Reconsider transit reliance on fare revenue: TransLink CEO

Ridership dropped to 17% of pre-pandemic levels in March, April

The Lower Mainland’s TransLink ridership dropped to 17% of pre-pandemic levels in March and April, the transit authority’s CEO told Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates Sept. 22.

Kevin Desmond said ridership is currently at 40% of pre-COVID levels.

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And, said Desmond, that drop showed the reliance the authority has on fare box revenues which account for 58% of revenue.

“I think we have to reconsider,” Desmond said, noting huge population growth expected across the region.

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote is chair of the TransLink Mayors’ Council and a TransLink board member. He also believes the funding model needs to be reconsidered. He said there needs to be an equitable way to fund transit growth.

Further, Cote said, while the vast majority of people were locked down in the spring, some quarter million transit rides were taken. He said they were trips people had to take for work, some by people part of the pandemic response.

“We need to keep in mind transit is essential and not something we should consider optional,” Cote said.

Further, Cote said, transit is part of the fight against climate change, a factor that should not be lost sight of as transit’s future is mulled.

Desmond said the $644 million in recovery funding for transit would allow TransLink to have a “stable budget going into next year.”

The authority’s pandemic losses could be in the $600 million to $1 billion range over the next year while the deficit over the next 10 years, however, could be up to $2 billion, he said.

What is key, both Desmond and BC Transit president Erinn Pinkerton said, is making sure transit is safe for riders to ensure people have confidence they can use transit without fear of COVID.

Pinkerton said there has been a perception buses have been full with so many people standing. But, she said, that is misleading as many do not want to sit on seats, preferring to stand.

BC Transit operates 88 transit systems in 130 communities provide-wide. It lost 80% of ridership early in the pandemic, a figure now sitting at 60%.

“Ridership is slowly returning,” Pinkerton said.

She said buses cannot operate at full capacity due to distancing concerns. And, she said, there has been a 92% compliance rate in Victoria and 75% regionally for passengers wearing masks.

The 117th annual meeting is being held online this year due to pandemic restrictions. It is being hosted from Victoria.


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