“That’s a lot of the focus of the role of the CEO here. And the other thing is that we’ve come through a period of expansion, unprecedented expansion. We have stable funding. With that stable funding the emphasis and priority now of the organization is very much around cost efficiency and effectiveness. So with my background in finance, it’s just come together by a series of circumstances and time.”
When I was last in Vancouver, I had the chance to see the hole in the ground that would eventually become the Canada Line. Having the chance to visit again, I was taken by how seamlessly it had integrated into the system. So was it a success? An “unqualified success,” Jarvis says.
“As with any major infrastructure project was there controversy, was there debate at its project formation? Yes there was. However, the data was there.
“It was a corridor that was already well used. The city of Richmond had the development and plans for the development to support the level of ridership and of course the connection to the airport.”
Jarvis points to the Canada Line as the latest in a series of firsts for TransLink, which include Canada’s first rail link to an international airport.
“It has been a tremendous success. Ridership is improving. And during the Olympics the ridership was a record on the Canada Line.”
A spat of reports had come out just as I was about to interview Jarvis on overcrowding on the Canada Line. His response to concerns about being near capacity on the line?
“Are we near capacity? No.”
“[There are] lots of opportunities to change the service plan to increase frequency, to add vehicles, it’s nowhere near capacity,” Jarvis says.
“Because of the success, folks are having to stand in crowded conditions. No different than any line I’m certain in Chicago or New York.
“This is a great problem to have.”
Closing the System
TransLink’s SkyTrain was designed as an open payment system, but plans are underway to add turnstiles at stations and close the system. As you would expect, this is a huge capital project, but one that Jarvis says will benefit TransLink in the long run.
“[TransLink] was an open proof of payment system and the stations were designed on that basis. The Millennium Line, which is an extension to the original [Expo] Line and the Canada Line, the stations were designed for fare gates.
“So part of the challenge and the construction project path for smart cards is that we’ve got to retrofit a number of the stations on the Expo Line to enable fare gates,” Jarvis says.
Jarvis says the key driver for this change is the implementation of smart card technology and responding to concerns about safety and security.
“What that brings in terms of the data on origins and destinations, ridership, enables us to plan smarter as well as price smarter,” Jarvis says.
“We can bury our pricing schemes to encourage folks to use our infrastructure and services when we have capacity. That’s the key driver in order to enable that on our rapid transit system. Customers do need to tag on and tag off, and the most I guess orderly way of doing that is through an array of fare gates.
“There is a strong business case from the perspective of increasing ridership because in my experience people feel that a gated system is a safer system. Some folks don’t ride the system for fear of factors around safety.”
Jarvis says this coupled with reducing fare evasion, being smarter about planning routes and operating cost reductions pays for the investment.
Vancouver may have been the home of this year’s Winter Olympics, but TransLink was its unofficial host, having to move all the athletes and spectators while maintaining its normal passenger load. Jarvis says TransLink’s expansion had been a key factor in its success, but the real difference was in “the softer side of the business.”
“The customer service. All of our poor finance folks that had to deal with statutory deadlines. We had everybody out on the system during the Olympics acting as transit hosts or in our communication center responding to customer service needs,” Jarvis says.
I asked Jarvis how his staff and the public responded to this all-hands-on-deck atmosphere.