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Translink Buzzer Blog

Custom transit, HandyDART, and the Taxi Pilot Project: what’s going on?

HandyDART vehicle

A HandyDART vehicle on the move.

One of the topics we haven’t often addressed on the blog is the custom transit part of our transit services – HandyDART. HandyDART is a door-to-door shared ride service for people with disabilities.

Just like the conventional transit system, demand is up for HandyDART. People who use conventional transit sometimes experience pass-ups, especially on our most heavily used routes. On HandyDART runs, we can record these as trip denials – a customer requests a trip and there isn’t one available for the time requested.

As demand goes up, so too have HandyDART trip denials, and this is a big concern for us. (It’s worth noting that we started to more accurately record denials data in 2010, which resulted in a marked uptick in the number of denials.) TransLink has been managing this by getting more efficient with operations, including HandyDART (service optimization, anyone?).

Today, HandyDART provides more trips to customers than five years ago – 1.21 million in 2012, compared with 1.17 million in 2008 – using approximately the same number of annual service hours.  3% of all trips were denied in 2012.

Read more »

TransLink’s AA credit rating: what it means for the transportation system

TransLink’s two rating agencies – Dominion Bond Rating Service and Moody’s – have both just reaffirmed TransLink’s credit rating as AA stable.

I know some of your eyes may have glazed over a tiny bit when you read that. But if you’re interested in TransLink and how we deliver our transportation services, it’s worth understanding why having such good credit ratings is so important.

To explain what the credit rating confirmation means, I chatted with Derek Bacchioni, TransLink’s Treasury Manager.

Derek Bacchioni, TransLink Treasury Manager

Derek Bacchioni, TransLink Treasury Manager

Who are you and what do you do at TransLink?

I’m TransLink’s Treasury Manager. I’m primarily responsible for helping manage TransLink’s cash flows to make sure TransLink has sufficient cash available to pay its payroll and bills on time. An integral part of managing these cash flows is looking after TransLink’s investments and also its short-term and long-term borrowings programs.

Why did TransLink’s rating agencies just reaffirm TransLink’s credit ratings?

Both DBRS and Moody’s undertake an annual review of TransLink’s finances. After they finish their review, they produce a report that states their opinion of TransLink’s financial health and stability. In general, there are a number of things that support TransLink’s positive credit ratings:

  • TransLink has diversified revenue sources (e.g. fuel tax, property tax and fares) that are fairly stable and predictable.
  • Transit ridership is growing.
  • We’re considered to have conservative and strong management.
  • Rating agencies consider our governance model as a strength, but recognize the challenges it creates.
  • Our legislation requires us to prepare a plan and budget each year (e.g. our Base Plan).
  • TransLink has conservative financial policies, especially regarding debt management and maintaining minimum reserves and contingencies.

Between their annual reviews our rating agencies also keep an eye on any major developments that could impact TransLink’s financial health and stability. If they feel that something has transpired that would change their opinion on our financial situation they could unilaterally decide to change our credit rating either up or down.

Why are credit ratings so important for TransLink?

TransLink borrows money so that we can invest these funds into the assets and infrastructure of the transportation system we operate. Credit ratings are one of the primary ways that both bankers and investors – current and potential – gauge our financial health and stability. Credit ratings help them decide whether or not they are willing to lend or continue to lend money to TransLink and, if so, at what rate of interest.

It would be much more difficult for TransLink to borrow funds if we didn’t have a credit rating. Or we would have to borrow at a much higher rate of interest, because our investors would have to do a lot more work to continually monitor TransLink’s financial health and stability. Thus, our bankers and investors rely a lot on the independent assessments made by our credit rating agencies.

How much has TransLink raised from investors, and what is it using the money for?

To date TransLink has raised $750 million from longer-term investors. These funds have been primarily invested in buses, SkyTrain vehicles, road and bridge improvements, and many more physical assets and system upgrades which help us provide a safe and reliable transportation system throughout Metro Vancouver.

Thanks, Derek!

As always, please post your comments and questions here, and Derek and I will get you the answers!

Author: Tina Robinson

Share your thoughts on the draft 2014 Base Plan!

2014 Base Plan

The cover of our draft 2014 Base Plan!

It’s that time of year again! We’re looking for your feedback on our draft 2014 Base Plan and Outlook.

By legislation, TransLink must prepare a base plan each year, which goes to the Mayors’ Council and Transportation Commissioner at the beginning of November.  The base plan outlines the programs and services that TransLink will deliver over the next three years, using existing funding sources. Read more »

Small inflation adjustment for Golden Ears Bridge tolls, Mon July 15

Golden Ears Bridge

The Golden Ears Bridge

On Monday, July 15, the planned annual inflation-rate adjustment for tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge goes into effect.

The increases range from five to 10 cents, with no increase for registered motorcycle customers. Here are the details!

VIDEO now After
Car $2.95 $3.00 $3.50 $3.55 $4.20 $4.25
Small truck $5.95 $6.00 $6.50 $6.55 $7.10 $7.15
Large truck $8.85 $8.95 $9.50 $9.60 $10.05 $10.15
Motorcycle n/a n/a $1.50 $1.50 $2.70 $2.75

Click here to see the press release with more about the increase, or visit the Golden Ears Bridge site for even more about bridge tolling and the bridge project.

Author: Tina Robinson

TransLink 101: Where does TransLink get its funding… and how do we spend it?

TransLink 101 blog feature series banner

For February 2013, we’re going back to basics with TransLink 101—explaining TransLink and its work!

One of the questions we often hear is, “How are TransLink and the transportation network funded?”

People usually think first of transit fares as one source of revenue, but fares make up just one piece of the revenue pie. So, as part of our TransLink 101 series, we’re looking at TransLink’s existing revenue sources, and where our revenues are spent. Let’s go!

What are TransLink’s existing revenue sources?

TransLink Revenues

TransLink’s available revenue sources as of 2013

Our revenue sources are broad and diverse, which is a benefit because it makes us better able to weather a changing economy, and gives us the capacity to deliver stable and predictable transportation services.

It also comes out loud and clear in our credit ratings – TransLink has maintained an “AA” credit rating even in the face of the financial pressures we’ve faced recently. This means investors, who take into account our revenue sources along with our governance structure and management, rate our organization well and consider our organization stable and well-managed.

There are two main “streams” of revenue that fund TransLink’s services: taxation revenue and user revenue.

Read more »

TransLink 101: keeping our system in a state of good repair

TransLink 101 blog feature series banner

For February 2013, we’re going back to basics with TransLink 101—explaining TransLink and its work!

SkyTrain, by Michelle Lee

As you travel around on the transportation network, have you ever thought about just what’s needed to keep the system running safely, efficiently and reliably — also known as a “state of good repair“?

Right now, TransLink has an estimated $10.2 billion worth of assets and infrastructure – from buses and trains to radio towers across the region that support the communication systems on our buses. And because they form the backbone of  a transportation system used by hundreds of thousands of people very day, keeping them in a state of good repair is crucial.

So while people often talk about transportation expansion to meet the growing needs of the region, we also have to make sure we keep our existing assets in a state of good repair so we can extend the life of the system already in place today.

In 2012 we conducted an in-depth asset inventory and analysis to understand what’s needed to keep our transportation assets in a state of good repair, today and over the next few decades.

To help us better understand the process, why we did it, and why it’s so important, I sat down with Dave Beckley, TransLink’s Vice President of Engineering and Implementation.

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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!

Author: Tina Robinson

TransLink 101: Managing major roads and bridges in Metro Vancouver

TransLink 101 blog feature series banner

For February 2013, we’re going back to basics with TransLink 101—a series of posts explaining TransLink and its work!

A view down Knight Street (part of the Major Road Network), by on Flickr

When most people think of TransLink, they immediately think of our transit services. But while transit is at the heart of our mandate, TransLink is also responsible for roads and bridges throughout the region, particularly corridors that connect communities and are critical for the movement of both people and goods.

So if you drive in Metro Vancouver, then you probably use roads that TransLink pays municipalities to operate and maintain! Running these roads, bridges, and transit helps TransLink fulfill its job to plan for regional transportation needs as a whole.

Read more »

Alejandro Mejía Greene: SkyTrain photographer interview

Skytrain: 29th Avenue

SkyTrain: 29th Avenue, by Alejandro Mejía Greene

Late last year, someone brought to our attention the photography of Alejandro Mejía Greene, who has a stunning series of photographs of each of the SkyTrain stations. We caught up with him recently to find out more about the photos and his inspiration for creating them.

Alejandro Mejía Greene

Tell us about yourself and your photography.
I’m originally from Mexico City, I moved to Vancouver 2 years ago. I’m a mechanical engineer. I started taking photos when I was 14. In 1989 I asked for a “real” camera as a birthday present, and I got it. Obviously in those days, there weren’t any digital cameras available, it was all film. Together with friends and family I got the opportunity to travel to new places, and during those travels I discovered that I enjoyed taking pictures, not just as memories of those places, but also as interpretations of the reality through my eyes.

How did you come up with your idea for the SkyTrain photo gallery?
Mexico City has a fairly big metro system, so I’m used to underground mass transit. Later on I visited and used more and more systems in different cities (even falling in love with some of them), taking photos (but not necessarily a series). When I moved to Vancouver, I thought about stopping at least once at every station. And then just popped in my mind the idea of documenting this.

Tell us the story of putting this gallery together and choosing the final images.
As part of my style of taking photos, I limit myself to the tools I have in my camera, in other words I don’t do any post-processing on my photos. Therefore, taking the photos is definitely more time consuming for me, than choosing them. I first visited the Canada Line, since I use it more often. Waiting for a weekend with a blue sky, especially for the stations that are elevated. So sunny weekend after sunny weekend, section after section I completed the journey.

How long did it take to get all the images you wanted?
All the photos were taken during 2011, from May to the end of the year.

Which of the photos do you like the most and why?
29th Avenue Station (photo above). In general, I like geometric patterns on my photos, this one has a frame inside the frame, straight lines, curves, perspective, etc. Also the fact that the train itself appears on the photo makes it special.

Do you take transit? If so, what’s your favourite mode of public transportation?
I do. Definitely metro/SkyTrain. I’m positive that this is the most efficient means of transportation we can have in any city. I also use the buses, but my favourite is the SkyTrain. I can’t wait to see the Evergreen and the Broadway lines!

What can we expect from you in the future?
I’ll continue talking photos of the City of Glass where we live in, on a regular basis. And of course, transit is included in my planned subjects.

Author: Tina Robinson

Four moments from 2012 that made us smile

Fans of transit at I Love Transit Night in July

A missing engagement ring, reunited loved ones, an outpouring of transit love and the generosity of people to a fellow passenger are among our favourite tales that made us smile this year.

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Bus Driver Appreciation Day 2012 at Vancouver Technical School

Vancouver Technical students ready to thank bus operators on the route that serves their school.

Here’s a pleasant way to spend a morning: hanging out with a big group of enthusiastic high-school students handing out good cheer to our bus operators! Today Vancouver Technical Secondary School students held their fifteenth annual Bus Driver Appreciation Day (here’s some background about the event). The school is located on Broadway and is served by the #9 bus route. Many of the students get to and from school by bus, so they hold this event each year to say thanks to our operators. Some of the students have been participating in this event since they started at the school. Read more »

Fare checks up, infractions down – results of increased fare enforcement

Fare enforcement up, infractions down

One of the topics that we hear about most often here at TransLink is fare evasion and what we’re doing to stop it. Customers who pay the right fare understandably feel frustrated at the thought that there are people who don’t pay to use the system (also known as theft!).

Thankfully, it looks as if TransLink’s new powers of enforcement, along with a fare check blitz that started in the summer, are having an effect.

Read more »

Taking a ride on the new 555 Port Mann Express

Passengers boarding the 555 Port Mann Express at Braid Station on the first day of weekday service.

When I saw the schedule for the new 555 Port Mann Express, I was a bit skeptical of the scheduled time of 22 minutes between Braid Station and the new Carvolth Transit Exchange in Langley. I’ve driven over the Port Mann Bridge enough times in my lifetime to wonder: would it really be that quick?

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Service changes start this Monday, December 3, 2012!

The 555 ExpressBus ready to hit the road from Carvolth Transit Exchange

Break out the bugle and sound it from the rooftops! It’s time for the December service change, the last of our four annual tweaks to transit service.

The biggest change is the introduction of the 555 Port Mann ExpressBus, the first bus service over the Port Mann Bridge in 25 years! A number of other routes are shifting slightly to connect people to the 555 at the new Carvolth Transit Exchange.

Also starting on Monday:

  • The return of the #5 Robson/Downtown bus and the N6 West End NightBus to their regular route, travelling through the re-opened Robson Square on the 800 block of Robson Street (Robson Square).
  • The #134 Brentwood Stn/Lake City Stn bus will return to its regular route along Delta, as construction in that area has come to an end.

For all the details about what’s changing, visit our Transit Service Changes page. We’ll also have our holiday schedule up in the near future.

Proposed changes to UBC community shuttle routes: have your say online or at the open house!

Have your say about proposed changes to the C20 and C22 routes on the UBC campus

As we mentioned last week, we’re in the midst of public consultation on 2013 bus service optimization. Two of the bus routes that we’re looking at  are the C20 and C22, community shuttle routes that serve the UBC campus.

See the detailed proposals, then attend the open house, or complete the online questionnaire

UBC and TransLink are working to improve existing service on the two community shuttle routes that provide bus service to the UBC campus.

The proposed changes include a possible route change to the C20, and shifting some service from the C22 (a lower-demand route) to the C20 (a higher-demand route). You can read the details at UBC Campus and Community Planning.

There’s a public open house scheduled for Monday, November 26, where you can come and talk to UBC and TransLink transportation planners about the proposed changes and give your input. Here are the details:

Open House: Monday, Nov. 26, 2012
Affected Routes: C20, C22
Time: 4 – 7 p.m.
Venue: Thunderbird Arena, Main Concourse
Address: 6066 Thunderbird Boulevard, Main entrance on Wesbrook Mall

If you can’t make it to the open house, do not despair. After you’ve read about the changes, fill out the online survey. It opened today and will be open until Sunday, December 2.

Feel free to share any questions below and we’ll get answers for you!

Author: Tina Robinson