Metro mayors demand more power over TransLink

Call for reform of transit agency to restore full elected control comes in response to failed referendum

Metro Vancouver mayors during the transportation plebiscite campaign earlier this spring.

Metro Vancouver mayors are demanding the province give them complete power over TransLink, its budget, policies and transportation planning.

The call for legislation to significantly reform TransLink governance comes from the Metro regional district, which had a task force draw up recommendations in the wake of the failed plebiscite on transit expansion.

Metro board chair Greg Moore said shifting control to the mayors’ council is needed to rebuild public confidence in TransLink and to ensure transportation and land use planning is coordinated and does not work at cross purposes.

“We heard from the plebiscite that people want more accountability out of TransLink,” Moore said. “We think an elected body is the way to get that accountability.”

Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay, who chaired the task force, predicted Metro will only solve its transit challenges “if elected officials are responsible for the governance of how the service is delivered, and if there are strong links between the regional growth strategy and transportation planning at TransLink.”

The provincial government has tweaked TransLink’s structure a couple of times since it took away elected control of TransLink in 2008 in favour of an appointed board that met in secret up until this year.

Initially, the mayors’ council on regional transportation was given virtually no power except to approve or reject requests from the board for tax increases for transit expansion.

That led to an ongoing funding impasse between the mayors and the provincial government, with many mayors refusing to consent to new revenue sources unless they also got more control over how money would be spent.

Adjustments in 2014 gave the two mayors who lead the mayors’ council seats on the TransLink board, along with two seats for provincial representatives.

The mayors’ council also got approving authority over TransLink’s long-term transportation strategy and 10-year investment plan, but not direct authority over the budget and other decision making.

Municipal critics say the current structure leaves too much room for conflict between the planning by Metro on land use and that of TransLink on transit and the bridges it’s responsible for, and the province on its provincial bridges and highways.

Minister for TransLink Peter Fassbender said be doesn’t intend to make further changes to TransLink’s structure, predicting that public confidence will improve as mayors and provincial directors continue to work together on the board, and a new CEO is hired.

“What we need to do is work hard to work together to find the solutions,” Fassbender told reporters. “It’s not structure.”

The Metro resolution says TransLink’s legislation should be redrawn to give the mayors’ council sole responsibility for “all policy decisions, including those required in the development of strategies, transportation plans, investment plans, annual budgets and funding sources.”

Other transportation authorities around the world have an elected person or board ultimately in charge.

Moore said said the board’s backup plan is to push for quarterly joint planning sessions between the mayors’ council, the TransLink board and the provincial minister to strive for better coordination.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman doubts that will be productive.

“How do you put 40 people in a room who refuse to budge on their own roles and responsibilities and expect to get any good results out of it?”

Bateman agreed more accountability is needed at TransLink, but questioned whether it should be entirely through the mayors.

“I’m very reluctant to give the mayors full power over TransLink because they just tried to impose a sales tax hike on us.”

INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: History of TransLink funding tribulations

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