It has been a brutal fall for TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority. Earlier this month, CEO Tom Prendergast resigned his post and announced plans to head up New York City Transit. It’s a nice career move for the straight-talking American — who likened his job offer to being asked to play in Yankee Stadium — but it leaves TransLink directionless at a time when the organization needs him the most.
After all, this came days after Metro Vancouver’s mayors voted in a $130-million stabilization plan that would keep TransLink going, but would require controversial new revenue streams, including higher fares. Even then, the funding falls far short of the gold-plated budget TransLink was pushing for.
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And one day after Prendergast bolted from TransLink, a report by B.C. comptroller-general Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland found the organization to have “significant operational issues.” Her report was also critical of TransLink’s glut of well-compensated senior executives.
The optics on this point alone were horrible. How could the region justify handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to a transit agency that was being accused of maintaining a bloated bureaucracy?
But that’s a diversion from the real story here — the showdown that should have happened between TransLink and the province over funding priorities. Prendergast was just the guy to win that kind of back-alley brawl with Victoria. But he took the high road — otherwise known as wimping out.
Fair or not, TransLink will be the scapegoat for the standstill in public transit investment. The provincial government remains unscathed politically — which gives it a blank cheque to continue prioritizing highways and bridges over buses and trains.
As for Prendergast? Sure, New York probably has the right guy for the job.
But his legacy in Vancouver — to draw from another sports analogy — brings back bitter memories of Mark Messier. The arrival of the New York hockey messiah to GM Place more than a decade ago fuelled championship aspirations for the home side. But Messier never did get the job done here.
Apparently, you can win big on Broadway and still not stand a chance at Broadway and Granville.