COVID-19: Service reductions, layoffs, executive pay cuts begin this week at TransLink [Vancouver Sun]

Published in the Vancouver Sun, April 21, 2020

As TransLink begins slashing services, laying off employees and cutting executive pay this week to stem revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, B.C. Premier John Horgan has called on the federal government to provide aid to ailing transit agencies.

Almost 1,500 temporary layoffs will take place at TransLink, Coast Mountain Bus Company and B.C. Rapid Transit Company, with the bus company again feeling the effects most because more than half of the transit system’s employees work there.

The cuts come a week after TransLink revealed that due to plunging ridership, farebox revenue and fuel tax income, it is losing about $2.5 million per day, and it is expected that April’s revenue will be down $70 million, or 51 per cent, from what was forecasted earlier this year.

The average monthly loss for the next six months is projected to be $75 million, with the worst-case scenario being losses of $93 million per month.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said there were a lot of “tossing and turning sleepless nights” as those in charge of Metro Vancouver’s transit agency tried to find ways to cut costs.

“Bus operators are out there still providing services, and then to have to talk about layoffs was incredibly painful,” Desmond said. “These are good people, and we all hate doing this, but we got to the point where we weren’t getting help, and this is the only thing that we could do to keep our head afloat.”

Bill Tieleman, co-executive director of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, said Monday was “a very sad day” for public transit in Metro Vancouver.

“There are so many people who are depending on our transit services, from frontline and health-care workers to ordinary folks who are still taking the SkyTrain or the bus to get around to their jobs,” he said. “We are hoping that TransLink is able to find additional funding from government to do more than just keep the lights on.”

Although ridership is down more than 80 per cent, about 75,000 people still use the system each day, and transit has been designated an essential service. Reductions will affect all modes, but buses will take the biggest hit.

On Friday, 18 bus routes will be suspended. The routes that will be halted include the 15, 32, 50, 68, 105, 131, 132, 143, 222, 480, 414 and R3. NightBus routes N8, N15, N17, N22, N24 and N35 will also be suspended.

Another 47 routes are expected to be cut in May, and there will be further frequency reductions on many remaining routes. The start date for those suspensions has not been released.

According to the transit agency, it prioritized preserving routes serving hospitals and other health facilities, and routes that are suspended either duplicate other routes or have low ridership.

“It’s a reckless and irresponsible move,” Unifor’s western regional director Gavin McGarrigle said of the service cuts. “Right now, there are tens of thousands of workers that are on transit because they have to be on transit. They are making sure that people get the health care they need in long-term care homes and hospitals and grocery stores — the list goes on for essential workers.”

Unifor represents about 5,000 workers at Coast Mountain Bus Company.

SkyTrain service will be reduced by between 15 and 40 per cent, depending on the line and time of day.

Expo Line capacity will be reduced by 20 per cent during peak hours, and 20 to 40 per cent midday, early evening and on weekends, depending on time of day. The Millennium Line will be reduced by 15 per cent during peak and 20 to 40 per cent at other times. Canada Line capacity has already been taken down by 18 per cent during peak hours.

This means wait times will increase by between 30 and 90 seconds during rush hours and one to four minutes outside of those times.

SeaBus, which is already running every half hour throughout the day, will stop running earlier in the evening. The last run leaving Lonsdale Quay will be at 7:30 p.m. and the last trip out of Waterfront Station will leave at 7:45 p.m.

West Coast Express, which is down from five trains in each direction to three, will run shorter trains.

This follows cuts to service that began last month. TransLink has already reduced bus service by 15 to 20 per cent, SeaBus by 50 per cent, West Coast Express by 40 per cent and SkyTrain by about 17 per cent. Capacity is also reduced on buses to promote physical distancing.

Some service improvements, including expanding NightBus, will be deferred and 2020 major road network operations, maintenance and rehabilitation funding to municipalities will stop.

The Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents 50,000 people working in health care — 25,000 of whom work in areas served by TransLink — said the service cuts will add stress for its workers.

“Our members have limited transportation options to get to work, and they’ve already been facing lengthier commuting times as a result of previously announced service reductions,” said secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside.

McGarrigle said there are about 3,800 transit operators, and 997 of them received layoff notices — or about 25 per cent of the workforce. Of the approximately 1,100 maintenance staff, 200 were laid off. The notices take effect May 18.

“We’re looking at our legal options right now, including potentially going to the Labour Relations Board about workforce adjustment. But beyond that, there should be no layoffs at all,” McGarrigle said. “The minute that you start to cut back on the buses that are available to people, you’re going to see more people load onto the bus.”

David Black, president of MoveUP, which represents administrative workers at Coast Mountain Bus Company and TransLink, said he is “extremely disappointed” to see the staffing cuts. He said the union was only provided with two days’ notice of the layoffs, which affect 160 of its members, instead of the required four weeks.

“Our members — the front-line workers who get other front-line workers in place to serve the public — are being disproportionately impacted,” said Black in a news release.

Senior executives, including TransLink’s CEO, chief financial officer, executive vice-president, as well as the presidents of Coast Mountain Bus Company and the B.C. Rapid Transit Company, will see their salaries cut by 10 per cent. The board of directors will also take a 10-per-cent pay cut.

According to the latest figures available, Desmond was paid a salary of $405,242, plus benefits, in 2018, while salaries for other executives varied. TransLink’s board was paid a total of $572,317 in 2018.

TransLink will also spend from its cash reserves to sustain essential service operations through the end of the year.

Desmond said the cost-cutting measures should save TransLink $140 million this year, with $85 million of the savings coming from the temporary layoffs.

Desmond said TransLink is more susceptible to the effects this pandemic than many other agencies in Canada because of its reliance on farebox money, which makes up 57 per cent of its operating revenue, and the gas tax. Another factor is that it is an independent regional agency, as opposed to one that is tied to a municipality that can backstop financial losses.

TransLink and the Mayors’ Council have appealed to both the provincial and federal governments for financial aid to help get the transit authority through the pandemic.

Although a dollar amount has not been released, the province has promised to make sure there is funding available for TransLink to reverse most or all of its layoffs and return to “near-regular operations” in September. Desmond said it will take tens of millions of dollars to make that happen.

The agency and provincial government are apparently working on a plan to address “the longer-term fiscal sustainability of TransLink,” so that it can deliver transit services and key projects, such as the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain line and Broadway subway.

When asked about how the province will help TransLink get its service back online by fall, Horgan didn’t answer directly, but said he has raised the public transportation crisis with the prime minister, and suggested that, for instance, the federal wage subsidy should apply to public agencies such as TransLink, B.C. Transit and B.C. Ferries.

He said the provincial government has stepped in to fill gaps in the federal policies related to COVID-19, but Ottawa has “greater access to resources that can be deployed across the country in an equitable way.”

“I’m not diminishing the province’s responsibility here. I’m just seeking to spread that responsibility to other partners so that we can maintain these services, keep people working as long as possible and, once we relieve the restrictions, get people back to work using public transportation,” Horgan said.

The federal government has not made any commitment to helping transit agencies weather COVID-19 to date.

“I’m just very disappointed in all levels of government that we’re somehow talking about funding shortfalls … in the middle of this pandemic when we have clearly a need to provide this service,” McGarrigle said.

Jonathan Cote and Peter Ladner: It’s time to make transportation a federal election issue [Vancouver Sun]

Published in the Vancouver Sun, July 11, 2019

Reducing traffic congestion and improving public transit are usually issues that dominate municipal and provincial elections.

But they don’t usually make headlines during a federal election campaign, where transportation often takes a back seat to national issues like climate change, the economy, trade and immigration.

Unfortunately, most voters don’t fully realize that the federal government plays a critically important role in funding transportation. Without its contributions, we would not have most of our SkyTrain system.

That’s why it is time to make transportation in Metro Vancouver a big issue in the 2019 federal election.

Transit and transportation are subjects much on the minds of Metro residents. A recent survey by Léger for the Canadian Urban Transit Association found that 75 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents believe road congestion is a problem, and nine in 10 agree public transit helps reduce congestion.

The ability to move people and goods where they need to go efficiently and affordably is an important key to our quality of life. Better transit gives people more choices for where they live and work and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

With demand for public transit growing at a record pace — and another million people arriving in Metro Vancouver over the next 20 years — the pressures on our transportation network will only increase.

That means this federal election is our opportunity to secure the commitments we need from the next federal government to continue making critical investments that will keep our communities moving.

We have seen the benefits of game-changing investments from successive federal governments that have helped make it possible to build rapid transit projects like the Canada Line and Evergreen Line. Improved transit has provided better access to affordable housing options and given people a way to leave their cars at home.

Now, with the 10-Year vision of the Mayors’ Council on regional transportation underway, thanks to investments from all three levels of government, TransLink is making historic increases to bus, SeaBus and SkyTrain service.

The public has responded to these new services, with ridership growing more than 17 per cent since the beginning of 2016 — more than anywhere else in North America. But this new ridership is swamping TransLink’s most optimistic projections. Completing the 10-Year vision is the next critical step that will help us to keep up with demand.

In this election, the Mayors’ Council and stakeholders, including the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, are calling on all federal parties to commit to a permanent congestion relief fund that would maintain the current level of federal investment beyond existing commitments, and would help us plan and build new infrastructure when needed, thereby lowering costs and reducing service gaps.

At the same time as we increase capacity, we need to ensure transit remains affordable. Having a predictable source of federal funding would enable TransLink to limit future fare hikes. It would also avoid Metro Vancouver having to jockey for priority in competition with other major cities.

With so much on the line for our region, it’s clear that transportation should be a federal election issue. The fact is, decision-makers in Ottawa have to keep investing or we will face chronic overcrowding on transit, worsening traffic congestion, more air pollution and longer delays moving the goods our economy depends on.

Federal parties and candidates need to hear from voters. The Mayors’ Council’s Cure Congestion campaign is making it easy to send a message to MPs, candidates and party leaders by entering your postal code at CureCongestion.ca.

Together we can make a difference. Contact your federal candidates and help us cure Metro Vancouver congestion.

Jonathan Cote is mayor of New Westminster and chair of the Mayors’ Council; Peter Ladner is chair of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition.

Peter Ladner: SkyTrain funding needed [The Province]

Published in the The Province, February 20, 2019

The University of B.C.’s and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade’s endorsements of the proposed UBC SkyTrain extension are laudable and exciting. However, the line will need funding and the incorporation of lessons learned from the other rapid transit lines.

One of those lessons is adequate public consultation in the planning and implementation phases, and ensuring the public know the full scope of the costs and benefits of the proposed line.

UBC president Santa Ono has taken the first step on the road to funding the project. The challenge is to ensure funding is provided by TransLink and senior governments.

Peter Ladner, chair, Better Transit and Transportation Coalition

LETTER: The B-Line will be good for business [North Shore News]

Published in the North Shore News, February 19, 2019

Dear Editor:

As the District of West Vancouver enters its public consultation phase on Park Royal to Dundarave B‐Line, it’s important that residents participate in this significant new transit option. The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, comprising 135 Lower Mainland community, environmental, business and labour organizations, endorses the approach taken by the District of West Vancouver to ensure local residents make an informed decision about this B‐line.

The proposed B‐Line gives West Vancouver residents another way to feed into Translink’s system, outlined by the Mayors’ Council’s 10‐Year Plan for the region. It’s a plan that increases transit service, gives more options for transit to the public, and takes cars off the road. This results in less congestion, more efficient commuting, and more affordable transportation. It will form a vital link in North Shore travel. It ensures that West Vancouver has full access to Translink’s growing and improving transit system.

In short, it gives West Vancouver residents more access to the region, and gives people in the region, including many people who work in West Vancouver, better and more affordable access to West Vancouver. It’s good for local businesses and it’s good for West Vancouver commuters. It’s important to weigh initial fears about change with the positive cost‐benefits of the complete B‐Line to West Vancouver. The District of West Vancouver will be hosting a community meeting on Feb. 21.

Detailed information on the B‐Line is online at: westvancouverite.ca/b‐line. We encourage people interested in this project to consider the facts and make their views known to the District of West Vancouver.

Sincerely,

Peter Ladner, Chair,
Better Transit and Transportation Coalition
Vancouver

Peter Ladner: Time to make a decision [Vancouver Sun]

Published in the Vancouver Sun, January 28, 2018

Will Metro Vancouver’s new transit and transportation plan to reduce traffic gridlock itself end up in governmental gridlock?

That’s the fear of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition. A credible transportation solution – a far-reaching plan to improve our region’s movability, environment, economy, health and quality of life – seems to be stalled between three levels of government.

Three years ago, the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition (BTTC), comprised of more than 140 organizations from labour, business, environmental NGOs, public health, anti-poverty groups, student associations, professional groups and more, rallied to support the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council 10-year plan to improve transit and transportation.

Our member groups saw the urgency of replacing the Pattullo Bridge, extending the Broadway SkyTrain subway line, building light rapid transit in Surrey and Langley and dramatically expanding bus services while improving cycling and pedestrian safety throughout the region. If this plan is fully-implemented, 60 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents will have access to frequent transit service – meaning service every 15 minutes or less, within walking distance.

Unfortunately that vote failed, but the pressing need for the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year plan grew.

There is no status quo with traffic gridlock — it will only get worse if it is not addressed. The region is at a turning point. This need to proceed with the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year plan requires the full cooperation and commitment of all levels of government.

For decades we’ve negotiated and pleaded for federal and provincial money. Now it’s there, waiting for us to make a simple decision on how to close a very small funding gap for the next phase – about $80 million a year.

Even with our limited capacity, the number of workers taking transit to work in Metro Vancouver jumped by 43 per cent over the last decade – the biggest increase in Canada. And our per capita annual transit trips are the fourth highest of any city on the continent, behind only New York, Montreal and Toronto.

But if government gridlock doesn’t end very soon – within weeks – our opportunity to reduce traffic congestion by 20 per cent while improving air quality could pass us by.

Momentum matters. We’ve still got agreement on the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year plan. Amazingly, this plan has been approved by the federal government, the provincial government, an overwhelming majority of the local mayors, the TransLink board and staff, tens of thousands of stakeholders, and the biggest non-partisan coalition in B.C.’s history.

Ironically, failing to come to a regional agreement on funding because of angst about the Broadway subway line could melt down the 10-year plan, opening the door for the federal government to pick the Broadway line as their favourite — and endangering indefinitely all the other vitally needed improvements throughout the region.

We need leadership here – at all levels:

  • from the region’s mayors – in danger of coming unglued by calls to go slow, rethink priorities and double-guess the city of Vancouver’s contribution to a regional subway;
  • from the Premier, who ultimately has control over this decision;
  • from anti-tax lobbyists who reject all funding possibilities with no suggestions on an alternate feasible, affordable and fair way forward;
  • from motorists stuck in traffic, angered by delays, forced to spew noxious carbon emissions;
  • from seniors and low-income people without cars, stranded in neighbourhoods where there is no transit;
  • and from the thousands of bus riders paying increased fares while they stand in the rain watching full buses splash by.

While it’s critical to pay attention to costs, taxes, fees and tolls, visionary leaders also focus on the benefits of delivering this plan:

  • increased affordability through immense savings for commuters and delivery vehicles not festering in traffic jams, and for people who can switch from cars to transit;
  • workers having access to a wider range of jobs;
  • employers having access to a wider range of employees;
  • cleaner air, fewer traffic deaths and injuries, and major improvements in public health.

The objective of the BTTC is to ensure that the Mayors’ 10-year plan becomes a reality, and that traffic congestion be dramatically reduced and that funding for this is sustainable, and fair. We welcome anyone to join us to help make this happen.

The time is now.