July 20, 2020

Kevin Desmond: Transit = Urban Recovery


PT: One of Translink’s most valuable assets is its CEO, Kevin Desmond.  He was the needed leader after the appalling debacle of the BC Liberal’s imposed referendum, he led the agency to the best performance in North America, and he has an even bigger challenge in restoring confidence and ridership in the Covid era, current- and post-.  (It’s on the way; ridership is already up about 40 percent.)

Here’s his latest call to action (with my added emphasis in bold) in Linked-in here:


Kevin Desmond: COVID-19 has dimmed the vibrancy of urban centres across the globe and spurred some to question whether we are witnessing “the end of cities.”

The pandemic has disrupted our lives in so many ways that it’s hard to predict what tomorrow will bring, let alone which changes will become permanent. However, I firmly believe that cities will rise again – with a recovery driven by transit.

After all, cities have been at the heart of every prosperous society. We are, as Harvard economist Edward Glaeser puts it, “an urban species,” living off the fruits of collaboration that cities – and public transportation – provide.

But the pandemic is testing the key tenets of what makes cities and transit work, namely bringing people together. Public transport is facing a crisis unlike any other since the late-1940s. What then took place over two decades – an 80 per cent erosion in transit ridership, brought on by the rise of the personal car and suburbia – was realized in just two weeks earlier this year, as COVID-19 emerged. In response, public health measures have kept people safe, but have stunted transit.

As a society, we can’t afford to repeat the same mistakes and allow transit to whither.  Effective public transport is synonymous with equitable and sustainable urban development. Metro Vancouver was a leader on this front before the pandemic, with record-setting ridership that led North America. Notably, the sharpest increase in transit ridership was in communities outside the City of Vancouver.

Unfortunately, in the short-term, I believe the return of traffic congestion is inevitable. We have already witnessed a dramatic decline in transit ridership and a sharp rebound in traffic congestion. Early data show that driving in Metro Vancouver is already up by around four per cent compared to one year ago. I think we can all agree the future we don’t want is one with more congestion.

That’s why it’s critical that we rebuild public confidence in the safety of transit, through initiatives such as TransLink’s Safe Operating Action Plan and our recently launched Open Call for Innovation, focused on improving the cleanliness and safety of the system. Now is the time for our industry, worldwide and here in the Lower Mainland, to seek out and embrace innovations.

Looking beyond the immediate future, we need to contemplate whether the rapid societal changes initiated by this crisis, such as social distancing and tele-commuting, will persist. If so, that will have significant implications on transit ridership – a crucial consideration for TransLink, which depends heavily on fares for operating revenue.

People biking on a bike and walk-only street


We also need to ask: how might our urban landscapes change? Already we’ve seen cities reimagining their streetscapes to create more space for pedestrians, cyclists, and restaurants. Many of these changes could positively improve the livability and vibrancy of our cities I believe we need to consider how transit can complement these measures and contribute to this new urban experience.

Time will tell which changes will hold, but TransLink welcomes conversations on how our region can increase efficiency while balancing diverse priorities throughout the transportation system. Improving the livability of Metro Vancouver is central to our mission and drives our organization every day.

As we help the region Build Back Better, I believe the region’s values – which we learned about through our largest-ever engagement in Transport 2050 – will endure and help inform the decisions we need to make together. Transport 2050 will also help us navigate the next 30 years, with its inevitable population and economic growth, and face the trio of challenges presented by affordability, congestion, and climate change.

three panels depicting the regions values of nature, accessibility, and more transit


Now, more than ever, we need to keep our bold vision for the future alive and create a vision for sustainable transportation in 2050. We need to advance our plans to build high-capacity transit and capital projects, which create jobs and economic activity for our region. And we need to continue working with partners to ensure there is a plethora of mobility options for all people in the Lower Mainland.

The pandemic will bend our trajectory, but ultimately, we remain committed to the same bold vision for transportation. In the end, vibrant public transportation isn’t just a symbol for the comeback of cities, it’s not even a key ingredient. Transit is urban recovery.

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  1. Yes he is a capable individual but obviously can spend only the money he has.

    Why was the referendum an “appalling debacle”? People chose to not have PST raised.

    Other option could have been reduced salaries and benefits of far too much staff in Metrovan or province, or higher parking fees or a per km charge for vehicles, but those were not offered as a choice, albeit sensible.

    Yes we need far more transit. The question is, of course: who is paying for it? One very obvious source would be cars and trucks as we want less of them AND less use of them. As such we ought to increase fees for road use in both its state, parked and driven on, given more and more EVs, fuel efficient cars and online shopping with more delivery trucks that use the roads for free. Where is this debate ?

    1. You partially answered your own question. It was a debacle because it was designed to fail, designed to be divisive and did not involve debate about a variety of funding options.

      In that latter the NDP have also been a complete failure chasing votes by rejecting road pricing.

      I heard about the gong show in Anmore/Belcarra this weekend. I witnessed it for myself at Spanish Bank. Cars parked everywhere no matter how illegal. The tow trucks couldn’t yank them fast enough. Appalling bus service to our beaches and, as we all know, appalling cycling infrastructure along many of our parks and beaches. No concern at the PB that massive swaths of Spanish Bank is paved over for cars while cyclists duke it out with pedestrians on poorly marked gravel paths.

      If they want to solve that parking issue they need to charge for parking as a simple start.

      1. the above comment seems more politically motivated than driven by facts.

        last time I have checked, all the free parking along Locarno and Spanish bank, seems to fell into the City of Vancouver jurisdiction. The bike lane too…

        sure you could still advocate to have the bike lane build right on the beach sand by the park board.
        but first advocating something like done at beach avenue in the west-end , be on North West marine drive and/or arbutus could be already excellent and could not be done at expense of precious park land (and it doesn’t need to scapegoating inaction on another jurisdiction, what seems the favorite past time in Vancouver).

        Regarding bus service, there is the bus 42… hopefully the service will be much more attractive when this one will be connecting to the Broadway subway,

        I assume detouring bus 84 full of student in a hurry to get to UBC to please a beach goers for a handful of week-end in a year was tongue in cheek. …but I am afraid I am wrong

        1. As a single parent with no car (before Vancouver car shares) West side beaches such as Spanish were basically inaccessible to me and my daughter when she was younger. Actual bus service to the beach would have been a godsend.

          What kind of city doesn’t provide good public transit to public beaches?

          (Skytrain to UBC should have hugged the shoreline all the way to the campus and it would have been an amazing service that didn’t treat transit users as embarrassing urban denizens relegated to dark and dull tunnels)

          1. Gotta disagree on that one. Something as expensive as SkyTrain has to maximize its catchment area so cutting it in half physically is not wise. Then cutting it in half again temporally leaves it with 1/4 its potential ridership.

            LRT to UBC on a similar alignment as the proposed SkyTrain would get people out of the dark tunnels, create a customer base for local business, cost half as much and meet demand for four decades – after which a second route along the 41st corridor could be added for better resilience.

            The beaches only draw big numbers for half the year. Buses would work very well.

          2. The technology used as a people mover isn’t the issue for me. I think there’s money enough for all our favourites, and tech changes and is updated anyway.

            It is quite literally the principle of the thing. Stuff commuters in a hole so that empty homes have an unobstructed view? Wonder why no one wants to ride transit in a dank noisy hole through the ground given even a slighter ‘better’ alternative?

            Pull the string on that sweater and we see how quickly protestations of green transportation taking top billing unravel (to mash metaphors unapologetically) and leave a naked double standard.

          3. Unfortunately the UBC subway is at least a decade, likely more, away. It ends at Arbutus in 2025. At least it ought to go to Alma to connect the massive Jericho development there on federal/Musqueam land. Then you could walk to Spanish Banks from there, or perhaps they swing it closer to 4th Ave through that development before it heads up the hill to UBC. We shall see.

            Initial plans for Jericho Lands here but still very preliminary. https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/jericho-lands.aspx .. Likely somewhat similar to Lelem / formerly Block F at UBC (but far bigger – THE biggest development site in City of Vancouver actually) ie mix of highrise and midrise with greenspace, rentals, subsidized housing and high end condos.

            Yes more paved bike lanes and more (paid) parking at Spanish Banks would help, perhaps a one way road only with parking on both sides.

      2. “last time I have checked, all the free parking along Locarno and Spanish bank, seems to fell into the City of Vancouver jurisdiction. The bike lane too…”

        The Locarno parking lot is within the City. Also, the parking lot immediately after the east concession.

        All the Spanish Banks parking lots after the west concession are outside the City. The roads there are maintained by MoTI.

        Agree that there should be a charge for parking, in all of those lots. And vehicles parked in the (painted) bike lane should be impounded.

        There is talk of the need for a levee given that the road has been washed out by storm surges more than once. A raised levee along the general route of the gravel path could have paths on top of it for all modes.

        1. The road has been “washed out”? That implies washed away which is certainly not the case. Indeed the greater threat to it tehse days seems to be from above, from mudlsides.

          1. Seawater damaged the road base, and that caused the pavement to break up prematurely. That is why it got repaved again, both the CoV section and the MoTI section. This cycle is expected to repeat.

    2. Show us the math that would demonstrate reducing salaries of some civil servants could provide the amount of funding required for transit improvements. If you can’t, please stop treating us like gullible Trump voters and repeating nonsense that sounds good for 2.5 seconds before the numbers fail to add up.

      1. Most civil servants are significantly overpaid given benefits like DB pensions and extended healthcare AND very high job security esp now Post Covid. Salaries & benefits is THE biggest budget item in all cities, roughly 75% of any city’s budget. If you want to find savings you start in the biggest line items: personnel. Then you’d have plenty of $s to invest in an almost $1.6B budget in Vancouver alone ! So if $1.2B is wages and benefits and you cut 20% of that that is almost 1/4 billion $s PER YEAR that could be invested into transit or affordable housing.

        Don;t look only at always increasing revenue ie taxes but also at cutting expenses to appropriate levels.

        On the provincial level healthcare and education are the biggest budget lone items, together over 60% of the entire budget and almost all of it is wages & benefits !

        Lack of affordable housing or poor transit: look no further than CUPE’s insatiable wage demands !!

        1. Next you should cut nurses wages because the world hasn’t cured cancer. It just makes sense.

          Maybe developers should curb their expectations until we fix homelessness.

          Universalize your idea to see how silly it is.

        2. Truth. Start with cops. Huge drain on municipal budgets where a fourth year employee makes over 100k. Cut salaries in half, legislate them back to work if they refuse and bring in the rcmp to enforce.

          1. Indeed many cops are overpaid as are fire “fighters”, nurses or teachers. Nurses milk the system for overtime, and routinely make over 100K even as a 2-3 year nurse. Teachers have 3 months off a year and now work 50% with online classes only starting at 65K to make 100K within a decade even in small towns. Fire “fighters” ought to be paid for real risk taken, ie when in action, not full pay sitting around 80% of the time, then showing up with 3 trucks for a false alarm or minor car accident with 2 paramedics too, plus moon lighting on their 4 days off in various positions such as construction.

            If Translink or homeless groups need money it is easily found in the ~$1.2B salary and benefit budget of City of Vancouver (plus the other 21 Metrovan budgets or provincial budget equally bloated) if leaders were actually tough enough to trim the excessive payroll a bit, esp post Covid with higher unemployment and thus, far lower starting wages. A 20% cut is in order for most jobs, or more in some such as BC Ferries or BC Liquorstore employees.

  2. Sadly, Kevin Desmond is selling tripe to keep his six figured salary.

    The problem is that TransLink operates an extremely user unfriendly transit service which the Covid-19 pandemic has shown former transit users of the joys of commuting by car. Many will not return to transit.

    The major problem is the obsolete SkyTrain (name of the regional light-metro system) light-metro which is far too expensive to extend to form the network that would attract the motorist from the car. As well the entire bus system is so designed to force people onto the moving ‘spam cans”, thus forcing user unfriendly transfers to bolster “boarding’s” to impress politicians.

    Light-metro is obsolete, made obsolete in the 1980’s by light rail, TransLink uses the now very obsolete and many timed renamed proprietary Movia Automatic Light Metro system on the Expo and Millennium Lines.

    Sorry Kevin, your whitewash of MALM may work in Vancouver, but not internationally, as there is no market for the LIM powered mini-metro and Vancouver is the only of seven cities that use MALM.

    Using a proprietary light metro means there is no possibility of using cheaper rights-of-way’s in the burb’s and extending the light-metro in Surrey is not and will not be cost effective.

    The same is true of the Broadway subway, which is being built on a route with about one third the ridership needed to justify a subway elsewhere. This means huge subsidies will be needed, on top of the estimated $40 million in operating costs for the subway. By the way Kevin, being American means you do not have a real knowledge of transit as American transit types love subways and the prestige they bring in. But at the same time you ignore the fact that subways cost a lot to operate and as well, they tend to force people off transit, as found in Germany and France.

    And please, do not insult the public by giving “boarding’s” as ridership as you well know the fragmented transit system demands people transfer and every time a person transfers it is another boarding. it would be better to use “unique use” of the compass Card and yes, i know, it would give a much lower number, but of course you want to impress politicians with the highest number possible, to obtain more and more money to build more and more expensive transit.

    By the way, on the subject of honesty, please stop fibbing that Broadway being the heaviest used transit corridor in Canada and/or North America, it is not and when TransLink was faced with possible legal action due to the oft repeated phrase, said in a letter that “Broadway was their most congested transit route”.

    Sound more like bad management, where a $3 billion solution is asked for when a $100 million solution will suffice.

    And please stop the fibbing about rapid transit, as rapid transit does not work well; does not attract ridership (SkyTrain has never achieved anywhere the modal shift which one would expect for the investment and why no one wants it) and rapid transit is not green, rather it is light rail which achieves this and more. SkyTrain is a light metro and only seven of the now called proprietary MALM systems have been sold in the past 40 years.

    By the way Kevin, ALRT/MALM was first conceived to mitigate the high cost of subway construction so it has become somewhat of a oxymoron in Vancouver. History is a bitch isn’t it, we forget it of ignore it and then we repeat it.

    Good transit is necessary for the modern city, but in Vancouver we have bad transit, compounded by an inept operating authority and very weak politicians, who treat the public as rubes, whose pockets can be picked at will.

    SkyTrain will never achieve what you portray it the public, rather it will bankrupt TransLink and the taxpayer’s, but you will be enjoying your six figure pension by that time, old chum.

    1. I have to agree. Skytrain-and-Towers is a big reason why we have a Housing Crisis. Combining government mega-projects and private mega-projects on one site lifts the price of land. The system is too expensive, and at 15,000 pphpd undersized, to deliver the next phase of development in our regions (MetroVan + FVRD). We need to build a Regional Transit System, probably operated by BC Transit. Broadway tunnel or not, Skytrain is more or less fully built out.

    2. So what is the answer then? Switch SkyTrain ought for different rails and cars? That would solve the issue ? It can;t be that simple, surely?

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