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Mayors complain they're alone in fight for TransLink cash

Board, bureaucrats in hiding on controversial issue: Brodie
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie (left) and TransLink executive vice-president for strategic planning and public affairs.

TransLink officials are being criticized by Metro Vancouver mayors for backing off on the push for new funding solutions to expand the transit system.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie accused the transportation authority of shirking the unpopular task of securing new revenue tools and dumping the job in the laps of the mayors.

"This is a complete and utter abdication by the board and by TransLink to do what they're supposed to do," Brodie said at a March 7 meeting of Metro Vancouver's newly formed transportation committee.

The regional mayors council has called on the province to provide TransLink with new cash sources – an annual vehicle levy, road pricing, a share of carbon tax revenue or a small dedicated sales tax of no more than 0.5 per cent.

"We are taking on the role because no one else is taking it on," Brodie said. "Everybody else has walked away."

Brodie also criticized TransLink board chair Nancy Olewiler for so far failing to keep a promise to open up closed board meetings to the public.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan also argued the TransLink board has not sufficiently backed up the mayors in the push for new funding.

TransLink executive vice-president Bob Paddon responded, saying it's "very difficult" to have an informed dialogue with the public at large about new taxes or fees to fund TransLink.

TransLink has been repeatedly slammed with media headlines like "28 ways for TransLink to pick your pocket" when new sources were floated, he told the mayors.

"We pushed hard on this, we got nowhere with it," Paddon said. "It is something people are very passionate about, they have strong opinions about."

Instead, he said, the board and executive concentrated on finding efficiencies to cut TransLink's costs.

TransLink needs at least another $5 billion just to keep up the existing system over the next 30 years.

To significantly expand the system, Paddon estimated $14 to $23 billion will be needed over the same period, depending on how fast the region wants to grow and the types of transit upgrades that are picked.

That expansion spending equates to a need for TransLink to raise an extra $175 to $700 million per year to fund its share of capital costs, he said, assuming the federal and provincial governments still contribute large shares as well.

TransLink will lay out a plan on transit line expansions, such as the Vancouver and Surrey extensions, over the next 15 years, with costs.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson noted $2.3 billion in capital spending divided by 2.3 million residents is the equivalent of $10,000 per capita, adding that is "not acceptable by any standpoint."

Surrey Mayor and committee chair Dianne Watts reminded her the $2.3 billion doesn't count senior government contributions.

Paddon also pointed out some of TransLink's success depends on the decisions of individual cities to densify housing on transit corridors to increase ridership and revenue.

He showed aerial photos of some original Expo Line SkyTrain stations in east Vancouver, still surrounded by low-density single-family houses after more than 25 years

"I understand there are reasons why things don't happen," Paddon said. "But if we are going to make those investments we want to see the benefits."

The meeting happened after Mayors Council chair Richard Walton said he was disappointed with the provincial government's lack of response to the calls for funding reform.

"Without the proper tools and authority, our hands are tied," he said.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak indicated the province would take no new steps before the May provincial election.

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