Lots of bad news for riders in Translink plan, even if property taxes rise

Even if Metro Mayors approve a short-term property tax increase to fund services — by no means a certainty — there’s plenty of bad news for transit riders in Translink’s 2013 base plan.

Transit users will see more crowded buses and reduced service on many routes. Even where more service is available, ridership is expected to grow by an even larger margin.

Translink is using tactics like reduced turnaround at the end of routes and full deployment of spare equipment to maintain service, but concedes that quicker “recovery times” could make it harder to drivers to stay on schedule. Aggressive use of spare equipment now will delay the impact of new bus purchases, if any are ever approved.

Skytrain service will be cut on weekends. More than 300,000 hours  of planned service increases will be eliminated. And new riders generated by population growth will have to squeeze on existing buses and trains.

The Translink Mayors’ Council is meeting tomorrow to consider next steps in the long-running transit funding soap opera, and some mayors are hinting they favour approval of the property tax increase.

But that’s not the only uncertainty in the 2013 plan. Translink’s bare bones budget assumes that reserves will be reduced to the minimum, real estate assets will be sold, parking revenues will rise and reductions in fare evasion will generate $4 million a year. If those forecasts are wrong, all bets are off.

The property tax increase was intended to close the gap if Victoria and the mayors failed to agree on a new funding mechanism for the Evergreen Line. When the Mayors proposed a vehicle levy, Victoria vetoed the idea.

Then the Translink commissioner turned down a planned fare increase. Fuel tax revenue went into free fall. The mayors, angered at the loss of the vehicle levy, threatened to pull the property tax.

Now Translink says it needs the property tax to pay for basic services. This will be a very tough negotiation indeed.