TransLink’s seven ‘deadly sins’: Art installation and Compass Card snafu just a couple of its dubious spending decisions
TransLink helped to sponsor the giant porcelain poodle public art project that cost $100,000. G
What do stranded commuters trudging wearily along the SkyTrain tracks and a giant porcelain poodle sitting on top of an eight-metre-high pole have in common?
Both are examples of a Metro Vancouver transit system that has lost its way and gone to the dogs.
The commuters who abandoned their crippled SkyTrain cars were among thousands inconvenienced by a rash of SkyTrain breakdowns.
The giant porcelain poodle was part of a recent $100,000 public art project TransLink sponsored.
The point: Maybe if TransLink spent more of your money on an efficient, safe transit system instead of on dog statues, people wouldn’t have to risk their lives to escape broken-down SkyTrain cars.
An unfair comparison? TransLink thinks so. But the uproar over “poodles on pogo sticks” is just one example of dubious TransLink spending and mismanagement that upsets critics like Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“There are so many examples — I call them the ‘deadly sins of TransLink,’” said Bateman.
Since no one was accidentally electrocuted during last week’s train-tracks exodus, maybe “deadly” is too strong a word.
But there’s little doubt TransLink’s record is a spotty one. Consider:
Compass Card capers: The smart-card fare-gate system was supposed to stop freeloading fare cheats and offer greater convenience for the public.
It still might. But the system is already well behind schedule and $23 million over budget — more than the cost of a backup computer system that might have prevented last week’s SkyTrain snafus.
Executive feeding frenzy: TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis made $394,730 in 2012 — more than Premier Christy Clark and even more than Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
More significant, Jarvis made $88,000 more than Toronto’s transit CEO and $97,000 more than Montreal’s. The comparisons get uglier south of the border. Jarvis made $203,000 more than the King County transit boss in Washington state, and $166,000 more than the transit CEO in Portland.
Sunday is payday for SkyTrain cops: The budget for TransLink’s independent police force was $27 million last year and is set to rise steadily.
Among the cost drivers: a contract that pays officers a 25-per-cent bonus if they work Sundays. Try finding a deal like that in the real world.
Wasted space: TransLink has been paying $60,000 a month to rent a Burnaby warehouse where it planned to restore aging SkyTrain cars.
But the union representing SkyTrain workers complained in March that much of the building is sitting empty.
“The top floor is totally vacant and the warehouse is totally vacant,” Bill Magri, president of CUPE Local 7000, told the Burnaby Now newspaper.
“What bothers me is the outright waste and the poor financial decisions made by TransLink.”
Directors multiplying like rabbits: Why have just one board of directors when you can have six?
TransLink has its own a board of directors, of course. But so does the Transit Police. And the B.C. Rapid Transit Company, which operates the Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines. And the Coast Mountain Bus Company. And the West Coast Express. And then there are the 23 members of the TransLink Mayors Council.
Salaries for all the members of all those boards in 2012: $751,589.
The too-short sound wall: After years of pressure from Pitt Meadows residents, TransLink decided last year to tear down a sound-blocking wall meant to shield residents from the noisy Golden Ears Bridge.
The problem? The first sound-blocking wall was shorter than the trucks rumbling noisily over the bridge, driving neighbours nuts.
The solution? Rip the wall down and build a new one that’s one-and-a-half metres taller.
“It’s just, ‘Roll the windows down and throw the money out of the window and we’ll build a new one,’” lamented Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters.
“It’s very frustrating, especially when we talk about finding funding for TransLink.”
The cost of the taller wall: $817,000.
Public art: Which brings us back to those porcelain poodles on pogo sticks. Despite controversy over that Main Street installation, TransLink plans to spend more on public art.
TransLink approved spending $615,000 on public installations at three SkyTrain stations last year, despite complaints the money would be better spent on actual transit improvements.
“The TransLink people are always crying for money from local government,” Delta Mayor Lois Jackson told the Burnaby News Leader. “But, on the other hand, they’re spending money as if it comes from a bottomless pit.”
Here’s the biggest problem for TransLink: Public confidence has been eroded by this stuff at the same time that TransLink wants more money from the public.
“Why should anyone trust TransLink with $500 million more a year in taxes when they can’t manage the $1.4 billion they already get?” asks Bateman, TransLink’s fiercest critic.
It brings a fierce response from TransLink.
“We do not have the resources to investigate each one of his (Bateman’s) claims, nor is the public purse well served by going down such dirt trails when we have important operations and communications matters to pursue,” said Cheryl Ziola, TransLink’s manager of media relations.
If we ever get that referendum on TransLink funding, taxpayers may get the last word.
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