News Local

Funding woes halts Translink expansion

By Erica Bulman, 24 Hours Vancouver

TransLink is suspending its expansion plans following failed bids to increase fares and property taxes next year to fund new projects across Metro Vancouver.

The decision won't affect existing projects, TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said Tuesday, or the Evergreen Line, which is already covered by the two-cent gas levy that became effective earlier this month.

The authority, however, is halting other scheduled improvement plans, including expanded bus services in Surrey. The rapid bus across the Port Mann Bridge will also be reconsidered.

"We don't have the surety of that particular revenue at this time, so the prudent thing to do is to place those expansion plans on hold until we know how we're going to pay for them," Jarvis said.

The funding crunch could also further delay the installation of fare gates at two major SkyTrain stations, TransLink chief operations officer Doug Kelsey said.

Because of the extensive renovations and modernizations needed to accommodate the gates at the Main Street and Metrotown stations, only Compass card readers were supposed to be installed for the system's launch next year, with fare gates at a later date.

The funding setback now leaves TransLink officials wondering when they'll be able to afford the gates at either station.

The announcement came following last week's double blow in which the mayors council on regional transportation voted against raising property taxes next year for transit projects, just days after TransLink's commissioner vetoed the company's request for a 12.5% fare hike in 2013.

TransLink wanted the increases to produce an extra $48 million next year to pay for new projects. But commissioner Martin Crilly told TransLink it could save up to $60 million over three years by shaving costs in logistics, bus maintenance, administration and overhead.

Premier Christy Clark has also called for a Translink external audit to examine how the company - which has been pleading poverty - is managing its finances.

Jarvis insisted TransLink already had "aggressive" cost reduction measures "baked into" its plans.

The province also refused to consider new funding tools involving the provincial carbon tax, or to the provincial tolling policy.

Jarvis warned cost cutting wouldn't be enough, and new revenue sources were needed.

"To simply rely on the prospect of potential cost-savings in the future is not fiscally sound," he said. "That's why we need the province and the mayors' council to continue to work on funding solutions to sustainable funding for the transportation system."