TransLink board chair Nancy Olewiler.

TransLink board leery of audit’s proposed savings

Chair seeks to calm fears of deep bus service cuts

It’s starting to look like TransLink will say thanks but no thanks to most of the suggested savings identified this fall by provincial auditors.

TransLink’s board debated the finance ministry audit findings Oct. 24 and board chair Nancy Olewiler said she and other directors are reluctant to act on many of the suggestions for cutting a further $41 million from the budget.

“These are recommendations, not requirements,” she said, adding the auditors were not transit experts and did not fully understand the potential damage to service from some of their proposals.

Olewiler sought to ease concern TransLink will slash or greatly reduce bus frequency on runs where few riders are on board, adding some of those routes are critical to ensuring the system is usable across the region.

“We run an integrated transportation service,” she said. “Just because a particular service isn’t working at full capacity doesn’t mean we eliminate it or reduce it.”

The audit suggested TransLink scrap or downgrade 22 underused routes.

That’s heightened fears in some of Metro Vancouver’s fast-growing suburbs that TransLink won’t keep promises to improve transit service in underserved neighbourhoods and offer a more viable alternative to car use.

“We’re building not just for current use but also future use,” Olewiler said, adding good transit can shape future development.

The audit flagged a total of $11 million in service cuts, including reduced SkyTrain frequency at off-peak times.

But the bulk of the proposed savings – $30 million – would come by running thinner financial reserves and other less conservative budgeting methods.

Olewiler said the board is uncomfortable with the idea TransLink operate with much lower surpluses that could leave it more vulnerable to fluctuations in revenue.

“If a shock happened to us – something unexpected and beyond our control – we wouldn’t have the money to sustain the service,” she said.

Had thinner reserves been in place when TransLink’s gas tax revenues suddenly dropped over the last year, she said, it would have been harder to avoid immediate service cuts.

She noted the board believes in prudent fiscal management, which is also supported by bond rating agencies and results in TransLink being able to borrow more cheaply than if it took greater risks.

“To shift to a much less conservative level – I think the board would have a very hard time with that.”

The audit endorsed the cost-control efforts TransLink is adopting through its 2013 base plan.

The $98 million in savings already approved include 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.

Olewiler said she’s optimistic the mayors’ council and the province can reach an agreement on a replacement revenue source for TransLink by the end of February, eliminating the need for a $30 million property tax increase.

The mayors set the deadline last month, saying they intend to rescind the property tax hike no matter what and leave the province to deliver an alternate source to prevent deep transit cuts.

Olewiler said TransLink has not yet begun preparing a list of possible cuts to balance the budget if those talks fail.

“We’re going to cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Langley man charged with sex assault in alleged fake-Uber scheme

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Bowen Byram played three seasons with the Vancouver Giants and will take part in the National Junior Team Selection Camp. (Rob Wilton)
Langley-based Giants player picked for national junior camp

Bowen Byram made quite a name for himself in three seasons with the Vancouver Giants

R.E. Mountain Secondary (Langley School District)
COVID-19 exposure issued for R.E. Mountain Secondary in Langley

Four schools have been removed from the list of exposures

Aldor Acres is open to the public for pumpkin picking and animal visiting. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)
Our View: Caution requires creativity this Halloween in Langley

And remember, no big parties, or you’ll get a trick in the form of a fine!

Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or in writing.
LETTER: Education is key to creating an equal world

Aldergrove reader ‘resentful’ of response by Christian Heritage Party candidate

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Commissioner Austin Cullen looks at documents before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
RCMP lacked dedicated team to investigate illegal activities at casino, inquiry hears

Hearings for the inquiry are set to continue into next week and the inquiry is expected to wrap up next year

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Court approves money for B.C. foster children alleging harm from Kelowna social worker

The maximum combined total award for basic payments and elevated damages for an individual is $250,000

Most Read