Editorial: In defence of TransLink

Why the Lower Mainland's most hated institution deserves a break

May 18, 2016

By Trevor Melanson

On March 21, Kevin Desmond, former general manager for Seattle’s King County Metro Transit, took on what might be considered an unenviable role as the new CEO of TransLink. I say unenviable because winning this particular position is a bit like inheriting the Iron Throne at King’s Landing—minus the fleeting glory. According to an Insights West survey from last July, fully three quarters of Metro Vancouverites do not trust TransLink to do its job, while 62 percent said reforming the organization was the most pressing transit concern facing this city (as opposed to, say, funding for new SkyTrain lines).

Translink infographic2

That survey came after last year’s crushing referendum defeat, in which support for the “Yes” side went down in flames as a campaign against TransLink’s perceived incompetency caught fire. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation called TransLink “one of the country’s most wasteful government agencies,” and the Insights West survey suggests that many Vancouverites agree. Repeated system-wide SkyTrain shutdowns last year certainly didn’t help matters, nor have hiccups with the rollout of the long-awaited Compass card.

But is TransLink really worse than other transit authorities? A 2015 study on the matter suggests quite the contrary. According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s research, TransLink scores highly on three key efficiency measures: how much it subsidizes each passenger trip, how much it subsidizes each kilometre travelled, and its fare box recovery ratio. When it came to the latter, only the Toronto Transit Commission topped TransLink among North American cities. In other words, TransLink, arch nemesis of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is spending fewer taxpayer dollars doing its job than the majority of its peers.

It’s safe to assume that Kevin Desmond already knows this—and what his real challenge is. As he told media in February, “I understand that TransLink has suffered a bruise to its brand.” Now he just needs to convince locals that TransLink isn’t actually the bloated wastrel its critics would have us believe. Fair or not, he has his work cut out for him.

Follow @trevormelanson

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