Policy & Planning
November 12, 2020

Transport 2050: Remote Work and the Future of Transportation

Remote working, fad or future?

The pandemic has had a major impact on transportation, including prompting a massive shift towards working from home. At the outset of the public health crisis, one in ten Canadians traded their work commutes for a home office to ensure social distancing. With the remote-work trend presenting major challenges and opportunities for employers and employees alike, many are asking if mass tele-commuting will endure.

TransLink’s Transport 2050 conversation about remote work and transportation will discuss the trends, impacts, and how remote work can fit into the future of regional transportation.

Panel

  • Eve Hou, Manager of Policy, TransLink (facilitator)
  • Patricia Mokhtarian, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Associate Director, Institute of Transportation Studies, Georgia Tech
  • Havi Parker-Sutton, Director, Sales – Enterprise Health & Crowns, Telus
  • Leah Riley, Managing Director, Nelson\Nygaard and former Director, Portland Bureau of Transportation

 

Tuesday, November 24

10 – 11:15 AM

Registration link here         

 

 

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He came at a time when TransLink was maligned and demoralized, thanks to Christy Clark’s pointless and destructive referendum.  He led the organization to its greatest success, to become the best transit agency in North America.  And to improvements which continue to roll out. (If not for the pandemic, we’d still be seeing significant increases in ridership.)

I suspect he received calls from headhunters every week.  And with opportunities that became irresistible.  I will not be surprised if he becomes the next Secretary of Transportation in a Biden administration.

Here’s the interview PriceTalks did with Kevin Desmond last year – still revealing for the backstory of a public servant who will be much missed but with whom we received much benefit.

The Sky’s the Limit for Kevin Desmond, CEO of North America’s Transit Ridership Leader

Happy hiking, Kevin.

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PT: One of Translink’s most valuable assets is its CEO, Kevin Desmond.  He was the needed leader after the appalling debacle of the BC Liberal’s imposed referendum, he led the agency to the best performance in North America, and he has an even bigger challenge in restoring confidence and ridership in the Covid era, current- and post-.  (It’s on the way; ridership is already up about 40 percent.)

Here’s his latest call to action (with my added emphasis in bold) in Linked-in here:

 

Kevin Desmond: COVID-19 has dimmed the vibrancy of urban centres across the globe and spurred some to question whether we are witnessing “the end of cities.”

The pandemic has disrupted our lives in so many ways that it’s hard to predict what tomorrow will bring, let alone which changes will become permanent. However, I firmly believe that cities will rise again – with a recovery driven by transit.

After all, cities have been at the heart of every prosperous society. We are, as Harvard economist Edward Glaeser puts it, “an urban species,” living off the fruits of collaboration that cities – and public transportation – provide.

But the pandemic is testing the key tenets of what makes cities and transit work, namely bringing people together. Public transport is facing a crisis unlike any other since the late-1940s. What then took place over two decades – an 80 per cent erosion in transit ridership, brought on by the rise of the personal car and suburbia – was realized in just two weeks earlier this year, as COVID-19 emerged. In response, public health measures have kept people safe, but have stunted transit.

As a society, we can’t afford to repeat the same mistakes and allow transit to whither.  Effective public transport is synonymous with equitable and sustainable urban development. Metro Vancouver was a leader on this front before the pandemic, with record-setting ridership that led North America. Notably, the sharpest increase in transit ridership was in communities outside the City of Vancouver.

Unfortunately, in the short-term, I believe the return of traffic congestion is inevitable. We have already witnessed a dramatic decline in transit ridership and a sharp rebound in traffic congestion. Early data show that driving in Metro Vancouver is already up by around four per cent compared to one year ago. I think we can all agree the future we don’t want is one with more congestion.

That’s why it’s critical that we rebuild public confidence in the safety of transit, through initiatives such as TransLink’s Safe Operating Action Plan and our recently launched Open Call for Innovation, focused on improving the cleanliness and safety of the system. Now is the time for our industry, worldwide and here in the Lower Mainland, to seek out and embrace innovations.

Looking beyond the immediate future, we need to contemplate whether the rapid societal changes initiated by this crisis, such as social distancing and tele-commuting, will persist. If so, that will have significant implications on transit ridership – a crucial consideration for TransLink, which depends heavily on fares for operating revenue.

 

We also need to ask: how might our urban landscapes change? Already we’ve seen cities reimagining their streetscapes to create more space for pedestrians, cyclists, and restaurants. Many of these changes could positively improve the livability and vibrancy of our cities I believe we need to consider how transit can complement these measures and contribute to this new urban experience.

Time will tell which changes will hold, but TransLink welcomes conversations on how our region can increase efficiency while balancing diverse priorities throughout the transportation system. Improving the livability of Metro Vancouver is central to our mission and drives our organization every day.

As we help the region Build Back Better, I believe the region’s values – which we learned about through our largest-ever engagement in Transport 2050 – will endure and help inform the decisions we need to make together. Transport 2050 will also help us navigate the next 30 years, with its inevitable population and economic growth, and face the trio of challenges presented by affordability,

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Metro Vancouver has updated their map of Regional and Municipal park washrooms: those available for public access (green) and those no longer accessible due to COVID-19 (red).

 

The map is very revealing of the absence of washrooms where they’re needed the most: downtown Vancouver.

Two recommendations: (1) a map showing washrooms in private spaces (hotels, malls, departments stores, etc). (2) More public washrooms everywhere – especially transit interchanges.

In fairness to TransLink, such washrooms are nightmares of maintenance, and very expensive propositions if they are to be supervised and continually cleaned. Perhaps time to change the law and allow for a small charge (common in Europe), payable through Compass, that would also allow free use for those eligible.

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One of the so-sad consequences of the pandemic is the loss of momentum immediately experienced by TransLink.  And not just with the reverse of the quite stunning increase in passengers. (Said CEO Kevin Desmand in September of 2019: ““If this trend continues … then over the four-year period from 2016 to 2019, we would have seen a 20% growth in overall ridership. It is pretty astonishing.”)

By March, an 80 percent drop.

But it’s not just in ridership where the momentum has been lost.  TransLink was in the process of delivering on its 10-year Plan, with significant increases in rolling stock, frequency, new routes and upgrades in its facilities. (Like this PT report on Joyce-Collingwood Station.)  Much is still going ahead, like the rolling out of the Rapidbus routes. But, on the North Shore, the R2 line literally started just as we all went into lock-down.  I took it shortly after it started – one of only two passengers for a good part of the trip (right).

Progress continues.  And one of the places where changes will be the most welcome is one of the most dismal transit exchanges in the system.  Dark, dank and polluted from diesel, it sits under the ICBC headquarters adjacent to Seabus at Lonsdale Quay.  Convenient but unpleasant.

Well, that’s changing – as these pictures from CNV Councillor Tony Valente reveal:

 

As Daily Scot would point out – a lot of grey.  But alleviated by LED lighting overhead:

Tony tells us that there’s more to come.  All it will need is a lot more passengers.

 

 

 

 

 

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It was in the Sun‘s lead article today, but it might get missed:

There were just 11 new cases reported between noon Sunday and noon Monday — despite an increase in the amount of testing being done — and no evidence of any transmission on public transit, Henry said.

Two qualifications: (1) Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  (2) Over what time did that statement hold true?

Further, has there been any example of community transfer on transit, in Vancouver or elsewhere, and under what circumstances?

It seems obvious on one hand that crowded public transit should facilitate transmission.  But on the other, why aren’t there many more proven examples of it – hotspots in particular – given that some of the places where the virus has been most effectively contained – Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore – have some of the busiest transit systems on which their cities are dependent?   It’s a question that goes hand-in-hand with the density debate, as Sandy discusses in the post below.

If TransLink is to get back to anything like normal service in the next few months, it will depend on the public’s confidence (and willingness to follow protocols) in the safety (or minimal risk) of the transit system.

“No evidence of any transmission” is a very good place to start.

 

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