TransLink gets 15 cents in tax on every litre of gas sold in Metro Vancouver.

TransLink feeling its own pain at the pumps

Gas tax slump offset by higher transit revenue

A jump in transit ridership is helping TransLink make up for lower-than-expected gas tax revenues.

The drop in gasoline sales in the region means less cash for TransLink, which gets 15 cents on every litre sold.

Second quarter financial numbers show the gas tax take is running five per cent below what TransLink budgeted.

Spokesman Ken Hardie said more people are taking transit – ridership is running at least six per cent above last year – so reduced vehicle use may account for some of the drop in gas sales.

But he also agreed many shoppers are heading regularly to the U.S. to take advantage of the strong Canadian dollar and gas up for less, or filling up in the Fraser Valley, where TransLink gas tax doesn’t apply.

“It could very easily be there are enough people going across into other jurisdictions to buy fuel,” Hardie said.

Lower tourism visits and an ongoing trend to buying more fuel efficient vehicles may also be contributing factors, he said.

TransLink managed to keep its second-quarter costs almost five per cent under budget at $469 million, while delivering more service than budgeted, partly to meet higher transit demand during the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff run.

Transit revenue was $8.7 million higher than planned because of higher ridership, including higher sales of pre-paid tickets and monthly passes.

Golden Ears Bridge tolls were $2 million under budget at $15.7 million in the first six months, less than half what it needs to start breaking even.

“It’s not generating as much revenue as we hoped,” Hardie said. “We’d prefer it to be better.”

But he noted the 4.6 million trips over the toll bridge so far this year was 14 per cent higher than the first six months of 2010.

TransLink cut tolls by 30 per cent on evenings and weekends for six weeks this spring to test a new discounting strategy but has not yet unveiled a permanent variable pricing model to attempt to attract more bridge users.

Overall, the transportation authority now projects it will run a $40.2-million deficit this year, less than the $59.1-million deficit that was budgeted.

It was expected that TransLink would draw from its accumulated surplus this year.