Mayors fear being railroaded on transit financing
Speculation about what the province intends to do about financing the Evergreen Line continues. The Mayors think they ought to be consulted – but it looks rather like legislation is in the offing
The province’s solution is expected to be contained in a new overhaul of TransLink, with legislation possible as early as next month.
And, so far at least, Victoria is not returning the Mayors’ calls. Instead heavy hints are being dropped – as I noted in my most recent comments. It does seem to be a very odd way of going about a big decision making process. Conducting an exchange not directly, but in the pages of the press – with all sorts of nods and winks, but no actual information. I suspect that it could be an officially sanctioned “trial balloon” – something not at all unknown elsewhere. The government faces a tricky decision so leaks some information in the hopes of getting an early indication of what the reaction might be. If the response is muted, full steam ahead: if hostile, then a quick rethink is possible since it does not look like a “flip flop” as no actual decision was announced. And it’s all very deniable so far.
The problem of course is all of the province’s making. On the one hand they hog tie the regional authority and accuse it of inefficiency, and limit its funding. But on the other hand they did promise to build both the Canada Line and the Evergreen Line and the project to build the latter as a SkyTrain extension has been rumbling along for a while now. And, as Frank Luba was pointing out last night on CBC radio, the problem is not just the financing of the missing $400m capital, it is also Translink’s inability to pay for the operations and maintenance costs of another rapid transit line, since the extra fares they collect will not cover anything like those costs. It does seem highly improbable that there are savings of the scale required within Translink, which is what the province appears to believe. And there will be howls of rage if the whole region has to pay more for transit which many of them will not be able to use. Places like Surrey, with low transit mode share now and only a token rapid bus project on the way, will much more annoyed than the residents of the Tricities will be pleased. This political accounting is what will, in the end, make the difference. All the figures for deciding what to build and where were long ago set into a form which cannot now be changed without all kinds of embarrassment. Do not expect any change from SkyTrain – or the route. It is going to be all about how to raise $400m. I would bet that a P3 partner would be produced if times were normal – but P3s are not easy to fund these days. So maybe the Mayors Council gets the chop after all?
UPDATE Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail, Monday March 15 with a useful summary of the current state of play