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Supersonic FOI response from US airports, compared to glacial BC

When control of the Vancouver airport was transferred to a business and community board by Transport Canada in 1992, it was one of the biggest privatizations in Canadian history. It also made it much easier for the airport to keep its dealings under wraps.

Since privatization, the Vancouver International Airport Authority has collected almost $1.44 billion in departure fees from travelers to expand its runways and terminals. YVR, as it is better known, has also invested in ownership and management of other airports and even developed its own automated passport scanning technology -- the BorderXpress automated passport control kiosks that helped it increase revenue by $13.3 million to $189.5 million in 2013.

Because it's a private entity, YVR isn't covered by access to information laws, but some of its American customers are. Their quick responses to a Canadian journalist's freedom of information requests are a welcome breath of fresh air.

YVR sold the BorderXpress product to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is operated by Port of Seattle. A June 9 request for information yielded documents on June 20. That included the Nov. 14, 2013 tendering documents for 14 kiosks on a five-year contract worth $999,100. Other documents show that YVR ($1,049,000) outbid Dedo Interactive ($1,175,690) and scored higher on a procurement committee. The contract said the 14 kiosks cost $46,000 per unit plus $55,000 implementation service fee and $70,000 annual maintenance.

The public records law in Washington State said public disclosure officers have five days to provide records, acknowledge receipt and provide estimate of time, seek clarification from the requester or deny the request.

In British Columbia, the provincial government and local governments have up to 30 business days to respond after receiving a request. They can take another 30 days if, for example, there is a large number of records or they need to consult with a third-party or other government body.

City of Charlotte also provided documents within two weeks, regarding the YVR sale of kiosks to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. It emailed some of the documents on June 17, including a YVR PowerPoint presentation, and the rest on June 24, including the contract for 24 units at $1.332 million, plus $81,000 implementation service and $154,000 per year maintenance.

The B.C. government's 2012-2013 report said it received more than 10,000 requests, of which 4,500 were general requests about government activities and programs. The government claimed it fulfilled 87 per cent of requests on time, down from 93 per cent in 2010-2011 but better than the 71 per cent in 2007-2008.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham's July 2013 report on the government's open data initiative recommended proactive disclosure of contracts worth $10,000 and up, performance and efficiency audits, detailed travel and hospitality expenses and calendars for ministers, deputy ministers and senior executives.

In July 2011, Premier Christy Clark promised to run an open government, but there was a pre-2013 election spike in no records responses and delays. Minister responsible Andrew Wilkinson's mandate letter, issued by Clark in June, ordered him to provide options to cabinet on "ways to improve citizens' access to information in B.C."

Veteran reporter Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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