TransLink addicted to debt

Letter writer Roland Seguin hit the nail on the head in a letter The Times published last Thursday. He took a more overarching view of all the ideas TransLink has come up with to help pay for its very ambitious projects. He said no elected official has the fortitude to stand up and say ‘no’ to ambitious plans that will be financed with borrowed money.

His look at TransLink is worthy of some additional comment. We need to look at what TransLink does (and does not) do for this community and what we pay for it.

In Langley, TransLink offers bus service on several routes, most of which run every half hour or so. Service to the Langley City,  Willowbrook and Walnut Grove areas isn’t too bad, if riders are trying to get to SkyTrain. Service to Aldergrove, Brookswood, Murrayville and Fort Langley is minimal, and service to most rural areas is non-existent.

There are also a few community shuttle routes which do get some use, but service is never better than half-hourly.

Langley students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University now have U-passes, but had to set up a separate shuttle bus to the Surrey campuses because they can’t count on the transit service  to get to and from Langley City. That is a damning indictment, considering that the Kwantlen campus is just a few blocks from the bus exchange.

The Golden Ears Bridge is a TransLink-operated service that is useful to Langley residents and businesses. Several staff members here use it daily. But they pay for the privilege, as do all bridge users. Despite lower than expected usage, TransLink seems reluctant to try and boost bridge traffic, such as by offering  toll discounts on the weekends.

What does Langley pay? All residential property owners pay a significant amount in property taxes. The gas tax is currently 15 cents a litre, and will rise to 17  cents on April 1 — as if gas prices aren’t high enough already. Commercial property owners also pay property tax, and there is a levy on each electricity bill. The pay parking tax is 21 per cent.

But all of these are nowhere near enough to help pay for TransLink’s latest big capital project — the Evergreen Line in Coquitlam.

So the agency is turning over every rock it can, looking for revenue. These possibilities include a TransLink-specific carbon tax, a car tax, road pricing and numerous other possibilities. No less than 20 are on a list compiled byTransLink staff and discussed with Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom last Wednesday.

As Seguin pointed out, TransLink already has significant debt and wants to get further into debt. Borrowed money means ongoing interest payments. While there is some logic to paying for major projects over time, no government agency should rely heavily on debt.

One of the questions asked at the March 3 town hall meeting dealt with former premier Gordon Campbell’s pledge to eventually extend SkyTrain to Langley City. That would require billions of dollars in borrowed money. At a time when taxpayers are being asked to swallow annual increases in property taxes, MSP premiums, Hydro rates, ICBC rates and many other government-mandated levies, such a plan would be folly.

The governance and spending habits of TransLink must be reformed.

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