TransLink to receive $644 million in emergency operating funding from governments

Sep 18 2020, 8:35 pm

The federal and provincial governments announced today the precise breakdown of emergency operating funding each of British Columbia’s three major public transit agencies will receive to help bridge their losses from the collapse in revenue.

TransLink will receive $644 million, BC Transit will see $86 million, and BC Ferries will obtain $308 million.

This one-time funding on operational costs to ensure services remain safe and reliable will cover the revenue losses incurred since March and the forecasted future losses within the current fiscal year.

Both senior governments announced in late July they will allocate a combined $1 billion — in a 50-50 cost sharing arrangement — towards supporting the operating costs of TransLink, BC Transit, and BC Ferries, but at the time the precise breakdown was not made.

“Every part of British Columbia has been impacted by COVID-19, and public transit across the province is no different,” said Claire Trevana, BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, in a statement.

“We deem it as an essential service as people need to go to work, they need to see friends, and they need to go shopping. Public transit is an integral part of BC’s restart plan. Our public transit must continue to be strong… It will ensure service levels of transit and ferries are maintained across the province, and fares will remain affordable as part of BC’s restart plan.”

In exchange for the funding, agreements will be signed with each of the three entities to maintain safe service levels.

The operating funding from senior governments will also mean the entities will not have to tap further into their cash reserves, which help fund the cost of capital programs that build new and improved infrastructure.

For TransLink, ridership has, as of earlier this month, increased to 43% of pre-pandemic levels. Fare revenue remains significantly down, but other revenues from parking and fuel taxes have surged from the restart of the economy, with traffic volumes in the region now nearing normal.

“The funding will assist TransLink by covering the substantial net losses we are incurring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, noting that the funding also helps cover the higher operating costs of the enhanced health and safety measures.

“The funding recognizes that transit is an essential service that will enable us to continue delivering reliable, bus, SkyTrain, West Coast Express, SeaBus, and HandyDART services for our region to support British Columbia’s safe restart program, particularly over the coming months as our economy gradually opens and our customers return to using transit more regularly.”

Prior to COVID-19, TransLink’s annual operating budget was $1.8 billion, supporting over 450 million boardings per year.

BC Ferries’s annual operating budget was about $350 million for about 56 million annual boardings across its over 130 communities.

Fares on BC Ferries are usually sufficient for covering nearly all of the $650 million annual operating costs, with other sources of revenue covering other expenses including capital projects. It saw 8.9 million vehicles and 22.3 million passengers in the most recent pre-pandemic fiscal year.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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