The short coming of a distance-based transit fare system

October 3, 2013

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 yield management model than 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

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4 Responses to “The short coming of a distance-based transit fare system”

  1. daka_x Says:

    The issue with the 96 B-Line and the 320 is not a network design issue; it’s just that riders are too incompetent to check out the 96 B and its benefits.

    For example, a 320 rider to 152nd St who just missed a 320 and would then be on the hook for 15 minutes for the next one, could grab the next 96, which may overtake that 320 on the way to Guildford Exchange where the transfer can be made. This not only gets the 96 used, it frees up the 320 for people who actually need it. This also may give the rider a more comfortable ride as the rider skips the most crowded segment of a line and boards when most of the crowd has dispersed.

    Other average 320 riders could walk just one or two blocks to reach a stop serviced by the 96.

    I used to do this all the time with the 337 (nonstop express) and 335 (or 326 from Gford). The 335 was the most direct route to my previous house, but would put me through the 108 Ave detour. Choosing the 337 nonstop instead to bypass that did not necessarily save me time, but it was much more comfortable and might have come at the assistance of one extra boarding on the 335 at Gateway Station.

    320 used to sometimes take over 15 minutes to make the 104 Ave run during the peak hour. The 96 cuts that time in half for competent riders. I don’t take for granted the 96’s ability to move into the left lane and skip stuck right turns at intersections, which are a regularity on 104 Ave. 320s often got stuck on 152nd and 104th and bunched up.

    • daka_x Says:

      *note on my experience: the 337 usually departed within a few minutes of a 335 at Surrey Central, so that allowed me to make my described transfer.

    • Voony Says:

      Daryl, you write:
      For example, a 320 rider to 152nd St who just missed a 320 and would then be on the hook for 15 minutes for the next one, could grab the next 96, which may overtake that 320 on the way to Guildford Exchange where the transfer can be made. This not only gets the 96 used, it frees up the 320 for people who actually need it.

      Who exactly needs to take the 320?
      people for which the 96B doesn’t work, that is people ending trip east of 152th (where there is no 96B anymore) I think we agree on that!

      then why, the 320 is a local service on 104th ave and not the 96B?

      That is the network design issue:

      the longer the bus trip can be, the fastest should be the bus to its “target market” and not the reverse (104th street shouldn’t be more serviced by the 320, than it is by 337, 501…).

      to come back to the topic of the post.
      Due to the very centralized nature of the Surrey market, people overwelmingly board at Surrey central, and if they get off the bus a couple stops later, it is a “lost seat”. People should pay according to the final destination of the bus, not their trip length…so defacto encouraging people to take the bus 96B rather than the 320 on 104th…

      Notice that the time gain you give for the 96B over the 320, is in the worst case (east bound full length, rush hr). It is probable that for most of the riders, the time gain provided by the 96B over the 320 is not very measurable, and not enough to justify to walk an additional “couple of Surrey block”. (frequency of the 96B over 320, could be).

      It is reasonnable to think that, for many people along 104th street, the introduction of the 96B is not seen as a service improvment …since it has translated in decreased frequency for the local service, with not enough time gain, considering the rather short 96B route (<3.2km), to compensate the additional walk (often under the rain) to the 96B stop…

      • daka_x Says:

        I was referring to people who use the 320 to get off between some areas like between Whalley & 144th; or those with mobility issues, or others by choice. The majority of 104 Ave corridor riders and even 152 St corridor riders could get by with starting their ride on the 96.

        Once through riders are off of the 320 and onto the 96 and benefiting from it, the 320 can provide a good service for the riders that do remain.

        Given that this is the first time in Metro Vancouver history that a B-Line is mostly taking over local services rather than express, I think you should give it a little bit more time than usual.

        I don’t disagree, however, that a 10 minute service would be a good idea for implementation to address the local demand that parallels the very high express demand on 104th (particularly to create improvements for connecting riders from 335, etc. to access the local community, as Guildford Exch is also very much a “come to” hub, moreso than Newton which seems much more of a “go through” hub only)


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