After Ian Jarvis, TransLink needs a CEO who will champion transit, fight global warming, and influence Christy Clark

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      Not long after TransLink was created, I filed a freedom-of-information request to find out how much the transportation authority was paying on company cars for its executives.

      It turned out that TransLink spent $741 per month to lease a Chrysler Intrepid for the CEO at the time, Ken Dobell.

      Ian Jarvis, then TransLink's vice president of finance, drove a more modest Honda Accord at $460.95 per month. His free car came courtesy of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, which was Jarvis's previous employer.

      Around the same time, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, took away free cars for executives of Transport for London. Livingstone did this because he wanted the managers to have more empathy for transit riders.

      It was typical of TransLink in those days not to follow suit.

      Dobell went on to become deputy minister to former premier Gordon Campbell and later became the lobbyist for Cubic Transportation Systems. Cubic sold the Compass-card system to TransLink.

      That's turned out to be a fiasco. Introduction of the Compass card has been repeatedly delayed.

      My favourite TransLink quote on Compass cards came from spokesperson Jiana Ling in early September 2013: "We've always said implementation will begin in 2013 and that a full launch will happen closer to 2014."

      Today if you go to the FAQs about Compass on the TransLink website, it states: "Excitement is building for the launch of Compass! Please visit our timelines page for the most up-to-date information on the transition plans."

      On the timelines page, it says U-Pass BC users "will be transitioned to Compass in waves from January to July, 2015".

      "The fare gates will remain open until the Compass system is in full swing. We'll give you plenty of notice before the gates close, so that you know when, where and how to get your Compass Card."

      The Compass system was created to replace the purchase of FareSavers booklets by allowing transit passengers to place a card against a card reader. The system would reserve a three-zone fare, but users would reduce that by "tapping out" when they left the transit vehicle.

      The Vancouver Sun reported in October that problems with this tapping-out function are a major reason why the $194-million Compass program has endured such lengthy delays.

      This is costing massive sums because TransLink must continue operating its existing systems for a much longer period than anticipated. This is negating savings that would have been accrued by launching the new program.

      Why didn't TransLink choose another system?

      TransLink could have undoubtedly bought a system that works. One that would be up and running today could have been purchased from the Paris-based Thales Group, which is Cubic's chief rival in this area.

      TransLink has demonstrated confidence in the Thales Group in the past. Two years ago, the corporation was chosen to provide signalling services on the Evergreen Line and it already provides the same service on the Canada, Millennium, and Expo lines.

      Effective signalling is essential to ensure that trains don't collide into one another—and we haven't seen that occur once in all the years that SkyTrain has been operating in the Lower Mainland.

      The Thales Group has also sold fare-gate systems around the world. This includes cities with far more serious security problems and worse soccer hooliganism than exist in Vancouver.

      But hey, the Thales Group never hired a lobbyist who was a former CEO and the former boss of Jarvis, let alone the former deputy minister to a B.C. Liberal premier.

      TransLink looks for a new CEO

      Today, TransLink's unelected chair, Marcella Szel, announced that Jarvis has "stepped aside" as CEO to become an adviser to the board of directors until his contract expires in June 2016. Doug Allen, former CEO of the company that operates the Canada Line, will become the interim CEO.

      Jarvis, a somewhat low-key accountant and former senior bureaucrat at the Greater Vancouver Regional District, was shuffled over to become TransLink's chief bean counter when the regional transportation authority was created in the late 1990s.

      In the early days of TransLink, I used to feel sorry for Jarvis because I knew that politicians then on the board were burdening the transportation authority with massive debts through some questionable capital investments.

      Among them was the tolled Golden Ears Bridge, a public-private partnership. It requires TransLink subsidies of up to $45 million per year because vehicle counts never came close to meeting early forecasts.

      TransLink also gave SFU students the U-Pass program (and later extended it to other campuses) primarily because ridership on the Millennium Line was so low that something had to be done to fix this problem. U-Pass, which offers deep discounts to students, has cost TransLink a considerable amount of money over the years. That's because higher ridership resulting from the student transit pass increased operating costs.

      Of course, had the NDP government built the Millennium Line where there was passenger demand—rather than where few people lived—ridership wouldn't have been such a problem. And the discounts could have then been made smaller for the postsecondary students.

      I can imagine the thoughts going through Jarvis's mind as the vice president of finance when he realized that his superiors planned to extend the U-Pass program to an increasing number of postsecondary institutions.

      Jarvis remained in his post as TransLink's head of finance when Tom Prendergast was brought in from New York City at $300,000 per year to solve TransLink's woes in July 2008.

      Prendergast arrived as CEO just as oil prices were peaking at $147 per barrel. He left 15 months later as the world economy was only beginning to climb out of a near-global meltdown and HandyDart drivers were on strike.

      Jarvis was tapped as his replacement, even though he never had a liking for the spotlight. Usually when Jarvis made the news, it was because the board of directors had jacked up his salary or because the SkyTrain system had failed the public.

      TransLink lets itself be defined by Jordan Bateman

      In 2013, Jarvis was paid $468,015, including $83,700 in bonuses. It made him a big fat target for Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

      In recent years, it's been appalling to see the rising cost of the Transit Police. The force was created and given weapons, in part, to ward off terrorist threats in the lead-up to the Olympics. But once in place, there weren't going to be any serious rollbacks.

      Once again, Bateman has had a jolly time pointing out how many of the Transit Police constables are paid more than $100,000 per year. He likes calling them glorified fare checkers, invariably leading to a heated response from whoever is acting as the force's media spokesperson.

      Jarvis bears some responsibility for these public-relations problems, but ultimately, the real fault lies with TransLink's board of directors.

      There have been successes during Jarvis's tenure, which might come as a shock to some. Ridership increased sharply after the Olympics, helped along, of course, by the creation of the Canada Line. Labour relations seem to have improved markedly since the dreadful bus drivers' strike of 2001.

      In addition, the TransLink Mayors' Council did a remarkable job in arriving at a consensus regarding the upcoming plebiscite question. This came after the municipal politicians were dealt a joker by Premier Christy Clark in the form of her campaign promise to hold a vote.

      But TransLink has never effectively fought back against its critics, notably Bateman, who's serving the interest of car dealers by constantly trashing the regional transportation authority. 

      By turning TransLink into an object of public ridicule, Bateman is making it hard for TransLink and its allies to generate sufficient goodwill to win public support  for major capital expenditures on transit infrastructure.

      Jarvis rarely spoke to reporters

      Jarvis may be good at arithmetic, but he was pretty bad at managing public perceptions. And TransLink has a history of making enemies out of potential allies over the years.

      Witness its decision to go to the Supreme Court of Canada in a silly and unsuccessful attempt to stop the B.C. Teachers' Federation and Canadian Federation of Students from placing advertisements on the transit system. 

      The case was launched before Jarvis became CEO, but it reflected upper management's obstinacy in that era. TransLink also threw up obstacles to newspaper publishers hoping to distribute papers on its property. And Transit Police angered people who support immigrants' rights by reporting undocumented migrants caught in fare checks to the Canadian Border Services Agency, facilitating their deportation.

      Transit Police even took exception to a Straight staffer tweeting about fare checks on a bus travelling west on Broadway. The ensuing story elicited many critical comments about the cops' heavy-handed approach and TransLink's desire to generate revenue.

      On the upside, TransLink has effectively marshalled SFU staff in recent years to present the case for mobility pricing and greater investments in transit infrastructure. The head of SFU's city program, Gordon Price, is one of the best friends TransLink has ever had.

      But in the end, Jarvis never thought media relations were his job, so he rarely spoke to reporters. That's unheard-of for most CEOs in the 21st century. And he paid a big price, particularly in the pages of the Vancouver Province newspaper.

      Former CEO Ian Jarvis wasn't well-known to the public, despite appearing in the Buzzer.

      He finally made himself available to the media in a more substantial way after the damage had been done by his critics. He was recently interviewed by Rod Mickleburgh for an upcoming BCBusiness article, which was posted on the magazine's website today. Too little, too late.

      Fuel taxes are the elephant in the room

      One of the key issues vexing TransLink is its heavy reliance on fuel taxes. That's a problem when oil prices yo-yo up and down and drivers are buying more fuel-efficient cars, including electric and hybrid vehicles.

      TransLink currently collects 17 cents per litre. In 2013, I wrote an article pointing out that this revenue covered 23 percent of TransLink's expenses.

      Here's the conundrum that faced Jarvis. If he succeeded in getting more people out of their cars and onto the transit system, fuel-tax revenues would fall and TransLink could face an operating deficit.

      Because the fuel tax is based on consumption, the amount generated varies with the price of gas, which is a highly elastic product. Therefore, it's hard to predict how much money will come in.

      TransLink fuel-tax revenues have been affected in recent years as consumption fell from more than 2.2 billion litres in 2007 to just 2 billion litres by 2013.

      The transportation's 2014 base plan and outlook forecast that fuel consumption would fall by just 100 million litres from the current level by 2023. But who knows how realistic that is, given the surge in electric vehicles coming onto the market? 

      As the Straight's automotive columnist Ted Laturnus recently reported, there are a half-dozen fully electric vehicle models already on the roads.

      So what's needed in the next CEO of TransLink?

      It would help if the new boss of TransLink would be a strong advocate for transit riders and talked about climate change.

      This would win him or her friends in the environmental community, which is growing stronger as realization sets in that we're in for serious trouble.

      A more vocal CEO would also inspire TransLink staff to realize that they have an important mission: to help this region bridge the transition to a very uncertain future.

      The next CEO of TransLink will have to be adept at working with senior levels of government because that's where the bulk of the money will come from to pay for new rapid-transit projects in Surrey and Vancouver.

      The next CEO will also have to persuade Premier Christy Clark that it's a colossal waste of money to spend precious transportation funds on another bridge across the Fraser River that will promote more sprawl and more automobile use.

      This new chief executive will have to recognize who the premier listens to in the private sector—and convince these people that it's not in their interest to encourage her to build this bridge.

      Most importantly, the next CEO should try to figure out how the organization can wean itself off fuel-tax revenues because this funding source may not be so reliable in the future. In addition, relying on the gas tax undermines a core mission of TransLink because if it successfully gets people out of their cars, it hurts the organization's bottom line.

      And for the sake of perception, this new CEO should be photographed on a regular basis riding the transit system. He or she should also order other senior staff to ride the transit system and tweet from the transit system so the public and TransLink staff get the impression that the managers are sharing their experiences.

      A good start for the next CEO would be to copy Ken Livingstone's strategy of dumping car allowances for senior executives.

      Another way to elicit goodwill would be to ensure that nobody at TransLink makes $300,000 or more a year. Anything above that is plainly obscene to most Lower Mainland residents. And for goodness sakes, figure out a way to cut spending on Transit Police.

      Ian Jarvis wasn't prepared to do these things, so he's gone. Let's hope his successor doesn't make the same mistakes.




      Feb 11, 2015 at 5:46pm

      I think the next CEO ought to be paid at least 50% less than the Prime Minister of Canada.

      Currently the Translink CEO is paid $100K + MORE than the PM of Canada.

      This is a Government Monopoly not a competitive Private Sector CEO position in any event the CEO is basically a rubber stamp for the Government of the day in this case, he/she does not have much choice.

      Yes get rid of Car allowance and paid parking stalls for all Translink staff.

      There is about $250 to $300 million that can be easily reallocated within the current Translink budget to increase capacity.

      |Instead Compass is taking $25+ million at least per year (to save $7 to $8 Million per year in "fare evasion" ) not counting the $200 million pissed down the drain currently.

      Until the waste is fixed I'm voting No Thanks to the 0.5% increase which I showed above can be easily found within the Translink current operating (waste) Budget.

      Frank Bucholtz

      Feb 11, 2015 at 10:36pm

      Charlie hit the nail on the head in so many ways with this article. Recently, it was revealed how fat the car allowances were for senior TransLink executives. They should be riding transit, and if using cars, get no allowances. Agree totally with maximum salary of $300,000. The next CEO does have to be a strong advocate for the transit and entire transportation system. Tom Prendergast was ready to do so, but he smelled trouble with the provincial government and dysfunction with the myriad of non-elected boards and territorial, partisan and crusading mayors, and went on to New York, where he is CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and works with politicians and citizens who understand the importance of effective and affordable mass transit (and where there are parking lots at many train stations). The Golden Ears Bridge would not be the money pit it has become if there was a fair and balanced approach to tolling in this region, but piecemeal tolls on a few new projects are both unfair and short-sighted. Thanks for some very good reminders of the past, and warnings about what to look out for in the future. TransLink can have a future, but it must get rid of meddling provincial politicians, be given enough taxing authority, be accountable and transparent, treat all parts of the region fairly and hire senior executives who truly understand how transit works, and are ready to go to bat for the users.


      Feb 12, 2015 at 12:56am

      It's unfortunate that he had to step aside, but it's more insane that they're paying someone 35K/mo in his stead while a replacement is found.

      Like, nobody likes spending money that is unnecessary, and this current action of the CEO stepping aside was probably pushed on him by the Mayors or even the Province.

      And in all likliness this is just going to sew more anger from the "No" side. Thank Mr.Bateman for screwing the lower mainland. Tell him to run for office or get out of BC.

      Tommy Khang

      Feb 12, 2015 at 8:30am

      My right wing credit about to go into the toilet but I agree with Charlie on this one. Translink is very out of touch with the people that use it on a daily basis and having a more down to earth CEO who actually uses the system would help immensely.

      Likely going to be someone from Toronto, Montreal or maybe New York.

      @ charlie smith - editor of GS or is that BS?

      Feb 12, 2015 at 10:44am

      You started out fine and then went into the usual apologist-ikish, well TransLink, isn't really that bad. There are no successes for transit here. When you spend billions of dollars on a transit system requiring massive infrastructure costs to run the transit vehicles in the air or below ground you don't have the money to actually run much transit capacity (trains) to move people. Canada Line is bus fed and if you take the buses transferring the students paying $35 monthly, you don’t have many riders which are falling or haven’t you noticed.

      Let’s get this straight, Georgia Straight, for the longest time transit has wrongly been offered as the solution to road congestion and air pollution. If you bother to look at the data, we have the worst road congestion and the filthiest air on bus routes. I know that the many idealist flakes who the Georgia Straight likes to let write garbage about transit solving road congestion are never going to admit that possibly, transit is nothing more than a welfare program. It hurts their pride to admit that they are free loaders living off drivers paying taxes to put them on transit. They theories are just that theories and contradict reality. Yes you can jam millions of people onto transit in Tokyo and Hong Kong. We are in Canada where we value our space and privacy. We aren’t ants loving the insane life in the eastern society.

      With electric cars where is the environment argument for transit? How is transit working to reduce road congestion? I don’t know whether you will allow this comment and don’t really care. The silent majority aren’t as stupid as you think. For the GS to hand pick what readers read to provide the false image of transit over the years and to let the flakes make their wild claims in the GS has created the disaster here. You are letting your bias towards public transit hide the truth and if you allowed both sides of the debate, the transit proponents would be crushed so you prefer to let the fools talk their crap as road congestion worsens and the air quality suffers.


      Feb 12, 2015 at 10:52am

      What if there is no global warming? Society has been wrong before. It wasn't all that long ago we use to case people around who we thought were witches. All the people mentioned in this article above, are no smarter than you or I. They just want you to think they are.


      Feb 12, 2015 at 12:13pm

      A good article but in my opinion it misses the root of the problem: TransLink's existence. It is a front to shield the BC Government from taking heat over the region's transportation management, nothing more. At issue with the upcoming vote is TransLink's remarkable ability to piss away our hard-earned dollars AND the unaccountable governance model itself. That's why most people are planning to vote "No". Even the great unwashed have their principles and TransLink's ineffectual history and waste has caught up with them. The panic has set in.

      With two CEOs on the payroll now, each with salaries that dwarf the average household income across the region, the brain trust on the TransLink Board has done it again. Their decision does not renew things, it doesn't make bad things go away, it doesn't rewrite history, nor does it reclaim lost revenue: It blows even more money in a lame attempt to dupe voters into thinking a "Yes" vote is the way to go.

      What will benefit the region and all its tax-paying citizens seeking cost-effective transit planning and service is the dissolution of TransLink. Perhaps then, with a real (not imagined) clean sheet of paper, we will be able to adequately fund well-planned transportation for now, and the future. And that will mean involving the professional closet-hiders in Victoria who will have to actually act in the manner their positions warrant. The word we're looking for is "leadership". Todd and Christy aren't going to like that one bit. Tough. So quit.

      I'm right

      Feb 12, 2015 at 12:18pm

      Raise transit fares.

      critical thought

      Feb 12, 2015 at 12:22pm

      The editorial missed a few points:

      1. The next CEO of Translink should publicly acknowledge that replacing Ian Jarvis with her/him is the act of putting lipstick on a pig.

      2. The next CEO of Translink should remind everyone, publicly, that it is the Translink Board of Directors who

      -appoints TransLink Chair and Vice Chair
      - appoints TransLink CEO
      - supervises the management of the affairs of TransLink
      - approves the annual operating budget.

      3. The new Translink CEO should publicly ask how Translink performance and management is improved by having the Board of Directors, who supervised Mr. Jarvis, remain unaltered.

      4. The new Translink CEO should ask, publicly, why the Board (including Mayors Robertson and Hepner) decided to pay for two de facto CEOs rather than give notice to Mr. Jarvis that his contract would not be renewed and beginning the process of searching for his replacement.

      5. The new Translink CEO should ask, publicly, why it is necessary to have an 11 member Board of Directors in addition to a 21 member Mayor's Council in addition to the layers of executives who comprise the bloated management and governance structure of Translink.

      6. The new CEO of Translink should publicly remind everyone that the Council of Mayors is responsible for the following tasks:

      -appointing a Mayors' Council Chair and Vice Chair
      - appointing nine TransLink Board members, from a candidate list presented by the Screening Panel
      - approving variations in TransLink director compensation levels
      - approving TransLink's Executive Compensation Plan

      7. The new Translink CEO, publicly, should ask Mayor Robertson and other long-serving members of the Mayor's Council why they approved the Translink's Executive Compensation Plan.

      Janet Hudgins

      Feb 12, 2015 at 12:55pm

      There's the problem: both Translink and the Clark government are leading BCers off on a false pursuit and neither one has any intention of providing more public transportation.

      The referendum is a ploy that Clark assumes will fail because people are fed up with the squandering habits of Translink, and, there are enough Conservatives who won't pay anything called "Tax;" all of which will vote no.

      They are separate issues, the immediate one the irresponsibility of a government failing to provide constituents' needs that they have paid for. What a mess!