A mad scientist couldn’t have come up with an odder creation than TransLink. And a new consultant’s report paid for by the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation seems to agree. Recognizing the fact that TransLink is essentially a provincial creation responsible for overseeing regional priorities yet beset with funding woes and lack of accountability, the report suggests numerous reform options. None appear to be ideal.
Critics say it’s time for a change but what changes are necessary?
Former transportation minister Kevin Falcon thought he solved the problem when he took priority-setting responsibilities away from the mayors and gave them to a professional board. But that hasn’t worked the way it was hoped. There’s never enough money for transportation priorities so the mayors always seem to be going cap-in-hand to the province, only to be told to look under the couch for spare change or pare down the priorities.
TransLink’s mayors’ council has only enough power to be a ready scapegoat for the province.
Thus, when big decisions are made — say, building the new Port Mann Bridge or choosing the transit technology for the Evergreen LIne — they’re made by the province, leaving the mayors and the TransLink board responsible for unpopular actions such as cutting bus routes or hiking property taxes.
According to the consultants, TransLink’s structure — an appointed board of directors in control of all decisions except major revenue increases — is an anomaly worldwide; most other cities have democratically elected representatives who answer directly to their constituents.
But does the public want another emasculated but elected board, like boards of education, which have a little responsibility and no authority or revenue-raising power? Not likely.
More radical surgery might be necessary. One idea would be to create a democratically elected Metro Vancouver land-planning board with responsibility for setting transportation priorities as well as budgets — replacing both the Metro Van board and the TransLink mayors’ council.
Voters might yawn at the idea but something has to be done about TransLink and the string-pulling provincial government — whether BC Liberal or NDP — has to do it.