Independent audit of TransLink badly needed

Plenty of reasons for a full performance audit on how TransLink spends tax dollars.

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender is echoing the call of Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts for a complete performance audit of TransLink — something that a number of news items from the past week suggest is absolutely necessary.

There are two items in particular that caught my attention this past week. The first is the massive growth in the South Fraser area, as confirmed by the 2011 census. Surrey, Langley Township, Langley City and White Rock together gained just under 90,000 residents in the past five years — with most of those in Surrey, but almost 11,000 in Langley Township.

How has TransLink responded to this massive growth? It has added a few new bus routes, and some extra service on the busiest routes. But many areas in the South Fraser receive no bus service at all, or service which is so infrequent it simply can’t be relied on. That applies to almost all of Langley Township.

Yet TransLink is also putting up gas taxes (a move that both Watts and Fassbender agreed to), with much of that money going to completion of the Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension to Coquitlam and Port Moody. I’m not knocking that extension, which has long been promised. That area of the Lower Mainland is the second fastest-growing, behind the South Fraser region.

It is the lack of additional service in this area that galls me. People here are urged to use transit — yet many areas are poorly-serviced. Those who use the 502 bus to get to Langley City from SkyTrain in Surrey are often forced to wait for up to an hour, as the buses fill up at Surrey Central station and bypass other travellers.

There is a continued call for a SkyTrain line to UBC — yet the Vancouver population has grown by just 4.4 per cent in five years.

The other TransLink story — one that radio station CKNW reported on extensively — highlights how widespread fare evasion on buses has become. What struck me was the anonymous calls from many bus drivers, who say they never see any attempt to check fares on buses, and are told by TransLink that they must let people who won’t pay ride the buses.

One driver said he counted at least 115 people during one eight-hour shift who did not pay. Others noted that cheats include well-dressed business people, who apparently evade fares  just as cheerfully as some of those who may seem like more obvious suspects. Apparently, another widespread way of evading fares is to buy a one-zone ticket when travelling two or three zones.

TransLink refused to discuss the issue, and consistently claims fare evasion is minimal.

It seems obvious from the comments that the problem is widespread and growing. This is costing TransLink millions a year‚ some say upwards of $20 million — yet drivers in this area without access to transit are asked to pay additional gas tax for limited bus service, and also subsidize these cheats. As there are no consequences, it isn’t surprising that cheating is becoming more widespread.

TransLink must undergo an independent audit, ideally from the B.C. auditor general, who is very capable of finding deficiencies in public organizations.