BCBusiness' David Jordan interviews Malcolm Brodie, chair of Translink.
As chair of TransLink’s board of directors, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie is the point man for the outfit everyone loves to hate. Never far from public outcry (think parking tax or Air Care), TransLink now faces a defining moment as it finds itself in the crosshairs of the provincial government. Last March, Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon announced a comprehensive review of TransLink’s mandate and governance. The outcome will be made public in October. Some speculate the review spells the end of the seven-year-old body governing transportation and transit planning in the Lower Mainland. Frustrated by this fly in the ointment of its pet mega-projects – RAV and the Gateway Program come to mind – the province may be poised to disband the regional planning authority. Brodie first got involved with TransLink as a Richmond city councillor in the late 1990s, when he actively participated in debates over the formation of TransLink. He joined the board in 2001, when concerns about the new B-Line bus system were a key plank in his mayoral campaign. Now in his fifth year on the board, he is perhaps more qualified than anyone to offer an inside look at what’s at stake in the province’s review of TransLink. Was it time for a review of TransLink? Yes, I do think it’s timely. We have now embarked on a three-year plan and a 10-year outlook, which is a $4-billion capital expansion program. So I think it’s time to have a review and see what has worked and what maybe needs to be fine-tuned. Did the timing of the review come as a surprise to you? I wasn’t surprised by it at all. There had been rumours circulating for many months that the review was going to be called in the aftermath of the civic elections. What outcome are you hoping for? The review panel is looking at three main areas: the mandate of the organization, the governance structure and the revenue sources. Funding is a critical part of the analysis. It’s absolutely critical that TransLink be given support from the senior levels of government for its funding and that they be sustainable sources of funds. Do you believe the current governance structure adequately represents all the municipalities affected by TransLink? There’s a maximum size for an effective board and once you’re getting past the range of 12 or 13 members, it becomes a very difficult proposition. Unless you take a representative of every municipality and put them on the TransLink board, you have to have people on the board who are representing the entire region and not just representing one city or one smaller area. I do believe the board has made decisions that are right for the region and that the interests of the region have been well represented. Squabbling among municipalities nearly killed RAV. Was that healthy debate or inefficient governance? The RAV debate was the first major infrastructure project that we were putting through that system, so to have a bit of a bumpy road at the start may not have been a surprise. You also have to keep in mind that TransLink does everything in public. I would like to be a fly on the wall at senior government cabinet meetings. I’m sure the debates are very animated, yet they come out of the room united and that’s all you hear. The fact is the public had the right to witness the entire RAV debate, and that’s the price you pay. The province is pushing the Gateway Program and the GVRD is pushing its Sustainable Region Initiative. Are there too many bodies claiming authority for transportation in the Lower Mainland? The three bodies have their own roles but they do have to be very closely in synch with each other. The GVRD is looking at the growth strategy and where people should go, and TransLink has a very important role to play because it formulates the strategic transportation plan, which supports the transportation component of the growth strategy. If you go over the Patullo Bridge, you’re going over a TransLink bridge. If you go over the Port Mann Bridge, it’s a provincial bridge. That highlights the need for close coordination. The consumer couldn’t care less whose jurisdiction it is, they just want to get over that bridge. We need close coordination between the various agencies, but I can’t say there are too many organizations with their fingers in the pot. If you could do it over again, would you like to see TransLink handle the parking-tax initiative differently? As part of our 10-year outlook, there was to be $3 billion in infrastructure improvements in the first three years. We said we’d get the money from three sources: property tax, fare revenue and the parking tax. I don’t think the homeowners were happier than the businesses when they were charged more money. I see the parking tax as a small corner of the real problem. The real problem is that we have very few sources of sustainable funding and they are small. If we are to move forward as a region with our transit and ¬transportation system, the senior governments must support us with those sustainable sources of funding so they can support the kind of capital projects we envision. TransLink was formed seven years ago in response to specific needs. Is it still relevant today? TransLink was brought into being because of the neglect of the provincial governments over the years of our transit system, and to take the budget for transit – particularly for transportation – away from the budget of the provincial government and get a more ¬cohesive plan. I think that remains important today. One of TransLink’s biggest accomplishments is that there has been this high-level strategic planning done at the regional level, and it has brought the various stakeholders and interested parties into the process. That remains as important today as it was seven years ago. You’ve got a lot on your plate as mayor of Richmond. Do you wonder if chairing the board of TransLink is more stress than it’s worth? Both of them provide you with the sense that you are doing something very important either for your city or for the entire region. That’s the perspective you have to keep.