Stephen Rees's blog

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

Debunking the “NO” campaign

with 19 comments

Last week Mario Canseco published the latest Insights West poll that showed intending No votes edged ahead of Yes votes. It seemed to stem from the Translink’s Board decision to remove Ian Jarvis as CEO but, rather than pay severance (a lot of money to do nothing) they retained him as an advisor – and also appointed a temporary CEO. This action seemed to play into the hands of the CTF who have decided to target Ian Jarvis and his salary as evidence of “waste”. Now Translink seems to be paying two CEO salaries.

I am not sure if Canseco was actually in the field at the time this decision was made. But even so, a number of articles and blog posts have appeared around the issue. So rather than duplicate them I am going to summarise their findings. This should enable YES supporters to counter some of the most frequently heard talking points – nearly all of which are based on misinformation.

Firstly, the accusation that Translink is incompetent – and lags behind other systems

Source: Peter Lander, Business in Vancouver December 2014

TransLink’s … performance successes:

•A mode shift – out of cars into transit, walking and cycling – that is unmatched in North America. The number of trips by transit is up 80% since 2000.

•By far the highest per capita transit use among other cities our size in North America – three times more than Portland, the next highest city.

•The third-highest per capita transit use in North America, after only New York and Toronto.

•The lowest-operating-cost light rail network in the world, more than covering operating expenses from fare box revenues.

•The Canada Line built on time and on budget and beating revenue targets – projected to have 100,000 daily riders by 2013 but hitting 120,000 by 2011.

•An overall 7.4 out of 10 customer satisfaction rating in the last quarter.

Secondly that Translink is “wasteful” as evidenced by its executives’ salaries

“the items commonly cited as examples of TransLink’s storied wastefulness add up to a mere fraction of one per cent of its annual expenditures. In other words, the vast majority of the organization’s budget goes to the vital public services we rely upon it to provide”

source David Bancroft in Rabble with his source embedded

Actually, public sector CEOs get paid considerably less than equivalent private sector CEOs but the Vancouver Sun helpfully lists highest paid public servants in BC which shows Ian Jarvis as well down the list of the top 100.  Not nearly as much as the CEOs of the port, airport, ICBC or BC Hydro. And certainly not nearly as much as the people who oversee my pension fund. (see note at end of this post)

This week I will be going to listen to Jeff Tumlin at SFU – again. I reported his talk here a couple of years ago. He is quoted by News 1130

“One thing that we have learned however is that the best thing to do to make your transit agency worse off is to de-fund them. That taking away money from them in order to demonstrate frustration only punishes the people who are reliant on the transportation system.”

Looking at all basic performance metrics, he says TransLink’s problems are far better managed than anywhere else.

Who is he? The principal at Nelson Nygard, one of America’s “most innovative consultants” (Price Tags)

I posted that on facebook – and it got one of the most vituperative responses when someone else copied it to their profile. So not my followers – and quite possibly the people who Norm Farrell identifies as paid trolls for the BC Liberals. By the way, I have the greatest of respect for the work he does on his Northern Insights blog. It just saddens me that he seems to have got caught up by the CTF rhetoric. But not to worry, Darryl de la Cruz rides to the rescue with some exhaustive analysis which shows what happens when you compare like with like. I doubt that the people who listen to the CTF will have the patience to plough through this stuff, but it essentially repeats what often has to be said to people who try to compare Translink’s region wide coverage, to other transit systems with a much more restricted remit.


And on February 25 Pete McMartin brings his MSM spotlight to bear on Daryl’s blog with this conclusion

The comparisons the No side are using are intentionally misleading and meant to cause anger.


As Peter Ladner  pointed out TransLink is not on the referendum ballot – but if it was

“They’ve tightened operations over the past few years. I don’t think they’re wasteful,” said independent commissioner Robert Irwin after his 2013 review. Spending is “reasonable” and employee compensation is “reasonable when compared to other organizations of similar size,” concluded an independent 2012 provincial government audit, prompting then-minister of transportation Mary Polack to say, “Everyone agrees that TransLink provides a world-class service that is the envy of many jurisdictions.”

Voting NO cannot bring about change in Translink’s governance, which is actually their weakest point but one which the CTF seems to ignore. And, of course, is something that Christy Clark appears not to understand.

There have been some pretty dreadful decisions at Translink. The Golden Ears Bridge – which was as bad as the Port Mann at predicting toll revenues – sucks money out of revenues that ought to be supporting transit. The reorganisation of HandyDART, and subsequent freeze on service levels. Going to one contractor actually increased costs significantly and produced worse service. Trip refusals surged so they simply changed the way they collected the data.  The Canada Line – which is now overcrowded but cannot utilise all the trains it has due to costs of its P3 contract. In fact, contracting out seems to cover all three problems I have identified here. And I would blame Cubic for the failure to deliver Compass on time if that did not let Kevin Falcon off the hook for his decision to impose unnecessary fare gates in the first place.

In fact most of the problems that beset Translink at the moment all have their genesis with the provincial government. Christy Clark has done one brilliant job: she has deflected all the criticism of her failure to authorize adequate resources for running the transportation system in BC’s largest metropolis onto an organisation that she herself controls. It is an appointed Board – with a bafflingly complex system of appointment to disguise the very limited range of qualifications of its appointees. No-one represents the users of the system, and there are only two of 20 Mayors on the board, both very recent appointments.


POSTSCRIPT I wrote that paragraph a day before this Pete McMartin column appeared in the Vancouver Sun


Voting NO is not going to change anything. (See this Stephen Hume opinion piece in the Sun for more)

Actually Voting YES might have exactly the same result – since we are not voting in a binding referendum but rather an advisory plebiscite. Christy can look at the result and claim it is not representative enough, or even claim poverty – given that there is a budget surplus of ~$1bn this year I doubt even she has the chutzpah to pull off that one, but blaming the Mayors for the current mess shows how she rolls.

And now a complete and up to date post of Translink myth debunking is on VanCityBuzz


Note: thanks to Norm Farrell for this information about the BC Investment Management Corporation

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 4.53.34 PM

This occurred at roughly the same time that the BC Public Service Pension was effectively cut: pensioners were required to pay for MSP and Blue Cross coverage, which had previously been paid by the employer. We were told that this was necessary to protect the value of the pension fund. No mention was made of the increase being paid to BCIMC who manage the investment of the pension fund. Note that Doug Pearce in 2014 was making nearly as much in a week as Translink’s new temporary CEO makes in a month.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 23, 2015 at 12:29 pm

19 Responses

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  1. […] UPDATE: Stephen Rees has another of his always useful posts: […]

  2. Thank you for posting the above information. It counters everything the No side puts out and more. But facts aren’t enough. The Yes side needs a face and a fire in its belly. And someone who understands how to deliver the message in the most effective an memorable way possible.


    February 23, 2015 at 4:22 pm

  3. The Yes side needs a face and a fire in its belly.

    Just for fun: Who would you pick as the face of “Yes”?

    I’m beginning to think only Trevor Linden can save us now, he said, tongue firmly in cheek.


    February 23, 2015 at 5:52 pm

  4. Stephen, your piece on CEO salaries fails to explain why Translink pays its senior execitives more than double the same positions pay in much larger and more complex markets such as LA, Chicago, New York, Toronto and London. Is it because Vancouver is such a terrible place to live and so we have to pay a premium to attract those kinds of executives?


    February 23, 2015 at 6:06 pm

  5. Jak, Daryl Dela Cruz ran the executive pay numbers for TransLink, comparing it to Greater Toronto’s transit systems (plural) and other Canadian transit systems:


    February 23, 2015 at 7:34 pm

  6. Jakking: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, and responsible for Transport for London makes about 144 000 pounds a year. As many mayors and councilors in some European countries, no raises between elections. However the CEO of Transport for London made 652 000 pounds in 2012. Can’t find current figures..apparently the salaries were reduced in 2013-14
    No point converting in $ as they pay in pounds..
    The most expensive yearly pass for the tube (zones 1-9) for example is around 3 300 pounds.

    Congratulations to Daryl Dela Cruz…hard working beaver isn’t he? He is apparently studying in Tokyo now..and must be in heaven, with all the different transit systems.

    There is one thing that puzzle me in the article by Peter Ladner: TransLink has “The lowest-operating-cost light rail network in the world..”

    But SkyTrain and the Canada line aren’t light-rail (tramways in the rest of the world) system.
    They are driverless light-rail systems…and while the operating costs may be the lowest, building stations and guideways cost way more than trams rails at street level and must be paid somehow..

    More importantly it is impossible to compare operating costs of transit systems in various countries because not only they use different currencies but the purchasing power of these currencies is not the same, as everyone that had travelled in many countries know. Then there is the “small” problem of how each transit company calculate its operating costs..
    Comparing wages in different currencies is just as pointless too.

    There are only 4 metropole in the world that use driverless light rail (some say automated but there are transit systems and long distance trains that have both an automated system and a driver) as their MAJOR rapid transit system.
    These metropole are Lille, Toulouse and Rennes in France (the combined population of these 3 metropole is just a bit more than the population of Metro-Vancouver).
    The 4th one is Metro-Vancouver, the only metropole in the world–so far–with a population of 2.5 million that uses driverless Light-rail as its major rapid transit system.

    Sure, many towns in the world use driverless light-rail–small and big towns alike. But ONLY one single line or a couple, that link defined area with a small population with the MAJOR transit system of their town (usually subways or trains or both),

    For example in Kobe-Japan (it looks exactly like our North shore), trains from 3 different private companies carry the majority of the passengers between Kobe and Osaka, Kyoto and other towns in the region. Downtown Kobe has 2 subway lines. Then there is the Portliner and the Rokko liner, 2 driverless light rail lines that link the mainland to artificial islands in the port.

    Tokyo, with its confusing and huge system, has 2 driverless light rail lines:
    One–the Yurikamome–goes to the semi-artificial island of Odaiba. the line is 14.7 km long.
    The other one–the Nippori-Toneri Liner– links Arakawa, where there are several rail lines–including the Yamanote loop line–and a sort of old-fashioned tramway, to Adachi. Both these A named cities are wards of Tokyo. The line is 9.7 km long.

    I have been in all the towns I cite, and many more.

    Red frog

    February 23, 2015 at 10:23 pm

  7. your piece on CEO salaries fails to explain why Translink pays its senior execitives more than double the same positions pay in much larger and more complex markets such as LA, Chicago, New York, Toronto and London

    I certainly can garner very little enthusiasm to defend CEO compensation, only to note the following:

    1. The rise of CEO pay is not simply a Translink issue, or even a BC government issue, but one for society as as a whole, private and public sector. The ratio of CEO to work pay has dramatically risen over the last few decades in ways that cannot be explained by such things as “rise in productivity” or “education level”.

    2. Anyone can cherrypick data. So far we only 5 examples, 6 if you include Seattle as Norm Farrell does. 2 of these have been debunked satisfactorily by Daryl (Seattle, Toronto) and London here by Red Frog. If you want a useful stat, you really need to have a sample size larger than the 2 remaining. Sector-wide, in other words. The information on the CTA and NY websites lists “base salary” and may not include other forms of compensation such as performance bonuses, vacation, etc. This is noted by the Utah Transportation Agency in this article complaining about CEO compensation I found yesterday. The UTA general manager, for a system smaller than Tranlink’s, earned $450,618 and is also compared to LA, SF, etc. In the comment section the UTA spokesperson notes the following:

    Your blog post contains innacuracies and ommissions. Your salary comparisons are apples to oranges. The salaries from transit agencies outside of Utah that you refer to are base salaries. You compare them to total compensation of UTA officials that includes base salary, vacation leave, sick pay and retirement accounts.

    Just something to keep in mind.


    February 24, 2015 at 8:26 am

  8. To add, Norm Farrell has been citing Carmen Bianco’s salary of $174,812 in comparison to Translink’s CEO. Bianco is CEO of MTA New York City Transit, which is a subsidiary of the MTA.

    The MTA President is Thomas Prendergast, who earned a total *cash* compensation of $359,877. There may be other forms of compensation he receives, I can’t say.

    Of note, apparently 10,482 MTA workers earned more than $100k in 2013.

    Click to access MTA-Payroll-Release-2013_060320141.pdf


    February 24, 2015 at 9:37 am

  9. […] UPDATE:Stephen Rees has another of his always useful posts: […]

  10. The same Thomas Prendergast who was CEO of Translink, but who left as speedily as he could.

    Stephen Rees

    February 24, 2015 at 11:48 am

  11. Red Frog,

    At the risk of offending your definition of ‘major’ Wiki lists 20 automated (driverless) systems for Europe alone. Most are in the context of larger systems but as Vancouver does not have a S-Bahn/RER type of system available to it I respectfully ask you consider Copenhagen, Nuremberg and Turin to your list. I note that 3 lines in the Paris Metro are now automated and would expect more to be upgraded in the future. In the Middle East Dubai springs to mind. Wiki shows a bunch of automated lines in Sao Paulo, it also shows 22 systems in Asia, Singapore and Manila seem to be pretty major components of the rapid transit…even Kuala Lampur.
    Each system is unique, but the extra cost to have an automated system can be estimated and the benefits of lower operating costs can be estimated….so a system could be evaluated to determine what the cost/benefits of automation on a proposed line. For instance while we don’t know for sure what the Expo line would have cost as light rail or what its ridership would have been (or operating costs) Vonny did a good analysis of what the Expo line costs per rider….including capital costs and in my view it is highly unlikely LRT on the same corridor would perform remotely as well (now if we are talking just the Millenium line….of course that would change if we ever build a Broadway subway).


    February 24, 2015 at 12:16 pm

  12. Great post, thanks! Wish I had the time to better research for my posts but I’ll keep this one in mind to direct readers to for more informed insight. Maybe I should update the one I did this morning with a link here. I’m taking a different approach, but, in some ways, sending a similar message to yours.


    February 24, 2015 at 12:42 pm

  13. I was hoping–seriously–that one would find more towns with ALRT as their major main rapid transit system. Should I say “main” or “only” rapid transit system?

    You are right to say that ” the extra cost to have an automated system can be estimated and the benefits of lower operating costs can be estimated….so a system could be evaluated to determine what the cost/benefits of automation on a proposed line”

    My major beef is about TransLink having apparently the “lowest operating-cost light rail in the world”
    This has not be proven…
    I still believe that it is impossible to compare stuff in countries using different currencies…A snack in London cost twice the price of the same snack here, but for Londoners it is a reasonable price..

    London yearly transit pass for the whole system cost around 3300 pounds.(zones 1-9)

    Paris yearly transit pass for the whole system cost around 1200 Euros (zones 1-5..originally zones 1-8) BUT in each town people accept it as normal.
    Paris yearly pass will be cheaper in the fall, when there will be only ONE zone for the whole Greater Paris area, just like in all the other French towns with a rapid transit system. .

    Automated lines in Paris (the first automated line was line 14–the last one built–it was automated from day one) are heavy-duty subways.
    Copenhagen 2 automated light rail lines complement the S-Train that is a heavier rapid transit system..

    Torino only use an automated LRT only but the town, like Copenhagen is quite smaller than Metro-Vancouver, more like Lille and Toulouse.
    All the same, Toulouse and Lille are now finding that their light-rail systems are badly overcrowded at rush hour.
    Nuremberg has 2 automated lines so has also tramways (underground in the city centre), and 2 other rapid transit systems, typical of many German towns.
    I see only 4 lines in the list for Sao Paulo. 2 of them are monorails…not mention of them being driverless.

    Many Asian cities have several ALRT lines..they do make sense when they service a relatively small area, like the ALRT lines I used many times in several Japanese cities.

    In the Wikipedia list of automated urban metro subway systems they have a whole bunch of automated airport systems. They aren’t metro or subways in the conventional meaning of these words.
    They either link several terminals together and/ or end near a station of the urban system, but aren’t really part of that urban system (originally airport-owned buses connected the terminals, and had a stop near the metro or commuter train rail station). .
    The list note an automated metro line in Paris: line 19. There is no line 19. A line 15 is planned but construction may not even have started.

    Wikipedia is not always accurate. There are two 18th century buildings in my birth country, in 2 different towns nearly 1000 km apart, built at the same time by 2 brothers having a nearly similar name and the same job..Unfortunately whoever wrote an entry in English on one of the buildings never read the accurate entry in the country official language.

    Red frog

    February 25, 2015 at 12:03 am

  14. Congratulations MillardDkits..great post

    For all my bitching or nit-picking about TransLink (blame my philosophy teacher in grade 12..we had to consider every side of a problem or question…He expected pages and pages, handwritten only) I am very happy with it.
    When I moved to Vancouver before Expo 86 after living in Toronto for 10 years, I was appalled, dismayed, shocked to the core, by the absence of rapid transit.. All of you young guys have no idea how inconvenient it was..

    One thing I like about Sound Transit is the set-up of their board and their openness..

    Unfortunately their Central Link tramway–as we call LRT outside North-America–must cost a fortune,,especially with the elevated guideways that are now growing south of SeaTac..

    Red frog

    February 25, 2015 at 12:22 am

  15. […] Stephen Rees provided a great analysis of the No side positions on his blog on Monday.  Certainly better detailed and researched than my piece […]

  16. Red Frog,

    Actually my point was there are a lot of automated lines out there, in most places they are part of a larger existing network. Vancouver does not have the luxury of that type of existing S-Bahn/RER network (much to my sadness). The word major implies a majority, my point is it is not reasonable to say automated lines in say Copenhagen are not very important because they only carry 30% of the rapid transit trips, that is splitting straws. Over time automated systems will occupy the niche where they are most effective, but considering they have only really been around since the 1980s and are expensive expect that it will take a while.

    Considering the specifics I think Nuremburg has 3 automated lines now as the final one was converted from mixed to automatic. I will have to look into why it shows line 19 for Paris, that is odd. All those people mover systems for North America was why I did not mention any of the North American systems.

    I don’t know where the lowest cost light rail in the world comes from and agree with you about the difficulty of comparing systems in different places. In fact I find it highly unlikely that Skytrain is the ‘lowest cost’ system compared to many busy Asian systems….or even the Calgary C-train which is also very low cost. That said it is clearly a very low cost per rider and that low cost is due to automation. The most similar city to compare would be Portland (I know comparing again) for its LRT which was cheap to build…..but its operating costs are very high compared to Vancouver and even their capital cost per rider is way higher than Skytrain because so many more people ride Skytrain.

    Anyways sorry too much side tracking. We need a Broadway subway, we need rapid transit in Surrey and we need to do a better job of transit priority for the buses. We need to get people out there voting yes.


    February 25, 2015 at 10:43 am

  17. […] Stephen Rees, Retired Regional Planner, Blogger on Transportation Issues (Source: [1]) […]

  18. […] Stephen Rees here.  […]

  19. […] planner Stephen Rees points out, even if TransLink does suck (which it doesn’t) “voting NO cannot bring about change in Translink’s governance.” David Bancroft, writing in […]

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