After banner year, Translink has little to offer riders in 2010

Translink’s 2009 annual report, released with great fanfare yesterday on the brand new Seabus Pacific Breeze, tallies a remarkable list of achievements: new ridership gains, 48 new Skytrain cars, the Golden Ears Bridge, 240 new buses and much more, all capped by the 2010 Winter Games transportation triumph.

But the future holds little promise for riders given the combination of a very tight budget and a deadlock with the BC Liberals over funding for the Evergreen Line. The $130 million annual revenue increase trumpeted in the report simply avoided drastic cuts.

As board chair Dale Parker and CEO Ian Jarvis reported, cuts are under way: three senior executives gone, more than 90 other positions eliminated and a crusade against administrative overhead continues.

More worrisome for riders are the pressures on service levels. Although the Translink fleet now boasts three Seabuses, for example, only two will operate once current refits are completed despite Jarvis’ acknowledgment that demand exists for all three. Why? No funding.

Even more disruptive for some bus riders will be the current “service rationalization initiative,” which will see reallocation of service from low-ridership routes to benefit the main corridors. Some riders will be winners, but those facing limited service on marginal routes could lose service altogether.

Relief can only come from an even larger annual increase in funding, as proposed unanimously by the Translink Mayors’ Council last year. That proposal hit a wall of resistance in Victoria, which was demanding an increase in property tax to fund its treasured Evergreen Line.

That combative stance continued through to this year’s Throne Speech, which promised ominously to “fix” Translink. But Victoria, now facing the HST firestorm and reeling from Kash Heed’s revolving door cabinet membership, is no longer in a position to issue edicts.

Talks are quietly continuing between Transportation Minister Shirley Bond and Mayor’s Council chair Peter Fassbender, of Langley, as well as at a senior staff table that includes representatives of Translink.

If they can find agreement, a new funding supplement may come forward this year under the “new,” more relaxed planning process Victoria has approved for Translink. And if that passes, overall service expansion could resume in 2011 or 2012.

In the meantime, those anxious to recapture the memories of 2009 and the Games can always catch a ride on the Spirit of John Furlong.