Kevin Desmond, King County Metro Transit general manager, is leaving to become CEO of the larger Vancouver, B.C., TransLink.

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Kevin Desmond, general manager of King County Metro Transit, has accepted a job as chief executive officer at the larger Vancouver, B.C., TransLink system.

Desmond will join TransLink on March 21, a few days before major bus-route changes take effect in Northeast Seattle and Capitol Hill, along with scattered service increases.

“Kevin has also been part of three successful votes on transit funding,” noted a statement by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, after politicians up there absorbed an embarrassing defeat on a sales-tax referendum last July.

Metro is the seventh-largest public bus agency in the U.S., serving about 420,000 daily passengers, as well as several Sound Transit express bus lines. Metro also operates Link light rail for Sound Transit and two Seattle streetcar lines.

A national search, which could last a year, will be conducted to replace Desmond, said Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer. The new director, to be nominated by King County Executive Dow Constantine, is subject to an approval vote by the Metropolitan King County Council. Rob Gannon, deputy general manager, has been named interim general manager.

At TransLink, Desmond will be responsible for serving 1.1 million weekday transit passengers, including riders on its SkyTrain network of automated railcars. The agency operates two toll bridges that lose money.

Desmond, who earns $203,316 a year at Metro, will be paid $365,000 in Canadian dollars (about $262,000 U.S.) — plus a $1,500 monthly housing stipend the first year.

Among his achievements in Seattle was the launch of six RapidRide bus corridors, which upgraded busy lines to add signal priority, large boarding stations and segments of bus-only lanes. Ridership has increased more than 43 percent on RapidRide lines since 2010.

He leaves behind unfinished business in Seattle.

Civility issues such as crowding, drunkenness and crime remain a nuisance on some lines. Though assaults on bus drivers have declined, a man was recently shot aboard a Metro bus in Sodo. Desmond recently joined statewide testing of in-bus alarms to avert bus-pedestrian collisions, which average two dozen per year. Transit operators and union leaders say schedules are too tight for heavy Seattle traffic, and they lack time or facilities for restroom breaks.

Desmond previously worked in New York and Tacoma.

The Vancouver-area system, meanwhile, is digging out from controversies. A regional, ORCA-like fare card is appearing at stations after a two-year delay, while the failed ballot measure left the outer suburb of Surrey off the TransLink network and caused two executives to be fired.

Desmond’s articulate personality, and stature as an outsider, ought to help, said Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. “If we have to go through another referendum, it sounds like he’s the guy to do it.”