Opinion: TransLink begs for another bailout from tapped-out taxpayers

Feb 22 2023, 7:36 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Carson Binda, who is the BC Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

TransLink is asking for another big bailout from taxpayers.

But that bailout isn’t going to fix the core problem with TransLink. More money has never fixed a chronic overspending problem. And that’s exactly the problem at TransLink.

This isn’t the first time that the Metro-Vancouver Mayors’ Council, which oversees TransLink, has asked for a bailout to prop up the crashing corporation.

In 2020, TransLink received a $644 million bailout to help them cope with the pandemic. That bailout was paid for 50-50 by the provincial and federal governments. Then in 2022, it got another bailout to the tune of $167 million.

Now they’re right back at it, asking for another $500 million from tapped-out taxpayers. In this case, the mayors want federal and provincial taxpayers to each pitch in $250 million.

Brad West, the chair of the Metro-Vancouver Mayors’ Council, said that TransLink needs the money because they are still “in survival mode” after the pandemic, but that claim doesn’t hold water.

TransLink’s service levels are hovering at back up to 82% of pre-pandemic levels. Despite that return to normal, they are collecting about 75% of the revenue. This is because TransLink continues to promote cheaper fare options, like monthly passes and Compass Cards, over trip-by-trip fares.

They may be in survival mode, but that’s because of decades of financial mismanagement and taxpayer-funded boondoggles.

TransLink and the mayors’ council that oversees it have a bad track record of spending taxpayers’ bailouts. Despite bailout after bailout, TransLink has done little to create any kind of sustainable funding model. Every year it asks taxpayers for more money and every year they waste too much of it.

When TransLink decided to paint red rectangles on the street to mark bus unloading zones in 2020, the cost for just five of them was a whopping $200,000. That means each square came at a cost to taxpayers of $40,000. This was the same time that they received the first $644 million bailout.

Before they got that bailout from taxpayers, TransLink executives initially announced that they would take pay cuts. However, when the bailouts started rolling in, they quietly reversed those pay cuts. That means that while everyone else was worrying about layoffs, the C-suite was laughing their way to the bank.

Kevin Quinn, the CEO of TransLink, took home a salary of $474,000 last year. In 2020, former CEO Kevin Desmond took home a salary of $448,000. Only in the public sector is a 30% decline in revenue and more than $800 million in bailouts rewarded with a $26,000 raise.

In total, 20 executives took home more than a quarter of a million dollars each.

TransLink’s waste issue isn’t new – it’s been a long-standing and crippling problem with the transit corporation going back decades.

Everyone in the Lower Mainland remembers the fare-gate scandal that came years late and $100 million over initial cost estimates. TransLink once spent $165,000 on a 32-foot statue of a poodle.

TransLink has a chronic problem with wasting taxpayer money and more bailouts aren’t going to solve the problem.

It’s time taxpayers turn off the tap and force TransLink to stop wasting money.

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