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Monday, October 26, 2009

Mayors' Council approves Vancouver transit funding stabilization option

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The Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation in Vancouver, B.C., has approved a transportation plan ‘supplement' that will generate $130 million in new annual revenue, allowing TransLink to maintain road and transit operations at current levels. The decision will put further expansion of the transportation system on hold for the time being.

The additional revenue will be generated in part by three cents per liter increase in fuel taxes levied within Metro Vancouver (to 15¢/l) and a transit fare increase on FareSaver tickets and monthly passes in 2010. TransLink will apply to the Regional Transportation Commissioner for the price increase on FareSaver tickets. There will be no increase in cash fares in 2010 and U-Pass rates are set in contracts with participating colleges and universities.

"This $130-million supplemental plan gives TransLink the means to meet the funding commitments for the many projects and services we have initiated, planned and delivered over the last few years," said Dale Parker, Chair of the TransLink Board of Directors. "Most importantly, considering the financial challenges all governments and organizations face today, this supplement allows us largely to maintain services and programs for our customers throughout the region.

"TransLink's public consultation sessions earlier this year received the clear message that people in Metro Vancouver want and expect expanded transportation services in order to maintain the livability of the region, and that they're willing to pay for it. There is, however, continuing concern that there would be too much pressure on TransLink's current revenue sources to fund the scale of expansion needed across the region, and the mayors reinforced the view today that new, sustainable sources of revenue will be required to support future growth," Parker added.

Beginning in 2005, Metro Vancouver saw some of the most significant transportation system growth in its history to meet the needs of the rapidly growing region. The bus fleet has been virtually turned over, 48 new SkyTrain cars are on the rails, the Canada Line and Golden Ears Bridge have opened, a new SeaBus will go into service and significant investment has been made in bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian amenities to encourage alternatives to single-occupant vehicles.

Growing operating costs as a result of this expansion would have eventually created a $150-million annual budget deficit, exhausting TransLink's financial reserves by 2012 and prompting massive cut-backs, particularly in bus services.

The Council decision, considered by most mayors to be an ‘interim' measure will avoid those service cuts. However, the Council has called on TransLink's Board and staff to develop a new transportation plan supplement within the next six to nine months that will establish a framework to initiate system-wide expansion once again.

For their part, Chair Parker and TransLink's CEO Tom Prendergast committed to continuing with aggressive cost controls and efficiency gains in order to completely resolve the $150-million annual funding gap. The Authority has frozen the salaries of management and exempt staff as well as expansion capital. No further hiring is under way and the 2009 budget was reduced by $6 million. TransLink also ended 2008 with an $8.2-million surplus, $3.2 million better than expected.

Specific timing for the transit fare and gas tax increases will be announced before the end of the year.