Transportation Minister Mary Polak has set an end-of-September deadline to draw up recommendations for a reform of TransLink’s governance and to map out a strategy to publicly examine contentious new funding sources.
The announcement Monday came just days before next week’s formal start of the provincial election campaign.
The working group agreed to includes mayors’ council chair Richard Walton and vice-chair Wayne Wright, Polak, her deputy minister and assistant deputy minister, and North Vancouver District’s chief administrative officer.
Walton called it a “very positive first step” and said it will be productive no matter which provincial party governs after May 15.
“You really don’t want to condemn future municipal and provincial governments to continue to have this adversarial relationship that just creates frustrations,” he said. “The victim is TransLink and its users.”
Walton rejected suggestions nothing will be done once the election writ drops, noting that while Polak must be hands off during the campaign, her senior staff can continue to meet with mayors’ council reps.
Meetings are expected this week and next week.
Mayors had hoped the province would take earlier action to reform TransLink ahead of the election and commit to new sustainable funding tools.
“It’s less than ideal, but it doesn’t mean we have to stop,” Walton said. “We can make quite an amount of mileage until we have a minister reconfirmed or a new one in place.”
The September deadline gives enough time for legislation to alter TransLink’s structure to be crafted ahead of a spring 2014 legislative session.
Mayors want to regain power over TransLink’s plans and priorities.
Since a 2008 reform that purged TransLink’s board of elected reps, the mayors have only had the power to approve or reject new tax hikes, resulting in a political stalemate and no solution on how to fund transit expansion for the long term.
Polak played down Premier Christy Clark’s statement last month opposing universal road pricing or tolling.
“The premier was asked about the kind of comprehensive road pricing that has been described by folks around individual tolls on various bridges around the region,” Polak said, calling it a response to a “fairly specific” question.
“There are hundreds of different models of comprehensive road pricing. So we’ll be exploring very many of those.”
Polak said she hasn’t rejected any funding sources proposed by the mayors, including a vehicle levy.
TransLink is drawing down its reserves and has enough money to sustain its operations until 2015, by which time officials aim to have a new deal in place to refinance the authority and launch expansions.
The minister also repeated her terms for any new revenue tools – that it be affordable, regionally based and not a drag on the economy.
Also to be considered, she said, are ways to capture some of the rise in real estate prices after new transit lines are built.