July 3, 2019

The Sky’s the Limit for Kevin Desmond, CEO of North America’s Transit Ridership Leader

There’s no two ways about it — TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transit authority, is #1 in North America for year-over-year transit ridership growth. Seattle’s King County Transit is #2. And Kevin Desmond has led them both.

Desmond, now in his 4th year at the TransLink helm, didn’t emerge as a transit planning professional as a result of education, nepotism, or some cultish, hippie-era, preternatural NUMTOT trip (though, thanks to Gord, he’s now officially hip to the ELMTOT jive).

No, Desmond came to transit by mistake. An upbringing in the Bronx — OK, technically Westchester County, but he could walk to the #5 Dyer Avenue train — was followed by various positions Mayor’s Office of Operations during the mayoralty of Ed Koch, working with New York City agencies implementing public policy.

You know, typical New York stuff, like counting trees (there were 800,000), and helping untangle a parking revenue corruption scandal (big money). Which eventually led to an invitation to join the Department of Customer Services at New York City Transit. And so began Desmond’s love affair with transit — as he credits it, a cloying mixture of public policy, public service, and running a business. His great challenge in ’80s and ’90s New York City? Trying to figure out how to drive transit ridership up in a mega-city of abundant transportation options. His focus was to paint transit as a desirable consumer product, and to do so with the support of “a lean mean, growth-oriented consumer product organization”. And it worked.

Desmond tells Gord all the stories…of how he tried to bring more attention, and money, to the bus system in New York, when the subway tended to suck up all the oxygen….what prompted him to swap coasts in what eventually became a 12-year stint as chief executive of King County Transit in Washington State…how his efforts in the Puget Sound region culminated in a successful $54 billion tax package ballot measure for transit that included a multi-phase plan for high-capacity light rail (jealous much?)…and what ultimately led him to Vancouver.

He also waxes on about Transport 2050, the largest public engagement in TransLink’s history. But what we really wanted to know was what Desmond thinks of ride-hailing players like Uber and Lyft, slagged by Price Talks guests (among many, many others) as malignant, transit-killing tumours on the rumps of cities across the continent.

“Not something to be feared,” he claims. Why? You’ll have to listen to find out.

The Sky’s the Limit for Kevin Desmond, CEO of North America’s Transit Ridership Leader

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  1. I’ve said it many times: Translink is the best transit system in the English-speaking world. Anybody who disagrees simply does not know. Of course it’s imperfect, but outside of Western Europe and Japan, it does not get better. Mr. Desmond’s efforts have only improved it.

  2. Dan, it is a good system and I am proud of it but it is not (and should not be expected to be) the best in the English speaking world. Clearly it is not in the same league as London, it is also not in Toronto’s league but gaining fast. It is even a long ways off the crumbling system in New York. What it does have is momentum if we follow through with our plans it may become one of the best in the English speaking world.

    1. Bus lanes, – traffic light priority and large enough bus shelters would be a big improvement at little cost— —- bus lanes would reduce costs along with better service—-These are municipal instead of translink responsibility.—– The existing system encourages buck passing . C O V s previous Visionless council pretended to be to be transit friendly by talking about a subway instead of action on its own turf. —— CO V s new green ??? council moved the 250 &253 bus terminus making people stand in the rain instead of sitting in a shelter

    2. Nope. It’s better than both of those systems. It’s a smaller system that serves a smaller region than those cities, but the reach and frequency of transit across the entire region is superior to TTC and TfL. Those agencies are fine and provide good central-city service, but Translink provides better overall suburban service + urban service. It’s not even close.

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