure that this complex structure will work in practice. It will require the coordination of five different bodies – the province for its long term vision as well as the Mayors’ Council, the Commissioner, the professional board and the GVRD, which collectively provide all of the necessary inputs to an integrated transportation and land use plan
Although the members of the proposed Mayors’ Council will act in good faith, it is not clear what the incentives are to take a regional approach. This Council, which will have almost twice as many local representatives as the current Board, will ultimately be responsible for approving the long-term plan and funding strategy.
So where are we now?
We have an opportunity to build on TransLink’s unique role that integrates road and transit planning with land use and growth management planning – functions that have made TransLink the focus of attention around the world. Similarly, TransLink’s financial resources must be sustainable and more broadly based. And lastly, as the funding and role of TransLink evolves, the governance of the authority has to reflect a broader role of many stakeholders.
We see some challenges ahead, but we are hopeful we can work with the government to ensure that the new structure and revenue streams are realized in a way that supports the region’s need to move goods and people effectively.