VoteLocal: A conversation with TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond

October 10, 2018

As the CEO of TransLink , Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority, Kevin Desmond has been leading the largest ever expansion of public transit service in our region,while working closely with municipal leaders who sit on the Mayors’ Council . VoteLocal asked Kevin to comment on findings related to transportation in our recent survey of Metro Vancouver residents, businesses and local politicians; and to tell us what advice he would give the new group of municipal leaders who will be elected on October 20th.


VOTELOCAL: The VoteLocal survey found that transportation is the second most important issue for voters across Metro Vancouver. From what you’ve seen and heard during the campaign, how would you describe the state of the debate about transportation? Are there any specific transportation issues that you think should be getting more attention from local election candidates?


KEVIN DESMOND: Metro Vancouver civic election candidates are very engaged in transportation issues. We have seen many candidates strongly committed to improving transit options, we’ve seen new ideas and we have seen very healthy debate about how we can do even better.


With housing affordability being a top issue for voters this election, we see a clear linkage to transportation and this requires real integrated planning and delivery. Our long range planning goals at TransLink to make it possible for 50 per cent of all trips to be made by walking, cycling, and transit, and to reduce the distance people drive by one-third mean we need to improve transportation links to identified job centres in the region. By working towards shared goals, we can improve our quality of life, protect the environment, and support and healthy and growing regional economy.


VL: How is TransLink contributing to the public debate about transportation issues in this election campaign?


KD: TransLink has hosted an all-candidates briefing session to address transportation issues. Almost 100 candidates from all over the region joined us to get an update on the 10-Year Vision for transportation and to engage in detailed conversation with our transportation planners to discuss local issues and options.


VL: The VoteLocal survey found that most people across the region believe transit and roads aren’t keeping up with existing population growth and home construction. With so many candidates promising to create more housing supply, what needs to happen to make sure transportation can keep up with public demand over the next four years and into the future?


KD: We’re doing our best to keep up with demand on transit which over the past three years has grown at three times the rate of population. Thankfully, we are in the process of delivering the largest sustained transportation service increases in our region's history. As the region’s population increases and the region densifies it puts more pressure on our road space. Building significantly more road capacity in our physically constrained region is neither desirable nor practical, so we need to use what we have more efficiently. That means enabling more people to use transit, walk and bike for more of their trips and addressing chronic road bottlenecks. This will be essential for people to have convenient ways to travel between their homes, jobs and services.


By 2021 we will have provided significant increases to SkyTrain capacity, implemented six new B-Line routes, and almost 20 per cent more region-wide bus service. We are extending the Millennium Line along the Broadway Corridor and building new light rail infrastructure in Surrey with a plan to extend to Langley and eventually connect UBC with rail. That is a lot, but with a dynamic economy, rising population and a housing affordability crisis, we may need to move faster on rolling out new services and preparing for what comes next. Linking transportation planning to the land use and housing planning of local governments in coming years will be critical to make sure we provide mobility when it is needed.


As we think about the future of transportation in the region, we also need to be thinking creatively about a future with shared services, including transportation network companies and public-private partnerships. This needs to be part of the new mobility equation, as we look to expand transportation choices available to everyone.


VL: The next Mayors’ Council will include many new mayors. It will include people who will have just finished campaigning for local transportation projects for their local communities. What challenges lie ahead for the Mayors’ Council as it tries to balance its members’ campaign promises to local voters with the broader region-wide need for transportation infrastructure and investment?


KD: We want to tap into the desire to further improve transit by building on the existing Mayors’ Vision. In the months ahead, we’ll be kicking off public engagement for our 30-year long range plan. The timing could not be better. With a new Mayors’ Council in place, it will be a great opportunity for the new mayors to bring forward their big ideas and help shape the future of the region. We’re looking forward to having those conversations with the next mayors and the public.


VL: More than four out of every 10 politicians VoteLocal surveyed said they wished they could have accomplished more to address transportation issues. What advice do you have for the next group of municipal leaders who want to make addressing transportation issues one of their biggest achievements?


KD: Think regionally. TransLink is a regional entity that requires major collaboration from the next group of municipal leaders. Future investment in the region hinges on this cooperation. At the local level, it is about moving the dial on transit-supportive and complete streets-supportive policy actions. We want to partner with cities to improve access to transit.Local municipal leaders can make a real difference at this level.

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