TransLink’s recent decision to delay construction of the Evergreen Line yet again illustrates the difficulty the regional agency has in funding projects. As I documented in a previous post, TransLink is a regional body created by the Province of British Columbia, which means it legally has only the powers given to it by the province. Their funding comes from fuel taxes, property taxes, transit fares and advertising.

In the case of large infrastructure projects such as the recently-built Canada Line, the Province and the Federal Government kick in some money. The feds are particularly swayed if the project is of national significance, hence the funding for the 19-km Canada Line during the same year Vancouver is set to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. The original SkyTrain line was constructed for Expo ’86. Usually, the balance of funding is made up through public-private partnerships. The Canada Line had the usual regional, provincial, and federal funding sources, as well as the Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA), the City of Vancouver, and private sector partner, InTransitBC, who was selected through a competitive bidding process. The total cost of the Canada Line is $1.9 billion ($2003), with the federal government contributing $419 million, the province $235, the VAA $245 million, TransLink $321 million, the City $27 million, and InTransitBC $65.3 million. TransLink will own the finished line and set fares, while InTransit BC designed the line and will operate and maintain the line for 35 years.

Like many municipalities, as a regional body TransLink has lots of legal responsibility with few fundraising abilities. Legally, the provincial and federal governments have more taxation ability, hence the Goods and Services Tax and BC’s new Carbon Tax. Yet they have been decreasing their responsibilities each year by transferring them to municipalities. The Evergreen Line had $410 million in provincial funding and $417 million in federal funding, in addition to TransLink’s $400 million. Still, the project fell $173 million short, money that TransLink expected to raise through public-private partnerships and transit-oriented development. TransLink’s proposed funding schemes, such as a parking tax and a vehicle levy, have been met with considerable public resistance.

TransLink, which regularly conducts surveys on ridership and potential ridership, has long been in favour of the 11-km Evergreen line linking Burnaby, Coquitlam, and Port Moody. While Burnaby already has the Millenium and Expo Skytrain lines, Coquitlam and Port Moody are among the fastest-growing municipalities in the GVRD and like most of the region, has no rapid transit options. The Evergreen Line was first proposed 20 years ago, and the Province has been promising its construction for five years.

TransLink also has a history of tenuous relationships with the province, as I wrote in a post about their organizational structure. Disagreements between Kevin Falcon, formerly the Provincial Minister of Transportation (2004-2009), resulted in TransLink dropping the Evergreen and UBC lines in favour of the Canada Line proposal, which the TransLink board had voted down repeatedly. Falcon also dissolved the TransLink board, made up of municipal representatives, and replaced it with a provincially-appointed board with no public accountability. It is not surprising that now that TransLink has built the Canada Line, provincial support has returned to its previous dismal level. And as usual, TransLink takes the blame for funding shortfalls (witness the CBC article entitled “TransLink to yank Evergreen Line funding.”) when the real “bad guy” in this scenario is the lack of any comprehensive federal transportation plan that acknowledges municipalities’ role in public transit provision.

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