The piano: Imagine

November 15, 2015

A guy, hauling a piano, on its bike in front of the Bataclan, the day after Paris attack


It’s to play “imagine” by John Lennon.

(this song has also been played on the piano, at the vigil this night in Vancouver, but the piano didn’t came by bike)

We refer here to the Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission report on congestion pricing, which received very large coverage in the medias, but also on Pricetags and the Stephen Rees blog.

We did a post series in 2011 on congestion pricing applied to 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 good

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.
Some people are against road pricing, inferring it is unfair on the poor. - same could be said of pay parking, transit fare...

Some people are against road pricing, inferring it is unfair on the poor. – same could be said of pay parking, transit fare…

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 bad

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 [1] 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

pedestrian congestion in New York (left): people can't move freely and smoothly, traffic is typically stop and go and unpredictable: that is Level of Service F- heavy pedestrian crowding in Istanbul (right): it is dense traffic imposing slow speed, but still smooth and predictable moving: that is Level of Service E. Credit photos (2) and (3)

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):

urban toll overview, graph/classification from (1)

urban toll overview, graph/classification from (1)

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% [1], 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 [5] for more detail on it). However the trend is toward lower operating cost.

Case studies

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.

toll area surface and ratio tolled area/urban area

toll area surface and ratio tolled area/urban 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 [6]


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: [7] 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!

[7] 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 [5].

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

[1] “Etat de l’art sur le péages urbains” (in french), Ademe, June 20142014

[2] Flikr user “Howard Brier

[3] “The Pedestrianization of Historic Istanbul

[4] Road Congestion Pricing In Europe: Implications for the United States H. W. Richardson and C. H. C. Bae , Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008.

[5] 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 [4] in our 2011 post on the toll economics.

[6] see our previous post

[7] The Stockholm congestion charges – four years on. Effects, acceptability and lessons learnt, Maria Börjesson and al.

Good changes at Translink

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 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 promotor of the new Vancouver Art Gallery, preserve transit service on Canbie street

The promotor of the new Vancouver Art Gallery, preserve transit service on Canbie street

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.

Porch parade, was separating people on Robson square by a wall in 2015... Something a bus passing every 7mn or so, couldn't achieve.

Porch parade, was separating people on Robson square by a wall in 2015…
Something a bus passing every 7mn or so, couldn’t achieve.

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 [1], 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.

[1] Robson Street pedestrian space loses admirers, Kevin Griffin, VancouverSun, Agust 27th, 2015

Some remarks on the report to be presented to the Standing Committee on Planning, Transportation and Environment [2], 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:

due to the concave alignment of Burrard. A bus could need to be positioned at an angle preserving line of sight on incoming traffic, before reentering traffic: that would be an angle similar to the current slip-in lane to  not compromise lines of sight

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:

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:

A design, where the bus bay is in the alignement of Burrard street North of Pacific [4], bus bay designed in accordance with [3]. The tall cypress is obviously not in the way. A protected bike box with an advanced traffic signal allow EW connection along Pacific

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 bike box for thru movement is in a right turn bay! this right turn bay is supposed to have green light while the the thru lane could still be on red (to protect right urning from Burarrd to Pacific East). That creates confusion and place cyclists in an uncomfortable spot

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.

Mapo Bridge, Seoul, Korea, use technology, art and interactivity to reduce suicide rate, without relying on high suicide barrier

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 [1]

Overall, The Burrard North end project seems to be a bit rushed.

[1] 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.

[2] Burrard Bridge Upgrades and North Intersection Improvements, City Of Vancouver, Lon Laclaire, July 13, 2015

[3] BC Transit Infrastructure Design Guidelines, Nov 2010.

[4] 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.

extract of the proposed plan, which financing has never been updated

extract of the Mayors plan submitted to vote: financial figures have never been updated with the proposed .5% PST tax

The voters gave a big resounding NO to the Mayor’s Transit plan. This plan was a draft which financial figures had never been finalized, what is against the South Coast British Columbia Transportation authority act, and could not have been approved in that form by the Council of Mayors for this very reason. In fact, even with the 0.5% pst increase, it was still not yet fully financed and was not sustainable in the long run [1]. The lack of business case for some proposed services, starting by the Surrey LRT, could have cost so much tax $ in operating subsidies that not only a sunset clause for the tax was ruled out, but a new funding source could have been required before the end of the plan: The voter voted against that unsustainable path, knowing that anyway, there is always a Plan B, as alluded by the Surrey’s mayor.

Beyond the plan and the question on ballot, is the referendum framing. The referendum was asking to approve a Translink budget: In democracy, a budget vote is a confidence vote in the authority in charge of the said budget. Forget the “No” side leaded by Jordan Bateman and the CTF, it is the region’s mayors which have called for Translink audits, Translink reforms…and fired the Translink CEO in the mist of the campaign, clearly putting translink governance at the heart of the Referendum. On the Translink vote of confidence, the Council of mayors largely echoed the Jordan Bateman‘s message: “Translink is broken”, so ditto!

The stunning “No” side victory makes a Translink reform unavoidable. While, its Governance can certainly be improved, that will not rhyme with a better service. What can be done?

The Zurich precedent

In the 70’s, in Zurich, like in Vancouver, the voters have say “NO” to a grand and expensive Transit plan, and still Zurich has became the posterchild of efficient Transit.

Eventually as Vancouver, a “No” vote was not a No vote to Transit. In fact Zurich said “YES” to measures able to improve Transit efficiency, speed and reliability (“Transit first plan”). A Measures such as bus only lanes and signal priority can go a long way to improve service without breaking the bank, and help to build a solid business case for heavier rail investment.

    As an example, a newly painted bus lane on Seattle’s Battery street, has allowed to increase bus speed by 20%, and reliability by much more, what makes Transit less expensive to operate (bus driver are paid by the hour, not the mileage) which generated 20% additional ridership, hence increasing revenue: all these decrease the tax burden.

    Thanks to the still on-going federal gas tax program, bigger buses, be in the form of bi-articulated buses, like in Zurich, or longer articulated buses like introduced on Los Angeles’ Wilshire Blvd and in countless cities around the world, can also help to address overcrowding while keeping operating cost under control.

All these don’t require as much money as political will from the mayors, whose are responsible for the streets used by buses. Will, which has been sorely missing in the region and especially in the city of Vancouver where bus service is clearly neglected by the current council but where also Translink spend 50% of all its bus budget. That doesn’t need to be.

Translink has also been too nice… for too long. It is time for Translink to be more assertive about its needs to operate efficient transit:

  • Transit optimization need to be much more aggressive by going beyond shuffling bus around:
    • 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… without asking permission to the city of Vancouver
  • City of Vancouver charge organization like car free day, to recover its policing cost…It is time for Translink to do the same and recover the cost of bus disruption involved by street closure from the responsible of those disruptions

We have already exposed many ideas of Transit network optimization on this blog, and we will continue: Those can be a tough sell, but as we have already noticed, period of fiscal constraint are a window of opportunity to introduce network rationalization, and so build a solid fundation toward the expansion of Transit.

In conclusion, the No to the referendum is an opportunity to rationalize our Transit network and to emulate the Zurich model.

See Metro Vancouver: A look at the Mayors’ plan Capital investment, January 26, 2015

On June 1st, The city of Vancouver released its plan to upgrade the intersection at the North side of the Burrard bridge [3]:

The revamped interestion feature a Bike lane on the East side of the Burrard bridge, granting access to pedestrian on the east side too, and the removal of the accident prone slip lane

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:

In red, the prohibited directional change for cyclists (see bottom of the post for the bus stop suggestion)

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

bike lane in Vancouver are typically built at the expense of anyone not cycling

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 [1], 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:

400m Catchement area  of  bus stop considering the street grid and terrain elevation change: in green the Davie bus stop coverage. In red, the additional area covered by the Burnaby bus stop. In blue the area not covered any more due to the lost of the Pacific bus stop Southbound.

400m Catchement area of bus stop considering the street grid and terrain elevation change: in green the Davie bus stop coverage. In red, the additional area covered by the Burnaby bus stop. In blue the area not covered any more due to the lost of the Pacific bus stop Southbound.

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!

Why that?

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:

The existing bike lane on Burard is sandwiched between general traffic lanes and a bus lane: a less than ideal situation credit photo (2)

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:

Bus stop on Vancouver Dunsmuir avenue – Credit photo Paul Krueger

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:

An example of bike + bus stop inetgration

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

[1] 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.

[2] Girls and

[3] See also the discussion on Pricetags

When it comes to service delivery, the TransLink narrative goes like this:

    Delivered transit service hours have fallen behind the population growth since 2010 reaching levels last in 2008. That is leading to more crowding, more pass-ups and a worsening of the overall transit experience [1][18].

The graph presented to support this thesis is usually a truncated version of the below one:


A problem with this narrative using the total service hours delivered by the TransLink subsidiaries and contractors is that it magnifies the 2010 peak, by including service provided for the Olympic Games. A second issue is that it includes the technical services which could vary greatly without affecting the transit supply. Below is an example of such differences [2]:

route Revenue hour service Total hour service difference in %
All 3,841,860 4,950,000 29%
555 13,500 21,400 60%
96B 42,900 62,400 44%


Revenue service or service supply means service dedicated to move transit passengers (passenger can use the provided service).
Total service is the revenue service + technical service (deadhead run, layover…).
That is matching the APTA definitions. Translink’s reports tend to easily interchange the both terms.

The relatively important difference between the total service and the effective revenue service had already been noticed as an optimization avenue by the 2012 TransLink commissioner’s review [17]. The more fundamental issue is that the service/hour provided is not representative of the Transit supply:

  • The replacement of a 40 foot bus by a 60 foot bus wouldn’t increase the service hours per capita, but it could address overcrowding.
  • Faster bus routes infer less hours of service but are improving the service offer.
  • The replacement of a bus route by a rail one, offering much faster and higher capacity vehicles, can both address crowding while improving the offer, while resulting in a decrease in total service hours.

Seat.Kilometres Supply

The metric; which needs to be understood as (seat+standee).km in the transit world; is a much better way to evaluate the transit supply, and for this reason is widely used in the passenger transportation industry.

As an example: 1 hour of coach service on the express route 555 using the Hwy 1 HOV lane can provide ~3600 when one hour of C23 Shuttle bus in Vancouver’s Yaletown, provides only ~320 Differences in average speed and vehicle capacity drastically affect the offered service which is reflected by the metric:


The effect of the introduction of the Canada line service in late 2009 is clear. Though service hours may have stayed stable since 2011, the supply has slightly increased thanks to a greater use of articulated buses. The advent of routes 96B and 555, having higher speed than average, also provides more at constant service hours. Is this enough to keep pace with the population growth?


The point is moot. If a downtrend can be observed since 2011, we are nowhere near the 2008 level. The introduction of rapid transit lines tends to exhibit a positive long term trend.

Canadian and International Comparisons

To provide a larger perspective, the Vancouver transit supply is compared to other Canadian metropolitan areas, using numbers as provided by the Transportation Association of Canada [4]. The Vancouver numbers have been normalized to correlate with those provided by the association [5] . Vancouver tends to exhibit favorable trends when compared to its Canadian peers:


Vancouver pales when compared to Megalopolises such as Paris, London or Hong Kong [6], but its Transit supply is much greater than in Portland and comparable to the ones of European metropolises of population size closer to Metro Vancouver, such as Lille or Lyon [7]. Nevertheless, this comes with one caveat: both Lille and Lyon are fed by an important suburban train network which has not been accounted for in the following figure:


The above international comparison is assuming 4 standees per m2 to estimate the vehicle capacity [9]:

system bus LRT Metro RER/MTR/Skytrain
Vancouver 76 386
Hong Kong 105 146 [10] 200 [10]
London [11] 79 252[12] 728 509
Paris [11] 83 230 586 1772
Portland 76 166 [13]

The Occupancy rate
Is the Transit supply good enough or not?

The occupancy rate [14] can be a good proxy to assess the relevance of the supply: the higher the occupancy rate is, the more likely crowding issues will arise. On the other hand, a low occupancy rate could suggest an excess of capacity.

Crowding experienced locally with a low occupancy rate could suggest that the transit supply deployment is not optimal, but some other issues could arise: A directional demand unbalance makes crowding difficult to address without deploying excess capacity on the underused direction.


Possibly a transit world specific: even the busiest systems don’t achieve an occupancy rate greater than 30%. In that light, the TransLink system appears to be a heavily used one.

It is worthwhile to note that TransLink estimates the average transit trip length at ~8km [15] when TfL estimates the average bus trip length at 3.5km and the Underground trip length at 8km [16]. Similarly the average bus or tram trip length is 3.3km and the subway trip length 5km in Paris. The reliability of trip length data could be an issue but a consequence of longer trips in Vancouver is that TransLink needs to provide more per trip than London or Paris.

(*) This article has been first published in the December 2014 newsletter from Transport Action BC.

[1] Mayors’ council on regional transportation Regional Transportation Investments: a Vision for Metro Vancouver – June 12,2014

[2] Difference between the GTFS data (revenue hr) and the Translink 2013 Annual report (Total service hr). see more in this post

[3] Supply is computed on the first Friday following Labour Day (usually one of the busiest Transit days of the year) of each year from GTFS schedule and fleet deployment observations. The vehicles’ capacity used are the maximum as displayed on the concerned vehicles. see more in this post

[4] Transportation Association of Canada. Urban Transportation Indicators, Fourth Survey. Ottawa :2010

[5] Numbers otherwise differ, possibly due to different assumptions, such as on the vehicles’ capacity. The urban areas, used by the association [4], don’t match either the area covered by the transport agencies, so numbers are subject to caution.

[6] Numbers for Paris come from the Observatoire de la mobilité en Ile-de-France, London numbers from TfL [16] and Hong-Kong numbers from the 2013 MTR Annual report.

[7] Number for Portland, including population, comes from the APTA, and includes the scheduled services provided by Trimet, C-Tran, SMART and Portland city.

[8] Numbers from the Certu (“Annuaire statistique Transports Collectifs Urbains”, 2014) with bus capacity normalized at 83.

[9] Agencies could have different standards (e.g. 6 persons per sqm in Hong Kong). The vehicle capacity is per bus or consist (train) unless otherwise specified. When different vehicle types are used, a vehicle weighted average is used.

[10] The capacity is per car. Hong Kong Tram capacity is 125, and Hong Kong Airport train capacity is 120 per car.

[11] Vehicle Capacity number from Report on mobility an transport #1 – Institut D’aménagement et d’urbanisme- November 2014”.

[12] Weighted average of a DLR train capacity (280) and a Tramlink train (200).

[13] The capacity is per vehicle, the Portland streetcar capacity is 200.

[14] Also called Load factor.

[15] Translink: 2014 Business Plan, Operating and Capital – Budget. New Westminster 2014.

[16] Transport for London. Travel in London: report 7. London 2014.

[17] Shirocca consulting Translink Efficiency review. 2012,

[18] A narrative largely echoed by Lower Mainland translink advocates as illustrated here.


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