Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Translink Isn't Perfect


There has been somewhat of a hate-on for Translink recently as Gord Price noted on his blog this past week. This all seemed to come to fore from the recent revelations that the compass card system will not easily allow people who pay with cash fares on the bus to transfer to the Skytrain. While I agree this is not an ideal situation, there is a simple solution: get a compass card.

In an August 14 press release, Translink clarified:
To be clear, you’ll be able to transfer from bus to rail with the Compass Card or a Compass ticket. It is only customers who purchase fares on buses with cash who will not be able to use those transfers to transfer to rail—approximately 6,000 customers per day out of our 1.2 million daily rides.
This isn't news, Translink released information about this particular issue many moons ago...you've only just noticed now. To be fair, when I first heard about it, I was upset, too. But during the I Love Transit night a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat to Translink staff. Their explanation of the situation made sense: it really doesn't warrant that Translink spend millions and millions of dollars to accommodate a minority of users. Also, the current fareboxes on the buses have an additional 3-5 years worth of life in them and after that they will be replaced. Financially, this makes sense when using a limited amount of money (on a project that really wasn't Translink's idea in the first place). Not that you can really convince Jordan Bateman.

The change to an electronic farecard is a big change. Hiccups will happen.

Further, there have been assertions that Translink is a terribly mis-managed and wasteful organization. Translink, as a public agency, undergoes reviews and other audits regularly. These are then turned into reports and posted online for all to see. Before you assert that Metro Vancouver is home to the worst transit service in North America, please read these.

The Translink Commission commissioned an efficiency review in 2012 and the results do not support what most people think of the organization. In it's review, it used data from other transit agencies to compare translink. The review found that:
...TransLink’s funding formula is the best in Canada. It has enabled TransLink to go through a period of rapid bus and rail expansion, far in excess of any of its Canadian peers. TransLink has invested in technology that provides management with superior information to manage the system and for customers to use it. Its ample funding is evident in the amount of equipment and infrastructure it has procured and staffing levels it supports compared to its peers. Ridership and revenue growth has been among the strongest in Canada, yet it is not keeping pace with costs...
...In reviewing TransLink’s efficiency, two levels have been addressed. The first is at an overall financial level. This analysis makes clear that the organization is well run and manages its costs. It has abundant revenue sources and funded reserves and budgets in such a way as to include ample buffer room...
...Again, management are knowledgeable, engaged and candid about the challenges they face as well as receptive to seeking efficiencies. The service is well delivered and good quality but this comes at a price...
Another review of Translink in October 2012 came to very similar conclusions. Translink isn't perfect but I'm for one happy that we have it. 

2 comments:

  1. No one expects Translink to be perfect. But we do we expect it to approach its issues and problems in a rational way, and use good information in assessing them. We also expect its spokespeople to treat us as adults capable of checking what they say against reality.

    Since bus fareboxes are not going to be replaced for several years, then some alternate method for opening a faregate using existing magnetic stripe media was going to be necessary. Ignoring that need, and then overstating the cost of meeting it does not help the discussion.

    Questioning what we are told by a publicly owned body is NOT the same thing as calling for its abolition.

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  2. Thanks for this Brandon. You know, growing up in Toronto, the home of the perennially maligned TTC, I was even a little shocked when I came to Vancouver and saw just how negative people were about a system that provides really very good service for the money they get and for the urban form they have to work with. I understand and echo demands for accountability and respectful communication with the public, but I often sense what seems to me a narrative of total cynicism wrapped in the rhetoric of righteous indignation. I remember the years, after 2004, of big improvements in bus service in Toronto, reversing the cuts of the 90s, but during all that time the dialogue only got more negative. People spoke as though the transit agency was always acting in bad faith, hiking fares just for fun, that it was a sieve leaking public money into an endless puddle of waste. It was so easy to say especially since people didn't really have to do research to back it up - you could just say the transit system was a pathetic cesspool, the worst in the country, and the response was too often mute acceptance. Even when they were adding service. Even when they were (and still are) the highest-farebox-recovery system on the continent. Even when they broke ridership records every quarter and kept running. And it seems to me that this hyperbolic discourse ("Worst. Transit. Ever.") actually really blocks progress and improvement. Transit policy is nothing if not the land of gradual reform, and yet too many people are running around saying, essentially "transit will always suck in Toronto/Vancouver/wherever! They'll never listen, don't bother! Ya can't polish a turd!" I mean, I lived in Seattle for half a year. I know what an actual transit crisis looks like. And it ain't Translink.

    The upshot is, it's just a little discouraging for people (including myself) who want to build a career in transit. I feel like some things are changing on this front, but slowly.

    _Benjamin Sulky

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