Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Help Save Transit Service in Metro Vancouver

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on people's lives and our economy. As noted by Statistics Canada, “the number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000 (+36.4%) from February to March, the largest monthly change since comparable data became available in 1976.

Magnitude of this unprecedented employment change compared with past shocks. Select image to enlarge. Source: Stats Canada.

This has translated into less people travelling by car and by transit. A quick look at Google Maps shows that even during the traditionally busiest times of the day, highways are all green.

A good proxy of the reduction in motor vehicle traffic volumes is that TransLink has seen a 60% reduction in gas tax since the start of the pandemic.

A TransLink RapidBus.

TransLink ridership has also dropped as follows:
SeaBus 🔻90%
West Coast Express 🔻95%
Bus 🔻82%

TransLink has stopped charging fares on buses, and has reduced bus service by 15~20% since mid-March.

The provincial government has deemed transit an essential service. In order to allow people to follow physical distancing recommendations, TransLink has reduced seating capacity.

In 2019, TransLink’s major sources of operating income were:
Transit Fares: $685.4 million
Fuel Tax: $403.1 million
Property Tax: $382.7 million
Parking Tax: $81.9 million
Hydro Levy: $21.4 million
Provincial Grant: $17.8 million

For TransLink, like most organizations, cashflow is more important than revenue; you cannot pay employee salaries and the bills without it.

While TransLink receives steady cashflow from fuel tax and transit fares, property tax revenue is received in one lump sum in the third quarter of the year. With significantly reduced cashflow due to the drop in both fuel tax and transit fares, plus talk about shifting property tax due dates until the fourth quarter of the year, TransLink is in a jam.

According to TransLink’s CEO Kevin Desmond, TransLink is “losing $75 million per month and on our current trajectory, we will face cashflow issues within weeks.”

So why does this matter? Currently 75,000 people still rely on transit. Many of these people are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in health care, in grocery stores, and in logistics. They still need to get around safely to ensure that the basic needs of people in our region can be met.

As the economy starts up again, transit service must be able to be quickly ramped up.

What can be done?

The provincial and federal governments are supporting workers and private sector businesses to keep people employed and businesses from failing. The same is needed to keep public transit going.

Like municipalities, TransLink cannot run an operating debt, it will need a cash infusion from the federal and/or provincial governments.

You can help by sending an email to your MP and MLA, asking them to save transit.

In Langley City our MP is Tamara Jansen:
Our MLA is Mary Polak:

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