Translink finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel

Clayton Whitelaw

After months of uncertainty regarding the immediate future of Translink – namely it’s employees and bus services – there finally seems to be an ending to the road ahead.

While no specific details have been settled on yet, Translink has confirmed that the provincial government will be providing financial support to the transit giant in order to help maintain a manageable level of public transit. This is in addition to the previously announced support that Premier John Horgan’s government will be provided Translink in the fall, in order to help get transit capacity back to normal levels.

In addition to the provincial support, both BC’s NDP government and Translink are continuing to call upon the federal government to either create additional monetary assistance programs for companies like Translink – who don’t qualify for the current Wage Subsidy program – or to extend the qualifications to include Translink, among other transit corporations in Canada.

Since early March, when Covid-19 became the global pandemic it is today, Translink has been looking for ways to cut back on expenses amidst a massive decrease in revenue, leading to losses nearing $75 million a month. Those losses are due to a multitude of factors:

– An over 80% decrease in ridership

– The introduction of fare-free bus travel

– A 60% decrease in revenue from fuel taxes.

One of the ways that Translink has saved money has been, as we all know, layoffs and service restrictions. Whether routes have seen a decrease in travel times, or even been cut out completely, it’s been nothing short of inconvenient for a lot of people in the lower mainland.

No one has been more affected than people in more rural areas of Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, and especially Maple Ridge; where most of the east part of Ridge (past 240th st) have seen drastic cuts in service routes. This has led to some residents to either reschedule their days and lives due to having no choice but to work at earlier later times – depending on transit times – or simply stop working all together.

Young workers are one of the most common users of public transit, being the most accessible form of transportation. And when those young workers make up the majority of our modern-day retail work force, it has contributed to the noticeable decrease in staffing and service availability in retail locations like London Drugs and Walmart, as well as fast food chains like McDonalds and Tim Hortons.

While the service restrictions obviously aren’t the only – or even primary – cause of these decreases, you can’t deny that they haven’t had a fair impact.

This is a video taken at the Haney bus loop in Maple Ridge; 5 community buses with no operators and no routes to run. While this might seem normal for other transit hubs around the greater Vancouver area, this is a sight that you never see in Maple Ridge, not even over night. Community routes are the most popular bus routes in Maple Ridge, with over a dozen different routes and over half of them moving residents at any given point in the day; sometimes with routes having multiple buses on at once.

However, with the service cuts, it’s rare to see any less than 4 or 5 of these buses sitting idle, waiting for their time to depart, when there’s normally 3 at most, and almost never for longer than a few minutes.

Over the last 2 1/2 months, Translink has been pushing the provincial government for funding in order to prevent additional layoffs and service cuts, while the provincial government has then been deferring to the federal government, asking the highest power in Canada to support Translink.

Finally, as of May 6th, Translink announced that the provincial government had agreed to provide them with enough funding in order to prevent Translink’s latest announcement of layoffs and restrictions. While the two sides have yet to come to an agreement on an amount, it will be a substantial enough amount that Translink wont have to consider any further cost-saving measures at the cost of the public in the near future. In addition, Translink has announced that they will be re-implementing bus fares and front-boarding starting on June 1st. The combination of those two factors help paint a clear road for Translink’s near-future.

Ben Murphy
Head of Media Relations, Translink
(@BenBMurph / Twitter)

One concern that many riders and drivers may have when it comes to reinstating bus fares is the re-introduction of front-door boarding. Due to the differences in how the compass card readers work between the front and back doors, riders will only be able to board via the front, as the rear-compass reader isn’t able to ‘check in’ a rider, while the front can.

However, according to Ben Murphy, Head of Media Relations at Translink, there will be measures in place to help prevent any further spread of Covid-19, “Given that barriers will be in place between the operator and the customer, there’s really not a huge difference in terms of boarding through the front and rear doors.”

While Translink was eyeing a September increase is transit usage – due in part to the return to school for students – Murphy says it’s looking more and more like transit usage will start to increase towards normal levels starting in the coming weeks. This is, in part, due to the BC government allowing businesses to reopen to near-full capacity starting later this month or early next month.

With the provincial government’s support, the re-introduction of bus fares, and additional income from Translink’s other sources such as fuel tax revenue, they’re starting to look at the best ways to begin rolling back on service cuts and layoffs, “We’re not looking at further reductions…we’re looking at what service can be increased. So we anticipate over the coming weeks and months we’ll be increasing transit service.”

So while the last few months have been rife with uncertainty for the lower mainland’s primary source of public transit, it’s looking like there’s little else but clear roads ahead for Translink.