Updated revenue forecast models project TransLink’s cumulative losses for 2020 and 2021 could range between $544 million and $945 million in the best-case scenario, and between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion in the worst-case scenario.
During Thursday morning’s Mayors’ Council meeting, TransLink CFO Christine Dacre explained the best-case scenario is based on a quick recovery, with no new waves of COVID-19 and the end of the pandemic by July 2021. This likely depends on the creation of a new effective treatment or a vaccine.
Three other scenarios that foresee the pandemic ending sometime after 2021 are contemplated, but the worst-case scenario is based on BC fluctuating between the first three phases of the pandemic response and economic recovery from now until the end of next year.
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The uncertainty over the recovery and shape of transportation demand has a direct impact on the major revenue sources from fares and the gas and parking taxes.
Last month, TransLink was able to rescind its plans to make sweeping reductions to public transit services with the help of the provincial government, but the exact financial arrangement is still being developed.
“We’ve recognized that TransLink has some significant financial challenges and we are not out of the woods yet, although we’re pleased that we’re able to be part of the provincial recovery and have been able to stabilize service,” said Jonathan Cote, the chair of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council, and the mayor of New Westminster.
He says TransLink will have to make some tough decisions for 2021 in September and October, when it will have a better idea of its fiscal position.
“There has been a lot of discussions, particularly with the provincial government, and those discussions are going to continue over the next several months,” continued Cote. “There’s still a tremendous amount of work between TransLink, BC Transit, and the provincial government.
As of last week, systemwide ridership reached 33% of the pre-pandemic levels, exceeding 500,000 daily boardings for the first time in the crisis. Ridership has effectively doubled since the pandemic low in April.
TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond says ridership is expected to reach 42% to 48% of normal levels by the end of July with BC’s phase three restart of the economy. He says ridership increases have been most prominent on buses, the Expo Line, and the Millennium Line, but the pace of growth is lagging on the Canada Line and SeaBus.
“Slowly but surely, ridership is coming back,” said Desmond. “I think the gradual return of ridership is the right thing, the right approach. We want to learn as we go, as our Safe Operating Action Plan continues to grow and evolve.”
Interestingly, says Desmond, peak period ridership on buses is not returning as quickly, especially during the morning peak, which suggests that passengers are modifying their travel habits and behaviour to ride during off-peak times, as recommended by TransLink in its recommendations to the public.
He adds that the public transit authority is monitoring ridership very closely to make sure crowding does not become a systemic issue. They are aiming to maintain the 66% capacity on buses (seat-only capacity) and a 50% capacity on SkyTrain to provide some physical distancing.
“But restoring our ridership, restoring the trust and confidence of our customers, is a primary importance overtime to restore TransLink’s fiscal health and overall mobility of our region,” continued Desmond.