TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond says regional transportation authority is losing $75 million per month

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      TransLink is the latest public body to say its needs emergency relief funding from the federal and provincial governments. 

      A day after Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart issued this plea on behalf of his city, the regional transportation authority's CEO says his organization is also seeking help.

      In the absence of this, Kevin Desmond declared that Metro Vancouver commuters will experience "unprecedented cuts to transit services".

      "We've done the best we can to keep essential services operating for those workers who need it, to get to their workplaces, but we're losing $75 million per month on our current trajectory," Desmond said in a TransLink news release.

      "We will face cash-flow issues within weeks," he continued. "It's a dire situation which will force us to cancel entire routes and significantly reduce service levels on all transit modes, meaning far longer wait times and much more crowding for customers."

      TransLink relied heavily on farebox revenue ($638 million) and various taxes ($819.4 million) to pay its bills in 2018, the last year for which figures are available. 

      The tax revenue came from a variety of sources: fuel ($351.4 million), property ($355.8 million), parking ($73.2 million), hydro levy ($21.1 million) and replacement taxes ($17.9 million).

      Fuel taxes and fare revenue have sharply declined during the pandemic.

      It remains to be seen whether many property owners will default on their taxes as a result of losing their jobs.

      Bus service is currently free in Metro Vancouver, which enables passengers to enter through rear doors to promote physical distancing.

      The chair of the TransLink Mayors' Council, Jonathan Coté, warned that without a federal or provincial emergency funding, more than 75,000 people could find themselves "stranded".

      "Our transit system will also be critical during the COVID-19 recovery phase," he added, "and we must ensure that it's able to quickly shift back to full-service capacity when people start returning to work."

      Desmond and Coté's comments came less than five months after the regional transportation authority's bus company reached a three-year contract agreement with two Unifor locals exceeding the provincial sustainable services negotiating mandate.

      TransLink justified this by making the case that Coast Mountain Bus Company was not a public-sector employer.

      Kevin Desmond did not make any mention of the future of the Broadway subway or the Surrey Skytrain extension in today's remarks.
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      TransLink will proceed with rapid-transit projects

      A former director of planning in Vancouver, Brent Toderian, told the Straight by phone that when the pandemic ends, there will still be a critical need to promote alternatives to the automobile.

      "If we give up on public transit, we're in bigger trouble than we probably understand," Toderian said. "Our region only functions with public transit as a popular choice. Our mitigation of climate change is only possible with public transit as a possible choice."

      TransLink has secured federal and provincial funding to proceed with a $2.83-billion subway project connecting VCC-Clark Station with Arbutus and West Broadway.

      In addition, funding is in place for a $1.6-billion above-ground SkyTrain extension from King George Station to the Fleetwood area of Surrey.

      Desmond did not comment on whether the current operational-funding predicament could have any impact on these capital projects.

      However, if bus service to SkyTrain stations is curtailed, that would diminish ridership, providing less farebox revenue that would contain future borrowing costs.

      Toderian said that he's "always worried about how fiscal challenges will affect public-transit investment".

      But he remained adamant that public transit, walking, and cycling must remain a priority.

      "We can't make ourselves more safe from pandemics by making ourselves more vulnerable to climate change," Toderian said. "That's a recipe for disaster."