Skytrain fizzle again

October 2, 2014

A recurring and cherished headline at RailForTheValley : Tought time to be either a Translink or skytrain cheerleader those days, isn’it?

Let’s ignore the disastrous Translink crisis communication and let’s go to the facts:

The facts

The system control lost communication with a group of 10 switches (the one in red in the map below), defacto neutralizing Metrotown, the 2nd busiest station on the network [1], and Patterson:

skytrain-diagram-default-switch

The cause

Some people claim it is due to lack of funding for proper maintenance of the Skytrain system. Either they are right:

    That could mean the reinsurances by both Translink and BCRT officials that they are able to keep the skytrain system in a state of good repair, were lies…proper action should be hence taken to sanction such misbehavior.

…or they are wrong: The cause is not due to a lack of funding.

Some also call for redundancy for each piece and bit of the system they see failing: If we follow this logic we could end up to have a full redundant Expo line 2!

…In fact here we don’t have enough information to dissert on the cause of the failure but we have nevertheless some questions regarding the below items:

  • The time to restore the system
  • The problem switches which don’t need to move in normal operation, but still neutralize the system on a communication failure with them (which apparently can’t be manually overriden).
  • The switches at both end of Metrotown monitored by the same communication device.
    • A different switches partition control, (Switch group East of Metrotown under a card, group west of Metrotown under another one) could have left the 2nde busiest station still open, whether a single communication control card fail.

…But here we touch to the Skytrain system design itself, for which we have already expressed concerns.

The Contingency plan

Skytrain operation

At first they have operated the Expo-Millenium line in 2 different segments Waterrfront-Nanaimo and Edmonds-King George/ VCC Clark with a shuttle train Nanaimo to Joyce (6th busiest station on the system [1]“).

The way this is operated have system wide consequence:

    Frequency on any section of the system is constrained by the fact only one train is allowed on a single track section, either Commercial-Nanaimo or Edmonds Operating Center-Edmonds Station (…and only one track per station was used, as per my observation).

It is apparently for this reason, that Royal Oak was closed (too long a single track section between Edmonds and Royal Oak). Keeping Royal Oak open, could have

  • Drastically reduced the bus bridge length.
  • brought metrotown area/ in walkable distance of the skytrain for many patrons providing well needed relief to the bus bridge

It could be a better operation arrangement that the one in place on “dead end” sections (e.g Edmonds operation center-Edmonds), to enable to preserve or minimize the impact on the overall train frequency on the rest of the system:

tracks on the left side of the switches are used as 2 single tracks with a drawer to preserve good frequency on the double tracks section (right side of the switches)

see also here for other single dead end track operation

Translink/BCRTC should have better Skytrain operation contengency plan, to make the best use of their system, in degraded mode.

Bus operation

The bus bridge was working relatively well – at least in the West direction around 7:30pm – but could have been improved:

    Instead to have a single special bus route serving all the closed Skytrain station, what involve many street detours, when most of the rider are just interested to go to the other end, it could have been better to have 2 routes:

  • A non stop route (Joyce-Edmonds)
  • All skytrain station stop route

In addition, of it, Translink staff should advise existing alternative route – route 106 Edmonds to Metrotown was painfully underused – and beef up some other regular routes – Route 19, the obvious alternative to Skytrain was oversubscribed, but was running as per schedule (no additional buses)

Information

Passenger information could have been much better

  • 22nd entrance station had a sign reading “All trains stop at Edmonds station”…what is true every day…
  • Announce of skytrain station closure should be done on buses before alighting at skytrain stations
  • Announce of alternative regular bus route to reach main destinations should be done both on the skytrain and the buses

We have already noticed the poor reliability of the skytrain, but on the bright side, we are noticing some slight progress in the handling of the recurring skytrain failures.


[1] http://www.translink.ca/~/media/Documents/customer_info/translink_listens/customer_surveys/transportation_improvements_research/2011%20SkyTrain%20Station%20Counts.ashx

Reference spreadsheets

April 16, 2014

For the purpose to document our different posts, such as this one, we use to maintain a couple of spreadsheet related to Translink, which I have updated and put under Google doc

Translink ridership, operations and capital datas

This spreadsheet gathers information usually found in the “Translink Statutory Annual Reports, and other relevant reports, like the APTA ridership reports.

ridership 1986-2013

The numbers are not necessarily always matching the Translink reports:
To enable better comparison across different Transit system, the below assumptions are done:

  • Operating costs include the consolidated operating costs, but not the depreciation and debt service costs, neither Translink Police cost (a Translink specificity)
  • Farebox revenues include all ridership related revenues. In addition of the farebox itself: it includes also advertising revenues (and should include fine recovery revenue too)
  • Capital costs include all Capital cost supported by both the taxpayers and Translink
    • Number could be sparsely collected, especially for the Expo line

Notice

Due to the Canada Line P3 financing arrangement, it is not possible to separate the operating cost of the debt servicing cost: for this reason the farebox recovery (farebox revenue/Operating cost) is computed excluding the Canada line (both cost and revenue).
A 62.5% farebox recovery ratio is good:

farebox recovery ratio (excluding the Canada line, both ‘operating cots’, and related revenues)

Translink service datas

This spreadsheet gathers information coming from the Google GTFS (Translink schedules) and are appended with some other datas such as the Bus service Performance review. They represent an image of the service on first Friday following the Labor day of every year.

  • Data are extracted of the Translink gtfs feed (most of the precedent years are available here here
  • The Perl script to populate the spreadsheet from the GTFS datas is provided here
    • vehicle type used per route (data used to compute the capacity.km) is as seen of our vantage point: we welcome correction

Some fun facts

  • Schedule bus service average speed is of 22.65km/h
  • Not surprisingly: the slowest service is the #6 (closely followed by #5), at 9.56km/h, the fastest is the #555 at 62.33km/h
  • …but the 99B service is schedule at an average speed of 21.56km/h, still much faster than the bus 9 at 14.5km/h

Notice the mileage per route is computed from waypoint as provided by Translink into the GTFS files – and the quality of them varied greatly – the later years being much better than the earlier (but still need some corrections): The mileage is eventually corrected accordingly in the spreadsheet (assuming the average bus service speed is practically constant at 22.65km/h over years).

The numbers are not necessarily always matching Translink report:

The average speed computed from “Translink Statutory Annual Reports is at ~19.5km (see above spreadsheet). The average speed computed from the GTFS is of 22.65km/h. Other numbers could also mismatch significantly (like poor correlation between service hour /km computed from GTFS and the one provided by the annual report. Here is the proposed explanation:

  • The “annual service” included in the annual reports, include dead-end trip and lay-over in addition of the customer service: that explain also the discrepancy in the average speed
  • The “annual service” is provided on a car basis by Translink: one hour of a 2 cars train service is computed as 2 hour car service by Translink) when it is computed for one hour train service from the GTFS datas
  • Not all trips are included in the GTFS: that is especially for the Skytrain, where special event can trigger additional unscheduled service (e.g. the shuttle train operating between Commercial and Waterfront is not rported in the GTFS)

That said, the service hour variation year over year roughly followed what can be obtained form the annual report (minus the 2010 year)

service hour on first friday following labour day

Thought the previous metric is often used by both Translink and local transit advocates, it is basically an irrelevant one when it is time to evaluate the level of Transit service. the provided transit capacity.km is a much more relevant one : That has increased by ~18% between 2007 and 2013:

Capacity.km of Transit service has increased by ~18% between 2007 and 2013 included

Some facts worth to note

As a rule of thumb, multiplying a weekday service datas by ~330 provide a good approximation of its annual data (that can be verified on the comparison of a daily route service and the annual operating hour per route as provided by the Translink’s BSPR), but we have a rather significant discrepancy -hard to explain by layover and dead-end trip- when come route #96B and #555

<

route Annual hour service
Computed from GTFS schedule From Annual report [2] difference in %
All 3,841,860 4,950,000 29%
555 13,500 21,400 60%
96B 42,900 62,400 44%

[1] Translink has started to track the capacity.km metric in 2011. but this metric is not provided in a straightforward way in its reports, and number doesn’t seems very consistent either: the maximum car capacity, 167, is used for the Canada Line service, but the car caapcity is estimated at ~50pax on the Skytrain (and at ~55 on the bus system). We have used the maximum capacity (not necessarily a realistic one, but a consistent one across the board, see vehicles.txt into the Perl package).

[1] 2013 Statutory annual report, Translink April 2014.

Grounded on principle previously exposed, we present here some more concrete ideas of what could look an ideal transit network in downtown. In a top down approach, we naturally ensure that the regional and city transit lines are optimized: that is the main purpose of this post

The regional transit network:

The regional bus network: the extension of the North sore bus route to the Main street Station

The regional bus network: the extension of the North sore bus route to the Main street Station

The Hasting buses (named HSB) such as bus 135 are considered as regional bus, as well as all buses heading to the North Shore (named NSB for the one using the Lions gate Bridge).

A major change is with the North shore buses.
All routes coming are extended to Main terminal:

  • The actual connection with the Granville station is preserved, but patrons will eventually find that Stadium or Main will provide better transfer: that will reduce crowding pressure at the Georgia#Granville stop
  • Georgia street, sometime called a traffic sewage, is where some want hide Transit and its users: it is not without creating challenges.

    Corwding at Georgia#Granville bus stop is reduced by the extension of the north shore buses to Main station

  • It resolves North shore bus layover issues in the downtown core: there is ample space at The Main/Terminal
  • It provides a direct connection with the Main street bus routes (3,8, and 19)
  • it provides a direct connection with the train and intercity buses station.

A potential extension to the future Broadway line station, at Great Northern Way# Fraser, could be doable too


City Bus routes:

the city bus network

the city bus network

A major change on the main street corridor:

Bus #3 and #8 are short-turned at the north end of Main. It is a result of an observation: most of the patron of those routes, transfer onto the Expo line at main terminal, leaving bus #3 and #8 wandering empty in the downtown core. It is also a follow up of a previous Translink recommendation [1].

  • The saving in term of operating cost is tremendous, and it helps to address bus congestion (mainly at bus stop) on the hasting corridor

Bus 19 can preserve a direct connection between the downtown and the Main Corridor.

The route 22 toward the Knight street corridor
In the context of the 2013 Bus service optimization consultation, we came up with a “counter proposal” to improve the bus 22 and C23 route (then proposed to be extended to Terminal Avenue) which has been discussed in comment section of the buzzer blog:

proposed extension of route C23 (in blue) and rerouting of bus 22 (in red) to serve the Terminal avenue area, and provide a good connection with the Expo line

The bus is permantly routed thru terminal avenue (instead of Prior and Gore).

  • it improves the connection to the expo line (for people using its East branch)
    • to avoid a left turn at Main street(preventing to have a bus stop in direct connection with the Expo line), the route 22 is routed thru Columbia and Quebec street.
  • The actual 22 use Pender street, but Hasting could be a superiori choice (direct connection with hasting bus corridor, and closer to Waterfront):
    • Toward it a section of Columbia (North of Pnder) could need to be reverted as a two-way street.

The Bus 17

It is used to provide a North south service East of Granville from Waterfront (bus termini on Cordova). Due to the street layout, Cambie street is the only reasonnable choice:

  • Beatty closer to the Staidum station end up at pender, is often closed to traffic with special event at Canada place.
  • Hamilton and all western choice, are to too far away of the Statdium station, and roverlapping too much with the Granville corridor.

The route 50 case.

This aim of this route is to provide some transit service to Granville island and on the South False Creek slope. That said, the routing of this route make it of little value for too many people:

We redesign this route as a peripheral one, linking Broadway#Granville, Granville Island, Olympic station, Main street station and Main#Hasting:

bus 50 as a peripheral route connecting Main#Hasting to Bradway#Granville via Main station, Olympic station and Granville Island

bus 50 as a peripheral route connecting Main#Hasting to Bradway#Granville via Main station, Olympic station and Granville Island

Among other benefits: Such alignment allows to improve the transit offer in the South East Flase Creek area, and remove one diesel bus route of the Granville Mall.

The inconvenience of this design is the eventual lost of a direct connection between Downtown and Granville island: The implementation of an elevator between granville island and the Granville bridge span could be a good solution, which could be part of the Granville Bridge greenway proposal

The route 15 is then prolonged to downtown, following the alignement of route 17, able to provide a more consistent bus service on the peninsula section of Cambie

The Hasting bus corridor

We include the bus serving Powell in this corridor (essentially route #4). Even with the removal of bus #3 and #8, there is lot of bus service redundancy (#7,#14,#16,#20): The rationalization of it should be the object of a study focusing on this corridor rather than a down town study.

The Burrard bus corridor

At this time, it consists only of bus 22 and 44. If the Broadway subway is designed to terminate at Arbutus, it is expected that this corridor will see much more bus traffic, and a revamped route 44 -using Broadway to connect with the subway line- could see a level of service similar to the actual bus 99.


[1] Vancouver/UBC Area Transit Plan , Translink, July 2005.

We have generally welcomed the last 2 rounds of service optimization, since they address bus route network structural deficiencies and this year makes no exception:
Among proposed change the 404 rerouting from Ladner exchange to Riverport is something we have previously called for:

The bus 49

It is important that TransLink rationalizes its bus network to provide value for both the taxpayer and the transit user, as well as provide a sound foundation for sustainable growth. The most obvious inefficiencies, are the route diversions serving specifc needs- An issue already well identified in the 1975 Downtown Vancouver bus review [2]- since a diversion means a less attractive service for most of the travellers.

A bus route detour may seem benign on a relatively low frequency route but it introduces inefficiencies which compound as transit ridership grows. It is notoriously the case of the bus 49 diversion at Champlain Height, which we have already pointed to the Translink commission

current_bus_49

Such a diversion could have been overlooked decades ago, but is an unsustainable in 2014, with UBC, a Canada Line connection and Metrotown as major destinations along this route:

The Champlain Heights detour is an unnecessary inconvenience for 95% of route 49’s 20,000 weekday riders. It adds 4 to 5 minutes to each of the approximately 250 daily bus trips, which costs $500,000 annually (more than the cost to operate all the Ladner/South Delta community shuttles routes C84, C86 C87 C88 and C89 combined)[1]. This figure will only get worse over time.

Addressing it, not only improve the Translink financial sheet, but it also dramatically improve the bus service along the 49th avenue:

The proposed new bus 49 route by Translink saves 4 to 5 mn on each of the 250 daily runs done by the bus 49

The proposed new bus 49 route by Translink saves 4 to 5 mn on each of the 250 daily runs done by the bus 49

Understandably, some residents affected by the change have voiced their concerns [3]. Any routing change affects some customers and their concerns need to be considered. In the route 49 case, virtually all Champlain Heights’ residents will stay within 500 metres of a bus stop (either rerouted bus 49 or bus 26, both being among the 20% most frequent bus routes).

A reworking of the bus 26 could be also possible along lines below providing better connections to the rest of the network and service/jobs than the actual one:

A bus Joyce/Metrotown could improve the accessibility of the Champlain Heights thru the rest of the network, service and jobs compared to the current route (29th Ave Skytrain station- Joyce)

…But eventually the development of the East Fraser lands area calls for a more drastic review of the bus routes in this area, so it seems wise to not touch the route 26 for the time being (since it is a prime candidate to be extended to the East Fraser Lands)

The saving provided by the ending of the 49 diversion could easily pay for a community shuttle linking champlain mall to Metrotown thru 54th avenue.

  • ~40 daily shuttle runs could end up to cost ~$125,000 annually, assuming a $60/h shuttle operating cost [1]

but one could reasonnably question: Is it the best use of the saving Translink can do, when so many other areas are severed of even basic Translink service?

In any case, there is no lack of options to mitigate the lost of a direct 49 access for some people, and potential inconveniences are largely outweighted by the general service improvment.

The Vancouver council position

It is sad, but not overly surprising that the Vancouver council seems to be prepared to pass on March 11th, a motion initiated by Geoff Meggs, disregarding the benefit of the proposed 49 rationalization for the overwhelming majority of transit user, to focus only on a so called “service cut” in the Champlain Height, to oppose to the the improvment of the route 49.

One will notice, that so doing, the Vancouver council is dismissing the transit user value of time, and its contribution for the region’s economy (a viewpoint rightfully denounced by Gordon Price)…Do they adopt the same perspective when it is time to argue for a Broadway subway?

In the context of a looming transit funding referendum, it is extremely important that TransLink addresses its network inefficiencies, especially when they impede greater benefits for most of the transit users, and reduce the transit value of our tax dollars… and thought one could expect tthat its efforts could receive full support froom the concerned municipalities, it is also important that Vancouver doesn’t receive a favor treatment.


[1] Bus service performance review, Translink 2013

[2] The Downtown Vancouver Bus Service vision in 1975

[3] Bus service cut worries Champlain seniors,Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier, February 25th, 2014


Since mid 2012, Translink and the city of Vancouver have been working on a Downtown bus service review, with public open houses held on June 2012. Below is our take on it:

It is no secret, that the purpose of the exercise, done under the impulse of the city of Vancouver, is to clear many areas of the city from transit, and more notoriously Robson square. As such the public has been presented with a set of constraints:

The constraint set for the Downtown bus Public consultation

The constraint set for the
Downtown bus review Public consultation

The consultation was not presented necessarily in the best terms possible – we could have liked a brief historic of the downtown transit network, and having the staff seeking feedback on a set of considered principles to design the transit network [2].

In light of it, and especially the previous consultation on the Block 51, the Downtown bus service review consultation Summary [6] is a very welcome surprise:

  • some geometric principles are spelled

    • “Routes should be designed to be simple, direct, and easy to understand”
  • More importantly, the concern on the impact of street closures to bus, especially Robson square, seems properly recorded, as well as a potential solution

    • “The Robson closure does nothing to better city culture and is disruptive for bus routes”


      “I approve the City’s initiatives for public spaces (eg. the 800-block of Robson) but this should not force transit to detour, there can be closures for private cars and trucks but let transit buses/trolley buses through, similar to great plazas in Europe.”

Timeless geometric principles as already stated in [2] (as we have seen here, and well worded on the Jarret Walker’s blog and book) appear as uncontournable.

Not surprisingly, the summary teach us, that in downtown, trips demand are from everywhere to anywhere…

Origin destination pair in the downtown peninsula exhibit a great entropy - nevertheless some major transit corridor appears

Origin destination pair in the downtown peninsula exhibit a great entropy – nevertheless some major transit corridor appears

Trying to single out some destinations to be served, such as a future art gallery, is somewhat self-defeating. The popular destination of today, was not the one of yesterday, and will be not necessarily the one of tomorrow. What is important is to be able to provide a network which is time resilient:

  • It is a “mobility” network, around which the city is structuring itself rather than the reverse

That leads to the following issues, from the most important to the least

Bus coverage

One principle in designing an efficient and resilient bus network, is to maximize the coverage while minimizing the number of bus lines, and still obeying to a core geometric principle: direct and consistent routing – that is a straight line (or following the street grid orientation). For the Downtown peninsnula, assuming an accepted ~1/4 mile walk to a bus stop, the probably most optimized configuration can be done using 3 main transit corridors as illustrated below

The yellow strips, representing bus corridor and their catchement area, are lay down to provide the the most efficient bus coverage in Dowtown. Red arrows represents necessary connectivity between bus corridor

One will quickly recognize the route 5/6 as structuring the Westend coverage in a very optimal way: It explains the resilience of those routes structuring the Westend since its very early development and still doing it:

The WestEnd development plan is widely based on the actual bus route 5/6 anchoring the high density and retail/commercial development

The WestEnd development plan is widely based on the actual bus route 5/6 anchoring the high density and retail/commercial development

Moving one bus route from one street to another one, could seem to be a minor change, but in fact it can affect dramatically the coverage…either by introducing gaps or redundancis in the transit coverage, all severly affecting the network efficiency. In the context of the current Westend development, consequence can be much more dire.

Connectivity

A perfect grid as suggested above should allow to make any local trips with no more than one connection.

Our public transportation network is also a hierarchized one:

  • “local bus” routes aiming to provide transportation option in downtown, such as route #5
  • “city bus” routes, that is the one connecting the downtown to other part of Vancouver, such as route #14
  • “regional transit” routes where lies the skytrain network, sea-bus but also bus route such as #250 or #135

To keep reasonable the number of transfers for people coming from outside Downton, it is particularly important to have all “structuring” downtown network lines connecting to the regional network:

Vancouver regional transit network in its Downtown

City routes are not represented, but can be considered as part of the “structuring” downtown network (that is particularly obvious in the case of route #19 serving Stanley park)

bus-seat supply

Specific bus route could be overloaded, but in some key downtown corridors (mainly Hasting and Granville), there is an over-all over supply of bus-seat (over-supply on some bus routes is not compensating under supply on others)- a typical problem in urban cores we have already encountered, in a more acute form, in Sydney, Australia


buses_Granville there is excees of capacity on the Hasting corridor west of Main – credit photo (1). Simialr observation can be drawn on Granville Mall – crdit photo (3)

It could be no easy answer to this problem, but one will notice that one rationalization idea not implemented was the the discontinuation of bus route #3 west of Main [8]. A similar conclusion could be draw for bus 8.

The fact that the route #3 and #8 use 60ft artics trolley bus (in short supply), reinforce the case for route shortening, freeing bus capacity where it is more needed

Urban integration
Buses congestion, leading to a bus wall, as seen above on Granville, creates its own urban integration issue:

It obviously affect the pedestrian experience on this mall, by creating both a constant physical and visual barrier.

The issue could be complex to address on Granville Mall. However some other urban issues can be more readily addressed:


bus_stop_queue_Georgia top: bus laying over at Davie and Denman – credit photo (4). Bottom bus line-up on Georgia street

The bus lay-over at Denman#Davie creates an uninvitating “pedestrian tunnel” whereas, sidewalk activity could thrive, considering the view, sun exposition, and immediate proximity to the Beaches.

We have already discussed on a relocation of this lay-over, in a critic of Denman street, which is underlining the network issue this lay-over also creates

Transit is very Vancouver centric: thought numerous bus route to North shore run on Georgia, there is no direct connection of them with the Westend. furthermore bus 5/6 make a time point at Davie and Denman making the Northshore<-> Davie area transit option less than appealing (map credit - Translink)

At the end, a succesful transit network, means a good patronage, which also creates its own issue, as we can regularly witness on Georgia street. Such problem should be addressed.

The additional constraints or Robson square

Cnnsidering the above issues, one can see emerging the rough lines of what could be an ideal transit network…but adding additional constraint in the form of arbitrary “no bus” zone could be wreaking havoc on it.

When come Pedestrian streets, they should be designed as a complement to the city transportation system, not as an impediment to it, and that is also a reason making their success…or failure otherwise [7]. Fortunately some solutions, especially the ones considering transit as part of the urban fabric, achieve exactly that

Note:One will find a summary of a city conversation on the Robson square issue, on the Stephen Rees blog.


[1] Georgia Straight

[2] We mainly think of some geometric principles. on the example of those clearly enounced in a the 1975 Downtown Vancouver Bus Service vision, as seen in a previous post. Translink has some material illustrating the importance of some, as discussed by Jarret Walker

[3] “The TTC page” website

[4] Stephen Rees

[5] Vancouver/UBC Area Transit Plan , Translink, July 2005.

[6] Downtown Vancouver Local Bus Service Review: Phase 1 Consultation Summary, Translink and City of Vancouver, 2013

[7] Jarret Walker uses the “bus as pedestrian fountain” metaphor to convey the importance of transit to the success of a pedestrian area.

[8] See [5]. Note: the shortening of the route #3 has been briefly implemented apparently in 2006-2007 but abandoned in 2008 with the introduction of artics trolley on the route 3.

yesterday, transport action BC (a group I am member of) got contacted by a TV network, on this topic, so here below, is what has been provided, as a discussion base on the topic:

I could entertain a Hong Kong type model:

  • distance based on the rail network.
  • fixed route based price n the bus system (with time variation on/off peak, but not distance based variation)

That is:

A compromise between and “ideal” economic model and a pricing model, simple enough to be understandable by people is required

an Octopus reader on a KMB bus in Hong Kong: price is simple and easy to understand, (no surprise price) – credit photo wikipedia

you want to know how much you gonna pay when you board the bus…not finding it out afterward!
that is also true for trains, but the train system can be made pretty clear, at the station’s Ticket Vending Machine.

distance pricing on bus open a Pandora box: what distance we are talking about?
… bus are able to pound many extra miles on a trip looking very short on the map:

As for this bus route 405 in Richmond, it is very common for bus route to do many detours, loop,… before bringing you to your destination: should you pay for all that extra mileage you didn’t ask for?

Just Imagine what you could think if a cab driver (charging by the distance) was using the bus 405 route for a trip from Ikea to a temple on Number 5 road in Richmond…

Vancouver region is full of those circuitous routes…

Distance doesn’t reflect the cost to provide a bus transit service

The cost to provide a bus service is mainly based on the time spent on the road, not the driven distance, by the bus [2]:
It is commonly admitted than bus driver wages and benefits account for ~70% of the operating cost of a bus, and wages are paid based on a time, not a distance, base.

  • bus 5 (Robson) average speed is barely better than 10km/h
  • bus 555 (PortMann express) zip along Hwy 1 at 100km/h

It is almost as expensive for Translink to provide a bus seat between Granville and Denman (1.6km), than it is to provide a bus seat between Carvolth exchange in Langley and Braid station in New Westminster (20km). Why the later one should cost more?

The real problem to address
The real problem is to encourage people to use bus off peak, or alternative route to the more congested one:
examples include

  • encourage people to bus 84 rather than bus 99.
  • encourage people to use the bus 96B rather the bus 320, on 104th avenue when they don’t need to travel east of Guilford

this to make an overall better usage of the transit system …That is: it is more a demand management model tha a distance based fare model which is needed.


[1] I plan to write further on the bus 96B and 320 interaction: recently published letters in the Surrey leader, (“Transit woes continue in North Surrey” and “Transit changes make no sense“, in their Sept 30th, 2013 edition) high-light a real network design problem

[2] The bus operating cost/hr is defacto the metric used by Translink to assess the operating cost of its bus routes, as illustrated in its bus performance service review

The Translink news reported by 24h [1] and already discussed by Stephen Rees:

People buying cash fare on bus, will not be able to transfer on the “gated” system, that is the skytrain, but also the Seabus

That is presented as a new tariff rule by Translink.

The scofflaw

Translink can’t change the short term fare at will, but need approval of the competent authorities, as stated by the law. Translink is governed by the South Coast British Columbia Transportation authority act. The act stipulates that when a fare increase (greater than 2% annually) or a first-time short term fare is contemplated, it requires that Translink

  • prepares a supplemntal plan to be approved by the council of Mayors (section 200)
  • And gets an approval by the Translink commissioner (section 203)

The Translink proposal is in essence a “first-time short term fare” for people buying cash fare on bus and transferring on train or bus (pretty much like people buying a cash fare at YVR pay a $5 “first-time short term fare”).

Unless Translink gets approval of the council of Mayor and Translink commissioner, it has no legal right to deny entry to the Skytrain and Seabus to holder of cash fare purchased on bus.

Doing so, by erecting a faregate, not working with those cashfare, is putting Translink in the feet of the scofflaw.

Obviously, like any scofflaws, it will have many excuses:

The Rubbish

  • “To convert all the bus fareboxes to issue passes that would access the fare gates would cost about $25 million”
  • The argument is so dump that it is borderline insulting

    No need to do that, what is just needed is a way to use the cash fare issued onboard a bus on the skytrain system. By own Translink’s number, a compass ticket machine (to put on bus) cost ~$15,000 [3]. have such machine just converting a magnetic cash fare to a Compass ticket can’t cost more (a magnetic strip reader is much cheaper than a machine sorting out coins). Installing one at each of the ~50 Skytrain stations, could cost less than $1 million. Probably much less, since what is just needed is to modify an already existing magnetic reader to allow it to read the cash fare (like the parking machine at the Vancouver airport does) or add an extra one, on an already existing Ticket vending machine.

  • “We are not unique in our approach. Many other transit systems around the world, including London and Paris, also don’t allow cash bus to rail transfers.”
  • That is again rubbish.

    • Both Paris and London faregates accept magnetic tickets
    • In Both Paris and London, the non transferable bus ticket was a policy preexisting the introduction of the smart card. At least in Paris, the Media used to issue onboard ticket is the same than the one used to issue off-board ones: the faregates are able to process magnetic ticket purchased onboard, read the information on it, and decide to open or not the door accordingly: It is a fare policy choice, not a technical limitation
  • “It is only customers who purchase fares on buses with cash who will not be able to use those transfers to transfer to rail—approximately 6,000 customers per day out of our 1.2 million daily rides”
  • How credible is this 6,000 figure? That doesn’t match at all my casual observation on the bus system (cash fare payment is indeed fairly frequent, may be 10% of the rider pay in cash), and it doesn’t match the translink latest annual report[2] either!

    • cash fare generates ~$100Million of revenue (that is 25% of fare revenue, so it is not marginal at all!) and you need to issue ~120,000 cash fare users per day to generate such a revenue stream…

    Even assuming that the majority of them are bought at TVM, we have all the reasons to believe that 60,000 is a much more plausible figure than this rubbish 6,000 one!

    The fact

    Translink clearly made a mistake in the implementation of its smartcard system, and instead to recognize it, try to explain it by lame excuses and deceiving tactics.

    Let’s hope the council of Mayor will respond appropriately to that, and deny the right to Translink to ban access to skytrain for holder of cash ticket purchased on bus, because it will,

    • Reaffirms its authority, hence confidence by the public that Tranlink, as a organization financed by taxpayer moeny is controlled by elected official, not bureaucrat
    • Affirms that what is at stake, is not a mere tariff change, but the aim and objective of Translink as a public service (accessible cash fare is an important aspect of that), what is the job of the politics, not of the bureaucrats

    If Translink doesn’t find a satisfying solution to accommodate the holder of cash ticket purchased on bus, it will have to leave the faregate doors open: that is simple and that is certainly the cheapest way!

    If Translink proceed against the law, it will be then time to launch a class action lawsuit on behalf of the cash fare holders.

    In the meantime, to prevent such eventuality, there is this online petition


    Edit

    The Translink board of directors has enacted a bylaw on July 24th, 2013, to enforce the new proposed tariff.

  • Does it means it has the legal right to do so?
  • The SCBCTA allows the board of directors to change short term fare only under specific circumstances, and this to meet debt obligation (section 223.11).

    It is unclear how the board of directors can justify that the introduction of the Compass card, planned for years, meet the requirements to invoke such an extraordinary clause, allowing the board to by-pass the elected officials. there is strong indication that the board of directors has acted beyond its legal right.


    [1] SkyTrain won’t take bus transfers with new Compass Card system, Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver, Wednesday, August 14, 2013

    [2] Translink Statutory Annual Report, 2012

    [3] the $15,000 figure is inferred from the cost to outfilt all bus with a compass ticket vending machine, $25 Million, divided by the number of bus to outfit, ~1700. Typically a Ticket vending machine cost $50,0000 per unit.

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