5 Questions: TransLink’s new CEO Kevin Quinn has optimism among the challenges

Kevin Quinn has only led TransLink for a few months, but pressure is already building to bring ridership back to pre-COVID levels.

Credit: TransLink

Quinn has only been in the driver’s seat for a few months, but pressure is already building to bring ridership back to pre-COVID levels

1. You took over as head of TransLink in July after coming over from Maryland Transit. How has the adjustment been?

It’s been a really smooth adjustment, honestly. TransLink is a great organization, and the transit system here is very robust. There are so many major projects ahead and opportunities for growth regionally; it’s an exciting time to be here.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the employees. One of my top priorities is to meet and speak with employees from all different corners of the organization. Over the past few months, I’ve made a point of visiting every bus depot, headed out to the SkyTrain operations and maintenance centre, rode the system to meet front-line employees like our SkyTrain attendants and transit security, and spent time at the SeaBus facilities.

It’s also been an exciting experience riding the transit system with my family. We’re avid hikers, and we’ve been enjoying exploring B.C. and getting to know the communities that make up Metro Vancouver. I’ve been fully immersing myself with the transit system as well as the incredible nature this province has to offer.

2. What’s the biggest difference between the two operations?

There are many parallels, but the funding and governance structures are different. Another difference is the focus on modes. In Maryland, there are less buses, more commuter rail and no ferry service.

My first event was the maiden voyage of the Burrard Chinook SeaBus, and it holds a special place in my heart. It was such an honour to be part of that event and see TransLink working in lockstep with the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh nations to bless the vessel and the artwork done by local Indigenous artists. It was a step toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and a historic day for TransLink. There is so much more we can do and will do, but it was a step in the right direction.

3. It’s a pivotal time for TransLink after COVID-19 decimated ridership. What are your main goals for the new year?

Rebuilding ridership is a top priority. Fortunately, we’re seeing encouraging signs that as people return to their regular fall routines, they’re choosing to come back to transit. Our latest data shows that ridership is at 55.7 percent of pre-COVID levels, so we are heading in the right direction, and that’s great to see.

Achieving financial stability goes hand in hand with ridership. We are currently working on our new 10-year investment plan and Transport 2050 to set out our priorities for transit in the region over the next three decades.

The customer experience is also really important to me, especially coming out of COVID. I’m interested in finding ways to leverage new technologies to improve the system—including making transit even safer, more reliable and enjoyable to use. That’s a big priority for me.

4. You’re the face of the organization not only externally but also internally. What’s your leadership style?

Inquisitive and curious. I like to challenge the status quo and find ways to do things better and solve real-world problems.

I’m very people-focused and invested in making sure our employees feel supported and have the right tools to do their job. I spend a lot of time on communication at all levels, getting ideas from employees and listening to diverse perspectives to gain a better understanding of how to improve things. My guiding philosophy is that transit is all about building and maintaining relationships, and how an organization treats its employees internally will be reflected in how its employees engage with customers externally. It’s all connected.

5. You’ve talked about meeting the region’s needs. What are the main ones for Metro Vancouver right now?

We need to focus on customers and making sure they have a positive experience as we come out of the pandemic and adjust our services to meet their needs and expectations. We also have to lean on the data to make sure that service levels are meeting people’s travel needs. I’m a big data nerd, so seeing how we can use that information to reduce overcrowding where we see it and reallocate services to where demand is.

For me, accessibility and equity are both paramount. We’re already working on finding ways to improve our system to ensure that it works for everyone, especially for groups that have historically been marginalized. 

Previously: CEO and administrator, Maryland Transit Administration

Hobby: Trail running

Last book I read: Still making my way through the last chapter of The Canadian Regime. Oh, I also bought a Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest book!

Favourite podcast: My new favourite is Noble Blood

Most memorable concert: The Avett Brothers

Pet peeve: Lack of Oxford comma usage lately (sorry, Kev –Eds.)