TransLink CEO ousting sends message to voters: mayors

But changes are not enough to assure voters the transit authority will spend money wisely, says TransLink critic

Metro Vancouver mayors hope that the removal of TransLink's CEO, Ian Jarvis, will sway Metro Vancouver residents to vote yes in an upcoming transit tax plebiscite.

The move comes just one month before the start of the mail-in referendum.

“I’ve made very clear that I wanted to see new leadership at TransLink,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who became chair of TransLink’s Mayors' Council last month. “We heard that from mayors around the region, so it’s good to see the board taking this action.”

“There have been real concerns around SkyTrain breakdown, there have been concerns about executive pay and historically the need for streamlining the staff and executive.”

Robertson declined to say whether he and Linda Hepner, the mayor of Surrey and vice-chair of the Mayors’ Council, had pushed for the ousting, but: “this is a perspective we certainly supported at the board table.”

TransLink board chair Marcella Szel said the move was needed “to restore public confidence.” TransLink has been under fire after two lengthy SkyTrain delays this summer; delays to the Compass card and fare gates; and its high level of executive pay compared with transit authorities in other major Canadian cities.

Jarvis will continue to consult as an adviser to TransLink’s board until his contract ends in June 2016, meaning he will continue to collect his $400,000-plus annual salary. Doug Allen, who was the CEO of InTransit BC, the company that operates the Canada Line, will serve as interim CEO until a new CEO can be recruited.

Jordan Bateman, who as B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is running the no side campaign, said TransLink and the mayors havn’t gone far enough.

“Now we’re paying for one CEO to stay and advise the board, we’re going to pay a second CEO $35,000 a month to run the place, while we pay a firm to find a third CEO,” Bateman said.

TransLink should not be given any additional funds until it can prove, over a two to three year period, that “they … can spend money efficiently or effectively,” said Bateman.

The yes side has so far avoided talking about public dissatisfaction with TransLink, and has instead focused on the message that new money is urgently needed to fund transit improvements in the region. 

The Mayors’ Council has proposed a regional 0.5% increase to the provincial sales tax in order to fund local government’s portion of a $7.5 billion transportation plan. That plan includes three light rail lines in Surrey, a subway along Vancouver’s Broadway corridor, a new Pattullo Bridge and improved bus service across the region.

TransLink has cut service in recent years after several funding mechanisms were rejected by provincial and municipal governments.

Bateman maintains that municipal governments could find their share of the money by restraining future spending. He said that even if residents vote no to the tax hike, the Pattullo bridge and Surrey light rail would be funded by other means.

Greg Moore, mayor of Port Coquitlam, said that is not the case.

“Even if there is cost-sharing with the regional government, the region still needs to come forward with its own portion of the money as well as the operating [funds],” Moore said.

TransLink was governed by the Mayors’ Council until 2008, when then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon changed the governance to an appointed board. The mayors recently regained some measure of control when Todd Stone, currently minister of transportation, gave the Mayors’ Council more control over TransLink, including regional transportation strategies and setting executive pay levels. The appointed board still manages operations.