Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

TransLink’s projected deficit turns into $24 million surplus

with 12 comments

The Province this morning has some good news. So in case anyone thinks I am just interested in knocking Translink, I thought I would pass this along.

TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said Tuesday that, partly due to the Olympics, revenues were $7.5 million higher than budgeted for January through March.

“Transit-fare revenues are up $3.4 million and fuel taxes are up $4.3 million,” he said. “Those are the two most significant factors.”

More importantly, operating expenses fell $25.8 million below budget.

Huh? How can operating expenses have fallen when they were operating more service then? They just told us – in their responses to the Canada Line “capacity” stories that it costs more to operate more trains – and we know it also must cost more to operate more bus service hours since every bus has to have an operator! Indeed, the reduction in the number of buses operated can seen quite nicely at present by taking a look at the fleet of recently retired buses now parked at off Dyke Road near No 4 Road in Richmond.

Going nowhere

The key might be to look again at the phrase “below budget” – maybe they just budgetted more generously than they needed to?

Jarvis said that was due to reorganization, cutting duplication and chopping 100 jobs, along with lower interest rates.

But did they do that in the first quarter – when they needed more operators to run these old, now retired, buses on the additional service that was run during the Olympic Games period – which was, apparently much longer than just the two weeks of the sporting festival itself?

It also shows that the average transit fare paid per passenger was $1.79, compared to a target of $1.86.

Well, once again, knowing how these targets are arrived at – and the “average fare paid” come to that – I am not sure that means very much. Surely they should be telling us what the actual data says – say year on year average fare. I would bet too that the additional ridership generated by the Olympics had a different travel pattern in terms of number of zones and time of day – both of which are important in the Vancouver region.

See, I do my best to be positive and encouraging, but they don’t help themselves with this kind of story management.  Maybe they should simply abandon the idea of “spin” and just be much more open with real data that anyone can look at. Budgets and targets they can keep for their internal management purposes. I want to see real outturn – and data that has been collected from reliable sources. So I trust Canada Line data (since InTransitBC has passenger counters and contractual need for good data) and also SeaBus data – since the turnstiles are there for vessel safety. But tiny sample surveys, and infrequent trip diaries, do not impress me much.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2010 at 11:36 am

Posted in transit

12 Responses

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  1. Moderator’s note

    This comment has been deleted as offensive.


    June 9, 2010 at 11:44 am

  2. “So in case anyone thinks I am just interested in knocking Translink, I thought I would pass this along.”


    “Indeed, the reduction in the number of buses operated can seen quite nicely at present by taking a look at the fleet of recently retired buses now parked at off Dyke Road near No 4 Road in Richmond.”

    If anything, TL’s reports would suggest that they have greatly expanded bus services in the past 10 yrs. those retired buses may be just that – older buses where the average age for diesel buses went from 14 yr to 7 yrs.

    The full news release is at TL’s website. Unfortunatly, my acrobat reader can’t open the file currently.

    And i don’t know if you were planning a post on this, but the U-Pass program has been expanded today, thru-out the province, IIRC.


    June 9, 2010 at 1:01 pm

  3. I do not dispute that bus service has been expanded over the past 10 years. I also know that Translink kept these buses beyond their normal retirement age in order to have more available during the Olympics. And, before anyone else leaps in with irrelevant comments, these were NOT the buses hired in from the US to transport athletes, journalists and others during the games. These were retained as more transit service was needed to get spectators to events.

    By the way, the design life of buses in North America was significantly reduced when US federal funding for transit was changed to allow for replacement after 12 years instead of 18 years. In Canada, where no such federal support exists, it is common to see transit buses of much older vintage than in the US.

    The whole point of my post is that Translink is doing its best to make people think they are doing better. But measuring against budgets and targets they set themselves is not the way to do that credibly, in my opinion. It would be nice, but very unusual, if the comments section actually related to the topic I posted about.

    And please also resist the temptation to tell me what to post about – at least in a comment section. An email heads up is much better. Now that you have posted the link, and half a dozen other email lists and bloggers have posted it, I will leave that story alone. My views on U Pass being well known.

    Stephen Rees

    June 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm

  4. I agree with Stephen that performance versus a budget mostly reflects on the ability of management to appropriately set the budget and says little about actual performance of the corporation over time.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think TransLink has retired any low floor buses which means they’re operating some vehicles that are 19 years old.


    June 9, 2010 at 1:58 pm

  5. Able to finally read the report:

    “Huh? How can operating expenses have fallen when they were operating more service then?”

    “Olympic and Paralympics costs of approximately $6 million for transit and support services were recorded in the TransLink Olympics office and are not included in the CMBC results.
    One of the largest contributors to the favourable variance is a reduction in diesel fuel prices amounting to $2.1 million. Other items generating a favourable variance are lower costs in overtime, material costs on revenue vehicles, delays in
    hiring, timing of expenditures, and lower snow clearing costs that were realized due to the mild weather experienced in the first quarter.”

    “The whole point of my post is that Translink is doing its best to make people think they are doing better. But measuring against budgets and targets they set themselves is not the way to do that credibly, in my opinion. ”

    but the ‘drastic cuts” standoff in the fall of 2009 was the result of a bad budgeting process. ironically and amazingly, the standoff was able to force longer-term better bus service for an area and mode that is unsexy, but the public will have less support of translink if that continues.

    TL’s answer to that is conservative budgeting. it seems to work, as opposed to other ways of trying to save money like Portland’s trimet trying to hedge fuel prices and doing badly [1].

    if anything, compared to other transit agencies (SF Muni and TTC, i’m looking at you [2,3]; TTC especially, if you need to find a transit agency that can’t catch a PR break, it’s the TTC), TL is making good moves and has that post-olympic sheen to it. why not capitalize on that, get the press out and have more people on the bus/train (U-pass), and have those new riders start pushing for even better service?


    June 10, 2010 at 12:31 am

  6. sorry, this one is better highlighting the need for good press and public support (but bad press and eroding support in the case of the TTC).

    But we can’t be complacent; there but for the grace of God go us…

    “The latest trouble comes in the midst of a public relations blitz to improve relations with commuters, with consultations being held throughout the city to give transit users a chance to complain about the service.

    Public discontent came to a head in January after a subway ticket collector was photographed napping on the job. The picture, which showed the man leaning back on his chair with his eyes closed, caused a flurry of reaction.

    Soon after, transit riders already enraged by a fare hike surreptitiously began using cell phone cameras to catch workers relaxing on the job.

    YouTube hosted a slew of videos of operators taking unauthorized breaks, and photos on websites showed workers stopping mid-route to conduct some personal banking at ATMs.

    In late January, a grainy video showed a driver leaving a bus, its engine idling, to take a coffee break for seven minutes.

    This prompted the chief general manager to send two notices to TTC employees stating he’s tired of “unacceptable behaviour” and a “culture of complacency.”

    The union shot back by creating a Facebook group, posting its own evidence of “public harassment,” which included photos of litter, beer bottles, graffiti and window etching left behind by passengers.

    All of this came as TTC chairman Adam Giambrone bailed out of a bid to become Toronto mayor over a sex scandal. A 20-year-old university student came forward saying she had been having an affair with the councillor. She further alleged he discussed a fare hike with her before the news was made public.”


    June 10, 2010 at 12:42 am

  7. […] residents [CBC] Former mayor credited with urban development legacy [The Vancouver Courier] TransLink’s projected deficit turns into $24 million surplus [Stephen Rees's blog] City market growing [Burnaby Now] Burnaby councillor Nick Volkow to cut […]

    re:place Magazine

    June 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

  8. I read somewhere that, after someone posted a photo of a Toronto transit staff sleeping in his booth, a union rep complained that no one even thought of checking the poor man to find out whether he was merely asleep or just plain dead…

    Seriously now..
    Students transit passes at a discount were already old hat when I was in high school in Europe..likely before MANY of the posters on this site were born.. Quite a few towns in many of the G20 countries have them.

    One of the smallest town with an automated light rail transit system is Rennes in France. It uses a smart card too, since 2006.
    They have 8 different reduced fares for people under 20, 6 reduced fares for people from 20 to 27.. more if you add fares also including out of town commuter trains or buses.

    For many of the transit systems around the world their goal in implementing reduced fares for young people is to:
    1-give a financial break to families with children.
    2-try to make lifetime transit users out of impressionable young people.
    How do you think that I became such a transit and rail fan???

    TRANSLINK is the subject of this post, so the following should interest some of you…
    Rennes transit system is managed by Keolis. Partly owned by SNCF, France’s national railway, Keolis manages transit systems in France, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Canada.

    Keolis, like Veolia (another big transit management provider that has clients in many countries, including the USA) only manages the day to day running of a transit system.

    The whole financial part, from setting fares to planning for new lines, buying new vehicles etc. is the responsibility of whatever government (usually the metropolitan and regional governments) hire them, on a limited-time contract.

    Veolia was, under various names, Bordeaux’ transit system management company since the late 19th century (not, it is not a typo..) but lost the contract in 2009 and was replaced by Keolis, for the next 5 years.
    Buses and tram (with their unionized staff) kept running as if nothing happened. Keolis, in consultation with the public, has done quite a lot of clever improvements, according to the local newspaper.

    Obviously TransLink is at a huge disadvantage because it staff is forever trying to re-invent the wheel while having only enough money for a stick, and don’t have too many opportunities to learn about transit as she is done in other towns, while Keolis and Veolia staff in a town can use the expertise of all the other towns in their company.

    Red frog

    June 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm

  9. It is interesting RedFrog,

    but I suggest Veolia, Keolis activities are closer to the ones of BCMC, than of Translink,

    Translink is a agency organizing the transport not running it, like the STIF is organizing the public transit in Paris while the RATP is running the bus and subway in Paris, and occasionally elsewhere like in Joahnnesburg (Gautrain).

    I was thinking it was the model they were following when they have created Translink and BCMC, but strangely enough this architecture has stayed very half baked (so BCMC don’t seem to be able to bid on transit market like Keolis do)


    June 15, 2010 at 12:40 am

  10. True Voony..but, as far as the average transit user is concerned, TransLink runs the transit, if only because, unlike BCMC, it is in the news all the time and get the blame for whatever transit problems there are.

    Red frog

    June 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm

  11. Comparing STIF to TransLink is a bit unfair for the later. Incidentally the RATP is not the only transit operator in the Paris region. The SNCF (national railways) and Optile (a network of private bus operators)are also controlled by STIF. STIF, like the transit authorities in major French towns, collects tax revenue along with subsidies from the regional and national governments.

    Unlike TransLink, the board of directors of all these transit authorities are made of elected councilors representing all the towns in a metropolitan area, and in major towns, also include representative for the region.

    In the Greater London the Mayor of London is THE transit headman, so to speak. The Mayor is responsible for producing an integrated transport strategy for London and for consulting the London Assembly, Transport for London (TfL), boroughs and others on the strategy.
    The Mayor has wide powers of direction over TfL, sets TfL’s budget (subject to the approval of the Assembly) and appoints its board. The Mayor also sets the structure and level of public transport fares in London. The mayor also has a say in how the commuter railways are run, and has powers to fund new transport services, and to invest in new transport systems.

    In Germany the VBB (Verkenhrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg )is the regional public transportation authority for the Berlin-Brandenburg district. The VBB ensures fluid and cohesive movement of people throughout the region, mediates between policy makers and operators, plans and executes a unified fare card system, supports operators, and promotes public transit in the region. This agency manages 41 private transit operators that serve approximately 3.4 million passengers every day. All of the represented states, cities and districts contribute to the financing of the regional public transit system managed by the VBB.

    Until the B.C. Provincial government takes transit AS seriously as other places that already had a transit system of sorts when Vancouver was still a baby, we will never have the transit system we deserve.

    Red frog

    June 15, 2010 at 11:10 pm

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