TransLink 2018 - Part 1: Kevin Desmond on regional cooperation

Dec 30 2018, 4:36 am

‘TransLink 2018’ is a four-part Daily Hive end-of-year series on the state and future of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system, based on our recent extensive interview with TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond.

Part 1 discusses Desmond’s thoughts on the importance of regional cooperation and unit, and looking ahead at what is planned for 2019.

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With highly tense debates and geopolitical divisions becoming apparent, the first few Mayors’ Council meetings following the civic election in October have been anything but smooth sailing.

The lightning rod of controversy was, of course, the City of Surrey’s new position on the Surrey Newton-Guildford light rail transit project. But the Mayors’ Council, with 17 of its 23 mayoral members being new, was still able to reach a consensus on the matter in votes on the issue (some begrudgingly, through the weighted vote system).

“Regional consensus in the overall high-level governance of TransLink, particularly from the political bodies, the Mayors’ Council, is in my view essential for the higher level functioning and success of the transit program in the Lower Mainland,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond.

He highlighted how the Mayors’ Council was able to reach a regional consensus on the $2-billion Phase One plan approved in 2015 and the $7.3-billion Phase Two plan approved earlier this year by the previous composition of the Mayors’ Council.

“There are debates, and clearly there are differences in opinion… that is the nature of democracy and business,” he said. “But once they have done their work, and we worked with the Mayors’ Council and the TransLink board, we got very good consensus outcomes meaning the region is able to speak with one voice pretty authoritatively and in this case to the federal and provincial governments, to ensure we are able to leverage the financial capabilities of our two senior governments.”

It goes without saying that the ability to construct the Expo Line’s Fraser Highway extension to Langley Centre, further extend the Millennium Line from Arbutus Street to UBC, and build the new SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola depends on the new board of mayors’ ability to cooperate, agree on additional phases of investment plans, and lobby the federal and provincial governments for funding.

“My objective as the CEO is to do everything in my power to make sure that we are providing the kind of information and guidance to our political leadership to help support consensus outcomes,” said Desmond.

Looking ahead to 2019

TransLink is on track to see another record-breaking year for ridership in 2018, and this growth trend is anticipated to continue through the coming year.

“Our ridership is North American leading and extraordinary, and I have been in this business for a long time. There is nothing else like it right now. It is fuelled by a good economy and fuelled by repeated service increases that we have put into place,” said Desmond.

But he calls the growth a “double-edged sword” as the public transit authority is actually having trouble with keeping up with the rapidly growing demand.

“Obviously there is a lot of latent demand in transit services, and it has been unlocked over the last few years,” he said. “We have been adding a large amount of service and faster than the 10-year plan had originally envisioned, but that level of service is actually not keeping up with the 17% growth in demand.”

With that said, some of the largest capacity improvement components of the Phase One transit expansion plan will be realized throughout 2019.

A total of 56 Mark III SkyTrain cars — forming as 14 four-car trains — will fully arrive by the end of the year and run on the Expo Line and Millennium Line systems. It will also allow for a redistribution of the existing train fleet, allowing for major capacity improvements not only on the Expo Line but on the Millennium Line.

“The Millennium Line, for example, is very crowded with the two-car trains, so the relief on the Millennium Line will be noticeable for our customers,” said Desmond.

Another new SeaBus ferry vessel will be arriving in the middle of the year, and depending on sea trials it should be operational shortly after. The use of a fourth vessel will allow TransLink to boost ferry frequencies to every 10 minutes during the peak hours — up from every 15 minutes.

Three new B-Line routes — running along 41st Avenue between UBC and Joyce-Collingwood Station, the North Shore between Dundarave and Phibbs Exchange, and Lougheed Highway from Coquitlam Central Station to Maple Ridge — will be introduced in September 2019.

A fourth B-Line on the Fraser Highway was recently axed by the Mayors’ Council given the expedited timeline to construct a SkyTrain extension on the corridor, with the project’s budget to be redirected towards improving the 96 B-Line on the cancelled Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT project corridor.

Desmond says an announcement on the B-Line’s rebranding and new features will be made early in the year. The new features, such as bus lanes, traffic signal priority, and special bus shelters, will “begin to transform what is today a B-Line into something that is closer to an arterial bus rapid transit system.”

Major milestones will also be taken on the rail rapid transit projects: the Millennium Line Broadway Extension will enter procurement and design-level public consultation early next year, and the Expo Line Fraser Highway Extension will be well into the development of the project scope and budget throughout the year, with the expectation that a business case can be fully prepared by early/mid-2020.

“We’re still on the move. We’re making things happen,” he said.

There are also plans to engage the public next year on an update to TransLink’s long-range plans — beyond what is currently outlined in the Mayors’ Plan.

“It is very important to me that the public feels like they have been really a part of the development of that plan and the outcomes of that plan, because at the end of that day if we want to implement that plan we need to go back to the public and get their support,” he added.

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