02/18/2015 11:32 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT

TransLink CEO Doug Allen promises better transit signage, escalators

TransLink's new interim CEO Doug Allen will improve Metro Vancouver transit services while finding more efficiencies, he told CBC Vancouver host Andrew Chang during a one-on-one interview on Wednesday.

"I'm an escalator-elevator guy. I like to spend a lot of time worrying about those being better, more reliable. It's a big deal in the transit system. So I hope our performance on escalators and elevators is up," said Allen.

Allen was appointed the interim CEO after a hastily called news conference last week during which the corporation's board of directors announced Ian Jarvis was stepping down as CEO.

The interim CEO said he also spends a lot of time worrying about signage.

"When I go into a station, or if I'm at a bus stop, I like to know that the signage is pretty good so you and I can figure out how we're going to travel through the system. And I hope the signage we see in the system generally will be better."

On TransLink's biggest problem

However, TransLink's problems go far beyond malfunctioning escalators and poor signage. A number of recent problems has lead to a loss of public confidence.

For example, the corporation is facing serious questions about its long-promised Compass Card program. The $200 million automated fare-gate system, which promised to save money by stopping fare evaders, was supposed to be up and running before 2012. However, the roll out date has been repeatedly delayed due to glitches with the system.

TransLink also came under fire last year following two system-wide SkyTrain meltdowns that left thousands of passengers stranded at the height of rush hour. 

Chang asked Allen what he thinks is the biggest challenge facing the corporation, but he side-stepped the question.

"I'm not concerned about the biggest problem. I'm concerned about providing good leadership. That's my job," said Allen.

"You find out what's going on, what's working well and then you spend some time ensuring you know what isn't working well and you take action. And that's leadership. And you set the tone through the entire organization to move from A to something better called B."

Allen said he already has a lot of ideas about what can be improved and is spending time working through them. He didn't go into specifics, but he said he will be focusing on three factors necessary to securing public confidence: reliability, quality of service and safety.

He also said he will work on improving efficiency.

"It comes in how you deliver service, how you do it smarter, how you deliver more people with fewer vehicles," he said. 

"In some cases you have to look at procurement — how we buy buses, how we maintain them. You have to do that smarter and cheaper."

On executive salaries and Ian Jarvis

Allen's appointment has brought to the fore another criticism of TransLink: high executive pay.

Last year, salary disclosure documents revealed Jarvis earned $468,015 in 2013, including $83,000 in bonuses.

While no longer CEO, Jarvis will stay on with TransLink as an adviser to its board of directors — receiving his full salary — until his contract expires next year. 

Meanwhile, TransLink will also be paying Allen $35,000 every month until a permanent replacement is found.

When asked how the corporation rationalizes having two CEOs on its payroll, Allen deferred to the board.

"Andrew, you're going to have to go to the board for that answer," he told the CBC host.

"My job is to lead [TransLink] as I've described, and money management is a big part of that in terms of trying to deliver better, more, and more efficiently. That's a big task."

Allan did not answer questions about the kind of work Jarvis will be doing as an adviser either.

"I'm the CEO. I will lead the organization in all respects. His role is an adviser to the board. The board speaks to what that role is."

On the transit funding plebiscite 

Allen stepped into his new role a month before Metro Vancouverites vote on a proposed 0.5 per cent sales tax that will go toward the Mayors' Council's 10-year, $7.5 billion dollar regional transportation plan.

He said he will leave the campaigning to the mayors, but will be voting 'yes' after ballots are mailed out on March 16.

"The region is growing particularly rapidly in Surrey and surrounding areas. Growth in the transit system is absolutely necessary if your personal well-being and mine are going to be enhanced. It's that simple."

TransLink has said it aims to have a permanent CEO in place by this fall.