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July 9, 2010

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‘Public’ essential in Evergreen equation

BURNABY – The provincial Ministry of Transportation has announced it is once again moving ahead with plans for the Evergreen rapid transit line connecting Coquitlam to Vancouver via Port Moody and Burnaby. The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) announced this week calls for private partner applicants "capable of designing, building, and financing the project".

The RFQ states that the operation and maintenance of the new line will become part of the publicly-run SkyTrain system. CUPE has consistently urged the government to use the public operating model, pointing out that privately-operated systems cost taxpayers more in the long-run, lack accountability and have the potential to leave the public holding the bag if the system isn't deemed “profitable enough”.

CUPE 7000 president Gerry Cunningham cautions that the government’s RFQ callout is only the first step in the process. CUPE 7000 represents SkyTrain workers.

Cunningham expressed concern over the $400-million figure in the RFQ that the private sector is being asked to borrow for the project, given that private-sector borrowing is always much more expensive than public borrowing. “This makes no sense, especially in light of all the financial pressure TransLink is already facing. Why increase costs further with unnecessary and expensive private financing? Any money the contractor borrowed for this project would have to be paid back by transit users and taxpayers.”

The total estimated cost of the project is $1.4 billion and TransLink has repeatedly raised “funding gap” concerns. “Asking the private sector to borrow this money will just widen that gap”, Cunningham said.

“As well, the provincial government may never find a private partner due to the current economic situation,” Cunningham added. “Just look at the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge. The successful private bidder walked away leaving the provincial government to finance the entire project – which, by the way, saved us more than $200 million because of public financing.”

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