April First Comes Early In Vancouver

TransLink's New Rapid Transit for Surrey

I just do not know whether to laugh or cry at this one.

Business in Vancouver (who’s co-founder is one Peter Ladner, noted Vancouver politician) has printed the puff piece of puff pieces, regarding TransLink. In Zwei’s timid way and not wanting to get TransLink’s higher purposes persons in a tissy, I have made a few polite comments.

Of course, Zwei’s comments will be in bold italics.

(Oh by the way, the above picture is in keeping with the theme of today’s post, April 1, comes early to Vancouver.)

Thereai??i??s far more good news than bad in TransLink numbers

By Peter Ladner

Zwei replies: don’t quit your day job.

By the time you read this, the provincial cabinet will have determined the wording of the question for the spring transit and transportation funding mail-in referendum. Full disclosure: Iai??i??m helping organize the Yes coalition.

What most needs to be sorted out at this point is the one topic opponents are exclusively focused on: why give more money to TransLink when its flaws turn people off? Itai??i??s under attack for the CEOai??i??s pay level, recent breakdowns, a failure to implement the Compass Card program as promised, and lack of accountability.

I can agree: the Compass Card rollout should have been smoother and sooner.

Zwei replies: There was no need for the Compass Card. The only reason we have this loser is because ex-premier, Gordon Campbell’s best friend, a one Ken Dobell, was lobbying the government on the behalf of Cubit Industries and look what we have today, old kit that doesn’t work.

Breakdowns? Letai??i??s keep some perspective. In 30 years of operating an aging transit system, there have been a mere handful of breakdowns on the scale of the two SkyTrain shutdowns last summer. Overall in 2013 SkyTrain delivered 95% on-time performance. Congestion-causing delays occur almost every hour every day on major highways and bridges ai??i?? thereai??i??s a radio industry built around reporting them ai??i?? but no one has ever rallied tapped-out taxpayers to tar and feather the minister of transportation because of them. Look at the CEOai??i??s outrageous salary, shout anti-TransLink critics. Itai??i??s $468,000, up 7% in 2013 (they donai??i??t mention it will go down this year). They point out that itai??i??s more than transit CEOs in Seattle, Portland, Toronto or Montreal make, but they rarely mention that itai??i??s less than CEO salaries at the Vancouver Airport Authority, BC Hydro and BC Ferries and just over half of Port Metro Vancouverai??i??s CEOai??i??s $857,000 pay.

Zwei replies: So BC’s CEO’s, who work in quasi government organizations are grossly overpaid, TransLink’s CEO doesn’t need to be, nor should he or she be.

The vein-bulging outrage at TransLinkai??i??s CEOai??i??s pay overlooks three key points. First, executive salaries werenai??i??t mentioned as an issue in the latest independent audit of TransLink. Second, TransLink is almost alone in North America ai??i?? and the envy of regions around the world ai??i?? for the range of its responsibilities, which include financing, planning, operating and maintaining roads, bridges, buses, trains, light rail and cycling infrastructure. That makes comparisons difficult. But most important, TransLink is a political eunuch, with no one person responsible for defending it from the cloud of accusations coming at it from the provincial government, the public, the Mayorsai??i?? Council, anti-tax zealots and its customers because of the unaccountable governance structure forced on it by the provincial government.

No amount of money could hang onto the last two CEOs because of this.

Zwei replies: Actually, Prendergast was forced out by SkyTrain lobby because he dare to question the reasons building with it.

ai???Thereai??i??s really no impediment,ai??? Prendergast responded. ai???Itai??i??s overcoming the cultural embracement of SkyTrain that has existed to date.ai???He said TransLink is seeking to cut through the pro-SkyTrain ai???cultural biasai??? as it embarks on a careful examination of rapid transit technologies for line extensions west along Broadway and south of the Fraser.

TransLinkai??i??s biggest fault is its inability to get the message out about its almost unknown performance successes:

Zwei replies: What success’s? Vancouver has become a poster boy on not how to provide transit. Who has copied SkyTrain and the Canada Line? No one. Speaks volumes doesn’t it!

ai???A mode shift ai??i?? out of cars into transit, walking and cycling ai??i?? that is unmatched in North America. The number of trips by transit is up 80% since 2000.

Zwei replies: Really? This mode share graph shows that from 1994 to 2011, transit use increased by 3% and car use has remained at 57%. Cycling increased by a mere 0.7%. I do not see any 80% increases here, nor do I see a shift from car to transit.

ai???By far the highest per capita transit use among other cities our size in North America ai??i?? three times more than Portland, the next highest city.

Zwei replies: But Portland has a much lower destiny (1,689.2/km2) than Vancouver (5,249/km2) ). Vancouver has about three times the density than Portland.

Yet despite the previous bit of questionable claims, TransLink has a one third higher per revenue passenger cost than cities like Edmonton, Calgary, and Toronto!

ai???The third-highest per capita transit use in North America, after only New York and Toronto.

Zwei replies: Well this is based on TransLink’s own numbers, which, as history has shown, not worth the paper they are printed on.

ai???The lowest-operating-cost light rail network in the world, more than covering operating expenses from fare box revenues.

Zwei replies: Yes, our LRT operating costs re very low, because we don’t operate light rail. We operate a very expensive light metro network, that in 1992 was subsidized by $157 million. The paltry $20.45 million in generated revenue did not come close in paying the operating costs! Today, the mini-metro network is subsidized by over $300 million.

ai???The Canada Line built on time and on budget and beating revenue targets ai??i?? projected to have 100,000 daily riders by 2013 but hitting 120,000 by 2011.

Zwei replies. The Canada Line’s cost went from $1.3 billion to over $2.5 billion. The presiding judge (Pittfield) in the Susan Heyes (failed) lawsuitAi?? against TransLink, called the bidding process for the P-3 “a charade”. As for ridership claims, I do not think so, as the Canada line has very small stations and station platforms and can only accommodate two car trains. As such, the Canada line was at capacity the day it opened; by the way, the Canada line costs about two to three times as much to operate than comparable transit lines.

ai???An overall 7.4 out of 10 customer satisfaction rating in the last quarter.

Zwei replies: Only 7.4 out of 10, Hmmm. I wonder how customer satisfaction was after yesterday’s SkyTrain fiasco?

Focusing on a few faults while ignoring these performance results is like berating someone who consistently wins the biggest races on the continent because they have dirty shorts.

Zwei replies: A few faults, well is TransLink is as faulty as this article, god help us all.

For $0.34 a day per household, we can add to this success, or we can fixate on a few faults and plunge this region into a decade of congestion, pollution, increasing road deaths and injuries, declining public health and vastly higher public spending to accommodate more cars.

Zwei replies: Yes, for $0.34 a day, Vancouver can have a spiffy new subway under Broadway and the rest of the region can go fish!


Peter Ladner (pladner@biv.com) is a co-founder of Business in Vancouver.

Leave A Comment