TransLink needs to develop long-term funding solutions to stave off reduction of service levels and delaying or cancelling capital projects, its CEO Kevin Quinn told the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation on Thursday.
“We may need to consider difficult decisions in the future,” Quinn said. “This could result in a range of impacts – reduction of service levels, delaying or outright cancellation of capital projects or stalling expansion of much-needed service that we know this region needs.”
“Quite frankly, we simply can’t deliver this without a long-term secure and stable funding source.”
In September 2020 TransLink received a “one-time” funding of $644 million under the provincial and federal government’s safe restart agreement, which helped it keep service levels up through the pandemic, Quinn noted, “but also helped to keep fares affordable.”
TransLink’s revenues are sitting at 17 per cent below budget for January, translating to roughly $7 million. “We fully expect these numbers to improve in the coming months as the economy opens up and we see those health restrictions start to ease and loosen up a bit.”
In January the mayors’ council and Federation of Canadian Municipalities asked the federal government to extend emergency funding for TransLink to help cover expected long-term and short-term revenue loss. Last Thursday, Quinn noted, the feds announced $750 million in nation-wide funding “to tackle public transit operating shortfalls, with the provinces and territories expected to match these funds.”
Quinn said there was a drop in ridership to 50 per cent in early January, “due to the extreme weather that we had and of course the Omicron variant.”
That said, nearly one million people used transit at least once in January. “We know these people are front-line workers, they’re students, they’re families that all rely on our service.”
Through February, however, TransLink’s system-wide boardings increased to 64.5 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels, Quinn said. “That’s up from about 57 per cent at the end of January, so a really nice increase there. That’s actually a total of 5.5 million boardings.”
That means about 250,000 people used public transit on an average weekday. On the Family Day long weekend, boardings jumped to 72.5 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels.
“This was actually one of our highest weeks of ridership since March of 2020.”
Quinn said TransLink is doing “what it can” to reduce overcrowding conditions “where those are popping up.
“This means we’re maintaining our policy on masks, regularly disinfecting and cleaning across the network as well.”