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Major cuts only option left for TransLink

A SkyTrainin Vancouver on May 6th, 2009.

Simon Hayter For The Globe and Mail/simon hayter The Globe and Mail

Vancouver's beleaguered transportation agency, with its back to the wall after being told to stop asking for money by both the Premier and the transportation commissioner, will now have to consider major cuts, including to community shuttles, services for the disabled, administration and the cost of bus maintenance.

Those are areas for cuts suggested by transportation commissioner Martin Crilly as he told TransLink Wednesday to find another $20-million a year – on top of the $30-million Premier Christy Clark suggested could be squeezed from the system – instead of raising fares by 12 per cent.

"We are increasing the financial pressure on TransLink and encouraging it to minimize its costs," said Mr. Crilly as he denied a fare increase beyond the 2-per-cent a year TransLink is allowed without his approval.

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"The next chapter belongs to TransLink," he said.

His decision means the cost of FareSaver cards will be frozen. TransLink still has the right to raise single fares by 10 per cent without his approval because those haven't gone up for five years. As well, it has complete discretion on how much of a discount to give for monthly passes.

Mr. Crilly's decision will mean TransLink has to find between $15- and $28-million a year that it would have received from even higher fare increases.

His decision prompted jubilation in the Twitterverse of cash-strapped transit users, but dismay among mayors, transit advocates, and the bus drivers' union.

Mr. Crilly concluded that although TransLink provides high-quality transit and has increased its ridership dramatically in the past five years, its costs have soared higher than its revenues and need to be cut back.

A 103-page report done by a former BC Transit executive for Mr. Crilly suggests that the agency is spending too much on community shuttles, the HandyDart service for the disabled, bus maintenance, administration and many other areas.

His report notes that administration costs rose from $74-million in 2006 to $117-million now.

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However, he pinned part of the blame for that on the province's decision to take control of the agency away from local politicians and give it to an appointed board in 2007.

"Implementation of the new governance model in 2008 appears to have contributed to this cost increase as there was a noticeable jump in administration costs," before and after that year.

The chair of TransLink's mayors' council, Richard Walton, said the cuts are "a lot of money" at a time when ridership is growing.

Don MacLeod, the president of the union that represents bus drivers, Canadian Auto Workers Local 111, said he doesn't think there are as many savings to be made from the workhorses of TransLink – its 1,400 buses and 3,500 drivers – as Mr. Crilly thinks.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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