TransLink executives took a battering Friday as Metro Vancouver politicians accused them of making so many faulty forecasts that their projections can’t be believed.
“How can we even trust TransLink knowing what’s happened in the past?” asked Richmond Coun. Harold Steves at a regional planning committee meeting where the latest transit expansion plan was under scrutiny.
TransLink has been forced to scrap 300,000 hours of bus service expansion it had planned and make other cuts after concluding it is hundreds of millions of dollars short of what it needs to deliver its promised plan over the next three years.
The big revenue drains include a $144-million drop in TransLink’s gas tax take from its 17 cent-a-litre levy and an expectation the Golden Ears Bridge will raise $38 million less in tolls from 2013 to 2015.
Steves and Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan both said TransLink underestimated how much operating cash flow the Canada Line would consume.
Corrigan said TransLink planners were also “badly wrong” about how many drivers would pay to cross the Golden Ears Bridge after giving assurances traffic volumes would be much higher.
“Now the expectations have been consistently reduced every budget and we’re paying more to deal with the Golden Ears Bridge.”
Corrigan said he fears the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam, opening in 2016, will also eat up more cash than expected because TransLink will have to ensure adequate feeder bus service to the SkyTrain extension.
He said another “time bomb” ticking in TransLink’s future is its obligation to continue the U-Pass service, which was extended to all post-secondary students last year under orders from the province.
That’s put much heavier demand on the bus system but an agreement where the province has provided aid to help cover the costs expires soon.
Corrigan said if the deal isn’t renegotiated, TransLink will be left “holding the bag” or forced to try to raise U-Pass prices.
TransLink’s plan includes a scaled-back launch of the promised Highway 1 RapidBus service from Langley over the new Port Mann Bridge. Instead of terminating at Lougheed Station it will only go to Braid and the buses will run less frequently than the promised 10-minute service at off-peak times.
Corrigan asked why the bus service doesn’t simply connect to SkyTrain at King George Station in Surrey, noting Vancouver-bound highway buses from South Surrey/White Rock were diverted to Bridgeport Station once the Canada Line opened.
“I have trouble figuring out how these kinds of choices are made,” he said. “Unless it’s the politics of ensuring there’s buses going across the bridge and the optics of the HOV lanes being used.”
TransLink strategic planning vice-president Bob Paddon said a third of the traffic over the bridge exits for Coquitlam and predicted the Highway 1 buses will be in high demand.
“Our analysis says we’ll have a lot of new riders,” he said. “It will draw from a market that’s not well served by transit today, that is quite car dependent.”
Paddon also rejected Corrigan’s claims TransLink staff haven’t done enough to fight for improvements.
He said TransLink advanced revenue ideas like a vehicle levy or road pricing that were ultimately blocked by the province.
“Unfortunately it has not been fruitful,” Paddon said. “I am hopeful we can get back to that discussion.”
Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese, who backs the Highway 1 bus plan, cautioned Corrigan not to dwell on the past.
“Our region’s in danger of stalling,” Froese said. “We’re not going to have the infrastructure in place as the population comes along.”
The committee isn’t endorsing TransLink’s new base plan, saying it doesn’t do enough to support Metro’s regional growth strategy.
It does recommend Metro’s board continue to push for new funding streams for TransLink as well as reform of its governance system.
Area mayors are expected to ask TransLink to give them a formal vote to rescind a $30-million property tax increase slated for the next two years.
TransLink would then have to spell out what services would be cut to make up the lost revenue and embark on detailed consultations that could drag into early next year, Paddon said.
Corrigan said he expects the cuts TransLink will table will be calculated to “drive the public crazy” and put intense pressure on the mayors to cave in and keep the tax hike in place.
“It’s an end game they’re playing, saying ‘We dare you to take this money away.'”