November 15, 2015
November 3, 2015
We did a post series in 2011 on congestion pricing applied to Vancouver:
- Some toll economics background
- Traffic data to Vancouver’s downtown and traffic on Metro Vancouver’s bridge and tunnel
- Congestion charge, the case for Vancouver
Frankly, I have failed to see a more comprehensive study since our 2011 series, putting hard number, and making “hard choice”. I am afraid the Ecofiscal report misses the mark too, however it is getting lot of media air, what can’t be a bad thing for advancing the congestion pricing case. We are going in a detailed analysis below:
The report recommends a cordon pricing (in the form of a tolling of all water crossing in the region), something we have also recommended:
Considering the Vancouver topography and the choke points responsible for most of the lower mainland congestion, the equivalent of a “cordon pricing” on the bridges seems the natural way to go.
Such scheme seems to raise many opposition we had already noticed in 2011. The mood is to not oppose frontally to the road pricing idea, but it is to rationalize the inaction toward it:
Anything other that the “ideal” road pricing is not “fair” to the motorists
Those critics could be right, assuming the generalized economic gain largely offset the implementation and operating cost of the proposed model. Considering the overwhelming complexity of implementation of such a model, and the limited amount of congestion in the lower mainland, which limit the potential revenues, it is probably wrong headed:
The model could be fair to the individual motorists, but could be unfair to the general interest: It could cost more to operate than the general economic gain it allows.
Of course, a cordon pricing is a cost/benefit trade off which is not perfect- driving from Langley to Ladner could be exempt of toll, when short haul using the Pattullo bridge could be… but the “choke point” are on the bridge not on the Highway 10… Of course the very idea of road pricing involve that poor people could also pay…but all the argument raised against also apply to:
- Pay parking or gas tax
- Transit fare, especially the zone system with its arbitrary boundary making the trip across the Fraser twice more expensive that the long trip from Langley to Ladner…
…and like the transit fare structure, the type of congestion pricing structure has not to be seen as permanent, but is a trade-off which can be reviewed in function of the technology progress.
The inescapable reality is that the road space is a scare resource, and so far the best known way to manage a scare resource is to put a price on it to align the demand with the offer. This can have some social and fairness implication: let’s address them, instead to use them as an excuse to do nothing.
The Ecofiscal report seems essentially geared for media consumption. Beside giving some air to the idea, what is already a lot, the report doesn’t seem as well researched as one could have expected, and it doesn’t bring any new element to the discussion. Data from  are mainly used afterward to make our points.
What is congestion?
Some, in their hostility to road pricing, don’t hesitate to argue, that road congestion is a good thing: doesn’t are vibrant and economically prosperous cities, crowded places? assuming that crowding is another word for congestion
It is not. here we take the pedestrian paradigm to illustrate the difference, since usually crowded pedestrian places are considered as a positive quality
In the above examples: one could consider that the Istanbul picture is a desirable outcome for a place, the case is more difficult to be made with the New York picture. Transposing the above paradigm to the road traffic:
- Busy roads are a desirable outcome, since it is a sign that the urban land space use is maximized
- roads congested to a level where the traffic become not smooth and predictable is undesirable
Finding the desirable sweet spot is an exercise in itself, but generally speaking, people will agree that the congestion at the approach of the tunnel or the Pattullo bridge has well past its point of desirability. However we could have wished from the report a relatively clear definition of the researched “desirable” level of traffic.
Toll and Congestion Pricing
To clarify the conversation, it is critical to characterize what discriminate congestion pricing of other road tolling types. the report is at best fuzzy, and seems to mention the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges toll as examples of congestion pricing. They are not, they are here to finance an infrastructure. A typical Congestion toll varies according to the level of congestion -and eventually become free on low level of traffic (night and week-end). below are the 3 main types of road pricing.
|tolling type||Main objective||toll structure classification typology||financing||finance an infrastrcuture||vehicle size | weight classification|
|environemental||reduce pollution||vehile emission classification|
|congestion||reduce congestion||time of day/day of week|
It is also good to feature the different congestion pricing coverage types:
|tolling type||tolling method||example||infrastructure||vehicle using the infrastructure||Sydney harbour bridge/tunnel, HOT|
|cordon||vehicle crossing the cordon||Stockolm, Milan|
|zone||vehicle moving inside a zone||London|
Some other more comprehensive or “ideal” coverage, mainly relying on GPS, to price the exact trip could be under study, however, so far we are unaware of a deployed one: let’s keep down on earth and rely on proven collection methods
Congestion pricing scheme around the globe
it is good to come with a general overview of what is existing today, to identify some possible trend, category, all this to identify more successful model, but also to get a better understanding of some failures (the failed experiment of Hong Kong, modeled after the successful one of Singapore should deserve a explanation):
the graph above purposely excludes most of the american city using HOT, or the Toronto ETR407 (at considering its purpose is to relieve congestion, what is open to discussion), under the rational they are usually located in a suburban context
Congestion toll Effectiveness
Cordon or zone tolling tend to significantly reduce the congestion by 15 to 85% , the case is more moot for infrastructure tolling.
In short: The Toronto ETR407 could have lot of merit and purpose, but general experience shown such type of infrastructure doesn’t reduce existing congestion
A recurrent and unfounded critic is that congestion toll revenue doesn’t cover the toll collection operation. In that instance the Eco-fiscal report would have misreported some numbers on the Copenhagen congestion pricing operation (see  for more detail on it). However the trend is toward lower operating cost.
In the context of Vancouver, Stockholm is an interesting case study since it seems to share many characteristics with Vancouver, and its congestion pricing model can be transposed to Vancouver. However, it could have been interesting to study the difference, such as in term of transit ridership, urban form, and tolling area.
For reference Vancouver alone is already 115km2: a cordon pricing using the Fraser crossing could make the Vancouver area the greater area subject to congestion pricing.
The implication of this could deserve further investigation. Notice that, in theory the bridges surrounding the downtown peninsula doesn’t support enough traffic to justify a congestion toll .
Beyond the technicalities of road pricing, the acceptability need to be studied: Stockholm having passed the test of the referendum after experimentation is a good starting point:  gives some pointer toward acceptability.
- Benefits may turn out to be larger than anticipated. Several authors have noted that a major reason for the resistance to congestion charges is that they assume they will not work.
- The downsides of charges – increased travel costs and/or changes in travel behaviour – may prove to be not as bad as expected. Once the charges are in place, many people may discover that the charges do not in fact affect them as much as they had thought
- Once the charges are decided, resistance may decrease due to the psychological effect known as cognitive dissonance. A phenomenon that can be simply summarized as “accept the unavoidable”. In other words, once the charges are in place, it is less worthwhile spending energy on opposing them.
- Familiarity with road user charging may reduce the general reluctance towards pricing a previously unpriced good. There is evidence that “people in many cases do not like prices as an allocation mechanism”, but once familiar with the concept that road space is in principle a scarce good that can be priced – much like parking space – this reluctance may tend to decrease.
One will notice that the above paradigm would apply to bike lane too!
 mentions also the “environmental card”. It should also be noticed that the transit offer has been increased in the experimental phase, however most of the added transit is “self financed” by increased transit revenue from higher ridership according to .
Milan and its referendum
The “environmental card” should bring us to Milan, Italy, where road pricing has originally been introduced in the objective to reduce the pollution. However in 2011, Milan got a referendum. the question was
|Would you like to extend the toll zone to the whole city and to all vehicles categories to fund transit and other sustainable alternative to the car?|
The answer has been a resounding yes: 80%!
Needless to say, Vancouver has one thing or 2 to learn from Milan, …and we could have expected some element of response from the Ecofiscal report.
The Ecofiscal report is short on the technicality and specific of the proposed congestion pricing sheme. It could have been good to past the generality and get some hard and substantiated numbers to help the conversation.
While the Ecofiscal report apropos suggests experimentation, it doesn’t substantiate the rational for it (more especially its importance for public acceptability). More generally, the report falls short on recommendations enabling the acceptability of road pricing by the public. It doesn’t bring a new narrative making the whole congestion pricing concept more “sellable” to the “commons”. However, its main merit has been its ability to gather tremendous media coverage triggering conversation on road pricing: so it is probably good enough
 “Etat de l’art sur le péages urbains” (in french), Ademe, June 20142014
 Flikr user “Howard Brier”
 Road Congestion Pricing In Europe: Implications for the United States H. W. Richardson and C. H. C. Bae , Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008.
 see the Cost-benefit analysis of the Stockholm congestion charging system, Jonas Eliasson, Transek AB, 2009. for more detail. This is inline with the used reference  in our 2011 post on the toll economics.
 see our previous post
 The Stockholm congestion charges – four years on. Effects, acceptability and lessons learnt, Maria Börjesson and al.
October 14, 2015
In a transit plebiscite post-morten post, we were asserting that Translink needs to be much more aggressive in the optimization of its transit network, by going beyond shuffling bus around, and more noticeabily we suggested that:
- A generalized bus stop consolidation policy needs to be initiated
- costly detour, like the Champlain Height diversion on the route 49, need to be discontinued…
We are hence delighted by the scope and magnitude of the proposed changes by Translink. The thrust of it is converging toward a geometrically more efficient transit network, allowing to build a sound foundation upon which expand service. Here a quick review of some changes.
Moving toward the B-line paradigm
by retaining the main important feature of it; limited stop bus route:
- route 135 is already a B-line, if not in name
- high frequency leads to bus bunching on route 41: redeploying some of those buses in favor of the express route 43, will enable to offer more seat.km along 41st at no cost, while not necessarily decreasing the “useful frequency” of the current route 41
- the idea to keep long haul buses (White Rock – King George station) serving all stop while short haul buses (96 Newton-King George) have limited bus stop, was an error. The introduction of limited bus stop along the 394 allows to correct this error: one will also notice this route goes directly to King George (the introduction of a LRT between King George and Newton could then be detrimental to White Rock)
- the discontinuation of route 258, allows the consolidation of all downtown-UBC trip on a more legible route 44 (a clear candidate for a B-line title)
Other interesting changes of note are the revamping of bus routes around strong anchors.
bus routes tied directly to strong Anchors
- bus 257 going directly to the Horshoe bay ferry terminal, instead of wandering in the Horseshoe bay village: Translink seems to have well learned of the private and successfull Bowen express bus initiative: the ferry terminal is the real reason d’etre of those services – It is up to the concerned municipality to capitalize on it by, for example, developing a cycling infrastructure to make those express routes more accessible to the local population.
- The rerouting of the bus 509 from Surrey Central to Lougheed, is also providing people from Walnut Grove more accessible regional destination, more noticeabily, by providing acess to both Expo && Millenium line (including the Evergreen line extension) in a single transfer. It also contributes to relieve the King George branch of the Expo line, enabling a better use of the existing skytrain infrastructure.
- the removal of the costly Champlain heigh diversion on the route 49 participates of this focus on building a strong network, with direct bus route linking strong anchors. We are glad to see Translink not giving up in face of the strong hostility of the Vancouver council to efficent transit.
The downtown case
The fate of the bus on Robson square is still open:
As outcome of the downtown bus service review initiated in 2013, TransLink does recommend the City to consider maintaining transit service through any future public plazas: that includes Robson and Cambie. Something we have long advocated for to preserve a legible and efficient transit network. The Translink conclusions don’t surprise us, and the proposed new route for bus 5 and 6 fit roughly in our analysis. The new layout of buses along Hasting/Powell seems also a step in the right direction.
As many, we have also noticed the failure of Viva to activate Robson square in despite of tremendous efforts. The 2015 choice, Porch parade, erecting a wall separating people rather than bringing them together, was not necessarily an happy one, but we have noticed a steady and inexorable decline in the attractivity of Robson square pre-dating the Porch parade experience. It is not surprising that the downtown BIA is now calling to restore good Transit access along Robson , which also would prefer to see the city move its attention on the North side plaza of the VAG. We are hence hoping reason will prevail at the Vancouver city council: It will then endorse the Translink recommendations.
And Change beyond Translink
In our post morten blog, we have underlined that the transit response to the lost Plebisicite must be two prones:
- Rationalization of the Transit operations and network is one of them. Translink responded present (and in this blog, there is still many other suggestions , such as the prunning of route 3 and 8…showing there is still room for improvement).
- measures able to improve Transit efficiency, speed and reliability is another response under control of the municipalities
We commend the efforts of slow street toward the introduction of permanent bus lanes on Georgia street, but so far we have heard little more than politician rhetoric of our municipal leaders.
 Robson Street pedestrian space loses admirers, Kevin Griffin, VancouverSun, Agust 27th, 2015
July 21, 2015
Some remarks on the report to be presented to the Standing Committee on Planning, Transportation and Environment , On July 22.
Bus stop and line of sight at Burrard#Pacific
As mentioned in a previous post’s comment, the COV planners indicated some line of sight involved by the Burrard street concave alignment at Pacific were cause of concern for CMBC toward the implementation of a South Bound bus stop on the South West corner of the intersection. The problem is illustrated below:
Hindered lines of sight for bus leaving a stop, due to a concave alignment of the street, exist in multiple locations on the Transit bus network. a short list below:
- University Blvd at UBC
- 41st avenue at Mc Kinnon
- Kingsway at Patterson
- The exit of the Bridgeport bus loop
While the line of sight concern are legitimate, they could have been overblown in the case of Burrard bridge. They can be addressed by external safety mirror, as often seen in Europe. Here there is sufficient room to accommodate an articulated bus at an angle preserving the line of sight for a safe pull-out:
We were admittedly too optimistic to see the City elaborates on the above solution. Instead, The line of sight concerns expressed at the open house, have since been replaced by the concerns on the preservation of a cypress tree which could not have been endangered by a bus bay on the south side.
We tend to see all that as excuses for inaction. Whether not, the restoration of the south bound bus stop on the North West corner of the intersection should have been in order. However, after feedback of the public, the initial proposal to move the South Bound bus stop further north has been given up. Instead, the bus stop will be moved south by half a block (from Burnaby to Drake). It is a step in the right direction, but insufficient: It seems nothing more than paying lip service: Transit accessibility is still much worse than it was in 2009 and before.
Pacifc East West bike connection
Our above proposal integrate them with an island to create a protected bike box, which can be given and advanced signal. the design to be submitted to the council also propose a bike box, but in what seems to be a more clumsy way:
The Suicide prevention barrier
This part was not presented at the open-house, and “popped up” afterward, the reasons why are unclear, since the City is supposed to have engaged with stack-holders ahead of the general public open-houses, where the issue could have been identified. Burrard bridge being such a iconic bridge, its alteration by suicide barriers, which also hinder the view of the bridge span, and affect negatively the user experience, raise some legitimate concerns from heritage groups.
Due to this, the request for more consultation seems reasonable. The city could explore alternative to physical barriers. The Mapo bridge in Seoul, Korea, using technology to detect suicide attempt, and then connect victim with help, could be an option to consider, after having a correct assessment of the experience 
Overall, The Burrard North end project seems to be a bit rushed.
 Many medias, especially in North America, have reported the experience as failure, because the reported “suicide attempt” have increased by a 600% after the introduction of suicide prevention measure. However many observers consider the experience as successful, since the effective number of committed suicide has been reduced by 77% . One can conjecture that distressed people could target Mapo bridge, knowing they get a chance to be recognized as such and get helped. On the Authority side, it also help to locate those distressed people, and provide them with the needed help to prevent suicide in general.
 Burrard Bridge Upgrades and North Intersection Improvements, City Of Vancouver, Lon Laclaire, July 13, 2015
 BC Transit Infrastructure Design Guidelines, Nov 2010.
 here we provide a design maximizing the line of sight. However, the required length of the line of sight could be shorter, allowing to reduce the angle of the bus bay.
June 2, 2015
Beside the removal of the accident prone slip lanes, and the reopening to pedestrians of the East side of the bridge deck; granted by a new bike lane; there is little improvement for the cyclists and pedestrians: Many connectivity options are still forbidden, either by law or by design:
Notice that the design allows to do a left hook turn from Burard Northbound, or Pacific Westbound since the intersection presents a Dutch interesection characteristic on its North side
Notice that the design allows to do a left hook turn from Burard Northbound, or Pacific Westbound since the intersection presents a Dutch interesection characteristic on its North side
- Same could be possible on the South side, albeit at the price to add a traffic signal cycle, to allow unimpeded bike/pedestrian East-West movement on the South side of Pacific. (but what are the priority of the city?)
- Alternately, the construction of ramps to allow to use the bridge underpass (lane on the south side of Pacific), could provide a solution if such is possible
Worth also to note that the planters separating the bike lane on Burrard Street would be gone:
- Such planters are insulating the bike path too much of its environment, what create a safety hazard at interesection
That said such a wrong step seems to be taken on Pacific
All in all, due to the non addressing of prohibited turns for active travel mode, the proposal looks more as a missed opportunity to improve connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians than a real improvment: in some sort, the whole exercise seems more guided by the ideological desire to remove a lane of traffic on the Burrrad bridge than anything else.
All that could be not that bad if the proposal was not used as a weapon to attack the city buses once again.
The Transit issue
When the West side bike lane has been built in 2009, the southbound bus stop at Pacific#Burrard has been decommissioned: another bus stop has been implemented at Burnaby#Burrard. Especially due to the steep terrain nature in the vicinity , that has defacto put the south side of Pacific street out of reach of the Burrard buses, hence the Frequent Transit network, while he Burnaby bus stop is widely redundant with the Davie bus stop in term of coverage:
Far to improve this dire situation, it is suggested to make it worse, by relocating the Burnaby bus stop ever farther away: the new Burnaby bus stop could be a mere 30 meter away of the Davie bus stop!
Because the city so far has conceived its bike lane at the expense of Transit. The “legacy” bike lane on most of Burrard looks like below:
An obviously less than ideal pattern, which call for correction: a protected bike lane. That is good, but on the city watch, it is apparently not compatible with a bus stop. Of course it doesn’t need to be…even in Vancouver:
Several ways to address the bike+bus interaction exist, as noticed by Jarret Walker. As him, we prefer a “table” or shared space solutions for the bike lane that alert the cyclist to yield to peds in this situation, as we have seen before:
It looks the city is more leaning toward a floating island concept, which is at least considered for the Burrard#Pacific Northbound bus stop: the important is to see the access to transit to be addressed. What is possible for the North bound bus stops, must certainly be too for the South bound bus stops
In the present case, it looks like the removal of the slip lanes allow for ample room at the south-West intersection to implement a floating island concept with a bus bay (to not impediment traffic) as suggested in the second illustration of this post.
In any case, the lack of connectivity improvement for cyclists and more critically, the absence of consideration for transit, make the city proposal a bad one. On a positive note, those shortcomings are relatively easy to address and we are hopeful to see the proposal modified in a postive direction
 a rule of thumb is to consider that 10 meters elevation change is equivalent, be in time or energy, to 100 meters distance on flat (e.g. the Grouse Grind hike is 2.8km long but with an elevation change of 853meter: that is equivalent to a hike of 11.43km (2.9km+ 10*0.853km) on a flat terrain.
 See also the discussion on Pricetags