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Kevin Desmond, the chief executive officer of TransLink, the Metro Vancouver transportation agency.

Albert Normandin

Most transit systems in the United States and Canada saw their ridership go down in 2017 and 2018.

There were a few notable exceptions.

Metro Vancouver was at the top of that short list, surging to new ridership highs in 2018. With 430 million boardings estimated by the end of Monday, that meant the system had almost 20 per cent more riders this past year than it did three years ago.

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In 2019, TransLink’s chief executive officer, Kevin Desmond, is expecting it to go up again, as the region’s economy continues to boom and his agency adds more service – the two main components needed for ridership increases.

The region will see new rail cars that will help relieve congestion on the Evergreen Line, expanding its trains from two to four cars, and the Canada Line. The third SeaBus will move into service during the summer. And there will be three new rapid-bus lines deployed, one on the North Shore, one across 41st Avenue in Vancouver, and one that will connect Maple Ridge to the Evergreen Line in Coquitlam.

And the agency is focused on making it all as pleasant experience as humanly possible for a mass service.

“It’s never going to be pretty, because it’s mass. But little things matter,” said Mr. Desmond, whose staff jumped earlier this year at the chance to use hometown movie star Seth Rogen as its featured transit-announcement voice for a few months.

Mr. Desmond arrived in 2016 from Seattle to a system in disarray after a series of scandals and management departures, a failed plebiscite on transit funding and general inertia. The turnaround under his watch, which has seen the agency’s approval ratings from the public jump from a dismal 29 per cent in 2015 to 51 per cent this past year, makes him smile.

And he’s looking forward to driving the system ahead even more, although he cautions that growing by 5 to 6 per cent a year, as the system has been doing for three years, is not likely to continue.

Besides the system improvements coming in 2019, he’s looking beyond that to the region’s next 10-year plan.

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That will elicit a torrent of demands, including bus service to Squamish, the extension of the Broadway line to the University of British Columbia, SkyTrain to North Vancouver, transit on a new Massey crossing, a gondola to serve Burnaby Mountain and Simon Fraser University.

“We want a plan the public has a stake in. A transportation network has to start where people are,” Mr. Desmond said. “But it has to be an informed conversation, not a popularity contest.”

That means every big project proposal will need to come with evidence that it will generate a healthy new dose of riders.

This will include the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain line that Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has demanded his city get, instead of the light-rail project that had been planned for that area.

Mr. Desmond is throwing the weight of his team behind making that transformation happen. In a sign of the kind of leader he is, he didn’t waste time trying to argue or mobilize people on the TransLink mayors’ council to arm-wrestle Mr. McCallum into sticking with the original plans for a light-rail line connecting three Surrey neighbourhoods.

Instead, in only 10 days, he got his team to pivot to new plans for the SkyTrain line from Surrey to Langley that Mr. McCallum had campaigned on building instead.

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“Just do it,” was the order from TransLink’s CEO.

“We are a big, lumbering bureaucracy. I realize that, so I fight that,” Mr. Desmond said. And he thinks he’s winning.

“TransLink is here to deliver. So far, so good, we’re delivering.”

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