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BC: What is TransLink hiding?

May 24, 2012
BC: What is TransLink hiding?

Government waste comes in a lot of different forms. Sometimes it’s a stupid decision, a weird grant, unfair bonuses or a luxurious trip. But waste can be less obvious than that—sometimes it’s misplaced priorities or intentional disconnect from the taxpayers they are supposed to be beholden to.

TransLink is back in our waste crosshairs.

Earlier this year, CKNW radio did a series of stories, under the Waste Patrol banner, looking at various government agencies. One of their stories was about fare evasion on TransLink.

TransLink got bent out of shape that fare evasion—which cost the organization nearly a quarter billion dollars in lost revenue since 2000—would be considered waste. So the highly-paid communications specialists over there decided to boycott CKNW. They refused interviews and stuck to their social media to try and get their message out.

CKNW, to its credit, didn’t back down. They kept smacking TransLink all day, with radio hosts Bill Good, Simi Sara and Jon McComb—along with TransLink scoop hound Janet Brown—openly challenging TransLink to come on air. Bus drivers called in, the public was outraged and the story grew and grew. It was tremendous radio and of huge service to the public.

After years of TransLink mismanaging the fare evasion file, media pressure finally led to B.C. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom to introduce legislation to fix fare evasion ticket loopholes.

Anyway, as an old reporter, I’m always interested when a government agency or official turns its back on the taxpayers and boycotts a specific media outlet. So I filed a Freedom of Information request with TransLink asking for all files and emails related to the Waste Patrol boycott. Weeks later, I got back 88 pages—heavily (as much as 80%) censored. It’s now at the independent FOI Commissioner’s office, being reviewed.

CKNW’s Janet Brown filed this story last night on the whole mess:

Why all the secrecy over TransLink FOI? That's what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants to know after a Freedom of Information Request filed with Translink came back mainly blank.

The Federation's BC Director, Jordan Bateman, says he filed the FOI requesting all documents including emails on how the transit company dealt with CKNW's Waste Patrol series that focused on fare evasion. What came back after months of waiting were 88 pages, mostly blank.

Bateman was asked why he filed the request in the first place, "You know, here they are, CKNW's doing this series and they just outright refuse to talk to 'NW despite multiple requests from multiple talkshow hosts and reporters asking them for a comment; they absolutely refused. I find that really sickening from a government agency; I think it's wrong."

There are a few emails in the 88 pages including one from former Translink communications staff member Erin Dermer that says, "Fare evasion is not an issue that can be appropriately addressed under the Waste Patrol format. First and foremost she says, fare evasion is not waste, it's a form of shoplifting."

Bateman says that's ridiculous, "They are splitting hairs on the whole shoplifting, stealing thing. My argument for the Waste Patrol is that the way Translink is managed, the last 12 years has been waste. They have a Transit Police Department that wrote tickets, spending 25 million bucks a year on them, but couldn't actually enforce the tickets, that is waste." 

The Taxpayers Federation has asked the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner to review Translink's response.

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