Governance reform, audit unveiled for TransLink

Transportation Minister Lekstrom says road pricing also back on table as long-term funding option

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom is proposing to add some democracy to TransLink by giving area mayors two seats on the currently unelected professional board.

He also unveiled details of a promised audit to wring new savings out of the transportation authority.

The planned governance reform would amend TransLink’s legislation to add the chair and vice-chair of the mayors’ council to the nine-member board of directors, which has made all decisions behind closed doors since 2008 when the province removed elected reps.

The move wouldn’t give the mayors majority control over the authority and its spending priorities – which they have demanded – but it would offer them more say than they have now.

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, the vice-chair, said the change strikes him as acceptable to improve communication – provided it’s an interim step and that the province considers more wide-reaching reform later to make TransLink more accountable to taxpayers.

But he said other mayors are skeptical and fear the two reps “are being set up to be the fall guys.”

He also said the province should have its own representative on the board – something recommended in past reviews of TransLink’s structure but rejected by the minister.

Meanwhile, Lekstrom is reopening the door to a longer-range consideration of road pricing, calling it a complex idea that the mayors can continue to investigate with TransLink.

“There would be a great deal of work that would still have to be done on this,” he cautioned. “There are a number of options around the world.”

The concept – which could make motorists pay to drive any significant distance in Metro Vancouver whether they cross a bridge or not – has been championed by several mayors as a way to equitably raise money for TransLink and address what they argue is unfair tolling of only some bridges.

Lekstrom said public education would be crucial if road pricing were to advance to the point the province could seriously consider it.

“They’ve got to bring the public that they represent along,” he said. “Presenting it to the government and then stepping back doesn’t work.”

He reiterated that the province has no plans to change its tolling policy, which requires a free alternate route be offered wherever tolls are imposed.

But when reporters suggested the policy would have to change if road pricing were adopted, he called that “pure speculation” and said the province would wait and see what is ultimately put forward.

Lekstrom ruled out any use of the carbon tax for TransLink, adding any new funding tools must be regionally based.

“I believe that taxpayers are at their limit for paying additional fuel taxes,” he added, citing a public backlash over the two-cent increase in TransLink’s gas tax that took effect April 1.

Lekstrom said he also wants the mayors and TransLink to look harder at mechanisms to capture the increase in land values where new transit lines are built.

The in-depth efficiency audit, similar to one done for BC Hydro and underway at ICBC, will be performed by the finance ministry’s internal audit staff and no new funding tools will be authorized by the province before it’s finished.

Lekstrom said he’s continuing to look for ways to enforce collection of TransLink fare evasion tickets – which mostly go unpaid – and said he does not intend to let those with past fines off the hook.

“I’m looking at every option I can look at to enable the collection of these fines,” he said.

He also criticized the mayors’ council for seeking a pay raise and rejected the idea.

Mayors are paid $500 for each mayors’ council meeting they attend but the current legislation caps their payout at a maximum of 10 meetings per year, or $5,000.

They wanted to be compensated for extra meetings that have gone unpaid in recent years.

Lekstrom said extra pay for the mayors would be “out of step” with taxpayers’ expectations, particularly when new funding sources are being pursued.

“Quite honestly, I don’t care,” Fassbender said, but added it was important to some mayors.

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