Talk of Translink fare increase and tax cut follows news of decline in gas consumption

The continuing steep drop in gas consumption is putting another hole in Translink’s bottom line as the beleaguered transit authority tries to prepare for life without a fare increase or a property tax hike.

That has Translink Commissioner Martin Crilly musing about a complex new plan that could bring the fare increase back to drive down tax hikes.

It was all on the table at this morning’s meeting of the Translink Mayor’s Council.

The drop in gas consumption means the recent two-cent-a-litre hike in gas tax to fund the Evergreen Line is being eroded by declining gas consumption, in part because people are switching to transit. Translink CEO Ian Jarvis outlined the grim news to the Translink Mayor’s Council this morning.

Translink commissioner Martin Crilly denied Translink a fare increase last month, instead challenging the agency to find millions in efficiencies. The recent cancellation of the TaxiSaver program for people with disabilities was just the beginning of that effort, which follows on the heels of $84 million in savings Translink was already seeking to nail down.

In fact, Jarvis warned, Translink may have burned off its reserves by 2015 if it fails to sell the Oakridge depot to pay for an operating deficit, a strategy that had mayors shaking their heads.

Crilly, normally a critic of Translink financial strategies, told the mayors that Jarvis has little choice but to sell assets to close the emerging gaps. Crilly’s annual review shows that in the past year, Translink achieved its service goals to within a .3 percent margin while drawing down reserves more slowly than anticipated. There are no rewards for good behaviour, however.

Now everything is in turmoil. Victoria rejected the mayors’ proposal for a vehicle levy to replace a property tax increase, so the mayors agreed last month with to withdraw the increase.

Crilly told them today they can’t — it would be illegal. (The Mayors did not agree with this assessment.) The only way out is a new supplemental plan, Crilly said, that could include cost savings, lower tax increases and all the service gains promised in Moving Forward.

Translink could also seek another fare increase, he wrote, and “the effect would be to pass the benefit of the cost savings to taxpayers (in the form of less-than-otherwise taxes) rather than to farepayers.”

Good old farepayers — always there, ready to help. Oh, by the way, Translink is assuming all labour contracts will be settled with a “net zero” impact on costs.

Please pull the cord, I need to get off at the next stop.