Metro Vancouver's regional transportation authority, TransLink, could end up with an annual deficit of $150 million by the end of 2011 or be forced to cut services, attendees to its annual general meeting were told on Tuesday.

The spokesman for TransLink, Ken Hardie, told CTV News that 2008 had been a challenging year for the authority, but it was still able to add $8 million to its reserves.

"We took some significant hits to our budget to do with extra fuel costs, and the costs of a lot of transit expansion," he said.

"Still, we ended up putting $8 million in reserves which will come in handy. As we go forward, we are trying to maintain services, expand it, but at the same time we have some significant financial issues that we're going to trying to work through this year."

Hardie said operating costs were due to spike because of what he called the "biggest service lifts in the history of the region," including the opening of the Golden Ears Bridge, the addition of hundreds of new buses, and the start-up of The Canada Line.

"What that means is that our operating costs are going up quite rapidly, more rapidly than inflation," he said. "[We're] looking at $150 million a year deficit by end of 2011. Between now and then we've got to try and find some money to close that gap."

Hardie said TransLink would be drawing on $109 million from its reserves in 2009 to cover the expected deficit for this year.

"But if we don't get the [deficit] gap closed by 2011, we are going to have to cut services and we don't want to do that," he said

Hardie said the only income-generating options currently open to TransLink were increases to property taxes, transit fares, and fuel taxes, but admitted this would not be popular.

"We're sensitive to the fact that we cannot go much further on some of these. Certainly not to cover the gap in the budget," Hardie said.

He added that the authority would be holding a series of town hall meetings to discuss the future of TransLink, starting in mid-June.

He said the goal in the current economic climate was to maintain the current level of service and "to try and keep going with modest expansion."

"If we don't we're going to slide backwards and I don't think too many people want that," he said.