Walton returns as TransLink mayors' chair for uncertain year ahead
While Richard Walton’s acclamation for a third year as chair of the TransLink mayors’ council will bring stability and continuity to transit’s citizen governance, the North Vancouver District mayor may well need a crystal ball to navigate all the what-if’s coming his way in 2013.
Amid foreseeable funding trouble for the short- and long-term; the Jan. 1 fare hikes, the Compass Card and SkyTrain fare gates could be major game-changers for transit’s fortunes in 2013.
But the biggest variable today remains the May provincial election, and whether a new government in Victoria would reorganize TransLink’s baffling governance structure.
“We think there’s better ways of making decisions and planning in the region,” Walton told The Outlook, casting doubt on the future of the mayors’ council model as we know it; a model Walton deemed “very difficult to work under” and “very confusing for the public.”
Under the current rubric built by the B.C. Liberals some years ago, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation represents the interests of the citizens of the 21 Metro municipalities served by TransLink. Meanwhile, a separately appointed board of directors and commissioner hold the purse strings and retain most of the decision-making power, Walton said.
In December, the mayors’ council went as far as hiring a consulting firm to review TransLink’s governance structure and to compare it with similar operations around the world. Walton said the idea came out of the mayors’ frustrations with being accused by the public of complaining about the governance structure without offering any alternate solutions.
Due for release in mid-March, the best-practices report will be as specific to Vancouver’s unique geography and population makeup as possible, Walton said.
“The challenge we have is the province controls the legislation, all the funding sources, et cetera, [while] the mayors’ council is expected to do the heavy lifting and initiate the changes.”
Walton said he envisions for the future a kind of “hybrid board” made up of transit experts, provincial government appointees and elected municipal politicians with either business or transit expertise, or both.
While any change in TransLink’s structure is unlikely before May, Walton said he’s confident the recommendations of the independent report will be taken to heart by whichever government is in power after the election.
“What we’d like to do is have a serious discussion on this with, hopefully, the provincial government not only participating but leading it,” Walton said. “And to try to find a response to the regional needs a little better than what we have now, which is 100 per cent appointed.”