TransLink waste probe could avert next fare hike

Watchdog wants justification of why riders should pay more

TransLink's efficiency is going to come under increased scrutiny from independent TransLink Commissioner Martin Crilly.

TransLink’s independent commissioner is going on a hunt for waste and inefficiency within the transportation authority to see if another fare increase slated for 2013 can be avoided.

Martin Crilly said TransLink is expected to apply in 2012 for that next fare hike and indicated he will take a hard look at the justification.

“It is our responsibllity to check it out,” said Crilly, who has the power to reject proposed fare hikes.

“It’s our duty to satisfy ourselves that TransLink really does need a fare increase in order to deliver all the things it has planned to do in the latest version of the plans approved by the mayors’ council.”

TransLink’s new plan banks on a 12.5 per cent increase in average fare revenue from the 2013 hike.

“If we were to judge that TransLink can still complete all its plans with less money, we would approve only a smaller or a later fare increase –  if any,” Crilly said.

The TransLink Commissioner‘s office is preparing to hire consultants to analyze TransLink’s efficiency in delivering services and projects and compare its performance to industry norms in a search for potential savings.

Crilly wants to look at areas such as employee absenteeism and bus driver productivity – how the hours drivers are paid stack up against the actual service hours delivered.

Those are among a long list of suggested questions contained in a bidding document the commissioner has issued for prospective consultants.

Crilly also wants an examination of whether transit vehicle maintenance and downtime costs TransLink more than the industry standard and whether buses are being replaced at the right pace.

“Are actual repair times monitored against standard times?” the request for qualifications asks.

Management and head office aren’t to be spared either.

Crilly wants consultants to look at administrative overhead, why TransLink often fails to carry out all the capital projects it promises and whether its fuel cost hedging strategy is effective.

Besides helping Crilly decide whether to veto the next fare hike, the results are expected to help guide TransLink management and may affect Crilly’s advice to Metro Vancouver mayors on TransLink’s future spending plans and whether to approve requests for further funding.

The commissioner’s office expects to spend up to $80,000 on the consultants, who are to be hired by January and would report back by the end of March.

A 2013 fare increase would come on the heels of an already approved two-cent gas tax increase next April to fund part of TransLink’s contribution to the Evergreen Line as well as a package of other transit upgrades.

Mayors and the province are also committed to negotiate new funding sources for TransLink, otherwise a property tax increase kicks in to pay for the balance of the newly approved projects.

Twitter: Jeff Nagel