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Translink Buzzer Blog

Category: Finance and Governance

Notes from the TransLink AGM aboard the SeaBus

Dale Parker, TransLink Board Chair, welcomes everyone to the TransLink AGM this morning.

Dale Parker, TransLink Board Chair, welcomes everyone to the TransLink AGM this morning.

We held our annual general meeting (AGM) aboard our newest SeaBus this morning!

Chair Dale Parker and our executives spoke at a podium on one end of the SeaBus, and the audio system was rigged up throughout the boat so attendees at the other end could still clearly hear them—and so many came out to hear what they had to say!

AGM attendees on board the SeaBus.

AGM attendees on board the SeaBus.

Really: the public turnout was terrific, with the SeaBus filling probably 80-90% of its 400 seats. There was even a lineup waiting for the doors to open! It’s quite a change from past years, when hardly anyone came out to join us.

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Key TransLink news items from the past few weeks

One of the 48 new Mark II SkyTrains we acquired in 2009.

One of the 48 new Mark II SkyTrains we acquired starting in 2009.

In the past few weeks, a number of TransLink news releases have gone out with some important information about our organization. I wanted to highlight them here in case you missed them.

  • TransLink restructuring cuts costs to improve efficiency
    April 23, 2010 — Since 2009, TransLink has been working on restructuring itself. This release describes the new executive structure now in place, and how 96 positions (including six executives) have been eliminated.
  • TransLink Service Rationalization
    April 27, 2010 — To increase efficiency, we are launching a program called the Service Rationalization Initiative (SRI). SRI will examine bus service usage and aim to make the most efficient use of our resources in serving our customers, all within our current envelope of service hours. (Data collection is currently underway: meetings with stakeholders and the public will go ahead in the coming year, with implementation tentatively planned for next fall.)
  • Province responds to Comptroller General’s report
    April 29, 2010 — Shirley Bond, BC’s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, announced changes to TransLink’s legislation that provide changed timelines for our planning processes. (This release is from the B.C. government, not TransLink.)
  • TransLink’s Statutory Annual Report tracks Strategic Plan Accomplishments
    April 30, 2010 — We released our 2009 Statutory Annual Report last week, which we are required by law to provide, and which contains answers to specific criteria as identified in our legislation. You can also take a look at our regular, illustrated 2009 Annual Report.

Tiny tiny adjustment for TransLink property tax rates in 2010

Well, we’ve talked about increases to one of our funding sources this year — now here’s the announcement about another of them.

As we do every year, TransLink has released its new property tax rates, which take effect April 1. (Here’s the 2009 announcement, for reference.)

Homeowners will see a very small increase — an average of $3.58 in their portion of property taxes funding regional transportation, and property tax on businesses will be virtually unchanged from 2009. (In specific, homeowners will see a 1.62% increase, and businesses 0.02%.)

And again, the reason we are increasing fares and these property taxes is to pay for the expanded service we have put in place since 2004. They are both part of the 2010 10-Year Transportation Plan, which we consulted on last year.

Have a look at our press release for more info.

Property tax rates released for 2009

Well, this is a slightly awkward topic to bring up, but we’ve officially released our property tax rates for 2009. (And it’s not an April Fool’s joke, sadly.)

On average, homeowners can expect their property tax to rise by about $16, and business property taxes will go up by about $59. It all goes to fund the ongoing operation, maintenance and rehabilitation of the region’s major roads and transit network.

Here’s the full press release if you’d like to see it. Also, Jeff Nagel at the Surrey Leader also has a really good article on the increases.

I should mention that this tax increase has nothing to do with the 2010 10-year plan. That’s the plan for our next 10 years which has been bandied about in the news lately, owing to the discussion of a vehicle levy and other proposed funding mechanisms for the future. (We’re also starting to consult about it over at BePartofthePlan.ca.)

Instead, this property tax increase is to resolve a loss of revenue from last year, which happened because our parking site tax was cancelled at the end of 2007.

We lost $18 million of revenue when the parking site tax was cancelled, and the province gave us special permission to make up that $18 million using additional property tax on residences and businesses.

In 2008, we chose to collect only half of that tax ($9 million), through boosting the property tax on businesses alone. (Here’s the 2008 press release about that decision.) This year, we’re collecting the full amount from both residential and business properties.

New federal and provincial funding for transit

Hey, the federal and provincial governments announced $280 million in new funding for transit this morning! Thanks, senior government partners — it’s good to see more investment in transit!

Check out the press release and backgrounder from the provincial government. Here’s the key explanation from the news release:

Lower Mainland transit users will benefit from SkyTrain and West Coast Express enhancements, thanks to a partnership between the Government of Canada, the Province of B.C. and TransLink, announced Premier Gordon Campbell, Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, and TransLink Chair Dale Parker.

Through this partnership, the Government of Canada and the Province of B.C. have identified several major transit projects, valued at $280 million, as priorities for infrastructure funding.

The federal government is setting aside up to $88.3 million, which will amount to a maximum of 33 per cent of eligible costs for the selected transit projects. The BC government is contributing over $118 million, with the balance coming from TransLink and local government partners.

And from the backgrounder, here’s where the money will specifically go:

Included under the $280 million investment are

SkyTrain Improvements

  • Station expansion (Expo Line): $133.3 million, including Main St. and Scott Road.
  • Additional SkyTrain cars: $75 million
  • Expo Line upgrades: $7 million

West Coast Express Improvements

  • Increase in West Coast Express capacity: $27.7 million. Purchase seven additional cars and upgrade 2 stations.

Other Transit System Improvements

  • Improvements to regional transit maintenance facilities: $36.5 million.

And in case you’re wondering: no, this new funding doesn’t actually alleviate our financial deficit situation any. This funding provides us with new money that is earmarked to pay for this new infrastructure, but the operating costs of this new infrastructure and the existing system still fall to us. (For a bus, operating costs are actually 90 per cent of their lifetime costs.)

And yes, we do still have to come up with the TransLink side of the funding for these initiatives, which we’ll consult you about in the upcoming months.

But still, hurrah — this is great news for SkyTrain and West Coast Express! And the new Fleet Overhaul home in Maple Ridge!

New federal funding helps expand our fleet and service!

Stockwell Day, Canada's Minister of Public Safety, gets behind the wheel of one of our low-floor diesel buses. Minister Day attended our event on behalf of John Baird, the Transport and Infrastructure Minister.

Stockwell Day, Canada's Minister of Public Safety, gets behind the wheel of one of our low-floor diesel buses. Minister Day attended our event on behalf of John Baird, the Transport and Infrastructure Minister.

We held an event at the SeaBus maintenance centre today, and federal and municipal leaders helped us announce $186.4 million in new federal Gas Tax funding for TransLink over the next two years!

The new funding will support the purchases of:

  • 146 conventional buses
  • 34 articulated trolley buses
  • 23 Community Shuttles
  • 55 HandyDART buses
  • 38 SkyTrain Mark II cars

As well, in 2009, the funding will provide $10 million for the $54 million SkyTrain Operations and Maintenance Centre expansion, and in 2010, the new Maintenance and Transportation Training Centre (MTTC) in Maple Ridge will receive $50 million of the nearly $165 million cost.

You can grab the full press release and backgrounder here for more info.

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Our 2009 budget and capital plan

The 2009 budget will support many major initiatives that are reaching completion, such as the 48 new SkyTrain cars set to arrive next year.

The 2009 budget will support many major initiatives that are reaching completion, such as the 48 new SkyTrain cars set to arrive next year.

Our 2009 budget and capital plan was released to the media over the weekend, and it’s resulted in some prominent news stories today. I thought we’d take a little time to talk about the highlights and answer some questions you might have. Here’s the official press release that was sent out, if you’d like to read it as well.

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Commentary on this morning’s Province article on TransLink salaries

This morning, the top story in the Province newspaper was all about the salaries of TransLink executives and the increases they’ve seen in recent years. So Ken Hardie from our media relations team put together the following response, which we wanted to share with all of you.

The blazing headlines in this morning’s Province newspaper on salary increases for some of TransLink’s executives gives us an opportunity to do a useful reality check on a number of fronts.

First, the information in the article came from TransLink’s annual “Statement of Financial Information,” which, as a public body, we are required by law to publish and make available to the public each year. This statement must list gross earnings (salaries and benefits) plus expenses for any TransLink staff member earning more than $75,000 per year, as well as a list of companies and amounts paid to them totalling $25,000 or more.

This is a level of transparency that is unique to us and to other public agencies, and over time, each public agency is subject to the nature and tone of the coverage we saw in this morning’s Province. Clearly, the fact that our salaries are public information is just one of the aspects of public service that we ‘sign up for’ when we work at an agency like TransLink. But there are others that the paper chose not to examine.

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Thinking ahead: A backgrounder on Transport 2040 and our 2010 10-year plan

TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast gave a speech at the Vancouver Board of Trade this morning, discussing our long-term strategies and the challenges we’re facing as our transportation network grows.

So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to start highlighting the same topics, since we’re actually going to be talking about this a lot over the coming year.

It really might sound kind of sleep-inducing, but please don’t let your eyes glaze over! We’re planning the future of transportation in our region here, and we want you to be informed about what we’re doing and where we’re coming from.

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All about the TransLink deficit and our second quarterly report

You may have already heard it in news reports this morning, but yes: TransLink is currently running a deficit. This made the news because yesterday, TransLink released its second quarter report on financials and performance for 2008, which outlines the situation in great detail and which you can download here.

So, since we have this fancy blog up and running now, I thought I’d take a look at the report and talk about some of the issues which you no doubt have questions about. Have a read through and feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments below.

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