Translink 2009 Annual report reviewed

May 13, 2010

The 209 annual report released at the Translink‘s AGM contains some interesting statements

The Skytrain

It is claimed that the “Expo and Millennium SkyTrain Lines are the most efficient, lowest-cost operations in North America” with a supporting comparison with some selected American LRT. One will wonder why, the figure doesn’t include the Calgary LRT?


An interesting figure comparing the GHG emission per mode seems to be a direct answer to prof. Patrick Condon claims stated in several of its publications [4]. Unfortunatly, Translink number doesn’t seems to be produced with much more rigor than the professor Patrick Condon’s one.

But the more interesting and worrisome numbers will require further reading of the report to get extracted:

Operating efficiency

year Number of revenue passengers in millions Operating Cost in $Millions Fare Revenue in $Millions Operating cost recovery
2005 160 516 284 56.4%
2006 165 572 300 53.8%
2007 172 621 316 52.5%
2008 179 688 347 52%
2009 188 735 355 49.8%

Like eventually previously mentioned by the Translink commission, the growth strategy pursued by Translink appears non sustainable, in the sense that the ridership increase doesn’t translate in farebox recovery improvement. Worse, it degrades it.

To be sure Translink is not the only agency in this case, as we have seen in the Zurich model, but eventually the region could not spare a debate on the expected level of funding of transit operation (and subsidiary sources).

the Service rationalization initiative

In the immediate, the answer seems to be the service rationalization initiative. Some Observers seems to dismiss it [3] but it is probably a welcome move if done to ensure the sustainability of the ridership growth. Again, the Zurich model demonstrates that service, and consequently ridership, can be greatly improved by other means that piling out hours of transit service. here are some ideas we can provide:

  • Bus Stops consolidation
  • Consolidate bus stop! Too often, bus stops are not very far apart. The picture below is the one along the 410 route between Aberdeen Station and Garden city road:

    • East bound, the bus will stop every 200m on average!
    • west bound, at Garden city intersection, 2 stops are spaced by no more than 50m, with no reasonable explanation for it

    Those stops could be not such a draw on operation in off peak, but it will still involve a slowdown of the bus at stop without patron. At peak hour, it slowdown considerably the bus for marginal convenience (if any).

    The consolidation of bus stops could not save too much time on one run, but in the case of the 410 route example, there is ~100 runs per direction a day, so the cumulative time can be not negligible.
    In addition of time, the suppression of stops can certainly save other operational cost (less braking, acceleration,…), and can make the bus ride smoother.

    Other strategy, not necessarily very costly to implement, like traffic signal preemption, can also help not only to save time, but to improve the bus operation efficiency and ride smoothness

  • Demand management
  • “peak hour” determine the number of buses which need to be owned and maintained, and so can be expensive to serve, as it can be illustrated by the graph below ilustrating the translink’s bus service surge during peak hours[1]

    number of Translink's bus in service according to time of a regular day

    If Translink were coming with a fare structure favoring journey off peak hour, they could reduce this expensive peak pressure (hence reducing the number of bus to maintain and marginally operate…). An idea could be a discounted pass valid only after 9:30am (hence involving a return trip starting after 5:30pm for regular commute)…[2]

  • Bus schedules
  • provide a “regular timetable” for low frequency route: this is almost the case for route like the 351, but there is lot of room for improvment on the 601.
    On such route the schedule should be so simple that people could not need to have a timetable to know at what time their bus is schedule.

    More elaborated strategies like “code sharing” should be investigated to provide high visibility of level of service.

    Those last suggestions will note necessarily decrease the operating costs but are prone to attract more rider at no extra operational cost, and it is what Translink should explore for the time being, this to break out this vicious circle where, the “more people ride the system, the more subsidy it needs

    [1] the graph has been built by a contributor of the skyscraperpage forum

    [2] The reader will find further discussion on the topic at the human transit blog

    [3] TransLink on ‘life support’, Franck Luba, The province, May 12th. See also Geoff Meggs take on it.

    [4] Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, Patrick Condon, 2010 . The chapter 2 available here is built on a previous publication: A Cost Comparison of Transportation Modes, Patrick Condon and Kari Dow, Foundational research Bulletin, November 2009.

    3 Responses to “Translink 2009 Annual report reviewed”

    1. David Says:

      Vancouver has the same problem of too many closely spaced stops. There are several places I can think of in predominantly single family areas where there is a stop every block and four locations where there are stops on both sides of the same intersection serviced by the same bus route.

      As always finding a happy medium is complicated. On the most basic level one seeks to find the stop locations that generate the most passengers. Too many stops results in a slow service that dissuades one class of customer while too few dissuades a different and usually more vulnerable group.

      Where a reasonable average number of stops/km is being maintained the odd location where two seem too close together may actually be the optimal solution. This is particularly true where part of a segment is flat, but another part has a significant slope.

      In particularly high traffic areas crowds can get so big that having more stops can actually be beneficial, but such locations are rare.

      Off the top of my head I can think of a couple dozen stops that should be eliminated. A proper analysis of the system would likely reveal hundreds of inefficient stops.

    2. BGone Says:

      Interesting that the 6:30PM multi-zone fare discount doesn’t seem to have a huge visible effect on the graph. I guess the post-PM-peak drop-off in service would otherwise be slightly steeper though (maybe closer to the slope of the pre-PM-peak ramp-up in service).

    3. David Says:

      For about three years I worked until 5:30, 6:00 or 6:30PM and rode SkyTrain home. There’s a mini peak in demand at Waterfront starting around 6:20 when the last WCE train pulls out. Those who missed the train hop SkyTrain instead of waiting for the 7:00 bus. However, the last WCE is only a 4 car train and so the number of people switching must be quite small and certainly isn’t enough to explain my observation that trains at 6:15 were always more crowded than those a half hour earlier.

      I always attributed that to the elimination of multi-zone fares at 6:30. Since it takes SkyTrain 15 minutes to reach Joyce, those wishing to travel multiple zones need only wait until 6:15 to save.

      The mini-peak associated with the fare change is short lived and doesn’t involve a lot of people, but I noticed it.

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