Jeff Nagal’s got a must-read article in BC Local News.  It’s based on an interview with Translink honcho Tom Prendergast, with reactions from Surrey Mayor Diane Watts and clownish buffoon BC Trucking Association president Paul Landry.  Here’s Nagal’s lede:

Huge budget deficits for B.C. mean TransLink’s ambitious push to pour $450 million a year into transit expansion will almost certainly be shelved for at least the short term, CEO Tom Prendergast says.

That’s not exactly surprising anyone at this point, but still.  Crap.  More fun to read is Prendergast rolling his eyes at the province’s idiotic review dodge:

TransLink already underwent a detailed hunt for savings last year, overseen by its new professional board.

Prendergast does not believe TransLink is grossly inefficient given its mission, but says the province’s auditors are welcome to look for savings.

“They’re not going to find $400 million. They’re not going to find $40 million. But they’re going to find probably $2 or $3 million and we’ll make some changes,” he said.


This Peter Ladner post from a earlier in the summer has a great little factoid about Toronto:

John Howe, General Manager Investment Strategy and Projects for Metro Toronto’s Metrolinx, said there is solid public resistance in Toronto to all new transportation funding sources, even though congestion is the #1 problem in the region, with an 82-minute average commute.

“Sound familiar?”, Ladner asks.  Indeed it does.  Of course, there’s nothing odd about this at all.  What could be more common than wanting everything, and wanting it all for free?

This, by the way, is what’s so cynical about the province’s review dodge.  Saying that Translink wastes money by being inefficient or paying its executives too much is a way of suggesting that metro Vancouver could get the transit infrastructure we want without having to pay any extra money for it.  (If only Translink were more efficient! )  It’s a way for politicians like Campbell and Bond to direct Vancouverites’ attention away from difficult choices, instead of clarifying those choices for us and helping us to make them.  The review dodge really is politics at its most lazy and most cowardly.

Andrew MacLeod’s write-up of yesterday’s throne speech contained a nugget I didn’t see anywhere else.  Te review dodge made it into the throne speech!

It also made clear that the reviews of B.C. Ferries and Translink now underway are aimed at containing costs: “Public funding devoted to public transit and ferry services should not be used to subsidize unreasonably high compensation levels or administrative costs.”

Oh, good.  Reviewing Translink’s “high compensation and administrative costs” is definitely going to solve the problem of how pay for public transit in the Lower Mainland.  Definitely.

It’s been a while since we heard from the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, hasn’t it?  Fret not!  Here’s its president BC director, Maureen Bader, writing in the storied pages of the Georgia Straight.  She seem to think that because the airline industry shifted from a high-cost/high-quality equilibrium to a low-cost/low-quality equilibrium in the last decade, Translink is inefficient.  Wait.  What?  No, I don’t get it either.

Anyway, the real point is Bader’s whole-hog embrace of the review dodge:

TransLink wants another $450 million per year to continue expanding its expensive, heavily subsidized system. Taxpayers are expected to pay more and more for a very small, if any, improvement in ridership.

When the premier says TransLink needs to reduce costs before it gets more tax dollars, he is right. . . Instead of continuing to be a high cost supplier of transit services, TransLink needs to tender competitively to reduce both its costs and its fares to boost unsubsidized ridership. Until real reform occurs, it’s TransLink that needs to take a hike.

I bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?  First, Translink’s wasting too much money because it’s inefficient.  Second, it needs to become more efficient by–Can you guess?–privatizing its operations.  And Translink needs to make these changes before it gets the $450 million a year it needs to keep expanding service.

The striking thing is that Bader offers no analysis whatsoever to support her claim that Translink is grossly inefficient (besides, of course, her non-sequitur comparison to the airline industry).  You’d think that someone so sure that Translink is that inefficient would be able to say something about where exactly the inefficiencies are.  But the nice thing about being an ideologue is that you never need to look at an issue’s details before having an opinion about it.

From Jeff Nagel in the BC Local News, here’s transportation minister Shirley Bond:

Transportation minister Shirley Bond is not happy with TransLink’s call for Victoria to enable road pricing and tolling of existing bridges to help deliver a 45 per cent revenue increase for transit expansion over the next decade.

[. . .]

She accused TransLink of failing to look hard for ways to cut administration or other costs instead of seeking more money.

“That’s just unacceptable,” she said in an interview. “At a time when we’re facing a global recession, we believe very strongly that organizations need to look internally first.”

Anti-Keyensian gibberish aside, Translink’s plainly not currently wasting $450 million dollars every year.  Bond knows this.  She therefore also knows that looking “internally first” is not going to let Translink find a way to pay for the development the Lower Mainland needs over the coming decade.  Obviously I can’t see into her heart of hearts, but it’s hard to reach any conclusion other than that her statement’s meant to obscure, rather than clarify, the difficult choices that the Lower Mainland faces.

There’s also a meta-point here.  Jeff Nagel, who wrote-up Bond’s statement, chose not offer his readers any contrasting views.   He chose not to seek the opinion, say, of independent transportation economists about whether it’s possible for Translink to find $450 million a year by cutting administrative costs.  He therefore chose not to offer his readers any of the information they would need in order to form their own opinions about the merit of Bond’s statement.  Nagel’s piece isn’t even “he said”/”she said” straight reporting.  All he gives his readers is “she said.”  This is why, if the Liberals get away with the review dodge, it’ll be journalists who let them do it.

While I’m talking about McInnes’ article, let me make one more point.  Despite the fact that he was blasting the province with both barrels for trying to dodge Translink’s real funding issues, his Canwest headline writer chose to say something very different: “Review lets Liberals dodge transit decision.”

No.  If the Liberals get to dodge the Translink finding problem it won’t be because their review let them do it.  It will be because journalists covering transit issues let them get away with the dodge.  Those journalists are smart people.  They know exactly how Shirley Bond and Colin Hansen are trying to spin the Translink issue.  Ultimately, those journalists and their editors have to choose whether or not to get spun themselves, and whether or not to pass that spin on to their readers and viewers.

Craig McInnes offers the first clear-eyed take on the big Translink review that I’ve seen:

The provincial government is calling on one of the oldest dodges in the book to cope with the bad news coming out of TransLink and BC Ferries.

Rather than face up to the tough choices that are going to be made to keep the entities set up by their own government operating in the black, Transportation Minister Shirley Bond and Finance Minister Colin Hansen have asked the comptroller-general to conduct a wide-ranging review of both organizations based on the notion that if only they were better managed, they could build new transit lines, float more boats and keep the buses running without any increases in fares, taxes or tolls.

Right.  It’s just make-believe to think that Translink’s funding problems are caused by its executives’ salaries and not, as Frances Bula’s reported, the fact that it gets less non-local–e.g., provincial–funding than other, comparable transit authorities.  Pretending otherwise isn’t solving any problems.