Transit use still depressed from 2013 fare hike

TransLink costs increased in 2014, fare revenue fell short of target, hurting cost recovery

Transit ridership in Metro Vancouver still hasn’t recovered to 2012 levels after a fare increase in January of 2013 spurred more users to drive instead.

TransLink’s annual report shows 234.6 million passengers were carried in 2014, up marginally from 233.9 million in 2013, but still 1.8 per cent below 2012’s 238.8 million, prior to fares going up.

“Ongoing analysis into the decline in ridership suggests that the 2013 fare increase had a longer lasting effect on ridership than expected,” the report said.

Although ridership was up marginally, fares paid actually dropped $1.2 million in 2014 due to more passengers using discounted passes or prepaid tickets instead of more expensive cash fares.

Because fare revenue has trailed TransLink’s targets, and other transit expenses rose – due to factors ranging from negotiated union wage increases to the addition of more SkyTrain staff after major shutdowns – the overall cost recovery ratio for the system dropped to 53.4 per cent, from 55.6 per cent in 2013.

Overall revenue was up about $10 million to more than $1.45 billion, while expenses were up $20 million to $1.43 billion, leaving a $27 million surplus.

TransLink took in $8.2 million more in property tax because it’s entitled to collect three per cent more each year under its governing legislation without seeking approval of area mayors.

Other increases included an extra $3.4 million from the 21 per cent tax TransLink gets on pay parking,

Another $1.2 million in additional transit revenue came from sources such as advertising and renting out retail space.

The number of drivers who took the tolled Golden Ears Bridge rose 6.2 per cent in 2014 and toll revenue climbed by $2.2 million to $41.6 million.

“More vehicles crossed the Golden Ears Bridge than projected due in part to the end of the introductory toll discounts on the Port Mann Bridge.”

TransLink took in $9 million less in fuel tax, which is projected to be a “flat revenue source in the future.” The 2.6 per cent decline to $340 million was mainly due to a 19 per cent plunge in diesel sold within Metro Vancouver. Gasoline sales were actually up 5.2 per cent, an increase thought to be due to moderating gas prices and fewer cross-border shopping trips into the U.S. because of the weaker Canadian dollar.

The total amount of transit service provided was roughly unchanged, although TransLink continues to “optimize” bus routes by shifting service hours from under used routes to ones where there’s heavy demand and pass-ups.

Communications vice-president Colleen Brennan said bus ridership is up significantly South of the Fraser.

“We believe it’s because of the investment in transit that’s been made in those areas,” she said, citing a 13 per cent lift in service hours South of the Fraser in recent years.

It was the first full year of operation for the King George B-Line, an express bus route from Newton to Surrey City Centre.

Transit Police expenses rose 12.2 per cent to $34.3 million last year, mainly due to the signing of a new labour contract providing pay increases retroactive to 2011.

While overall spending at TransLink was up – including capital costs like the purchase of a new SeaBus – Brennan said operational savings and efficiencies have been made worth $100 million.

Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation challenged the claim.

“Just because you’ve held spending to the rate of inflation doesn’t mean you’ve saved taxpayers anything,” he said.

 

Executive pay down five per cent, bonuses still flow for Jarvis

Most TransLink senior executives took an overall pay cut in 2014 due to an earlier decision to eliminate their bonuses.

TransLink said overall compensation for its six top executives was down 5.2 per cent to $2.08 million.

Five of six executives saw bonuses eliminated last year, cutting their pay by amounts ranging from $12,000 for strategic planning executive vice-president Bob Paddon (he was paid $299,192) to nearly $30,000 in the case of chief financial officer Cathy McLay, who collected $354,460.

The exception was former CEO Ian Jarvis, who was replaced in February but kept on the payroll as an adviser.

Jarvis actually saw his 2014 total compensation rise $15,610 or 3.3 per cent to $483,625.

That increase was because of the ongoing payout of a separate long-term bonus program that rewards his performance from 2010-2012. The bonus payment was $43,400 and was the second of three installments. The final payment was made recently and will be disclosed in Jarvis’s 2015 compensation next year.

Jarvis also received a short-term bonus of more than $54,000 earned in 2013.

The base salaries of all executives remain frozen at 2013 levels.

TransLink also eliminated its chief operating officer position last year, redesignating former COO Doug Kelsey as president and general manager of the SkyTrain subsidiary.

Had the extra position been kept on, executive compensation last year would have been $350,000 higher, according to TransLink officials.

Included in the total compensation are “perquisite allowances” of $1,200 a month for the CEO, $950 a month for the other executives, plus a further wellness allowance of $2,500 a year for the CEO.

Executive compensation makes up about 0.1 per cent of total TransLink spending.

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