The traffic jam on the Trans-Canada Highway Monday morning could not have happened at a better time.
While drivers heading into the city for work were steamed over the two hours it was taking them to drive from Langley to the eastern edge of the Port Mann Bridge deck, TransLink was rolling out its plan for the coming year, revealing what a miserable state it, too, found itself in.
Short of revenue sources and regularly slapped around by the provincial government when it asks for more, the regional transportation authority is actually cutting services while more and more citizens are leaving their cars at home and choosing public transit. It is to weep.
There was a moment of hope when, in a desperate attempt to rejuvenate her cabinet, Premier Clark actually appointed someone notably south of the Fraser to oversee transit in the province. But nothing Langley MLA Mary Polak has said or done so far will make a bit of difference. Oh yes, she did say there would be a rapid bus to carry her constituents across the new bridge to their jobs in Vancouver. But that was always part of TransLink’s plan, only now service will apparently be reduced.
TransLink will continue selling anything that is not nailed down. That includes some nice chunks of real estate that probably should have been put on the block years ago: the Oakridge bus depot, the North Vancouver depot and the depot at Quebec and First Avenue.
There have been cuts to the TransLink executive and 90 staff positions have been axed. You will be told that the number of hours for transit service will be increased but look closely and you will find many hours also being cut. SkyTrain and SeaBus service will be reduced on weekends.
And here’s one cut I find particularly interesting: Every bus schedule has a cushion built in to allow for accidents or unexpected traffic jams. I’m told those cushions are being removed from the schedule. That means TransLink will need fewer buses and fewer drivers, which will be fine until the bus you are waiting for is held up by an accident or unexpected traffic jam.
Some of the regional mayors who agreed to collect $30 million in property tax to keep the operation temporarily afloat are now resisting because the province has balked at allowing for other sources of revenue to replace the tax.
Well, unfortunately for we beleaguered tax payers, turning that property tax commitment around will be a bit more difficult that those mayors let on. They are bound by provincial legislation to collect that tax unless the majority of the mayors change their minds.
Don’t hold your breath on that one, though. Municipal leaders south of the Fraser River are still choked that most of the transit benefits go to Vancouver and other points north of the Fraser. They will want that property tax to help their voters out of those bus-less wastelands. And incidentally the $30 million is in the 2013 plan.
Which reminds me—a prudent TransLink management has apparently cancelled a number of bus orders. That means any change of heart, any new buses being ordered, will take two years before one passenger is picked up or, more likely, passed by for lack of space.
Now you may wonder, what about that new plan to service UBC or a bus line to Surrey and Langley beyond the King George Highway commitment. Sorry folks, we’re broke for now.
And that is even if labour negotiations with the bus drivers union actually results in a zero wage settlement because sources at TransLink say not an additional nickel has been set aside in the 2013 budget for wage increases.
But beyond the battle between TransLink and the province over scarce dollars, one sad fact remains: There is still no plan in place to provide sustainable funding for public transit and that at a time when the need has never been greater.