06/16/2016 01:39 EDT | Updated 06/16/2016 01:59 EDT

BC Transit Audit Shows Need For Efficiency, Not Higher Taxes

BC Transit
Hear that pfffffft? It's the sound of the air going out of the politicians' arguments for higher gas taxes in the Capital Region, as the long-awaited BC Transit provincial review went public earlier this month.

To no one's surprise, the audit found several ways BC Transit has been wasting your tax money, and how poor they are at managing the millions of dollars of assets with which we entrust them.

The audit's results dismantle the need for a two-cent per litre gas tax hike to add service in the area, as has been demanded for years by Capital Regional District politicians and the Victoria Regional Transit Commission.

The gas tax would gouge Victoria drivers for another $6.6 million a year, money that can already be found within the existing BC Transit budget. 

Not surprisingly, the audit identified several overly generous clauses in BC Transit's union contracts that should be addressed.

Like their TransLink counterparts in the Lower Mainland, Victoria transit employees receive a 50 per cent bonus for working Sundays. This is not overtime or pay bumps for last-minute scheduling: this is time-and-a-half for regular hours worked. These Sunday premiums cost taxpayers $700,000 a year in Victoria.

Sick days have also shot up 35 per cent since 2011. That type of sick day abuse must be addressed.

Nanaimo and the Sunshine Coast have already scrapped the Sunday premiums. Even waste-happy TransLink is in negotiations with its unions to get rid of the bonus. Victoria should follow suit.

Further, the audit revealed that BC Transit has at least 20 per cent too many spare drivers in Victoria -- a pool of employees who are paid to sit at a bus depot in case they are needed. The audit suggests ratcheting down this group from 12 per cent to 10 per cent, saving nearly half a million dollars every year.

Sick days have also shot up 35 per cent since 2011. Unionized employees took an average of 11.4 sick days in 2011. Last year, they took 15.4. The average private sector worker takes less than half that amount. That type of sick day abuse must be addressed.

It's not just the frontline employees costing taxpayers too much. Despite orders from the provincial cabinet, BC Transit CEO Manuel Achadinha still receives annual bonuses. He was paid $349,891 in 2015, including a $66,000 bonus. And the transit boss was paid $8,650 for a "vehicle/transportation allowance" for a leased vehicle. Achadinha was paid nearly $10,000 more than the Toronto Transit Commission CEO.

And then there is the board of directors, which has been breaking provincial treasury board rules -- to the benefit of their own pocketbooks. The board has a finance committee that meets the same day as the full board. Multiple meeting fees are paid to members of both groups, despite the province's mandate that "only one meeting fee will be paid to any appointee for each 24-hour day."

Further, if Victoria went to the American standard of a 20 per cent spare bus ratio, it could save $4 million. The auditors suggest better policies and procedures around purchasing, being more aggressive in trying to get advertising revenue, collecting more information about ridership and bus maintenance, better management of two commercial ventures, and the potential for millions in savings by embracing natural gas-powered buses.

It's time for the public to push back against the politicians' demand for a gas tax hike for BC Transit in Victoria. There is clearly plenty of waste in the system to cover better service. Taxpayers should demand that B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone reject the transit commission's gas tax grab.

The Victoria area already has the fifth-highest gas taxes in North America. Only unfortunate drivers in Newfoundland, Montreal, Vancouver and (the rest of) Quebec pay more. If our politicians and senior bureaucrats can't manage that money properly, the last thing we should do is give them more of it. 

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