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Metro GM Kevin Desmond (KCM Photo)

In breaking news out of Vancouver BC late Tuesday evening, Global News is reporting that Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond will be named the CEO of TransLink on Wednesday morning. Desmond will join TransLink after a tumultuous year for the agency, having lost their equivalent of an ST3 vote last July when their $7.5B CAD plebiscite lost by a 2-to-1 margin. Adding pressure to Desmond’s new role, much of the public criticism of TransLink has been focused on executive mismanagement, giving Desmond a chance to leave a lasting impression should he be able to right the ship.

Long underpaid by national standards – with new Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff taking in nearly 50% more than Desmond – the move will come with a significant pay raise to between $325,000 and $406,000 to $365,000 CAD, according to TransLink’s job advertisement. Yet even this figure is a cut from former CEO Ian Jarvis’ $435,000 CAD annual haul.

Desmond leaves a mostly positive legacy from his tenure at Metro. A wonk in a politican’s job, Desmond has long impressed me with his analytical skills and pragmatic streak. During his tenure, Metro has seen iterative (if sometimes halting) improvement in a number of areas, including more transparent service planning, the introduction of RapidRide, and the creation of a nearly citywide frequent service network. He ably rode Metro through the whiplash of the recession that quickly became a boom, arguing for a balance between rebuilding reserves, deploying service, and investing in long-term capital needs.

STB wishes him well as he leaves his home in Tacoma for the Lower Mainland.

65 Replies to “Metro GM Kevin Desmond Named New TransLink CEO”

    1. He used public transit. Namely the sounder. Which a lot of Seattle residents used to get around. Wish a lot of other transit execs did that.

  1. I’ve been off the beat for ages, but yes, I too have nothing but love for Desmond. It will be hard to fill his shoes. I wish him the very best.

  2. I’ll be sorry to see Desmond go. He’s been a generally good leader at Metro and has guided the agency in the right direction (if not as quickly as I might like). I can only hope that Victor “let them ride 8s” Obeso isn’t chosen as his replacement.

    1. Not likely…..but stranger things have happened. the last Transit Executive hired internally was Richard Sandas. There is large talent pool at the national level of wanna’ be Transit General Mangers that can not wait to submit their resumes for KCDOT
      The council under the guidance of the Transit Committee with input from the County Executive are in discussion right now…..The Transit Committee meets each week and has already taken this up
      1. Appoint Interim General Manager
      2. Post General Manager Position
      3. Accept Resumes
      4. Hold interviews
      5 Transit Committee sends finalist to County Executive Desk
      What will be main attraction for New GM
      1. Metro Has Good Financial Outlook i.e. Booming Local Economy
      2. Facilities in state of Good Repair/Average Fleet Age of Coaches
      3. Demand for more service is increasing
      4. Regional Leadership

      Challenges
      1. labor – Hiring/Labor Agreements/Aging Work Force
      2. address system short comings
      3.What new technology will be needed for the future
      4. Regional Working Relationships

    2. Those in the know, are you aware of any Metro transit managers who would be a good pick for the General Manager?

  3. Being the head of Metro is a hard job. The shape of local politics are no help. Cheers to Mr. Desmond and good luck at Translink.

    Looking back locally, let’s hope the next Metro head has the savvy and wherewithal to handle the post nearly as well as their predecessor.

    1. Based on some blogs by Portland transit people, I would suggest that TriMet doesn’t have a lot of talent to poach. Good luck to Mr. Desmond in handling the lion’s den that is Translink and the BC government.

  4. This is getting serious: first Lynn Peterson by murther most foul and now Kevin Desmond possibly because KCM cheapskated him. [I realize that actually the fault of either the County Council or the nosy legislature]. The region is losing its politically savvy transportation geeks.

    1. It is a war of attrition and the R’s are winning. First Lynn Peterson, then Desmond, and now Eymann out with another Initiative to gut the car tab fees and specifically negate the ST3 funding package. It is a bleak world out there right now.

      But hey, at least the Feds have agreed to contribute about twice what was anticipated to Lynnwood Link. So 3 negatives to 1 positive. We’re not quite dead yet.

      But hey, maybe we will get someone in at Metro who will move faster to end Joint Ops. Desmond was definitely moving slowly on that.

      1. Unfortunately, an electable transit board is way, way, way too game-able for the anti-transit folks.

  5. Well, I won’t have anyone to complain to now about bus stops (I was one of those who complained about no stop at Broadway when the LR station was being built.)

  6. Desmond and I engaged in a lively debate over Metro’s financial reserve policy on this blog – during which he was remarkably generous with his time for phone discussion, gracious at all times, and straightforward. Others have noted the progress that Metro made on his watch, including greater transparency and clearer, professional service planning, and I agree.

  7. It’s a war of taxing and spending and the D’s are winning. They are making it so expensive to live in this region that even people making $200k/year can’t afford to live here. It’s a bleak world out there right now.

    1. Mr Troll, taxes don’t exist in a vacuum. They pay for government services. If you have a specific complaint that certain services should be done less or done differently, then advocate for that and if you succeed the tax rate will change or the service will get better. Many people see an unfunded shortfall in services: transit frequency, housing and transition services for the homeless, affordable (subsidized) housing, library acquisitions (i.e., book buying), etc… then there’s the state-level things like education, mental health services, public defenders, etc. That’s why they support keeping the current taxes and increasing them. Those who complain that “taxes” made their business fail or made them unable to stay in their house may be right in a few cases, but most of it seems to be hyperbole or lying or ignoring many other factors that contributed to it.

  8. WTF? He was the head of KC Metro, and he didn’t even live in King County? So, that means he didn’t even commute by Metro (at least most of the way)? Plus, the fact that I’m still primarily riding buses that are older than I am, while people in the Lower Mainland (and ST and most other industrialized peer cities) get new buses at least every decade, I say good riddance. Metro is one hugely screwed up agency that is so timid it can’t even abandon super-dooper wasteful and duplicative routes (and won’t even follow its own best practices directives). It’s an agency that runs on emotion via the ranting class rather than objectivity. I wish ST would just take it over. I hate to harp on this, but Metro’s rolling stock is about as nice as a third tier Siberian city. Good luck with that Vancouver, your system was so beautiful.

    1. Considering ST’s inability to plan a good rail line, I wouldn’t sic them on Metro. Metro definitely has its problems, but after the U-Link restructure saga, I’m not going to criticize them anymore for routes stuck in amber. Remember, they were pressing to abandon the 71 (as well as 68, 25, and many others), but the Council made them keep the 71.

      1. Joe – sure that all sounds great, but CEO knows more about metro than any collection of anecdotes you hope he gains while spending his $100/hr plus salary stuck on buses.

        Also, I seriously doubt any metro employees, like many downtown commuters, pay the transit fare themselves.

      2. Ruby,

        Book smart is nice. But street smart is also important. I don’t want my transit leadership isolated, but sharing in the system. It’s also 2016, you can work on a mobile device to/from work.

      3. It’s more reasonable to ask that all Metro senior management and county/city councilmembers ride transit at least once a month on a variety of different routes and times. Let them choose which routes and hopefully it won’t always be on Sounder or the 179.

    2. He worked at Pierce Transit before working at Metro, and people have families and lives and put down roots. No need for him to move across an arbitrary county line to make a statement of solidarity.

      1. I get that. One reason why Skagit Transit is losing a senior employee but not the CEO (I’d rather not give out more identifiable information as I’m in a citizen advisory role with that agency) is that person does not want to make that sacrifice and it’s understandable.

        That said, I want senior transit leaders who make decisions for the ridership to be of the ridership, to pay that fare, to experience what we as ridership experience. So it does matter. I would think a substantial pay packet would make a difference.

    3. Metro and ST, as well as almost all peer agencies, are on exactly the same fleet replacement cycle. Federal useful life of diesel coaches is 12 years, and trolley coaches 15 years. Most agencies, including both Metro and ST, stretch that out a bit longer. No agency in North America is on a 10-year replacement cycle for full-size coaches.

      Metro’s oldest current equipment that’s not actively being replaced right now is 15 years old and will be replaced within the next couple of years. (Although why they use that equipment on urban all-day core routes rather than Eastside trippers is a separate and much more mysterious question.)

      1. Any idea where ST uses its oldest equipment? And are its oldest buses a much smaller portion of its fleet?

      2. ST’s oldest equipment is in Pierce County, where they have a few original 1999 ST Gilligs still kicking, running the 574, 578, and 590s. There are also a variety of 2001-2002 buses still in service in various places around the system. All of the above are supposed to be retired within the next year or so.

        My armchair math says the proportion of the fleet is similar, or will be once Metro’s Bredas finally disappear over the next few months.

      3. “Although why they use that equipment on urban all-day core routes rather than Eastside trippers is a separate and much more mysterious question.”

        Probably because they want to make absolutely sure that the new buses last at least 12 years. If they don’t, they’d have to repay federal funds. The older buses are written off, so as long as they’re still running reasonably well, with reasonable maintenance, you can put them on the intensive routes.

      4. There’s also a few ST Gilligs up here in Snohomish County, used mostly on runs of the 535 at midday and some peak trips. Also, a handful of the remaining 1999-2000 NFI D60LFs are being replaced by the ADL Double Deckers.

      5. Those Bredas currently on the 43 and 49 are way older than 20 years…since before my time as a commuter. On some hill starts people almost have to get out and push. Plus, routes like the 271 get full time nice, new, and shiny, while the 8 is relegated to old, loud, and smelly. And, all (most) ST routes have plush rides

      6. One thing Desmond’s team did was lead us through the process of replacing nearly half of its fleet in the last three years. Quite an accomplishment and busy times for the agency that is still adjusting for post recession and Seattle’s passage of prop one. Hats off to him.

    4. He used public transit. The sounder. So while it may not be king county metro, he does understand transit. And he’s obviously a genius. I’m sure he made it a point to ride metro from time to time as well. As far as actually paying for the ride yes it is included but it’s in a way something we expect so it should be included.

    5. The Lower mainland does not get new buses every decade or so. The Canadian government does not fund new equipment purchases like the FTA does here in the US. In fact, most of their “newer” equipment came as a result of the Olympics in 2010 and the need to expand the fleet to handle the extra volume of riders. At the end of the Olympics, the excess equipment, that was still in excellent shape (in mainline service on 20+ hour days) were retired and sold.

  9. Congratulations to Kevin on a great opportunity. I’m going to miss him at Metro. He’s candid, well-informed, has a great command of both operations and management, and has priorities in the right place.

    I hope his replacement is as good, but it will be tough to find someone with all those qualities.

    1. I remember when Desmond spoke at an early recession-cut hearing (circa 2012) about how Metro’s revenues had been falling behind the population increase for years, so that when we were contemplating an X percent cut, it was actually an X (the same) percent increase we needed to alleviate the overcrowding and raise the frequency up to our peer cities (ahem, Vancouver, Chicago, San Francisco). I thought, “That’s right; that’s what we should be doing; that’s why we still have half-hourly evenings and pass-ups.” His and Metro’s work since then in reorganizations and articulating the funding needs, to the extent it has succeeded, seems like a fulfillment of that vision, and I’m glad he did it.

    2. David, worse obstacle to finding best quality transit officials is the reluctance of elected officials to hire exactly that kind of person. Anybody favoring 100% elected decision-making, as a voter has to be ready to take personal responsibility for exact above result .

      Also, can’t prove this, but great if STB can get it into Social Media where anybody downwind of the Route 7 will believe it: “Living Dead” series will feature a transit tunnel between Seattle and Haiti, with perfect buses bought cheap from….come on, tell me driver has ever thought of cutting beheading a scheduler with a machete!

      Mark

    3. Actually, Kevin Desmond’s future with Metro ended when Rod Dembowski determined that crucial data provided to the King County Council to justify submission of Proposition 1 was inaccurate, and when he, as chair of that Council’s relevant transportation committee, said so in public (which he did, repeatedly, after it was killed in virtually every suburb countywide), and introduced legislation to allow Mr. Desmond to be terminated by Council action (which he squarely promised, as a part of his own political mea culpa for having been hoodwinked, as a naif, into that failed $1.5 billion tax grab, and which, to his credit, he did).

      However, as someone who does not trust Mr. Desmond whatsoever, I would be pleased as a regular 255 rider to join forces with others, who may see some transit issues rather differently than I, to encourage the redeployment of clear transit enthusiasm and not-inconsiderable managerial skills that Lynn Peterson has brought to our state, from Oregon, to Metro in order to focus on what appears to be her genuine passion.

      I would hope that my fellow transit users would not oppose Ms. Peterson because she might commute from Olympia (since Sound Transit’s able Deputy CEO has done so for years). Indeed, Sound Transit’s marginal-to-poor-to-awful Seattle/Olympia service might even improve (unless they decided to carpool).

      1. The agency was providing the best information they had. Taxes were and still are unpredictable so they just had the recent data that suggested either an increase in revenues or cuts would be needed. Taxe collections grew faster than expected though.

  10. “… the last Transit Executive hired internally was Richard Sandaas. There is large talent pool at the national level of wanna’ be Transit General Mangers that can not wait to submit their resumes for KCDOT”

    Frank, from the Advisory Committee on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project, and the transit politics I was into in those days, I had more than one conversation with one official you mentioned. And some passing ones with the other.

    Talked with Kevin from time to time- but I think that for most of his tenure, I no longer worked for the agency. Still stay in touch with Ron Tober, Transit Director during the DSTT planning and construction.

    Internally or externally, length of list irrelevant. Same with personal political skill. Political approach or aspirations? Wrong job. Getting hired? Partly qualifications, very large percent political.

    Decision made by elected politicians, for their own reasons, not the applicants’. Current events in Olympia, and results, par for the course. Dramatic departures a trillion percent political. HOT-lanes now, granite then. Look it up.

    Two items missing from four point list: One, Director’s name and personal responsibility on every decision. And two, Director’s making it a priority to bring the workforce into decision-making from the get-go. Reasons Ron Tober is still missed.

    Because best quality of all guarantees short tenure: Sees every job as temporary: Set it up and point it in the right direction, and leave for next chance to do the same thing. Danger for us transit-workers and bloggers, though.

    If politicians pick this stripe, a short exciting set or years will need a huge effort to keep the air breathable when Seattle’s job is done and another opens up in Cleveland . Starting with electing politicians who who’ll steal a similar candidate from someplace else.

    Mark Dublin

  11. He better not make dumb cheap decisions by building streetcars, trams, and LRTs like Sound Transit Link which is accident-prone compared to the SkyTrain in Vancouver BC by TransLink under BCRTC. He should focus more on improving bus services and expanding the trolleybus network and expand the SkyTrain network.

  12. For those who don’t fully realize what the Puget Sound region lost, Trans Link’s press release:

    http://www.translink.ca/en/About-Us/Media/2016/February/New-CEO-Kevin-Desmond-to-lead-TransLink.aspx

    Under his stewardship, Metro has become the most transparent and accountable of all of the agencies in Puget Sound, with Sound Transit a distant second. They not only broadcast their meetings and provide staff reports and a GM’s report like (only) Sound Transit does, but they provide extensive, unparalleled information about routing changes/deletions/additions, financial information, and an “accountability center” with the assistance of a top-notch graphics/IT staff. Most importantly, while it took the behest of the King County Council, since the legislators apparently don’t consider this important for all publicly-funded entities to have, they’re the only area transit agency that I’ve heard of that had an independent, comprehensive performance audit, and they’ve complied with virtually all of the recommendations, saving thousands of service hours from being cut and rightfully earning them the exclusive right to levy a $20 vehicle license fee on the county’s motorists while back. Congratulations, Mr. Desmond, you’re long overdue for a promotion!

  13. My personal dream is that Metro would hire a hard-nosed transit manager from a German speaking nation, who would arrive and be shocked at the inefficiency throughout the system. In order to extend the value of the tax subsidy, she/he would immediately institute fully off board payment and 0.5 km stop spacing, and then start playing hardball with cities that don’t provide transit priority. No more buses idling in traffic wasting everyone’s time and the County’s money. Cities would lose transit service unless they provide right-of-ways that meet the transit speed and reliability goals.

    And then I wake up, and realize the County won’t do anything so bold as even hiring a manager from Canada.

  14. [ad hom]
    I swear to god, this blog should be called the seattledevelopersblog.com

    Ridership is up because Metro continues their trading of taking one bus route, then splitting it into two. The old 340 is three bus routes now, heck, maybe four. That’s four “riders”, when it used to count as one rider. There is no regular service in many parts of Seattle during the daytime, only commuter buses.

    Broadview, Blue Ridge, Shilshole Ave, 32nd NW have no service, where their used to be 18 hours of service a day. Only commuter runs now. That is just Ballard. They all used to have regular service. 32nd NW had regular service since Seattle was founded as a City. While market demands have house prices rising, any economist worth their degree will tell you they are worth less with no bus service. But the upside is you get to continue to pay taxes. Yeah, the system works, just not for them anymore.

    Why is this important?

    Because Metro Transit is geared towards taking employees to work, while taxing everyone to subsidize that. It has become Corporate welfare, where everyone pays for Transit that benefits Large Corporations.

    Just look what they are doing with Rapid ride C and D. They are splitting it to get Amazon workers to South Lake Union. All that Federal money spent, the license tab fees, the sales taxes, to subsidize the wealthiest Corporations. Who pays? Who Benefits?

    It isn’t just Desmond, look to the Executive on this. Remember all the new taxes we paid to “save transit” in 2009-2011?

    Funny how Dow balanced the County general fund at the same time. Maybe by putting Sheriffs on the Metro payroll while The County charged rent to Metro and found Enron style accounting to siphon Transit taxes into the general fund? After he bled it dry, all of a sudden they used scare tactics to get you to vote to “save Transit”. Get ready Vancouver, that’s the guy you just hired.

    Funny how when voters said ” no mas” Dow found the money for transit. Why, it was a Christmas miracle! Then, all of a sudden, the director of County run medical clinics left for family reasons after Dow decided to close 11 community clinics for budgetary reasons.

    That was not a co inky dink.

    The taxpayers had historically supported a transit taxes every time. How many would have voted yes for a new juvenile jail or a medical clinic during a time when your retirement and house values were getting crushed by an economic collapse?

    They new where to squeeze you, and did so shamelessly.

  15. Noticeably absent from this adulation-fest are comments from workers under Desmond. Allow me to be the first…

    Yes, he did a fine job navigating a recession. It was at the expense of working conditions and morale, which is still trying to recover.

    The audit of operators schedules led to tighter schedules, impossible to keep, which led not only to not enough break time at the end of the line but an opposite-running bus being late because the operator didn’t have enough time at the layover to eat food and/or go to a bathroom.

    This also led to buses running late the other way after completing other trips. Which, whaddya know, doesn’t lead to great customer service.

    Metro was fined by the state of Washington (a pittance, but still) for their refusal to provide adequate restrooms for drivers on a break. Weirdly enough, an outdoor Port-a-potty without running water does not meet their standards for permanent usage.

    A couple of contract proposals wiith huge takebacks from several of ATU 587’s labor classifications were overwhelmingly rejected, by which time the economy picked up and an arbitrator ruled in favor of the union’s view.

    So no, the rank and file won’t miss Desmond much at all. But I have a friend who drives trollies aroynd Vancouver, I’ve warned him what he’s in for.

  16. He’s a nice guy and he had lots of challenges to face including serious political pressure, but still, he was too much of a yes man to be GM of Metro. As a result of not standing up to the politicans and audit findings we are now saddled with a serious driver shortage and vast areas of the city that have had their bus service eliminated or drastically reduced over the years since the mid 1990s. On top of that the service we do have is plagued by scheduled bus cancellations due to lack of drivers. Lack of management or rather, too much crisis management. I hope things go better in Vancouver.

  17. Maybe the next CEO will have a real backbone and have the code of conduct and the law enforced on the buses. Then maybe riding the bus will start to be pleasant and not a pain.

  18. Ted Harris was brought in from Toronto, dc, and private sector . Best operations person in the business .

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