TransLink already runs some compressed natural gas buses – last purchased in 2006 despite concerns over their costs and effectiveness – and the agency is now planning to buy more.

Regulator scolds TransLink property sell off as imprudent

Bus buying with federal gas tax may also be scuttled by Metro Vancouver mayors

TransLink is being criticized by its independent regulator for its decision to inappropriately sell off surplus property to avoid transit service cuts or fare increases.

TransLink commissioner Robert Irwin issued that warning in his review of the transportation authority’s new 2014 plan and outlook, but also noted the move is unavoidable because there’s no deal yet with the province to approve new revenue sources.

“The sale of assets to support operations is not prudent fiscal policy,” his report says.

“The only other recourse for TransLink would be fare increases or service reductions in the absence of additional funding sources.”

TransLink has been drawing down its cumulative reserve on the basis new funding would be approved in time to avert cuts.

But the province’s decision that there be a referendum in 2014 on new sources has delayed the expected arrival of sustainable funding and cast doubt on whether it will be approved.

TransLink envisions selling major unused properties to raise $40 million in 2016 and $110 million in 2017 to maintain its reserve at at least 10 per cent of its budget.

Mayors argue money from real estate sales should be set aside for new capital projects, rather than being bled away to keep the system running.

“It’s just the worst strategy,” Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said. “All you’re really doing is deferring a problem and increasing the downward spiral.”

While transit service would be maintained at current levels under the plan, Irwin notes it will not keep up with the region’s rising population, meaning riders can expect deteriorating conditions.

Transit service hours per capita are projected to decline back to 2007 levels by 2016 and to 2004 levels by 2020.

Irwin also flagged rising labour costs as a concern after a new three-year contract signed earlier this year lifted wages for bus drivers and other unionized staff.

TransLink’s $1.44 billion in annual revenue comes mainly from fares, property taxes and its 17-cent-a-litre fuel tax.

Mayors have requested a new source, such as a vehicle levy, a small regional sales tax, a share of the carbon tax or, eventually, road pricing.

George Heyman, the NDP’s critic on TransLink, said the government’s insistence on a referendum on new sources will condemn transit riders to worse overcrowding and longer waits in the years ahead.

The commissioner also warned TransLink’s bus replacement program may be derailed if Metro Vancouver politicians block the continued allocation to TransLink of 100 per cent of federal gas tax transfers, set to be renewed next spring.

That money can only be spent on capital projects, not operating costs.

Metro mayors have criticized TransLink’s capital spending priorities in the past and have indicated they may seek to instead channel some of the federal gas tax money to municipal or regional projects, such as sewage treatment plant replacements.

TransLink plans to spend $367 million from the federal transfers to buy new buses and upgrade SkyTrain infrastructure.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has challenged the recent choice to buy compressed natural gas buses, which he suspects is a politically motivated decision linked to the province’s natural gas strategy.

Just Posted

Cloverdale’s 5 most-read stories of the week, March 17–22

Lottery ticket lawsuit, mysterious holes in tree trunks, and more

What’s happening in Cloverdale this weekend, March 22 to 24

Looking for something to do in Cloverdale this weekend?

Delta asking for joint provincial-federal review of ‘cashless casinos’

Call for system to prevent money laundering comes as construction is set to begin on Ladner casino

Ambulance response time concerns White Rock resident

Ambulance arrives 22 minutes after call for service

World Water Day celebrated in South Surrey

City of White Rock manager of utilities Saad Jasim to give a presentation on water Monday

Sparks fly as SUV speeds down wrong side of Highway 1 trying to flee RCMP

Captured on video, the vehicle headed westbound against oncoming traffic before crashing

Fundraising campaign launched for man caught in SilverStar avalanche

In only two days, the GoFundMe surpassed its $15,000 goal

Terror at sea: Helicopter rescues frightened cruise passengers in Norway

The Viking Sky cruise ship was carrying 1,300 passengers and crew when it experienced engine trouble

Search and rescue team helicopters injured climber from B.C. provincial park

A 30-year-old woman suffered a suspected lower-limb fracture in Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park

DOJ: Trump campaign did not co-ordinate with Russia in 2016

Attorney General William Barr said special counsel “does not exonerate” Trump of obstructing justice

Trudeau in Vancouver to support Tamara Taggart at Liberal nomination event

The former broadcaster is seeking the nomination for the Vancouver Kingsway riding

Trudeau calls May 6 byelection for B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith

The riding opened up when Sheila Malcolmson resigned in January

B.C. VIEWS: The hijacking of our education system gathers speed

Children taught to strike and shout fringe far-left demands

Judges on Twitter? Ethical guidance for those on the bench under review

Canadian judges involvement in community life are among issues under review

Most Read