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Cost-cutting drive at TransLink on track: report

TransLink Board chair Nancy Olewiler. - Black Press file photo
TransLink Board chair Nancy Olewiler.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

A progress report on TransLink's belt-tightening drive has concluded Metro Vancouver's transit system is largely on track to carve out $40 to $60 million in cost savings over the next three years.

The findings from the office of TransLink's independent commissioner show $33 million in cost efficiencies have already been achieved or are being implemented this year, with about $10 million still to come by the end of 2015.

"The good news for us going forward is all the efficiencies we've been talking about for the last couple of years – highlighted by the audits – are beginning to pay off," said TransLink board chair Nancy Olewiler.

Much of the savings come from the bus system, by running schedules tighter with less wriggle room for recovery time at the end of each route.

TransLink is also shifting to cheaper community shuttle service on routes with fewer riders and trimming back on the number of spare buses it keeps to cut maintenance, insurance and other costs.

"There have been significant reductions in operating costs," according to the report.

It cautions that, in contrast with the other savings, corporate costs are going up – much of it because of higher computer and systems costs related to the introduction of fare gates and Compass smart cards this year.

TransLink last year approved $98 million in cost-cutting intiatives, including shelving most of a previously planned transit expansion, as well as further efforts to restructure existing bus service, less frequent weekend SkyTrain service and new or higher parking fees at park-and-rides.

The improved financial footing means the transportation authority is in better position to deal with its immediate challenges, such as a surprise drop in fuel tax revenue over the past year or so.

TransLink officals have declined to go as far as either the commissioner's 2012 efficiency review or a subsequent provincial audit recommended, saying they can't risk driving away transit riders by seriously reducing service.

TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said the cost savings achieved don't solve TransLink's long-term challenge of finding big new sources of funding to pay for new rapid transit lines, which is the focus of talks between area mayors and the province.

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