There was one tasty tidbit for TransLink in the torrent of legislation that hit the floor of the Legislature in Victoria over the past two weeks. Among those 15 bills was the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Act. You probably saw or heard the news: People who have failed to pay their transit fines for the last decade will now be pursued under new powers granted the transit authority. If they are among the 30 per cent of the population with drivers’ licenses or who own vehicles, they will be refused the privilege of driving or registering their rides until they pay their fines. For the rest, there are other implements of persuasion including collection agencies.
But what you may have missed as the province moved to close a gap that TransLink has complained about for the past dozen years is this: Up until now, the money collected from fines, the result of tickets handed out by TransLink cops, has been funnelled into provincial coffers. The new legislation won’t just give TransLink a hammer to go after all the scofflaws, it will give them the fruits of its labour, which will be about $5 million a year (although nobody at TransLink knows for sure what the dollar amount is.) And while that won’t get them very far down the road in terms of their $30-million budgetary shortfall, or cover the estimated $14-million estimated loss last year to fare evasion, it’s better than a kick in the head.
What will be less welcoming in the legislation is a hobby horse the Minister of Transportation Blair Lekstrom has been riding for a couple of months now. Ever since his predecessor Kevin Falcon led the charge to radically change TransLink’s “dysfunctional” governance structure by pushing local mayors aside to form a Mayors’ Council and placing a “professional board” in charge of the operations, elected officials have been bitching. They want the province to put the power back in their hands.
No such luck. Instead, this legislation enshrines an idea that Lekstrom first mentioned in a letter to the mayors in March: the chair and the vice-chair of the Mayors’ Council, which now has little to do but carry the can for property tax increases to meet TransLink’s needs, will sit as members of the professional board.
But as the province’s press release points out, this change will take place “without fundamentally changing TransLink’s governance structure.”
Mayors will discuss this proposal in about two weeks but are already lining up on either side. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan (NDP) is predictably opposed. Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender (Liberal) is understandably in favour. While the guy who chairs the Mayors’ Council, District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton, has called this “a step sideways.”
Before Falcon had his hissy fit and shredded the old TransLink legislation, there were three spots at TransLink’s governing table, made up of elected officials, reserved for provincial appointees. In the end, the seats were vacant arguably because they wanted nothing to do with carrying the can for whatever the transit authority board was up to. And that should give you an idea about why folks like Corrigan are dead set against getting sucked into the current proposal from Lekstrom.
That said, it is generally felt that Lekstrom is much better to deal with than Falcon. He did, in spite of resistance from Premier Christy Clark, come up with an extra two cents in gas tax to help TransLink’s revenue problems. There is also the sense that if the planned audit doesn’t find $30 million in savings, Lekstrom may offer other options as revenue sources.
So while it is not exactly a love affair going on, and the mayors have put the brakes on plans to expand transit services south of the Fraser, it isn’t a pitched battle either.