TransLink’s operating budget turned in a $ 24 million surplus in the first quarter of 2010. Originally, TransLink forecast a $ 10 million deficit. The organisation credits Olympic ridership and VANOC payments for Olympic-related services, higher than forecast post-Olympics ridership, and cost cutting for the $ 34 million budget shift.
At the June 15 , “2011 Transportation and Financial Base Plan” public consultation meeting, TransLink’s CEO stated that surpluses were unlikely to carry through the rest of the year. TransLink expects to draw down on its cumulative surplus as the year progresses.
The Golden Ears Bridge, Greater Vancouver’s first, modern toll bridge has not reached traffic or revenue projections in its first year of service. Traffic is 25% below 2004 projections (22,300 vs. 29,400 vehicles / day) and revenue is down about 17 % ($26.5 million vs. $32.2 million / year). TransLink partially compensates for the lower revenue by adding the $5.2 million it budgeted to operate the Albion ferries that the bridge replaced. TransLink is developing plans to improve the bridge’s financial situation but will not proceed until a detailed business plan is available. Toll reductions and improved marketing to non-commuters such as trucking firms may be considered.
The BC Trucking Association states that the cost of transponders and tolls may be driving truckers to the Port Mann or other Fraser crossings. Transponders cost $10.00 (refundable) to lease and $1.00 / month for maintenance, which hardly seems onerous. Coincidentally, the BCTA’s offices are conveniently located near the south approaches of the bridge.
It is worth noting that TransLink provided one month of free rides when the toll bridge opened; when the Canada Line rapid transit line opened, transit riders got a break for less than one day.
Daily ridership on TransLink’s Canada Line is a few thousand riders short of its 2013 forecast ridership of 100,000 riders / day. TransLink spokesman, Ken Hardie, stated that the Olympics, ridership increases on buses feeding the Canada Line, and pent-up transit demand created by Richmond’s policy of increasing population density in its city centre are responsible for the ridership boom. Currently, TransLink is operating 14 of 20 available trains on the line and there are no plans to increase that number until August 2011. There are also no plans to shift trains from the Airport branch to the Richmond branch because the park-and-ride at Templeton station is attracting more transit riders. One adjustment that is being considered is “peak-of-peak” trains that would be run as needed to accommodate overloads or pass-ups. Financially, heavy ridership means the Canada Line could be breaking-even on its operating costs much sooner than planned.
Responding to this news report, TransLink issued a press release stating that, while the Canada Line experiences crowding at certain times, it has plenty of “capacity”. The release states that the line “easily handled” 200,000 riders / day with the existing 20 trains in service during the Olympics. It also lists several changes that could be made to reduce overcrowding but concludes by stating that major changes will not be made until ridership travel patterns have stabilised.
Ridership will be boosted further if proposed developments are approved. The Marine Gateway project adjacent to the Marine Drive Station predicts it would provide an additional 5,000 riders / day to the Canada Line, when fully built-out.
TransLink reported a significant, post-Olympic bump in transit ridership. January 2010 ridership was up 3% over January 2009; February 2010’s ridership swelled 51% due to the Olympics; and March 2010 was up almost 20% over March 2009. TransLink would not speculate on the long term impact on the organisation’s finances, assuming ridership stays at these elevated levels. However, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation weighed in, pointing out that TransLink gets “… a lot of cash …” from senior governments to build facilities that it cannot afford to operate. CTF spokeswoman Maureen Bader questioned whether the Evergreen Line should be built if TransLink does not have funds to operate it. (Note that I cannot recall the CTF making similar comments about highway infrastructure.)
Reporting on the same topic, The Vancouver Sun noted that TransLink’s underutilized facilities such as the SeaBus and West Coast Express had seen the most significant post-Olympics passenger gains. There were also ridership increases on the Canada Line and its south of the Fraser River bus linkages. The report also states that turnstiles will be installed in rapid transit stations and a contract for a smart card system operator will be signed by the end of this year. Part of the smart card initiative is to replace the current three-zone fare system with a fare-by-distance system.
BC Ferries CEO, David Hahn, says forcing the corporation to abide by provincial freedom-of-information legislation could cost $3 million annually, putting upward pressure on ferry fares. The change results from the provincially ordered Comptroller General’s report. That report also found that BC Ferries’ executive and directors’ compensation was much higher than for boards at BC Crown Corporations. BC Ferries’ directors’ compensation has been rolled-back but executive salaries, including Hahn’s $1 million annual salary, is grandfathered. Hahn stated that any changes to his compensation would lead to his resignation. He says BC Ferries is not a Crown Corporation, although it continues to receive $100 million in public subsidies, and needs its role as an independent organisation clarified.