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Head of TransLink leaving as ridership struggles to recover from COVID-19

Last Updated Oct 20, 2020 at 4:32 pm PST

TransLink has announced CEO Kevin Desmond will step down February 2021. (CityNews)
Summary

TransLink is looking for a new leader to guide ridership levels back to pre-pandemic levels

Kevin Desmond announced Tuesday he will resign as chief executive officer of the transit authority in February

TransLink board of directors launches search for next CEO

NEW WESTMINSTER (NEWS 1130) — The head of TransLink is stepping down after nearly five years at the helm, and during a time when the transit provider is seeing unprecedented low ridership and financial struggles largely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kevin Desmond announced Tuesday he will leave as chief executive officer of the transit authority in February. Desmond said he plans to return to the U.S. to look for new work.

“It’s been an honour to serve this great region,” he says. “When I arrived in 2016, I knew we already had a world-class transit system and I’m proud to have helped expand the breadth and depth of our services with a relentless commitment to our customers and public accountability. These achievements are thanks to a diverse team of nearly 8,000 employees across the enterprise committed to safety, reliability, a positive customer experience, and improved public engagement.”

Meanwhile, TransLink will hire an executive search firm to try to find his replacement.

New Westminster Mayor Johnathan Cote, chair of the Mayors’ Council, said Desmond’s leadership has been “instrumental” in advancing the 10-year vision for transportation in the Metro Vancouver region.

“I think if you’re a transit user in the Metro Vancouver region, you’re seeing improvements in increased traffic transit service in all communities in Metro Vancouver and Kevin Desmond’s leadership has really helped guide and helped ensure that the mayors’ 10-year vision doesn’t just become a document, but has actually become an implemented plan that the transit users can rely upon and using our system,” Cote added.

“We will now turn our attention to recruiting a new chief executive officer to take on our next challenges as an organization, which includes a focus on rebuilding our ridership coming out of the pandemic.”

Cote said Desmond will leave a strong leadership team behind him, and federal and provincial relief will help maintain the transit system until the pandemic passes.

“I think it’s unfortunate that Kevin’s time is ending at a time of uncertainty in the region,” Cote added. “But we will we’ll work through the pandemic and its impacts on public transit. And, hopefully, we’ll be able to get ourselves, in the next year or so, in a much stronger footing.”

Close to half of bus riders did not return to transit as TransLink resumed full services this past summer after limiting them in the early days of COVID-19, Desmond said last month.

Even fewer riders got back onboard the West Coast Express and TransLink projects revenue losses of $2 billion to $4.5 billion over the next 10 years, he added.

During his tenure, though, TransLink led North America in ridership growth for three straight years, reached new highs in customer satisfaction and on-time performance, and implemented significant increases in bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus and HandyDart service in the region.

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TransLink also implemented tap-to-pay fare gates during Desmond’s time as CEO, as well as introduced a touchless faregate system for people with disabilities, along with 10-minute SeaBus service, new RapidBus service, and Double-Decker buses.

In 2019, Desmond refused to publicly negotiate a resolution to a transit strike that disrupted services. He argued giving bus workers proposed wage hikes would endanger transit expansion plans.

That same year, the TransLink board expanded the salary range for Desmond from $406,000 annually to up to $517,000, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“I know it’s often an issue that’s difficult publicly to look at large salaries like this, but when you compare it to the private sector, it doesn’t seem as large,” Cote said. “And for such an important role it plays in delivering transportation in the region, I think it is important that we properly compensate and make sure we get the right caliber candidates in these important leadership positions.”