Wednesday, July 29, 2009

B.C. announces review of TransLink

TransLink review is good news for taxpayers. TransLink is a hungry predator hunting for more tax dollars - the current model is too expensive and doesn't solve most people's transportation problems.

For the Taxpayers Federation, the most significant part of the review process will be: compensation for the board of directors, operating costs and service delivery models.

During the first closed door meeting of TransLink's new board of directors, they gave themselves a 500 percent increase in meeting fees, a 150 percent increase in the retainer paid to the chair, and a new $25,000 retainer paid to each director. The cost to the taxpayer for TransLink's new board of directors was almost $575,000 for 2008, about five times the cost of the previous board.

TransLink spends $661 million on transportation operations (buses and skytrain), $37 million on maintenance of the major road network, and $38 million on administration. TransLink spends more on administration than to maintain the major road network. TransLink's priorities are in a serious need of review.

We need to start thinking about cost effective solutions to peoples' transportation problems that go way beyond throwing more money at a dysfunctional system.

One option is activity-based costing. Instead continuing to feed the beast, TransLink needs to find out the true cost of providing a single service: every labor hour, each piece of equipment, and all facility costs, materials and overhead dollars. Once that is determined, they need to show the results to their existing staff then allow them to submit their own bid to provide those services in competition with private operators.

Let's face it - without competition, Translink's appetite for tax dollars will never be satisfied and why should it? They don't have to compete with anyone so there is no incentive to rein-in spending. But if TransLink can't move people from point A to B at an affordable cost, it's time to try something new. Public transit expansion must stay within the ability of riders to pay for it, and be able to resist political meddling.

4 comments:

Ken Hardie said...

Maureen...you know full well that the TransLink Board did not 'give themselves a raise' -- their pay is set by an independent screening panel.

TransLink's funding of the major road network is comprised mainly of capital costs for expansion -- operating costs are not as big an issue with roads as they are with transit. Look at the list of hundreds of road improvement projects and the major new facilities that TransLink has built, you will see that the value is much higher than the annual operating costs.

How can you call a system 'dysfunctional' when it has boosted services and ridership as much as TransLink has done over the past decade? We suggest you publish a table on what we've delivered (we have one) and let your readers judge for themselves.

Our books are wide open, Ms. Bader. Come in, find out what we've done, what we're doing and the direction we're headed on efficiencies. Factor in the public good of transit services, not just the cost.

Maureen Bader said...

Ken, thank you for your comment.

The TransLink board did not turn down, or even lower, the recommended raise. They, in fact, approved it in a closed door meeting instead of opening it up to public scrutiny before approval.

As the B.C. Trucking Association has pointed out, drivers pay for 30% of TransLink's costs and get 5% of its services. TransLink's own 10-year plan shows TransLink’s investments in transit are disproportionately high compared to anticipated increases in ridership. Operating expenses and debt servicing cost will rise by 20% between 2009 and 2011 alone while ridership is estimated to increase by only 2.3% per year to 2012 and 1.5% annually thereafter. There is no indication that TransLink’s share of Lower Mainland trips will increase beyond its historic share of approximately 11%

So while TransLink may have greater ridership, that increase in no way justifies the current, and in particular the future, burden taxpayers bear under the TransLink system.

davinkarjala said...

Maureen, you have been awfully silent on the HST, leading me to believe that you support an expansion of the tax rolls against the people you claim to represent. I suggest that if you don't oppose a blatant tax grab that benefits the well-heeled, your organization is misnamed, and you should no longer claim to represent people like me, a tax payer.

Maureen Bader said...

Well, Davinkarjala, all I can say is you haven't been listening. I did about 15 interviews on the day the HST was announced, have continued to comment in the media since, and blogged on this topic on July 25 on this blog.

More importantly, the Taxpayers Federation does not speak on behalf of taxpayers, we speak on behalf of our 50,000 supporters across Canada, half of whom favour while the other half are opposed, to the HST.

Thank you for your comment.

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