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Province unveils TransLink reform giving mayors more power

B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he
B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he's handing back much authority – and accountability – for TransLink to elected Metro Vancouver mayors.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Metro Vancouver mayors are getting more power over TransLink in a legislated reform of the transportation authority unveiled Thursday by Transportation Minister Todd Stone.

He introduced two bills in the Legislature Thursday that aim to satisfy mayors' demands for more control over TransLink spending, a precondition for their cooperation in a regional referendum promised by the government on new taxes to finance transit expansion.

"They're getting the governance improvements they've asked for," Stone said. "They will be accountable for the decisions they make as a result."

The Metro mayors' council will now have power to approve TransLink's long-term 30-year regional transportation strategy and  a new fully 10-year investment plan, which can be frequently revised.

Until now the appointed board of professionals that meet behind closed doors has set all plans and priorities, leaving the mayors only to approve or reject increases in property, fuel and parking taxes to pay for improvements.

The mayors council also takes control over fare increases, decisions on the sale of major assets and oversight of TransLink's complaints process – all previous duties of the now-defunct TransLink Commissioner.

The commissioner's office and its nearly $1-million budget is folded into the mayors' council.

Mayors will also now control pay levels for the TransLink executive and board of directors.

The professional TransLink board retains day-to-day control of TransLink operations.

But the province will now directly appoint two directors that can represent the government's views, joining the other directors who are appointed by the mayors council after being vetted and short-listed by a provincially controlled screening panel.

Stone said the province remains committed to a regional referendum before new fees or taxes are used to expand Metro's transportation system.

"It’s a commitment we made in the last election and that citizens supported. We will deliver on that promise.”

The plebiscite is to happen no later than June 2015, or else after that on a future municipal election date.

Mayors have been assembling a list of the region's transportation expansion priorities, expected to include projects like light rail lines in Surrey, rapid transit extension on Broadway and major bus system upgrades.

But they say they're waiting on the province to clearly signal which new taxes or tolling sources it would approve, subject to referendum.

Stone gave no further guidance on which new "funding levers" – such as a vehicle levy, a regional sales tax or regional tolling – Victoria could accept.

He said only that the government will continue talks with the mayors over the next few months on funding.

Mayors' council chair Richard Walton said the province has "now given us a lot of responsibility for the politically difficult stuff, but not the one thing from the very beginning we requested."

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts called the governance reforms a step in the right direction, but said adequate new revenue sources is also critical.

"If you've got the governance changes but you don't have the sustainable funding model, it will be doomed to fail," Watts said. "One's useless without the other."

The changes partly unwind the last big revamp of TransLink by former minister Kevin Falcon, who eliminated the old board of elected mayors and councillors in 2008 after calling it a parochial "disaster circus" that was undermining regional transportation.

Asked if the previous reform was misguided, Stone said that's in the past.

"Governance evolves and it evolves with the circumstances of time," Stone said.

He said locally elected officials are best positioned to make decisions and set priorities for transit and transportation.

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