Today, the province has released its surprise Translink audit . Among other oddities, this audit is musing on the respective merits of different propulsion technologies for the buses. The audit’s finding is that natural gas bus are 20% cheaper to operate than diesel bus; and it goes as far as to suggest to replace the trolleybuses by such buses. That finding call a comment:
When, as the author of a report you arrive to such a finding – natural gas bus are cheaper to operate than diesel- you should ask yourself the following question:
- Why virtually no transit system around the world is operating gas natural powered bus?
The answer is either
- you are right against the rest of the world
- or, you draw wrong conclusion
We humbly suggest that the later option is more likely to apply to the Provincial audit. It is not to say that there is nothing worthy in this audit, and we will probably come back on it (but we can already vent out our opinion at the buzzer blog) as well as the Translink draft , this in a later post
Bus route performance
the following graph is a presentation of data extracted from the Translink library 
bus performance per route
The higher the ridership, the better,…the lower the operating cost the better too. A nice logarithmic trend appears, the routes above this trend can probably be considered as poor performers. Unsurprisingly, the route 99 is outperforming all others, but what this graph suggests is the the heavier route are expensive to operate, close if not more than 10 millions/year (the busiest route are often operated by artics, and their operating cost could be under-estimated ). For matter of comparisons, the Provincial audit suggests to eliminate the 22 lowest performing route, that is pruning 10% of the network, to achieve a mere saving of $3.6 millions, or less than 0.75% of the annual bus operating cost !!!
It is not to say that nothing needs to be done to improve the financial sheet of the lowest performing routes, but if someone want to find significant and sustainable saving, he should track inefficiency in the “heavy league” first.
Usually, in the “heavy league”, inefficiencies are due to sub-optimal average speed (those routes tend to operate in crowded corridors), and that can be addressed by a host of solution, among other:
- bus lane and signal preemption
- reducing number of bus stop and/or improving bus stop approach (bulge)
- relieving local service demand, by providing express service, it is the case we do for the route #410, which in despite to show overcrowding symptom, and is a relatively poor performer (cost per boarding $1.82)
and the beauty of it, is that this kind of optimization is able to increase the ridership, hence revenue, too. It is a win-win solution.
Operating cost per sector
||operating cost/year (in $M)
||cost per boarding
|1 to 84 and 99
|100 to 199 and 97
|300 to 399
|400 to 499
|500 to 599
|600 to 699
Translink fare revenue per boarding is $1.2 . Roughly, the Vancouver bus network, taken as a whole is about to break even. What is degrading the financial picture of Translink is the cost to serve the suburbs (we notice that people using multi-zone fare tend to do more transfer, so the revenue per boarding per zone is assumed about the same).
That was the original intend of this post, provide some firm numbers to substantiate various in discussion pitting suburbanite against Vancouver on the right amount of service each one is entitled to receive
 Review of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (Translink)BC Ministry of Finance, Oct 2012
 One of the major flaw of the audit in respect of the propulsion technologies comparison, is that it compare different bus, performing different duty. As an example the trolleybuses serve much more “punitive” route than other bus type
 2013 Base plan-Draft for consultation, Translink 2012.
 2011 BSPR Route Summaries 1 to 99, 2011 BSPR Route Summaries 100 to 199, 2011 BSPR Route Summaries 300 to 799. (part of a complete bus performance review)
 Those data assume that conventional bus cost ~$116/hr to operates. In fact it is probably not accurate enough to estimate the cost per route. Trolleybuses cost probably less to operate, and artics bus cost certainly more, may be 10% more, thought some suggest up to 25% more