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Translink Buzzer Blog

Category: 2013 Base Plan

Cathy McLay, TransLink CFO, answers your questions about the 2013 supplement

Cathy McLay, TransLink's Chief Financial Officer!

Cathy McLay, TransLink’s Chief Financial Officer!

Earlier this week, we asked readers to submit questions about our 2013 draft supplemental plan and TransLink’s Chief Financial Officer Cathy McLay would provide answers.

We received a few questions, and here they are, along with Cathy’s responses!

[March 11, 2013: These have been updated with answers to all the questions we received.]

How will this supplemental plan impact TransLink’s operations and services?

Through operational efficiencies, and drawing on the cumulative surplus, TransLink is able to deliver the same service in 2013 and 2014 that was identified in the 2013 Base Plan.

What did TransLink do to improve your financial position since October 2012?

We’ve aggressively implemented some efficiencies earlier than planned. For example, shifting from conventional buses to community shuttles in less productive areas to reduce costs, reducing layover times on bus routes, reducing overtime costs, not filling vacancies, restructuring and streamlining operations, and not accessing the contingency fund.

Are you using your contingency reserve to absorb the shortfall in funding?

Even though TransLink has made great progress on improved revenues and cost efficiencies, the supplemental plan relies on drawing $3.3 million of TransLink’s cumulative reserve.

What is TransLink’s overall credit rating? Does the 2013 supplemental plan incorporate any possible downgrades to the organization’s credit rating? I ask about downgrades in the light of the funding difficulties.

TransLink’s credit ratings are AA-Stable with DBRS and AA2-Stable with Moody’s . We do not anticipate a downgrade with either rating agency and our plan is reflective of this. We do not believe that a downgrade would be warranted, as TransLink does not increase services or capital investments unless it has the identified funding to maintain the operating cost or debt repayments for our commitments. Generally speaking, TransLink revenues are diversified (multiple steams of revenue) and are fairly predictable. Our financial policies restrict TransLink to drawing down our reserves to a minimal level in order to weather economic shocks.

Do the numbers for 2013 include the impact of any possible decline in ridership due to the January 1, 2013 fare increases?

The plan includes price elasticity for ridership, which was also included in the 2013 Base Plan.

The trend in future will be to have more service hours through the use of community shuttles rather than conventional vehicles. If the cost per service hour is less with a smaller vehicle, shouldn’t that allow TransLink to operate more service hours overall in the region while keeping costs constant?

We manage to multiple priorities, looking at the best way to provide the committed service at the lowest possible cost, while managing overall risks. If there is a financial surplus, the organization looks to the most cost-effective ways to meet TransLink’s overall mandate.

Some routes are seriously overcrowded right now. Why doesn’t TransLink draw down on its cash reserves to operate more service hours?

Like all businesses, TransLink must manage its risks and be fiscally responsible. The reserves are intended to manage unforeseen economic shocks. However, we are drawing on the reserves in order not to be in a position to cut services.

The UBC and Surrey Rapid Transit studies have just been released. There doesn’t appear to be any financial planning for these future lines. Why is that given ten years of future comparative numbers are provided?

Our plans include only the services for which we have identified and committed funds. Once funding is identified and committed to these projects, our plans would be refreshed to reflect both the revenue commitment and the matching capital and operating expenditures.

If you have any other questions, ask them here in the comments and, as always, we’ll sleuth out the answer for you!

Remember, consultation on the 2013 supplement is open until March 15: give us your feedback on the plan, then we’ll incorporate it and present it to the Mayors’ Council later this month. (It’s up to the mayors then to decide whether to approve or not.)

Thanks again to everyone who participated with their questions!

Questions about our 2013 supplement? Ask TransLink’s CFO!

Cathy McLay, TransLink's Chief Financial Officer!

Cathy McLay, TransLink’s Chief Financial Officer!

Last week, we announced our 2013 draft supplemental plan, which proposes removing a time-limited property tax from TransLink’s funding.

And this week, we’d like to offer the opportunity to ask our Chief Financial Officer Cathy McLay your questions about the supplement!

Ask and ye shall receive the answers in a special Buzzer blog post on Friday, March 8, 2013.

Feel free to submit your questions between now and Friday via:

We’ll round them up and get Cathy to answer as many of them as possible on Friday! Now go on: ask away!

2013 draft supplemental plan proposes removing time-limited property tax: share your feedback online

A detail from the cover of our 2013 draft supplemental plan.

A detail from the cover of our 2013 draft supplemental plan.

Heads up: TransLink has put together a draft supplemental plan for 2013, to remove a time-limited property tax that is part of our current funding.

Feel free to read through the draft plan now—and head to that same link from March 1 to March 15, 2013 to share your comments on the plan. Tell your friends!

The background on this plan

So why are we doing this? In 2011, the Mayors’ Council approved a two-year, time-limited property tax until a new, sustainable funding source could be found. This tax was part of our Moving Forward work plan for 2012 onward.

However, a new funding source was not identified and the Mayors’ Council has signaled to TransLink that they don’t want the time-limited property tax implemented in its setead. We’re responding to the Mayors’ request by putting forward a supplemental plan, which removes the time-limited property tax assumed in the 2013 base plan.

The supplement plan will address the removal of $60 million in total in 2013 and 2014. As well, to remove the property tax from being drawn in 2013, the supplemental plan must be prepared by March 31, 2013 and approved by the Mayors’ Council before May 1, 2013.

What are the impacts of removing this tax?

The answer to this question and more are in the Supplemental Plan page FAQ. Here’s a snippet though:

Without this additional funding, will my service be impacted?

We have been focused on operating efficiently and cutting costs. This has allowed TransLink to remove the time-limited property tax while maintaining existing services and implementing the projects outlined in the 2013 Base Plan. However, we will not be able to further expand the system at this time and will need to continue to manage ongoing financial risk.

What’s a supplemental plan?

To back it up all the way: a supplemental plan has to do with how we develop our work plans every year.

First, by law, we are required to come up with a base plan every year, outlining our work for the next three years, plus an outlook on services for the next seven years. In this plan, we have to describe exactly how we’ll pay for the work we’re planning to do and where the money will come from—which is why funding sources like property tax and such keep coming up year to year.

However, if we want to change something about this base plan—to expand, for example, or to change our funding sources—the law says we need to come up with a supplemental plan to amend the base plan.

This supplemental plan then must be approved by our Board, reported on by the Regional Transportation Commissioner, and approved by the Mayors’ Council.

And of course, there’s more on this on the main Supplemental Plan page.

So what’s next?

Your feedback is next! Give us your feedback on the plan, then we’ll incorporate it into the plan and present it to the Mayors’ Council in late March. It’s up to the mayors then to decide whether to approve or not.

I’ll have more info as it comes! Feel free to ask questions below.

TransLink in the media: Voice of BC and more

Voice of BC – Transit Matters from Voice of BC on Vimeo.

Last Friday, TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis and TL Board Chair Nancy Olewiler were on Voice of BC with Vaughn Palmer. They tackled everything from fare evasion to the Pattullo Bridge (and much more). It’s an interesting watch for those interested in the state of public transportation in Metro Vancouver.

For those of you who provided feedback on our draft Base Plan, we recently posted a report which tabulates the different channels we used to consult on our plan. The draft has now become a working Base Plan which can be downloaded here.

There are some minor changes in the final document, so do take the time to read through it and check out this page for some quick data on what is and isn’t included.

 

Heads up: our 2013 base plan consultation ends today, Oct 12, at noon!

Cover of the draft 2013 Base Plan

The consultation on our 2013 base transportation plan ends today, Friday October 12, at noon!

So if you haven’t entered your feedback in our online questionnaire yet, get cracking! We want your thoughts!

True or false: Customers will feel an impact from TransLink’s cost cutting. Tamim Raad gives us the answer

For the this last installment of our draft 2013 Base Plan video series,we’re tackling the cost cutting portion of the document. We asked Tamim Raad, TransLink’s Director of Strategic Planning and Policy, the following question: True or false: Customers will feel an impact from TransLink’s cost cutting.

Tamim speaks to how are riders will be affected by tightening of our financial belts given the financial challenges TransLink is currently facing.

This is the last week that’s we’re consulting on the draft 2013 Base Plan. If you haven’t filled out our questionnaire, you have until October 12th to do so. There’s also the PlaceSpeak 2013 Base Plan and Outlook survey, which is soliciting your feedback on the future of transit in the region.

 

 

Notes from the SFU City Conversation about TransLink funding

The SFU City Conversation panel discussion on transit funding in Metro Vancouver.

As previously mentioned, I attended the SFU City Conversations talk today called “Out of Service: The Future For TransLink?” And here are my notes from the event, in case you were wondering what happened! (Corrections welcome, of course: I was just taking notes and could certainly have misheard things.)

First, there were three speakers on the panel, and each made a short presentation before the floor was opened up to questions and thoughts from the public. They were:

Speaker presentations

Nancy gave a presentation about TransLink’s transportation plan for 2013 and the funding challenges we currently face with declining gas tax revenue. Rather than rehashing the whole thing, I’ll just direct you to our website which covers the same material!

Anne McMullin spoke about development and land use as it relates to transit. She noted that rarely do people talk about transit opportunities with higher densities, and said that the UDI believes population growth should be focused in places with transit infrastructure. There’s a need to remove obstacles to developing near existing transit, and infill development must be made more appealing to build than developments on the outskirts of cities. Each person who lives near a SkyTrain station provides TransLink with more revenue with little to no cost on the system. She discussed how transit is now a key item for homeowners choosing a place to live, but municipal taxation often isn’t going to improve transit or connect people better to transit.

Read more »

True or false: It costs the same to run a bus no matter its route or location. Marisa Espinosa gives us the answer

Our latest instalment of the draft 2013 Base Plan videos is about the cost of running a bus. Jhen and I asked Marisa Espinosa, Senior Manager of TransLink service planning, to answer the following question: True or false: It costs the same to run a bus no matter its route or location. If you’ve already read our Managing the Transit Network series, you’ll know the answer.

Do check out the other videos we’ve posted on the TransLink YouTube channel. The videos give a quick snapshot of some of the content found in our draft 2013 Base Plan document. There’s also our questionnaire or the PlaceSpeak 2013 Base Plan and Outlook survey that you can complete to provide feedback on the plan (besides posting your thoughts on the blog of course).

SFU City Conversations talk about TransLink funding, Thu Oct 4

Hey! Sorry for the short notice, but SFU is holding a City Conversations lunchtime talk tomorrow about transit funding that might be of interest to you and yours.

Out of Service: The Future For TransLink?

When: October 4, 2012
Time: 12:30-1:30 pm
Location: SFU Vancouver, Harbour Centre, Room 1900

Except for funding the Evergreen Line and some bus service when the new Port Mann Bridge opens, TransLink has no money to meet growing transit demand. So, now that we’ve widened our freeway and built the world’s widest bridge– copying the Los Angeles strategy of the past 60 years– where’s the money for transit?

The provincial government says not here, the Mayors Council says not from property taxes if the province doesn’t chip in, gas taxes are down, and on and on. Thus, no 300,000 hours of expanded bus service, no frequent bus service on Highway 1 except at rush hour, no expanded Seabus service, no B-Line service to White Rock on King George Highway, no bicycle programs or work on the Major Road Network. Even Los Angeles has stopped building freeways, now that its residents voted to tax themselves to build rapid rail lines, subways and fast bus routes.

Now comes the Lower Mainland reaction. Transit coalitions are forming. Cities are mobilizing. Business groups that called for more roads now call for more public transit.

To explore the possibilities, City Conversations has invited Nancy Olewiler, chair of the TransLink Board; Tanya Paz, representing new advocacy groups Get On Board and the Sustainable Transportation Coalition, and Anne McMullin, President and CEO of the Urban Development Institute, Pacific Region. Then it’s your turn to identify the needs and help define the strategies. Get on board!

A timely topic considering we’re discussing our transportation plan for 2013! Anyway, I’m planning to attend, and I’ll send some tweets and do a little wrapup post after the event. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Full details of the talk and more about the City Conversations program can be found on the SFU website here. Thanks to Gordon Price for the link!

Q & A with Bob Paddon, Executive Vice President, TransLink Strategic Planning and Public Affairs

The complete answer to today’s draft 2013 Base Plan poll is found by watching this video. In short, the answer to the poll question, True or false: TransLink can afford to provide all the transit service that people want?, is false.

It’s probably not the answer that most transit users want to hear, but it’s a realistic one considering the current financial challenge TransLink is currently facing.

Besides providing feedback about the draft 2013 Base Plan on the blog, there’s also our questionnaire or the PlaceSpeak 2013 Base Plan and Outlook survey.

Please feel free to share these videos. Our aim is to have more people informed and involved in the decisions that will shape the future of transit in our region.

True or false: TransLink can afford to provide all the transit service that people want

Help us plan the future of transit in the region!

For this fourth poll regarding the draft 2013 Base Plan, we’re asking a very sobering but important question. True or false: TransLink can afford to provide all the transit service that people want?

As many of you know, we’re going through some significant financial challenges these days. If the Mayors’ Council asks TransLink to remove the previously-approved temporary property tax, then they could ask TransLink to prepare a Supplemental Plan that would account for this lack of funding. The draft 2013 Base Plan depends on the funds produced by the temporary property tax. If the property tax is removed, then we may have to reduce the amount we planned on spending on transit in the future.

We’ll post the video answer to this poll question this afternoon. Remember, you can find all the info you need on the plan here or on the blog.

True or false: TransLink can afford to provide all the transit service that people want.

  • False (85%, 22 Votes)
  • True (15%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 26

 

 

Q & A with Sarah Ross, Senior Manager, TransLink Strategy and Plan Development

Here’s the video answer to the poll question we asked earlier todayTrue or false: Most of TransLink’s revenue comes from fares. The answer, as Sarah Ross, Senior Manager of TransLink Strategy and Plan Development explains, is false.

Fares make up roughly a third of our revenues. I’ll let Sarah and the video speak for themselves in respect to what makes up the rest of our revenue. This infograghic found on the draft 2013 Base Plan page provides some more perspective on our current financial challenge (remember, figures are rounded). Read more »

True or false: Most of TransLink’s revenue comes from fares

TransLink ticket vending machine

We’ve got another poll for Buzzer blog readers to take today. True or false: Most of TransLink’s revenue comes from fares

These polls and their accompanying video answers are all part of our consultation process for the draft 2013 Base Plan. If you haven’t seen our previous polls or conversation on this latest three-year plan, go here and you’ll be up to date.

I’ll be posting the video answer to this poll on the blog this afternoon. We’d also like to remind everyone to take the draft Base Plan questionnaire, available to fill out until October 12, 2012 on the TransLink website, or the PlaceSpeak 2013 Base Plan and Outlook survey.

Everyone did so well with the last poll, let’s see if you can do it again! Update: The answer is false. Click here for the full answer.

True or false: Most of TransLink's revenue comes from fares

  • False (74%, 32 Votes)
  • True (26%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 43

 

Q & A with Ian Jarvis, TransLink CEO

 

As promised, here’s the second installment of our draft 2013 Base Plan video series. Today’s video is of TransLink CEO, Ian Jarvis, speaking about the cost-cutting measures we’re implemented over the past three years. It also answers the question I asked Buzzer blog readers earlier today, “True or false: TransLink hasn’t cut any costs in the last three years“. The answer, as 86% answered correctly in the poll, is false.

Every year, TransLink goes through a three-year budgetary process and produces a Base Plan. In the case of last year, we also produced a Supplementary Base Plan as well. We look at the money we have available to us and try our best to make a plan to spend it wisely over the next few years.

This year, creating a Base Plan has been particularly difficult considering the uncertainty of funding for TransLink in the near future. Depending on the outcome of a handful of financial challenges (take a look at the “Financial Challenges” tab of the draft 2013 Base Plan page) we’re currently faced with, TransLink may have to do some more deep cuts in the future.

These video, like the infographics on our draft 2013 Base Plan page, are aimed at distilling our currently challenges into a quickly digestible format. If you can, please do share them with people who you think may be interested in joining the conversation!

True or false: TransLink hasn’t cut any costs in the last three years

There's always a lot of number crunching going on at TransLink

We thought we’d run a quick poll as a fun way to talk about our draft 2013 Base Plan and test your knowledge of TransLink.

The subject of the poll relates to what TransLink has been doing fiscally as an organization in the recent past. The answer to the question will be in our second instalment of our draft 2013 Base Plan videos… later today! Haven’t seen the first video yet? Check it out here.

So, spend a few seconds, and take the poll. If you have more than a few seconds and have looked through the draft Base Plan, there’s also a questionnaire available to fill out until October 12, 2012 on the TransLink website.

If you feel you’d like to provide us with your feedback about our three-year plan in another way, our friends at PlaceSpeak are also running a survey about the draft 2013 Base Plan. We wrote about PlaceSpeak, the location-based public consultation platform, in a past post.

I’m curious to see the results of this poll considering you have a 50% chance of being right! Check the blog this afternoon for the video answer! Update: The answer is false. Thanks everyone for taking the poll!

True or false: TransLink hasn't cut any costs in the last three years.

  • False (81%, 47 Votes)
  • True (19%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 58