Referendum Myths: “TransLink is Wasteful”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation released its “No TransLink Tax” platform today, and their second major point is “TranLink is an extremely wasteful organization”. As proof, they offer these six “high waste” examples:

TransLink doesn’t just have one board of directors, it has six – at a cost of $751,589 in annual salary. And after TransLink’s board chair promised executive pay would be frozen “at 2012 levels,” every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013.

TransLink spends at least $1.12 million on an empty building. The SkyTrain union head calls the $60,000/month lease payment “outright waste” and a “poor financial decision.”

Despite crying poor, TransLink kicked in more than $30,000 to put a 7-foot statue of a poodle on top of a 25-foot pole. The Main Street Poodle is nowhere near any major transit station, nor is the poodle symbolic of the neighbourhood.

TransLink took months to fix a glitch that saw its ticket vending machines treat new $5 bills like they were $20s. People would buy tickets and get more money back than they put in.

TransLink spent $523,000 on 13 TV screens at various SkyTrain stations. A year later, a CTF inspection showed only 4 of 13 were working. TransLink refuted that claim, saying 6 of the 13 $40,000+ TVs worked – still less than half.

TransLink spent $30,000 studying a gondola up Burnaby Mountain that neither neighbours nor City Hall supported. As Mayor Derek Corrigan said: “[If TransLink is so broke,] why are they going into additional expenses, like the gondola? It’s never been a priority.”

Let’s take a look at those one-by-one and cut some fat off of TransLink’s budget.

TransLink doesn’t just have one board of directors, it has six – at a cost of $751,589 in annual salary. And after TransLink’s board chair promised executive pay would be frozen “at 2012 levels,” every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013.

To be properly pedantic, TransLink only has one board of directors. However, it oversees a number of companies that actually operate buses and trains and supply policing services: Coast Mountain Bus Company, British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Ltd, West Coast Express, and Transit Police. I can only find boards for TransLink, CMBC, BCRTC, and the Transit Police, though. Apparently the CTF counts the Mayor’s Council as a board, and magically the West Coast Express has one too. Keep in mind that the Mayor’s Council is made up of, well, mayors, and mayors were elected by the people, and the CTF keeps going on about how TransLink isn’t accountable to anybody because nobody overseeing them was elected, except for this Mayor’s Council, which I guess the CTF ignores when it comes to matters of accountability but falls over themselves to include when it comes to matters of waste, but nobody ever accused the CTF of being consistent.

Anyhow, let’s take the CTF at their word. Six boards. Total cost of $751,589. Let’s cut that down to one board to oversee everything. Assuming equal distribution of funds, we’ve just saved TransLink $626,324.17.

And yes, every single TransLink executive got paid more money in 2013 than they did in 2012. You can see it in the 2013 Financial Information Act Filing and Remuneration Report. In 2013 the seven executives had a total compensation of $2,517,791, whereas in 2012 their total compensation was $2,333,799. Let’s claw back all of that increase, and we’ve just saved TransLink $183,992.

TransLink spends at least $1.12 million on an empty building. The SkyTrain union head calls the $60,000/month lease payment “outright waste” and a “poor financial decision.”

Well shit, let’s dump that! Bam, just saved $720,000 a year. We’re really finding lots of waste here!

Of course, you can’t just break leases like that without incurring penalties. But of course, that’s the real world, and the CTF would like for you to forget about that.

Despite crying poor, TransLink kicked in more than $30,000 to put a 7-foot statue of a poodle on top of a 25-foot pole. The Main Street Poodle is nowhere near any major transit station, nor is the poodle symbolic of the neighbourhood.

Let’s put that poodle to sleep and put that $30,000 in our pocket.

TransLink took months to fix a glitch that saw its ticket vending machines treat new $5 bills like they were $20s. People would buy tickets and get more money back than they put in.

Okay, this is a serious problem. Unfortunately I cannot find any hard numbers (or even soft numbers) about how much was lost here. According to this story it happened four times across the system, and in each case a SkyTrain attendant put the machine out-of-order until it could be fixed. That’s $70 wasted.

TransLink spent $523,000 on 13 TV screens at various SkyTrain stations. A year later, a CTF inspection showed only 4 of 13 were working. TransLink refuted that claim, saying 6 of the 13 $40,000+ TVs worked – still less than half.

Okay, so seven broke. That’s $281,615 wasted.

TransLink spent $30,000 studying a gondola up Burnaby Mountain that neither neighbours nor City Hall supported. As Mayor Derek Corrigan said: “[If TransLink is so broke,] why are they going into additional expenses, like the gondola? It’s never been a priority.”

Mayor Corrigan is right: TransLink shouldn’t do studies on opening up new transit routes, especially to a location that gets snowed in nearly every year, making it impossible for buses to get to. Let’s just say that’s $30,000 wasted.

Well, that’s an awful lot of waste! By my calculations that’s a total of $1,872,001 wasted. Don’t forget that a big chunk of that ($720,000) would come with penalties that TransLink would have to pay. But still, nearly $1.9 million dollars of waste!

But let’s put that into context. TransLink’s expenditures in 2013 were $1.406 billion (which was actually down from $1.430 billion, thanks to identifying cost inefficiencies). $1.872 million out of $1.430 billion is 0.13%. That’s miniscule, and it’s nearly thirteen times smaller than efficiency savings that TransLink already found.

So TransLink is already identifying areas where it can be more efficient. It’s saved $26 million from 2012 to 2013. And the Canadian Taxpayers Foundation is saying TransLink is incredibly wasteful, and their “big waste” items only come to $1.9 million? Really?

Ever heard of the phrase “trying to squeeze blood from a stone”? Or how about “scraping the bottom of the barrel”? Because that’s what the CTF is trying to do. And they’re throwing these numbers out without any context to scare people.

Look at the facts. The facts say that TransLink is already identifying inefficiencies, and there’s not much left to find. Even if all of the identified cruft and waste is trimmed (and that’s not realistic), that only gains you 0.13%, which is miniscule. Put it this way: if you make $25/hr, and you suddenly get a 0.13% raise, do you know how much you make? $25.03. An extra quarter a day.

Does that sound like an “extremely wasteful organization”?

It doesn’t to me. What it sounds like is the CTF is blowing scare tactics all around and hoping that people don’t stop to think. It sounds like the CTF assumes people are stupid and will see EXTREMELY WASTEFUL ORGANIZATION without any context, and then just parrot the CTF’s line.

The CTF thinks you’re stupid and will just eat this up. Show them that you’re not. Show them that these context-free factoids aren’t going to fool you. Show them that we don’t have to listen to their rhetoric.

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