I had the opportunity to sit down with TransLink’s Ian Jarvis at this year’s APTA Rail Conference in Vancouver. The agency was on its latest effort at playing host, having earlier this year hosted the world for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vancouver, like its hometown system TransLink, is a great host. It’s laid back with lots going on — also like its local transit system. And Jarvis is very similar. I felt more like I was in an episode of Mad Men than in an interview with the leader of one of transit’s most noteworthy agencies — Jarvis is disarming and it was easy to just sit and chat about transit.
Jarvis has been with TransLink since, well, before there was a TransLink. The “numbers guy” for the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), Jarvis says the driver for TransLink’s creation was growth.
“The lower mainland had a growth strategy, a land-use plan,” Jarvis says. “And in order to be successful on that land-use plan you need to encourage transit and transportation development that supports it.
“So there was a drive by the local municipalities through the federation called the GVRD to kind of take more influence over transit — decisions in particular.
“So, I was with the GVRD as the finance person, somewhat working in the background in the creation for the first two years. TransLink was created, came into being in 1999 and for the first two years I was the CFO for the GVRD and TransLink.
“After two years of experience it was a little bit much, so fortunately I had the opportunity to make a choice and I chose to come to TransLink because transportation gets in your blood,” Jarvis emphasizes with a laugh.
I asked Jarvis what had changed the most since TransLink’s inception and he said its growth and with that growth the confidence of its ability to deliver quality service.
“The Millennium Line, the Canada Line, two rapid transit links, close to 35 percent increase in our bus fleet and service hours. We built a tremendous amount of road infrastructure. Golden Ears Bridge, which is the region’s first toll bridge facility,” Jarvis ticks off all TransLink’s accomplishments.
“So expansion and, I guess, addressing the issue of concern would we be able to deliver,” Jarvis says.
“I think we’ve proven that we deliver, and again another offshoot of that is — very near and dear to my heart with a finance background — is being the first agency out of the shoot with respect to taking advantage of senior government funding.
“The federal, we refer to it as the gas tax transfer money. We were the first province, British Columbia was the first province, to sign. And we were the first region, metropolitan region to take advantage of it.”
Jarvis says this comes back to the organization having a plan in place and establishing a track record of successful delivery. This has allowed it to be very successful in attracting senior government money to the tune of $2 billion from the federal government with a like amount from the province.
Having interviewed my share of directors, I was intrigued by Jarvis’ background as the “numbers guy” for TransLink. Most directors I’ve dealt with have come up through operations or planning. Did this give him a different perspective on transit?
“It certainly does,” laughs Jarvis. “Accounting is in my DNA.”
Jarvis points to TransLink’s structure to aiding in his position. The organization’s operations are handled by two “significant” operating entities in the BC Rapid Transit Company, TransLink’s rail division, and the Coast Mountain Bus Company. Jarvis says that it helps to have very strong operating individuals in those two positions.
“The roll of the CEO is outward,” Jarvis says.
“You’re not successful without successful partnerships through your private sector and our local constituency, our local cities, municipalities, provincial government, federal government and key stakeholders.