Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Former TransLink CEO’s thoughts on the agency

Business in Vancouver recently obtained, through a Freedom of Information Request, a report written by Doug Allen who was the interim CEO of TransLink in 2015. The report was Allen’s State of the Union, and final report as interim CEO.

Shortly after Paul Hillsdon and I released “Leap Ahead: A Transit Plan for Metro Vancouver,” we were invited to the TransLink offices. This was back in 2013. One of the things that Paul and I said at that meeting was that while TransLink had a great reputation outside of Metro Vancouver, within Metro Vancouver, people didn’t trust the agency.

This isn’t a surprise as TransLink allowed the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) for years to say whatever they wanted about the organization. TransLink never responded to the CTF’s accusation, and never corrected the out-of-context, and sometimes inaccurate information presented to the public by the CTF.

At the time, Paul and I suggested that TransLink take a more active role in correcting this misinformation. We also suggested that TransLink start being more aggressive with how it informs people in our region about the organization and its accomplishment.

Unfortunately this advice was not taken, so by the time referendum was announced, all people knew was what they were told by the CTF.

One of the things that Allen noted in his final report was that TransLink was indeed regarded outside of Metro Vancouver as a well-run, world-leading transportation agency. According to Allen, “TransLink needs spokespeople to advocate for the origination, its performance and the good service it provides” within our region.

One of Allen major pushes as Interim CEO was overhauling TransLink PR. This included:

  • ‘over-serving’ the media during service disruptions;
  • Providing one-on-one interviews to the media with TransLink executive; and,
  • Starting to address subject matter that is controversial head-on, instead of letting TransLink critics tell the story.

Beyond its brand image, Allen also noted that TransLink needs to be more customer service focused. According to Allen “TransLink runs a safe, efficient, reliable transit system but leaves its customers with the impression of detached indifference to their experience, opinions or requests.”

I believe much work still needs to be done with how TransLink engages with the region, though there have been improvements made over the last year. Much more work is needed to change people’s perceptions of TransLink.

Besides branding, Allen preformed a core service review of the organization. TransLink needs to continue to focus on the safety and security of its customers. Allen said that “TransLink has a long-standing focus on safety and security… and an establish record of safe operation. The unions representing its employees have played an essential role in building this safety culture.”

Allen also noted that increasing transit ridership needs to become the overriding object of the agency. While this is nice to say, it is hard to do when local governments in our region and the province can’t agree on a way to pay for transit service expansion.

TransLink is an organization that is driven by fact-based metrics, Allen said that TransLink needs to do a better job of letting people know how it uses these metrics in its operations.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that the province uses TransLink as a way to escaping having to make decisions about transit in our region. Allen said that “the province must support public transit and the agency, TransLink, delivering the services. This support should be ongoing and public. Openly criticizing a public agency on a regular bases simply re-enforces uninformed views, particularly if the party doing the criticizing is responsible for the creation of the agency in the first place.”

This is much more information in Allen’s final report, and it is certainly worth the read. I believe that TransLink, the province, and local governments need to do a better job of letting people know that we have a world-class transit agency in our own backyard. People are more likely to support funding an agency that they trust.

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