TransLink reform needs a rethink

The massive reform of TransLink is all about trust – or a lack thereof. It stems from the transportation minister’s difficulty controlling the TransLink board three years ago when the fate of the Canada Line swung in the balance.

The board ultimately agreed – but only just – to push the Richmond-Vancouver rapid transit line ahead of other priorities. It drained any trust Victoria had in the locally elected mayors and councillors, who will be booted off TransLink’s board in January.

In their place will be an unelected, appointed board of professional experts. That change will effectively strip local cities of most of their influence over TransLink.

A council of mayors will still be required to approve TransLink property tax increases and long-range plans.

But they’ll have very little control over what TransLink actually delivers using the money it collects from transit fares and taxes on local land and fuel consumption.

The unelected board will present plan options the mayors will have to choose from. If they don’t approve one, the appointed board decides.

The system for appointing directors is particularly odious. While the mayors technically appoint the final board and will get a few representatives of their own choosing, the process is calculated to ensure a two-thirds majority will be picked by either the province or allied business groups like the Vancouver Board of Trade. That’s significant. Future transit fare increases in theory must be okayed by an independent TransLink commissioner, the third tier of the bloated new structure. But even if the commissioner rejects a fare hike, the professional board can still force it through with a two-thirds majority.

Anyone with a beef may have trouble figuring out where to complain or finding a meeting open to the public. This is a serious erosion of local democracy.

The premier has said Metro Vancouver will need to boost transit use from 12 per cent of trips now to close to 25 per cent to help fight global warming.

TransLink will need broader scope to raise gas taxes and likely also the power to bring in more tolls or road pricing. With more power must come more accountability.

It’s time for the province to overhaul the overhaul.

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