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Why do people hate TransLink? “It’s a headless beast with no defenders”

March 16th, 2015 · 175 Comments

It appears, from the latest Angus Reid poll, that public opinion in the days from Feb. 25-March5 was running 61 per cent No, 27 per cent Yes. As other polls have shown, the main concern is TransLink and how it will spend the money.

So what is it that’s so wrong with TransLink, you may ask? It doesn’t run gold-plated, empty buses through town. It provides a degree of service that is rare for a city this size. And, although it had a couple of spectacular breakdowns over the past year, it doesn’t have the horrific problems some other cities do.

So what’s wrong? My Globe story is here, but for those who just want the summary:

1. It’s a customer-heavy operation, meaning more people scrutinize it, have opinions, and think they know how to run it than, say, Port Metro Vancouver (whose CEO makes $857,000, I found out when researching this) or even the Vancouver Airport Authority (couldn’t find Craig Richmond’s salary, but the board chair alone made $135,000 in 2013, $35,000 more than the TransLink chair).

2. It’s doing more than it was ever intended to do. It was never intended to be the funding mechanism for major infrastructure projects. As Ken Cameron, former planning manager for the Greater Vancouver regional district told me, it was meant to be the agency that ran operations only and other levels of government were supposed to figure out how to finance the big projects.

3. Unlike many other government operations, it has to go to the public every time it wants to get more than an incremental amount of additional revenue. Since it is doing 2. more than it was ever intended to do, it constantly has to ask publicly for money, which brings its operations to the attention of the public and the Fraser Institute than, say, the transportation or health ministries. (Their fights for funding all happen quietly at treasury board.)

4. There’s no single person that the public can look to when things go wrong. Former CEO Ian Jarvis, whatever is pay, is clearly not completely in charge. Neither are the mayors, who have sometimes been the first to go after TransLink when there’s a problem. Neither is the board, whose members act more like they’re at Port Metro or YVR (aka invisible). It feels to people on the inside like the province is in charge but, of course, the province is the first to take potshots at TransLink.

5. It does have people at the top who don’t seem to understand what is not going to fly with the public, who don’t actually seem to want to communicate with the public, and who have made some key terrible decisions. As a result, it seems to have a never-ending supply of current (bus drivers, especially) and former disaffected employees willing to talk about its problems.


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