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TransLink chair doubts benefit of audits, foresees major changes

Passengers sit on a Canada Line train in Richmond, B.C., on Feb. 25, 2015. The new board chair of TransLink believes the transit agency will undergo dramatic changes this year with new leaders and new board members.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The new board chair at the Lower Mainland's much-bruised transit agency said TransLink was audited so often at one point that it was spinning its wheels.

But corporate lawyer Don Rose, who believes TransLink will undergo dramatic changes this year with new leaders and new board members, said he sees his main job as building up public confidence again using measures besides audits.

One of the board's main strategies will be communicating better with the mayors, who are the bridge between TransLink and the public.

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And when they're not happy – as they weren't when they discovered that the salary range for a new CEO had been posted on an employment website without their knowledge – the agency takes a hit.

"I think that even though we might be only talking about 23 members of the mayors council, they reach a huge part of our customer base," said Mr. Rose, 68, who became chair on Jan. 1. The former corporate secretary of Columbia Power Corp. frequently commutes to his job downtown on the Granville bus.

Mr. Rose said the board relied too much on the two mayors who sit on the board – Vancouver's Gregor Robertson and Surrey's Linda Hepner – to ensure that all of the other mayors knew what was happening with decisions.

"As naive as it sounds, while we might have expected that that was happening, we would have known, if we thought about it, there was no mechanism for that to happen."

Mr. Rose said he takes all of the public's criticism of TransLink seriously: "Public criticism is good for the board."

But one area where he thinks things had gone too far was in the multiple audits that were ordered, as the province and the agency tried to find savings after criticism that its managers were paid too much and operations were run inefficiently.

"The problem with too many audits is you can spend an awful lot of people's time and effort to find things that aren't there," he said.

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One piece of criticism Mr. Rose is not responding to is the confidential report from interim CEO Doug Allen, released recently through a freedom-of-information request. Mr. Allen's lengthy report defended much at TransLink but was very critical of many aspects. He said the agency isn't focused on gaining ridership and even works against it sometimes by raising fares abruptly or building new bridges. He also wrote that the agency suffers from being criticized publicly by both the province and the mayors.

Mr. Allen said in the report that TransLink is afraid to brag publicly about what it does well because of advice from its communications staff not to be too vocal.

Among his many blunt observations: "Because growing ridership is not currently identified as the organizational priority, there are no projects, initiatives or strategies designed to increase ridership. Many decisions are actually counterproductive to this goal."

Mr. Rose said only that the board thanked Mr. Allen for his "time and effort" in producing the review, and it will be used as a resource in future.

However, the B.C. minister in charge of TransLink challenged some of Mr. Allen's statements.

"I disagree with him that TransLink is not focused on ridership," Peter Fassbender said. "We would not have invested the kind of money we did on the Evergreen Line if we weren't trying to increase ridership."

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However, he said, some criticisms were warranted. "I take to heart his comments about the negative dialogue. We need to be co-operative. We need to be seen by the public to be collaborating."

Neither Mr. Rose nor Mr. Fassbender had information about when a new CEO of TransLink and new president of B.C. Rapid Transit Co., a subsidiary of TransLink, will be hired.

The previous CEO, Ian Jarvis, was removed in the middle of last year's plebiscite campaign, as mayors were vying for public approval of a sales tax to support transit improvements. The president, Doug Kelsey, was let go in July, shortly after the results of the failed plebiscite were announced.

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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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