Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

TransLink surplus $17 million higher than forecast

with 8 comments


Frank Luba, The Province

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2007

TransLink is on track for a surplus $17 million higher than the transportation authority forecast for 2007.

The second-quarter report going to the TransLink board meeting today shows the 2007 surplus was supposed to be $48.2 million but is now forecast to be $65.2 million, which would push the organization’s cumulative surplus to a whopping $386.1 million.

The surplus is needed, said TransLink board chairman Malcolm Brodie, to address long-range plans, particularly because the annual surplus is expected to end after 2008 due to rising costs.

This is the organization that recently hiked fares. The same organization that cannot cope with current demand and has little in the way of current plans to deal with that. But will be landed with huge bills because of its “long-range plans”.

I see a real issue of credibility here. How on earth does this Board live with the knowledge that the daily experience of its customers is overcrowding and pass-ups while it sits on a cushion on nearly $400 million! I thought that the prospect of being hanged in the morning was supposed to concentrate the mind wonderfully but I see no sign of it here. Small wonder there is no outcry when Kevin Falcon decides to replace the elected Mayors and Councillors with a Board of hand picked government cronies and toadies. There is certainly no experience of them doing an outstanding job for their constituents – or even a barely adequate one. So perhaps in the popular mind the prospect of the new Board is that they could hardly be worse than the present crowd.

I wonder if anyone at Translink thought that perhaps they might actually spend some of this “found money” on improving service?

And how come this story is not on the CBC or in the Sun? Well done Frank!

Written by Stephen Rees

October 10, 2007 at 11:56 am

Posted in transit

8 Responses

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  1. Transit agencies running a surplus? I just hope the right-wing “run government like a business” crowd here in Toronto don’t get word of this concept – we’ll have a political firestorm.

    Did this surplus come from unexpected revenue or from unexpected savings?

    Andrae Griffith

    October 10, 2007 at 2:29 pm

  2. from the Frank Luba story

    This year’s higher-than-forecast surplus results from a combination of higher revenues and lower interest rates.

    But it’s also the result of TransLink frugality that will continue if directors follow staff recommendations.

    Stephen Rees

    October 10, 2007 at 4:06 pm

  3. Sorry Stephen,

    I have to call you on a couple of things here. On what basis do you feel justified in calling the new board ‘hand picked government cronies and toadies?’ Do you know the actual process? Secondly, the cumulative surplus was developed for three reasons: One – to provide a financial backstop in the event of unforeseen revenue or cost issues, something that most companies do in the interests of being prudent; Two – to help kick start the next round of road and transit expansion called for in TransLink’s ten year outlook, which is a further $2 billion in capital; Three – when the decision was made to develop this surplus, no one could be sure that any kind of additional funding would be available beyond the end of 2007 to fund expansion, so the surplus that has been accumulated can sustain the current road and transit system until about 2013 without any additional revenues.

    Ken Hardie

    October 10, 2007 at 5:47 pm

  4. No need to apologize, Ken. I am flattered – and indeed somewhat surprised – that I am read by Translink staff.

    The process so far has been that a panel has been appointed – without legislative authority – to select board members. All the members of that panel are white upper class males from professional and business backgrounds. They are tasked with selecting a board of business people. I imagine that the model they will follow will be that of the airport and the port. Neither of which act in the interests of the community, but rather serve the interests of business. With a smattering of PR and a tinge of green here and there to make it look a bit more respectable.

    The GVTA is not – and should not be – a company. The fact that you use that expression shows that you have already abandoned the principles on which the GVTA was founded, and around which so much time was spent crafting “mission statements”.

    There has been a desperate need for better transit in this region for many years – long before I came here. The creation of the GVTA was supposed to have changed the pattern of interference by the province in the region’s transportation planning – you only need to read the debates that took place then.

    The ill conceived UPass program overloaded a system that was already straining at peak periods. Given the current strains, a policy to not spend to meet current needs but pile up a surplus is irresponsible, and an abandonment of the principles of public service. We needed more transit: we still need more transit. And mostly buses. Lots of them. If you had paid attention to what your passengers’ needs were and are, we would not be having this conversation.

    And in an era where the planet is facing a crisis of hitherto unimagined proportions, the case for more road building could not possibly be weaker.

    The one thing that this government cannot stand is informed criticism. An independent regional transportation authority that actually has the temerity to question an government program – the Gateway – cannot be allowed to continue. So yes, I do feel justified, since I know that the reason for the new Board is that it will be more compliant with provincial priorities and will not attempt to live up up to the current legislated requirement on the GVTA to support the Livable Region.

    Stephen Rees

    October 10, 2007 at 8:41 pm

  5. It’s a pleasure to be back in touch…we had the occasional good debate on various issues way back then — I don’t know if you remember, but I also had you as a guest on a radio show I used to do for ICBC.

    On the governance model, let’s be clear. The only direct provincial roles are the legislation itself (naturally) and the selection of but one of five people to a screening panel, which is tasked with identifying 15 qualified candidates to sit on the board. The selection of the nine board members from the 15 candidates. will be done by the regional Mayors Committee.

    The fact that the screening panel happens to be male and white is, with respect, a bit of a red herring…Mike Harcourt can hardly be thought of as incapable because he happens to be male and white.

    On the subject of the U-Pass, your misgivings and opposition are understandable. Perhaps, though, this is a ‘glass-half-full’ proposition (?). Thanks to the huge lift in transit demand caused in no small part by the U-Pass, which has single handedly removed thousands of SOV trips from the system, there has been tremendous impetus and public support for transit expansion. Transit expansion in the region has been unprecedented over the last five years, and there is every sign that this will even further accelerate. Without the challenge posed by U-Pass and other developments like high fuel prices and scarce and expensive parking downtown, it is hard to imagine much support for public investment.

    That seems to be the ‘nature’ of human nature. I’m sure you well remember that the biggest beef that TransLink endured in its early days were the ‘big empty buses’ rumbling around, and motorists complaining that they shouldn’t have to subsidize transit. Fast forward to today, and most transit passengers are ‘choice’ users — they have access to vehicles, transportation remains the number one regional issue over crime and housing, and when asked what the number one priority is, most people say “more transit.” I think the big change is that when people now say ‘more transit,’ they’re not thinking in terms of ‘more transit so the other guy can get out of his car,’ but rather, ‘give me a damned bus and I’ll take it.’

    It has been messy, but its progress.

    Ken Hardie

    October 11, 2007 at 6:17 am

  6. The “big empty buses” arguments came from the outer suburbs – and especially from people beyond the GVRD – and not from bus users! And Community Shuttles seem to have quelled that.

    I am not against UPass – simply the way it was done. There should have been much more capacity provided – which would have required considerable up front investment. In fact most succesful transit systems have realised that the capacity has to be in place before you encourage people to use it. “Empty” transit vehicles are part of the attraction I think. Certainly the ability to get a seat changes one’s view of the relative comfort and convenience of a trip. If SkyTrain had been built to Coquitlam before it was developed, the North East Sector would have not become as car oriented as it is now – but the trains would have been under utilised in their initial years.

    Since we have not got the legislation passed there is no telling what are actually going to be the constraints on the new Board. But it is clear what the Province’s intentions are. I think we can take Falcon at his word on that.

    And imagine where we would be now if the GVTA had actually managed to implement its initial Strategic Plan. The current direction (“we will build any capital project we can get somebody else to pay for”) is an abrogation of responsible, integrated regional planning. I do not see the new Board significantly changing that except for more of the same.

    The expansion may have been, as you say, “unprecedented” but that does not mean it was adequate. I think much more could have been done without distractions like the Golden Ears Bridge and the Canada Line – nether of which was in any of the plans prior to the election of the BC Liberals.

    Stephen Rees

    October 11, 2007 at 8:09 am

  7. Thank goodness for the surplus – now there’s no danger that the budget won’t include funds for chiding, finger-wagging ads on busses about the fare paid zone and talking too loud on my cellphone. I always feel a little more complete knowing my fare goes into ads that imply that I’m a cheat or a jerk just because I take the #4 downtown.

    Todd Sieling

    October 11, 2007 at 3:58 pm

  8. […] this is what they can realistically provide. I just hope that either they will dip into their reservoir of $400 million, or the provincial government will step in and put some of that 2.2 billion from Harper into the […]

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