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The man who ran British Columbia’s TransLink during one of the most successful periods in the history of the regional transportation agency has announced he’s going back to the United States.

Kevin Desmond, who took over as chief executive officer in 2015, when regional mayors had just failed to win a referendum aimed at providing new money for the system, told the TransLink board Monday that he will leave in early 2021 to pursue other opportunities in his home country.

The move did not come as a total surprise to many. Mr. Desmond’s family had never moved to Vancouver from Washington State, where he had been general manager of King County’s transit, and the COVID-19 pandemic has added difficulty to his commuting.

“When he first arrived, he’d given the organization a time of five to seven years," said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, head of the TransLink mayors' council.

"We know his family is still in Washington State and he’s been back and forth, but his movement has been more restricted. I think COVID-19 may have sped up the timeline because of the personal impact of his work life.”

Mr. Desmond came to TransLink when it was at a low and carried it to a high, with ridership that was increasing more than anywhere else in North America and waves of new money from provincial and federal governments for expansion.

He was a prolific public advocate for the system and hired a big-player public relations firm, on top of in-house communications, to ensure the public and media got a consistent and repeated message about how well transit was functioning.

“He had a forcefulness and an enthusiasm about public transportation and about the organization,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who has been on the TransLink mayors' council for the reigns of all five CEOs since its inception.

Mr. Coté described him as both collaborative and determined. “He kept persevering. It is disappointing to see him leave."

In the past two years, Mr. Desmond had to pivot the organization to a plan for SkyTrain in Surrey instead of light rail, after Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum was elected on a promise to do that.

TransLink will begin recruiting immediately for the job, for which Mr. Desmond was paid $460,000 in 2019.

Mr. Coté said Mr. Desmond is leaving the organization in very strong shape, with solid teams in place within the agency and its subsidiaries, such as Coast Mountain Bus.

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