The new salary offer for TransLink’s next CEO is out and as expected, members of the public are complaining non-stop about a number that is being described by media as “massive” and “fat” as it is north of $300,000.
Now that the new CEO salary figures are out and everyone is once again relentlessly complaining, I decided to run the numbers again to see where TransLink is now against Canada’s major cities. The base salary is now in line with that of Toronto’s TTC and Montreal’s STM, but not when a bonus of up to 30% is considered:
But, when you consider all of the transit agencies servicing a metro area, the executive payment in this region is comparatively minuscule:
Our region has 1 transit operator with 1 CEO; others have many different operators and multiple CEOs. It’s a concept that’s so simple and easy to understand, and it is absolutely crucial that we familiarize ourselves with it.
When TransLink’s context of a single, region-wide transportation authority is considered against what the region-wide setup is in Canada’s other metropolitan areas, Metro Vancouver actually has the lowest per-capita CEO salary of any major city in Canada. Even if our CEO receives a full 30% bonus.
We now pay about 17.5 cents per capita if the CEO earns a 30% bonus; whereas the people of greater Toronto pay between 1 and 12.5 more cents more for their executives (depending on what you would include as greater Toronto’s transit operators), and the people of greater Montreal each pay between 6 and 12.5 cents more.
We will also be paying our new CEO less for every revenue hour of transit service they manage, even if the CEO receives a full 30% bonus:
The revised, lowered CEO salary will put a maximum of 5 cents back into people’s pockets and would not even pay for buying a single bus. Despite the relatively minimal benefits to Metro Vancouver’s citizens, attracting a new CEO will be a more difficult task with a lower offer, and TransLink should be commended considerably if and when they are able to do so.
The response a TransLink spokesperson offered in Jeff Nagel’s recent report for the Surrey Leader pretty much sums up why TransLink can’t be considered a “transit operator” in the usual vein:
“It needs to be a competitive salary,” Moore said, adding the challenge with comparing TransLink to other transit authorities is there is nothing similar in North America.
“The No side in the plebiscite wanted to compare the CEO of TransLink to one of nine CEOs in Seattle or one of eight CEOs in Toronto,” Moore said, referring to areas where multiple separate agencies do the work of TransLink. “Nobody else has an integrated rail-bus-road infrastructure.”
But, I don’t think most people are ready to understand this – it’s probably easier to think that our transit operator is a transit operator like any other, regardless of the serious differences in the way we are organized. It’s clear that much of the “NO” vote in the recent referendum was motivated by an unfavourable view of executive salaries, which were not being looked at in a proper context.
If anything, this should have an effect on how the provincial government interprets the “NO” vote altogether. At this point, the only way that the misinformation around executive salaries in this region can be offset is for someone to take leadership and recognize the serious flaws in how people have been informed on this matter.
But first, I’m going to have to call into question whether we really know what “efficiency” is.
The big supporters of the “No TransLink Tax” campaign for the upcoming transit referendum have always relied on (and continue to establish) a perception that TransLink needs to improve its efficiency game. I think we’ve pretty much heard all the insults: TransLink is unaccountable, inefficient, doesn’t make good use of taxpayers’ money – and with every time we hear it from them, some sort of particular example is attached of money not being used as well as it could be.
The “No” campaign relies on many of these small-scale examples to feed their perception and drive their agenda. They can be real or manufactured: the examples may vary from a small TransLink funding contribution to the infamous “Main St. Poodle” public art display, free coffee for staff, or even a security failure in 2010 that would likely be best attributed to one or more people but not the entire organization.
There’s a whole list on the campaign website – and a new example gets published every day. It seems that “no” campaigners will look for any excuse: even relics from before TransLink’s creation – such as an upgrade that was denied to the SkyTrain system in the pre-TransLink, B.C. Transit era – are among the list of TransLink criticisms. Obviously, no one’s going to like the notion of a few hundred thousand dollars being dedicated to art when some SkyTrain stations don’t even have escalators. But at the end of the day, it really shouldn’t be too hard to notice that “No” critics have been only looking at the little picture while largely ignoring the big one.
Why does this matter?
When another blogger crunched the ‘TransLink Waste’ numbers featured on the No TransLink Tax website, he found that the primary “inefficiencies” amount to approximately $1.9 million in annual savings. Cutting those costs, no matter how (un)reasonable it would be to do so, would not give us enough money to run a new bus route for a year. In fact, it would provide less than 1% of the funding needed to provide the upcoming transit referendum’s outcome: a $7.5 billion investment plan for transit expansion and other transportation improvements over the next 10 years.
Look at the facts. The facts say that TransLink is already identifying inefficiencies, and there’s not much left to find. Even if all of the identified cruft and waste is trimmed (and that’s not realistic), that only gains you 0.13%, which is miniscule. Put it this way: if you make $25/hr, and you suddenly get a 0.13% raise, do you know how much you make? $25.03. An extra quarter a day.
Does that sound like an “extremely wasteful organization”?
That’s not to say the “No” campaign hasn’t tried to look at some sort of “bigger picture” and reference it for their campaign. You may have noticed the occasional circulation of this chart, which comes from a TransLink efficiency review a couple of years back:
It would be easy for someone to look at an image like this posted by an anti-TransLink source, come to a quick conclusion that TransLink is behind in the efficiency department, and leave with a negative impression of the organization. But, at the end of the day, the context is out of the picture.
This audit (read here) noted in its conclusion that it had found TransLink to be a “well run organization that manages its costs” – pointing to efficiencies that had already been performed before the audit took place. And inside it, on another page, cost-efficiency – as opposed to what this chart is about (cost-effectiveness) – is clearly defined as something else:
The unfavourable result of the above chart (cost-effectiveness) is most likely a result of TransLink being the only operator on the chart that services a multi-city, decentralized metropolitan region. The poor cost-effectiveness is not a result of any “waste” by TransLink, and is an inevitable problem we deal with, partly because of the way our region has been built out and how we have to get around it. Here’s a chart that shows what I mean:
Not having as many revenue passengers per bus is an inevitable result of the area serviced. For example: Vancouver scores as first, because it is laid out in a standard urban grid that was developed around transit corridors, and has had transit longer than any other city; all of this has proven advantageous for upkeep of the city’s transit cost-effectiveness. You shouldn’t expect the same kind of cost-effectiveness in South Delta – which is far away from any major city centres (resulting in longer, more expensive transit routes), and was not built around transit services.
Since “Yes” campaigners don’t seem to be that interested in answering the “No” campaign, we’ve been left with a situation where either side is allowed to believe what their campaigners say, and everyone can get away with lies. The “no” side has been let away with their over-use of the little things and their mess-up of the bigger picture. I don’t think this is a sound way to conduct a decision that will affect all of us for years to come all, and yet it shockingly is what it is.
The missing link is a proper “big picture” context. There just isn’t one established yet that offers a proper, fair breakdown of how cost-efficient our transit system is. It’s not even a complicated matter: one would just need to take the amount of funding being put into our transit services (operating cost), and compare that with the actual amount of transit service provided (service hours).
It struck me that these numbers wouldn’t be hard to find – and when I realized that I had already collected most of the statistics I needed during research for my last “Referendum Myths” write-up (TransLink and Executive Pay), I decided to go right on ahead and put together the big picture myself.
This time, I’m comparing TransLink against all of Canada’s large metropolitan areas with established rapid transit systems. To keep things fair, I have compared all the given transit operators in a metro area and I have also dug into each operators’ financial reports and subtracted costs for amortization, or deprecation of capital assets. It’s not fair to compare these differing assets (many of the individual cities have not yet invested in rapid transit or are just starting to do so), plus it allows me to keep the focus on the efficiency of operations.
I hypothesized that given a proper context, TransLink’s actual “cost efficiency” wouldn’t be as bad as others have made it out to be. My expectations were far, far short of this:
When compared against the 5 other metro areas, TransLink and Metro Vancouver come out as the most efficient operators. Or more simply said, believe it or not, TransLink is the most cost-efficient public transit operation for a Canadian metropolitan area.
For every $1 million in TransLink’s annual operating budget for transit, we get 7117 transit service hours. That means no matter how much money TransLink is “wasting” due to apparently bad spending decisions, we still get more transit per dollar here than at Canada’s 5 other largest cities. The other cities are just not there yet in terms of operating efficiency, when the metropolitan area average is considered. They just don’t provide as many service hours per dollar.
But that’s not all. In my research I made another important discovery…
TransLink also comes out ahead in the “service hours per capita” metric – with Metro Vancouver getting 2.58 service hours per capita, versus an average of just 2.1 in Greater Toronto and 2.43 in Greater Montreal. TransLink isn’t just providing more transit for every dollar we spend – it provides more transit for every person living in our region, than any other region has in Canada. That, to me, says that we’re in the hands of a very, very efficient organization.
That’s not to say this is an excuse for us to stop expanding transit, because we’re above the average. There’s obviously still an imbalance in service levels in our region (I’m especially talking about the South of Fraser) and individual issues that we’ll need extra funding to sort out. If we can support the means to go further, I say we should do so and thus be leaders for other cities in Canada.
At the end of the day, congestion costs money, and remains an issue in every Canadian city. I’d like to see our region take the leap ahead and be the leader in this nation. We’ve taken the first steps, making it a lot less difficult to go the rest of the way.
What I think this goes to show is the success of Metro Vancouver’s public transit operations model.
Whereas cities like Toronto and Montreal do not have coherency and may have multiple transit operators servicing the metro area (Toronto has 9 different authorities, some of them with overlapping responsibilities), we have one and it has been this way throughout history.
The B.C. Electric Railway provided rail and bus service as a single operator – so did B.C. Hydro when they were in charge… and then B.C. Transit’s Greater Vancouver division when that was incorporated. TransLink has continued the same advantageous, simple model – but expanded it by not just taking charge of transit but also taking charge of regional roads, bridges, pedestrian and cycling facilities, and other infrastructure throughout our region.
Who knows what kind of superior efficiency in all aspects of transportation we’ve been having as a region with a single, regional authority like TransLink in charge. Unfortunately, no one is willing to either discuss it or launch some sort of proper comparison – and that’s disadvantageous when TransLink’s model gets put into the spotlight. We simply take our regional model for granted, and we really shouldn’t be when it’s uniquely advantageous.
While I think it’s imperative that the “Yes” vote prevails in this referendum, I do recognize that there are legitimate, understandable reasons you would want to vote “no” to a sales tax for transit. Maybe you don’t think it best done as a sales tax. Maybe you want to send a message to the provincial government for how they’ve handled the matter. Or perhaps you weren’t a fan of the idea of a referendum. An illegitimate basis on which to base your vote on, however, would be the one being pushed by the “No” campaign where your vote becomes a vote against TransLink.
Secondly, as I just pointed out, the “No” side has got it all wrong on TransLink’s inefficiency – and they’re probably not going to apologize for the sheer consequences of this. They’re just too proud of how many people they have fooled for the sake of politics.
To you out there reading this, now it’s time for you to do your part. If you managed to read this far and liked this, spread the word, SHARE this article. If you got here because someone told you to read this, spread it some more. E-mail your friends. Send this to the newspapers, TV stations, etc. Surely you’d agree that we shouldn’t allow the region’s transit future to be determined by a completely unjustified revenge vote based on rather false premises around inefficiency. If you have a couple of friends who want to vote no to vote against TransLink and you know it – now is the chance to turn them around.
I might have one or two more “Referendum Myths” articles up my sleeve, depending on whether some vague ideas in my head end up making sense written out. But, my blog posts from here onward will likely focus on transportation systems as well as my travel experiences in Japan. If you’ve got some cash to spare, I’d love a donation. As great and convenient the transit (particularly rail) systems in Japan are, they’re often not cheap (and I have a lot to say about that soon on this blog).
To make matters worse, there’s a positive aspect we’ve been largely ignoring: there are great things TransLink does for us that we don’t tend to give much credit for, and often give no credit for at all. Perhaps it’s a result of negative willies in the “vote no” side wanting to make sure there’s no possible way to think positively of TransLink, but those reasons are still there. Regular readers will recall that I’ve been pointing them out occasionally with posts in my “No Credit for TransLink” series.
One of them is the bond credit TransLink issued last year that no other transit agency in Canada uses, which last year saved taxpayers in this region $130 million.
Wait, wait, you didn’t hear about this? Well, the thing is, you probably didn’t. When TransLink made mention of this in a media release, the only significant media outlet that covered this unique deal TransLink made was the Vancity Buzz, and even there it did not receive the same attention that other Buzz articles have (judging by the amount of “shares”):
For whatever reason, no one else – not a single newspaper reporter or even a columnist, not a TV or a radio station, and pretty much no one in the transit issues discussion community as of yet – has bothered to take note of this very awesome thing that TransLink has been doing for all of us, so that they wouldn’t have to constantly whip out our gas tax funds to pay for projects that keep the regional transportation system in good working order.
As a bond issue, it’s not take-away money that’s been raised and it does eventually have to be repaid over the long run. However, without these low-risk bonds, we wouldn’t be able to proceed with these projects unless taxes are raised significantly in order to pay by traditional means. This is particularly relevant considering how much disagreement there’s been throughout the years regarding the raising of taxes to keep our transportation network in good, working order – it’s why we’re facing a referendum, after all.
Projects that see this money invested include the maintenance of regional roads, bus fleet renewals and the ongoing rehabilitation of major SkyTrain stations. These are great investments that save us money in the long run because they keep the transportation system reliable for its users.
Without this money, commuters in this region would still be dealing with issues such as old buses that are prone to breaking down, pot holes on our roads, and overcrowded SkyTrain stations that are not built for today’s passenger loads. If not needed immediately (and out of our own pockets), we would still have to make these investments and fix these issues eventually – and they would cost more to do so later and by traditional funding means.
It’s noteworthy that being able to do this requires the maintenance of a positive and stable credit rating, which TransLink must maintain year after year. That’s an achievement for which I do not recall TransLink has ever gotten any meaningful credit for at all.
“The demand for our bonds reflects TransLink’s solid financial position, and it shows strong investor confidence in the organization,” said TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis in a statement. “This access to capital helps keep Metro Vancouver’s transit and road network moving and contributes to the maintenance of transportation assets so they serve the region for years to come.”
The bonds do give us additional debt, but it should be noted that this is something TransLink has had no problem making them a part of the budget as it did manage to make a surplus last year, despite bond repayments.
And, to think that this was done under the leadership of Ian Jarvis. Perhaps if people knew about his efforts to secure unique funding that collectively made us $130 million richer last year, they would have been a little less sour about his six-figure salary. If we total up all the funding TransLink has collected this way, we’ve been $1 billion richer, in the form of well-maintained roads as well as new and renewed transit assets, since 2010.
As Canada’s only transportation agency to raise funds directly through Canadian debt capital markets, TransLink has raised more than $1 billion since 2010.
With transit issues in Metro Vancouver having been the spotlight for essentially the past month and running, I’m sure the bulk of you have been waiting for me to make a comment or put something up on my blog. Now that I’ve had time to put together some data, let’s talk about TransLink and executive pay.
It’s one of the main targets of the relentless “No TransLink Tax” coalition lead by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and BC director Jordan Bateman. The coalition have wasted no time designing their website to capitalize on riders’ sentiments and paint TransLink as a wasteful organization, and the CEO’s high salary is at the front of the criticism.
If you look at the image above, you can see Ian Jarvis’ salary is being compared to the salary of CEOs of other transit operators. How is it not disconcerting? An unelected in-charge, making over $450,000, earning this taxpayer-funded salary while managing a taxpayer-funded authortity, is not an attractive prospect by any means.
But it shouldn’t be as simple as that. By that, I mean to look at the context of the comparison, which just might be hidden between the lines. It may not easy to realize that there’s something missing and questionable in this picture. Like, for example,
Why is Seattle being represented exclusively by Sound Transit?
Sound Transit is a name you might see when you drive into Seattle from Vancouver, because it operates the bus rapid transit routes and stations you see while driving on Interstate 5. They operates numerous express buses and some rail lines, but it’s not the largest transit operator in the Puget Sound nor by any means the one carrying the most ridership. That would be King County Metro, which operates Seattle’s inner-city buses and carries 4x the daily ridership that Sound Transit does.
This is partly because Sound Transit and King County Metro are just two among the 10 different transit operators servicing the Puget Sound. With transit providers split up and each of them smaller in the Seattle region, to put the pay rates up side by side with Metro Vancouver’s should not and does not result in a fair comparison.
Now, I’d like to focus on Toronto as another example of what I mean.
In Toronto, there’s the TTC, which operates the subway, streetcar and bus routes inside Toronto city. Its CEO is Andy Byford, and he gets paid $150,000 less than Ian Jarvis. You could take that number for granted and think – “why do we need to pay our CEO that much more than Toronto pays its CEO?”. But what the CTF doesn’t tell you is that Andy Byford isn’t the only CEO of a transit authority in Greater Toronto. He’s actually one of nine CEOs.
Every other city in Greater Toronto operates its own transit agency – i.e. Mississauga (MiWay), the York Region (YRT), Burlington (Burlington Transit), Brampton (Brampton Transit) – and they each require a separate CEO and administration team.
There is also a long-distance commuter rail network, but it’s maintained by a separate operator (GO Transit) with a separate fare structure and a separate CEO. On top of everything, there’s a TransLink-like authority called MetroLinx that’s responsible for: GO Transit, a region-wide tap-card payment system (like Compass), and decisions on capital-intensive rapid transit projects. There is, again, a separate CEO.
Sounds complicated, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s one of the things the “No” side has failed to account for in its claims. In other cities in Canada, the moment you cross a city border and head into another city suburb, you need to transfer to different operator’s bus (which may even require an additional fare to ride).That hasn’t ever been the case in Metro Vancouver, as the transit administration model we’ve adopted is centered around consolidation and thus simplicity. You ride on TransLink whether you’re in Vancouver or in Surrey. You might have to pay for zones during some parts of the day, but you don’t ever have to pay two fares for two different systems.
Here in Metro Vancouver, we’ve had a single operator in charge of operating transit for the entire region throughout history. The B.C. Electric Railway provided rail and bus service as a single operator – so did B.C. Hydro when they were in charge… and then B.C. Transit’s Greater Vancouver division when that was incorporated. TransLink has continued the same advantageous, simple model – but expanded it by not just taking charge of transit but also taking charge of regional roads, bridges, pedestrian and cycling facilities, and other infrastructure throughout our region.
I personally think it’s because this is what we’ve been used to for pretty much forever, that we take it for granted and never really consider or account for the benefits of this model. TransLink has become, to everyone else, just like any other transit agency – and when our CEO is being paid on the higher end of a six-figure salary, that’s considered in a very negative light even though we perform with 1 CEO what other metropolitan areas perform with 4-9 of them.
So I have compared the transit systems serving Canada’s four largest metro areas (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa-Gatineau). When you add it all up (and I do mean ALL of it up), this is how we actually compare to other major cities in Canada:
Here’s the full spreadsheet data. The top-in-charge CEO salary numbers are up-to-date and were tracked down by various means (organization report, news report, etc.). Population counts are using more recent estimates by the city rather than the Census. Data is as of the year 2013.
Notice how when I put up the per-capita measurement for the TTC’s CEO only, it comes up as a lot lower than TransLink and looks like a lot of a better deal. This is what I mean about it being a matter of perspective. If you compare the TTC (the inner-city transit operator) only, it definitely looks great. But that’s because you’ve left out GO Transit’s commuter rail service into Toronto; you’ve left out Metrolinx; and you’ve left out all the other transit operators in the suburbs that surround Toronto city.
At this point, it’s not just a matter of who’s got more influence on the general public, but also about how they’re exercising that influence. For one, the leaders behind the “No TransLink Tax” effort have decided to tell us one thing and not tell us the other. They’re trying to convince us that TransLink is even comparable to Toronto’s TTC, Montreal’s STM and other individual city transit agencies when that is simply not the case. They’re outright lieing to us, and we don’t even know it because the concept of TransLink as a unique, single, region-wide entity – and advantageous because of it – has not been established with the voter base.
In case that wasn’t enough, here are some of the other misguided claims that “No TransLink Tax”, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and other proponents on the “No” side have used to portray TransLink and transit expansion in an unjustified negative light that I would like to expose:
The CTF has criticized TransLink for excessively having 6 different ‘boards of directors’ within its structure. But, other metropolitan areas in Canada can have 6 or more different transit operators, each with one or more ‘boards of directors’ within them.
The CTF has criticized TransLink for an “excessive” amount of staff making salaries over $100,000. About 430 people on TransLink make salaries of over $100,000. By comparison, Toronto’s TTC alone has nearly 1400 employees making salaries of over $100,000 – and there are more such employees at GO Transit, Metrolinx, and Greater Toronto’s other transit operators. At Montreal’s STM, 252 employees on senior-level staff alone are earning six-figure salaries – notwithstanding security inspectors and non-executives, as well as employees at Laval (STL), Longeuil (RTL) and the regional AMT, who may also be earning six-figure salaries in greater Montreal.
The CTF has criticized TransLink for having 66 of its 177 transit police officers make over $100,000. By comparison, Toronto doesn’t have a dedicated Transit Police force, but of the city’s civil servants who share the responsibility of patrolling transit along with the TTC’s transit special officers force, more than 40% make salaries of over $100,000. That’s 2983 police officers.
The CTF has claimed that the amount of costs TransLink can cut will pay for the improvements outlined as the referendum outcomes. Proceeding with taming the CTF’s alleged “inefficiencies” would raise only about $1.9 million annually, less than 1% of what is needed to proceed with the $7.5 billion, 10-year plan.
The CTF has claimed that we don’t have to worry about revenue sources because revenue growth among TransLink, Metro Vancouver and the 21 municipalities is projected to increase at 4.8% a year over the next decade. If the expenses being borne by the region – which the CTF seems to have ignored completely – weren’t also projected to rise at this rate or faster than, then there wouldn’t be a need for a transit referendum in the first place.
I’m honestly not sure, considering how much leverage the “TransLink is wasteful” message has on the public, how many people would be tempted to believe it if I were to say that TransLink is actually the most cost-efficient transit agency in all of Canada. Especially with the breaking news that TransLink is now paying two CEOs as Ian Jarvis has resigned, but is continuing to earn his existing salary as an advisor (notwithstanding that he won’t even be getting a severange package). Fuel into the fire for the no campaign.
But, the numbers as I have presented above just do not lie. Even when interim C.E.O. Doug Allen’s pay is also counted, residents of Metro Vancouver are paying less per capita for their top-in-charge than residents of Canada’s other large cities. And under normal levels we pay our CEO less than the other operators do per amount of transit service they manage.
In CEO pay per capita, Metro Vancouver and TransLink are thoroughly outperforming Greater Toronto and Greater Montreal, even if you don’t include the separate operators of the commuter rail lines heading into the city from suburbs.
Many sources have already jumped on board the efforts to debunk clearly misleading numbers released by the CTF, “No TransLink Tax” and Jordan Bateman. Which had me raising a question of what the “No” side might have done in response to them, and how they might respond to this article.
Anyway, I really, really wanted to get this blog article out earlier but with trying to balance my blog efforts with my abroad study life and other issues, it took me about 1 month to gather all the data. Look forward to more referendum involvement from me and this blog soon, though! Your continued support and maybe a donation (link above) would help me keep things up!
According to the FOI, last year seven executives each received a monthly vehicle allowance of $950 to $1,200 to maintain their personal vehicles and get to their meetings. When you include the executives parking expenses, the total bill equates to more than $94,000.
The new info added plenty of fuel to the TransLink hate-on, as critics began examining the numbers and coming up with all sorts of conclusions. Questions have been raised on the amount of the monthly allowance, and on why executive aren’t making more use of the SkyTrain station next to the corporate headquarters.
It was probably no surprise that the whole reveal was likely lead on by Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation critic Jordan Bateman, who lead the comments on Global’s news article and was allowed to make this blatantly rhetorical statement on TV:
“They want you to take transit, maybe so that you can clear the roads so that they can drive their fancy cars to their headquarters”
Has anyone spared a thought that if a TransLink executive needed to get to a meeting in Clayton Heights or Langley, the reason they probably wouldn’t be taking the SkyTrain and the #502 bus is because it could displace another passenger down the road on one of the region’s most notorious routes for pass-ups?
A Reality Check
All sorts of taxpayer-supported government agencies and crown corporations are given a car allowance as part of their benefits – and TransLink’s executive allowances are not on the high end. I actually find it impressive that TransLink is being given only just over $1000 in monthly car allowances to roam around North America’s largest service area, whereas other taxpayer-supported authorities are being given far more for their cars.
Councillors in the City of Surrey have been gettingtwice that to roam largely within their own cities (in 2011, then-Councillor Marvin Hunt rang taxpayers over $2000 in car allowance expenses).
With the burning trails of TransLink hate bright in the eyes of many people, it’s no wonder that Global would run this story. It’s even worded and executed as if to try and convince people that it’s something new – that it’s something they don’t know. No doubt when people hear the words “freedom of information” or “FOI”, it suggests that whoever’s being questioned is trying to hide something – in this case, that it’s more money than what we already know is being paid. However, the remuneration numbers in TransLink’s salary disclosure document did include car allowances:
“Remuneration” includes any form of salary, wages, overtime pay, vacation, banked time payout, car allowance, cleaning allowance and other taxable benefit paid during the year. Certain remuneration does not include any non-taxable benefits or any amounts payable under a severance agreement (2013 TransLink salary disclosure, page 9)
That means that the car allowance number being reported by Global is a part of the reported base salary number – for reference, this number for CEO Ian Jarvis is about $330,000 (page 71). It’s merely a detail in an existing pay number that is being nitpicked at.
I know that executive pay rates in the midst of a transit funding crisis is an issue, but I want to raise this question: should this detail even matter? Especially with a referendum that could be dominated by a short-sighted anti-TransLink vote?
And, where is the news coverage on the details that really should matter? Whereas big television news and media outlets are quick to jump on anything that could be considered taxpayer waste by TransLink, when TransLink does something unique among transit agencies in Canada to save taxpayers millions of dollars they just don’t give TransLink credit where credit is due.
Wake up, Vancouver: TransLink is working to save you money
Just a few days ago, TransLink announced that it had pulled in $130 million through a unique method of revenue-raising: low risk bonds. TransLink is the only transportation authority in Canada to raise funds directly through safe and low-risk Canadian debt capital markets. The program helps fund needed capital investments and maintenance costs, and has saved taxpayers over $1 billion since 2010.
“The demand for our bonds reflects TransLink’s solid financial position, and it shows strong investor confidence in the organization,” said TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis in a statement. “This access to capital helps keep Metro Vancouver’s transit and road network moving and contributes to the maintenance of transportation assets so they serve the region for years to come.”
In spite of wide, dubious claims of “taxpayer waste” and awards that were given based on such claims, TransLink managed a surplus last year of almost $50 million, helping restore a reserve fund that has been largely dipped into in the past few years in order to maintain service levels. Revenues increased by 1.6% while expenses were reduced by 1.7%. This happened despite some major introductions in 2013 such as the 96 B-Line rapid bus in Surrey.
Here’s one extremely interesting line in the new report:
Operating cost per service hour in 2013 at $143.55 is 6.3 per cent lower than budget.
There was one more interesting line for me, in 24 Hour newspaper’s report on the matter:
In terms of service cuts, Expo and Millennium SkyTrains did have weekend mid-day frequencies reduced by one minute, but that won’t continue, she added.
In 2013, weekend SkyTrain service frequencies shifted from 6 minutes on individual lines and 3 on combined portions (Columbia-Waterfront, Bridgeport-Waterfront) to 7/3.5 minutes. This is something I campaigned against in 2012 (resulting in a presentation to the Regional Mayor’s Council) contending that savings could be offset by decreased revenue as ridership drops with rider discomfort.
And, indeed, riders weren’t enjoying the reduced service. There was little impact to be had on Sunday…. but on Saturday, it was easy to find yourself passed up if a smaller 4-car Mark I train pulled into the station. Strollers and cyclists faced limitations in boarding trains, and it really did “feel like rush hour all day”. I ended up sending numerous complaint forms myself over Saturday SkyTrain overcrowding, probably among many as complaints per 1 million riders went up this year. Thankfully, due to other efficiencies that have been found in the system, this is going to be over soon. Hooray!
The amount of boarded passengers across the regional transit system dropped 2.2% this year. I could contend that reducing SkyTrain weekend frequencies might have had to do with this, but it’s important to remember that there were two fewer business days than 2012 (2012 was a leap year, and Family Day was introduced in 2013). Farebox revenues nevertheless increased, and at 7.3% this appears to be in line with the average fare increase rate (cash fares rose in January for the first time in 5 years); much of this increase was in shifts to prepaid fares (less cash fare payments! yay!), indicating that riders are choosing to commit to more regular transit use.
By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver
Thursday, April 3, 2014 10:00:46 PDT AM
Cost-cutting measures such as optimization of bus routes and new software upgrades for SkyTrain have helped put TransLink in the black, according to its annual report.
TransLink chief financial officer Cathy McLay told 24 hours on Wednesday the transit provider had a surplus of $47.9 million at the end of 2013, an amount that’s been added to its “safety net” totaling $342.7 million.
There were a few other people with me in the waiting room at Surrey’s (old) city hall on January 15th. I was waiting to present to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the missing 156 St Rapid Bus Stop and a few other were sat with me, which compelled me to start a discussion on matters of transit.
This was where I first heard a concern about the expansion and usage of the South Surrey Park and Ride, hearing that the new lot wasn’t being used effectively and also hearing that the new park-n-ride fees had something to do with it. Earlier in the day I had passed this park-n-ride lot on the commute to city hall from my university in Richmond. Looking at the facility from the windows of my 351 bus, I did indeed notice that the newly expanded portion was sitting there largely unused – and this was at 1PM on a Monday, when commuters using the lot had parked there to ride to their jobs.
So, I’m sure there were a lot of people in Metro Vancouver who raised their eyebrows and turned their heads this week when the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation – an avid and frequent critic of TransLink – awarded TransLink with a “Teddy Award” for wasteful spending over this issue.
BY GORDON MCINTYRE, THE PROVINCE – FEBRUARY 27, 2014
Like the hospital with no patients in the old British comedy Yes Minister, like the “road to nowhere” in Alaska that leads to a non-existent bridge, TransLink can boast of an expensive tax-funded project that isn’t used, too.
It’s a vacant lot. The problem is, it’s also a parking lot, a lot no one parks in, and it cost $4.5 million to build.
“Aren’t there better ways to spend that money?” Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, asked. “I’ve been here four times during workdays and there has never been a car here.”
Did TransLink sit still? Not at all. And, they were correct in stating that the $4.5 million expansion was funded by the provincial government in its entirety, with TransLink in charge of only the operations and maintenance. I think this was a great defense and really all that they needed to do – but CTF’s Bateman doesn’t believe it. Accusations on TransLink have taken the media and public by storm as media agencies rushed to report on the matter.
Seeing the empty new park-n-ride lot for myself demonstrated to me that the model with which TransLink is approaching park-n-ride users is not currently working, and in this regard the CTF may have a point. However, I also think that they are wrong in two regards: 1. that the expansion of this park-n-ride facility is an impractical and wasteful decision at the end of the day; 2. that TransLink should be chastised for this apparent “waste”. I think that TransLink made a great decision to allow the park-n-ride expansion a priority while the funding was available from the provincial government.
So, to introduce the third installment in my “No credit for TransLink” blog series, let me tell you what’s wrong with the CTF’s rationale for the Teddy Award given to TransLink:
Part I: A reality check
I think one of the things that really helps us get the correct picture about issues like these is to get a view of how something began and progressed. To aid readers, I have created a timeline graphic that shows this park & ride issue from start to finish. Pay attention to the dates and ordering of events.
I don’t think anyone realized this, but the park-n-ride expansion itself was announced by the B.C. Government as part of a $60.5 million highway improvement package on October 12, 2012 – an expansion commitment was made afterTransLink’s proposal to start charging fees across all parking lots in the region, which was part of the draft 2013 base plan being discussed in September.
This was a sudden announcement by the B.C. Government. The minutes for meetings of Surrey’s Transportation and Infrasructure Committee and other relevant reports that were made approaching the announcement suggest not only that the expansion was not being discussed until about the time it was announced, but also that TransLink was looking to alleviate the overcrowding issue in South Surrey through other means.
Shortfall 1: No communication
While TransLink had been studying the expansion of the park and ride back in 2010, this wasn’t the solution TransLink was looking for in July 2012, just as TransLink was beginning to tow cars out of the park-n-ride in order to deal with its overuse. At the time, TransLink contacted Grace Point Church, a nearby church on 34th Ave and King George Blvd that is served by stops for the same routes that pass through the park-and-ride.
As the Church parking lot is of course largely disused on weekdays, it represented an opportunity to service riding passengers on South Surrey buses. TransLink would have required a temporary use permit and to install revenue machines on the lot to operate it as an extension of South Surrey’s Park & Ride.
The plan was to begin negotiating the temporary use permit in the fall, but by then it had been made unnecessary with the provincial government’s announcement of a park and ride expansnion, as part of a highway improvement project that would have also added many interchanges to the area.
Any solution would have appeased many residents in the area and Surrey’s Citizen’s Transportation Initiative (CiTI), who had been advocating for a solution to address park-n-ride overcrowding. However, CiTI did not specify that it had to be an expansion of this lot – rather suggesting that new park and rides were necessary.
What this showcases is that the direct expansion of the park-n-ride really wasn’t in the interests of TransLink or any stakeholders at all. There appears to have been no communication with TransLink on whether other solutions were possible, no consultation with the public, and no prior communication with the City of Surrey. Mention of the park-n-ride’s $4.5 million expansion did not show up in the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussions and minutes until October 15 – 3 days after the province’s announcement.
Shortfall 2: Surrey’s failed anticipation and action
BY KELLY SINOSKI, VANCOUVER SUN – JANUARY 15, 2014
Surrey city officials are poised to impose parking restrictions around the South Surrey park-and-ride lot, following complaints that drivers are clogging local streets to avoid a $2 parking fee at the lot.
Coun. Tom Gill said the issue will likely be raised at the transportation and infrastructure committee Monday and will probably involve posting ‘no parking’ signs around the area.
The city has shied away from Vancouver’s practice of having permit-only residential areas, he said, and likely won’t adopt that here.
“We are looking at a new strategy,” Gill said. “I would suggest we’re going to be forced to look at some sort of parking restrictions on the side streets given the demand.”
The issue of the park and ride’s underutilization was paralleled by resident complains that local streets near King George Blvd were being used as free “park and ride” spots, a major shortfall that had not been anticipated by the City of Surrey. As reported by the Sun’s Kelly Sinoski, Councillor Tom Gill suggested that the issue woud be raised at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting during which I was in attendance.
This didn’t happen. Meaning, this issue for now remains unresolved.
In conclusion, we’re pointing the blame finger in the wrong direction.
The park-and-ride fees were put into place at about the same time the park-and-ride expansion opened – but this had little to do with the underutilization of the new parking lot. The fees were actually in place over a week before the expansion opened and the decision making process that resulted in the fees neither had to do with the expansion, nor did it target that park-and-ride exclusively.The CTF’s Teddy Award also completely fails to consider municipal-level issues that have not yet been solved.
It’s clear that TransLink had no responsibility in the current situation facing South Surrey commuters, and the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation does not have a suitable rationale for giving TransLink a “Teddy Award” for taxpayer waste over this situation. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation should revoke this award, apologize to TransLink, and make a statement to the public about its mistake.
The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation should revoke the municipal Teddy award given to TransLink, apologize to TransLink, make a statement to the public about its mistake, and reassess its criteria for future Teddy Awards ceremonies. (darylvsworld.wordpress.com)
Part II: Bad coincidence, or growth investment?
I don’t think that it’s viable to see this as a waste of taxpayer’s money, and there are good reasons for this. At the end of the day, there are two ways in which you can properly view the decision to expand the South Surrey Park & Ride while charging fees on it.
This is a picture of Morgan Crossing. It is the built-out centerpiece of Surrey’s Grandview Heights NCP (new community plan) and features a center where residents of the area can access retail and services. Accompanying this centre is a set of medium-density apartments: the center is largely built as mixed-use development, with shops at street level and condominiums up above it. There’s a lot of population in this newly developed area of South Surrey.
This is a picture showing the extent of the city’s Grandview Heights NCP.
And this is a picture showing how much of it is actually built. (Google Earth – May 2013 image)
As I was mentioning, you can see the expansion of this park-and-ride and implementation of parking fees as a bad coincidence. Or, you can see it as a growth investment to accompany one of the largest community build-outs in Metro Vancouver.
I think we should give the decision-makers some credit for anticipating high growth in this area and increased demand for transit, especially as the coming development increases congestion on Highway 99 (that expanded Massey Tunnel or Bridge is at least 10 years out!)
Aaron Meier on Twitter sent out this tweet a couple days ago, referring to a write-up I did last year on TransLink’s transit costs (see: Transit is More Affordable in Vancouver (Infographic)), which looked at what were the fares across the transit systems covering 3 major Canadian cities. Overwhelmingly, I found that TransLink gave you a better deal and could get you further for less, when the zone system and fare payment variables are fully taken into account.
To this day, that article has been one of the most popular on my blog – overshadowed only by write-ups containing even more compelling stats reveals having to do with TransLink that I published last fall (see: Was TransLink Audited Correctly?).
Positive stats like these could be making all the difference in how we perceive our transit system and our transit authority (TransLink), but they aren’t going around in the discussion circles. Instead, our perceptions about TransLink have been more often defined by convoluted stats that those who hold an anti-Translink agenda might twist to suit their wishes.
When I published my first and very popular “No Credit for TransLink” write-up, another regional issues blog – Price Tags, the blogging outlet of the very vocal SFU City program instructor, Gordon Price – was helping me build momentum on the issue at about the same time, having published The TransLink Hate-On: No Credit a few days after my feature focusing on the media’s TransLink treatment. A number of other articles focusing on where TransLink can be positively credited followed up on Price Tags, so I’ve been paying close attention to the site for the last few weeks.
Today, my attention was directed to a new post that came out just today featuring some very important statistical information from Peter Ladner (twitter: @pladner), a person I remember to have written a very good letter denouncing the province’s TransLink referendum proposal (which I was opposed to as well) last fall.
I highly suggest that the rest of you read up on this and enlighten yourselves. I think this is really important information worthy of sharing on at least a few other blogs out there. See below…
I don’t want this to get missed. Peter Ladner’s comment in the post below:
My letter to the Sun in response:
TransLink’s biggest failure is in selling its remarkable success. It astounds me that your recent article on TransLink, loaded as it was with financial facts and figures, missed the most important question: after all these funding and governance issues, has TransLink been a success?
Since 2006, the shift of trips to transit in Metro Vancouver is unmatched in North America. s number of transit trips per person per year.
We have more than three times as many transit trips per capita as Portland, which is the #2 city in the 2.0-2.6-million population peer group in North America.
Among all cities in North America, Metro Vancouver is third, behind only New York and Toronto with their heavy rail subways, for transit trips per person per year. We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington D.C….
The writer makes mention of two important points of service optimization (changes requiring consultation, and changes involving service reduction), but completely fails to point out a number of positive changes that were also listed in the TransLink source page:
TransLink also plans to make frequency and service improvements along busy corridors across the system. These improvements will be implemented over the course of the year during regularly scheduled service changes in April, June, September and December.
Fraser Hwy. (Surrey/Langley) (502)
Scott Rd. and 72nd Ave. (Delta/Surrey) (319)
410 service in Richmond (Richmond/New Westminster)
41st Ave. (Vancouver/UBC) (41/43)
49th Ave. (Vancouver/UBC/Burnaby) (49)
Broadway (Vancouver/UBC) (9/99/14)
Hastings St. (Vancouver/SFU) (135)
Como Lake (Coquitlam/SFU) (143)
Marine Dr. (North Shore) (239)
Notice how the first change on the list suggests that a badly needed service improvement on Surrey’s overcrowded 502 route is the top priority. Such a prospect should have come hand-in-hand with cheers, good feelings, and “finally!” letters to the editor; however, the writer does not give any readers the opportunity to celebrate, simply failing to mention these positive service improvements.
It doesn’t come as a surprise for me, because this won’t be the first time I’ve pointed out the Georgia Straight and its authors for what seems to be a biased, anti-TransLink view. And, assuming I am right about such a motive, it’s a very clever move on their part. The writer approaches the topic with neutrality and objectivity, not spinning the article with any obvious viewpoint, but readers are likely to make up their own spin anyway because they see only neutrals or negatives, and do not see the omitted positives.
It’s not just the Straight, either. I’m sure most of you remember the time last year when the media (especially TV media) converged on TransLink for doing as any other company would by providing coffee to its employees.
So, to the media gurus out there with the competence to possibly provide me with an answer… I’d like to ask you a question.
Why is there such a need for TransLink to be seen by the public as the bad guy?