Where the train comes off the track

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News columnist Sandy Macdougall

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former councillor for the District of Maple Ridge.

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former councillor for the District of Maple Ridge.

Recent operational breakdowns have made TransLink an easy target for its critics.

These system-wide failures continue to point out the dysfunctional aspects of the transit operating, management and funding systems. But there are also some positive elements that should be acknowledged.

The passenger-carrying capacity of SkyTrain, the Millennium line and the Canada line seem costly, but not so much when you consider how much it would cost to construct and maintain the equivalent capacity with highways and city streets.

The cost per passenger mile is cheaper than you might think when the reduced traveling time for users and lower accident rates and other cost factors are included in the bottom line calculations.

No pun intended, but the TransLink train comes off the track with its multi-layered management system, which includes, among other things, a provincially appointed board of directors and a largely useless mayors’ committee on regional transportation for the Metro Vancouver region.

The lion’s share of transit funding is spent on servicing the larger population areas within the region, such as Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby, Delta and Richmond. And that sounds reasonable, except we all pay the same gas pump levies and other taxes, but outlying smaller municipalities get much lower standards of service.

In other words, if you live in one of the outlying and smaller populated municipalities and must rely on your personal vehicle to commute, you are going to be paying far more than you should based on the availability and level of transit services in your area.

To make matters worse for areas currently poorly serviced, this disproportionate allocation of transit services is not going to improve anytime soon.

The various appointed boards and an estimated 6,000 employees charged with the management and operation of TransLink and its many functions, such as all major roads, bridges and transit, continue to draw wages and indemnities, but nobody seems to be responsible for the sorry state of affairs.

A great example of transit dysfunction is the Compass Fare Card fiasco, which is now well beyond its original budget of $200 million, and there is still no definite date in sight for its implementation.

At our local level, we are represented on the TransLink mayors’ committee by Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin, who continues to collect an indemnity for attending the meetings of the mayors’ committee, but has yet to produce much in the way of tangible results or improvements in local transit or major roads. It’s been all promises.

On his own behalf, Mayor Daykin will point out how challenging and almost impossible it is to get the mayors’ committee to support our local needs. If that is a worthy defense, why bother attending the mayors’ committee meetings and continuing to collect the indemnity?

Maple Ridge is nearing a crisis in transportation and transit issues, and if he continues in his role as our representative on the mayors’ committee, Mayor Daykin has to speak with a louder and more effective voice.

Municipal council members and municipal bureaucrats must also begin to develop realistic plans and strategies to cope with the growing needs of Maple Ridge as urban sprawl unrelentingly advances throughout the countryside.

The coming years and the actions of municipal bureaucrats and politicians will dictate whether we continue to live in a pleasantly livable community or just another example of urban sprawl at its worst.

Now, more than ever, we need strong, determined leadership at the municipal level, something we do not currently enjoy.

It appears that, following the coming civic elections, Maple Ridge council will have at least three new members, maybe more, and possibly a new mayor. Those elected will serve four-year terms, up from the current three-years. It is something voters should consider as we draw closer to those Novembers’ civic elections.

Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former district councillor.