The 2014 Vancouver Bus service optimization: focus on the bus 49

March 4, 2014

We have generally welcomed the last 2 rounds of service optimization, since they address bus route network structural deficiencies and this year makes no exception:
Among proposed change the 404 rerouting from Ladner exchange to Riverport is something we have previously called for:

The bus 49

It is important that TransLink rationalizes its bus network to provide value for both the taxpayer and the transit user, as well as provide a sound foundation for sustainable growth. The most obvious inefficiencies, are the route diversions serving specifc needs- An issue already well identified in the 1975 Downtown Vancouver bus review [2]– since a diversion means a less attractive service for most of the travellers.

A bus route detour may seem benign on a relatively low frequency route but it introduces inefficiencies which compound as transit ridership grows. It is notoriously the case of the bus 49 diversion at Champlain Height, which we have already pointed to the Translink commission


Such a diversion could have been overlooked decades ago, but is an unsustainable in 2014, with UBC, a Canada Line connection and Metrotown as major destinations along this route:

The Champlain Heights detour is an unnecessary inconvenience for 95% of route 49’s 20,000 weekday riders. It adds 4 to 5 minutes to each of the approximately 250 daily bus trips, which costs $500,000 annually (more than the cost to operate all the Ladner/South Delta community shuttles routes C84, C86 C87 C88 and C89 combined)[1]. This figure will only get worse over time.

Addressing it, not only improve the Translink financial sheet, but it also dramatically improve the bus service along the 49th avenue:

The proposed new bus 49 route by Translink saves 4 to 5 mn on each of the 250 daily runs done by the bus 49

The proposed new bus 49 route by Translink saves 4 to 5 mn on each of the 250 daily runs done by the bus 49

Understandably, some residents affected by the change have voiced their concerns [3]. Any routing change affects some customers and their concerns need to be considered. In the route 49 case, virtually all Champlain Heights’ residents will stay within 500 metres of a bus stop (either rerouted bus 49 or bus 26, both being among the 20% most frequent bus routes).

A reworking of the bus 26 could be also possible along lines below providing better connections to the rest of the network and service/jobs than the actual one:

A bus Joyce/Metrotown could improve the accessibility of the Champlain Heights thru the rest of the network, service and jobs compared to the current route (29th Ave Skytrain station- Joyce)

…But eventually the development of the East Fraser lands area calls for a more drastic review of the bus routes in this area, so it seems wise to not touch the route 26 for the time being (since it is a prime candidate to be extended to the East Fraser Lands)

The saving provided by the ending of the 49 diversion could easily pay for a community shuttle linking champlain mall to Metrotown thru 54th avenue.

  • ~40 daily shuttle runs could end up to cost ~$125,000 annually, assuming a $60/h shuttle operating cost [1]

but one could reasonnably question: Is it the best use of the saving Translink can do, when so many other areas are severed of even basic Translink service?

In any case, there is no lack of options to mitigate the lost of a direct 49 access for some people, and potential inconveniences are largely outweighted by the general service improvment.

The Vancouver council position

It is sad, but not overly surprising that the Vancouver council seems to be prepared to pass on March 11th, a motion initiated by Geoff Meggs, disregarding the benefit of the proposed 49 rationalization for the overwhelming majority of transit user, to focus only on a so called “service cut” in the Champlain Height, to oppose to the the improvment of the route 49.

One will notice, that so doing, the Vancouver council is dismissing the transit user value of time, and its contribution for the region’s economy (a viewpoint rightfully denounced by Gordon Price)…Do they adopt the same perspective when it is time to argue for a Broadway subway?

In the context of a looming transit funding referendum, it is extremely important that TransLink addresses its network inefficiencies, especially when they impede greater benefits for most of the transit users, and reduce the transit value of our tax dollars… and thought one could expect tthat its efforts could receive full support froom the concerned municipalities, it is also important that Vancouver doesn’t receive a favor treatment.

[1] Bus service performance review, Translink 2013

[2] The Downtown Vancouver Bus Service vision in 1975

[3] Bus service cut worries Champlain seniors,Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier, February 25th, 2014


31 Responses to “The 2014 Vancouver Bus service optimization: focus on the bus 49”

  1. Rico Says:

    Another good post. The proposed changes look good to me.

  2. mike0123 Says:

    The local transit network in the southeast corner of Vancouver, in all of Burnaby, and in all of New Westminster is poorly integrated with rapid transit and with other local transit. The loopy patterns are similar throughout, and they are inherently indirect and infrequent and slow. Nearly all routes currently run every 30 minutes off peak.

    Bus routes should run primarily on arterials perpendicular to rapid transit and connect at the stations. They should cross the city so that connections are possible at Hastings, the Millennium Line, the Expo Line, and at Marine. There should be fewer routes that are more direct and have higher frequency.

    The image below shows a network in which most of the routes run better than 15 minutes off peak and all of the routes run at most every 20 minutes off peak. This is possible just be redistributing service without any increase in cost.

    Usually this kind of improvement would come at the cost of some increase in the typical walking distance to transit, but this is not actually the case for this proposed network. Typical walking distances are not increased in the proposal. The improvement comes from removing duplication and backtracking.

  3. bar foo Says:

    You should realize that buses are supposed to serve all the community, not just the people who want to get to the west side of Vancouver. The 49 diversion serves an area with low-income, old-age and people with disabilities. It’s the densest area in south-east Vancouver. There are elementary schools along the way.

    And your approach is to screw all those people to save 4 minutes on the route? And to say, let them use the 26? Have you ever used the 26?

  4. Rico Says:

    Bar foo, I guess the question is how many people save 4minutes versus how many people would need to take the 26 (and presumably have to budget extra time for a transfer). I think you will find the number of people who benifit from a shorter more direct route will far exceed those negatively affected and the cummulative benifits of the change far outweigh the negative changes for those in the detour.

  5. bar foo Says:

    Well, let’s see. Metrotown to UBC is about an hour. To Cambie, 30 minutes. Those are the big destinations. Lots of smaller one in between, for sure. But, really, 4 minutes is going to make a difference to someone going across town like that? 56 minutes instead of 60?

    But now, say you want to go to Champlain to shop for groceries. Bus stops right there. You have to change if the kink goes away. You know there are a variety of seniors homes around Champlain? So those people should have to walk, or deal with the infrequent 26 if they want to go to Metrotown or across town. Not only that, the whole area around Champlain has low-income and affordable housing. People who’re inclined to use transit.

    And then the disingenuous Translink survey. 95% of riders don’t get off in this area. Pick any 5 stops along the route, and see if 95% of the riders don’t get off there… No mention of how many boardings there are along there. How many people do you think will get on and off in the new section proposed along 49th?

    And again, try using the 26. Reliability is not a feature of that route.

    Never mind the details – the real issue here is people who don’t live in the area or use the transit in the area proposing solutions that screw over the people who do. In favour of the people heading over to the west side.

    • Rico Says:

      Perhaps the correct approach is to improve the 26 as suggested by Vonny with some of the 500,000 dollars of savings removing the kink should provide. Then 95% of riders benifit on the 49 and Champlain heights residents get good access to an improved 26. Win win.

    • Voony Says:

      “Pick any 5 stops along the route”, beside the 54th ave, they could be on the natural 49 route: 49th Avenue.

      so the bus could still pass in front of those “retired stop” location,

      Suppressing those stops could make the route marginally faster, but nothing as faster as suppressing a detour to serve 5 out of the way stops!

      A detour is a breach to the transit geometry principles: something already stated as a rule of thumb in 1975
      ( ) :

      • “(1) Don’t divert routes to serve specific needs: Diversion means a less attractive service for most of the travelers
      • (2) Use secondary services connecting to main ones, to serve “out of the way” area (rather than divert main routes)”

      The Champlain detour

      • (1) adds disproportionate operating costs, considering the additional patronage.
      • (2) and it has disproportionate negative effects on the 95% users of the 49 line.

      5mn could not sound a lot,..but it is…remember how we justify to spend $Billions in road or transit infrastructure? to shave few mn on a trip…Also, most people use the 49 between Cambie and Metrotown, a 5mn shorter ride, means a 15% faster ride between those 2 points: it counts

      Imagine in the future, we have to lay down a LRT on 49th avenue: the Champlain detour could not even be considered.

      If you consider Transit as a social service, what is also its function, there is absolutely no reason for Translink to provide a better “social service” to Champlain residents than to residents of other locations, such as Ladner/South delta.
      And if Translink is agreeing to do that, we shouldn’t be surprised at the backslash from SoF.

      People could complain about the bus 26, and it can eventually be improved, but it is still at a frequency better than 80% of the Translink bus routes, and …better than anything existing in Ladner South/Delta…

      • bar foo Says:

        Do you have any idea of the area around Champlain Mall, Voony? You call it a detour, but it actually serves the most dense part of southeast Vancouver, and the major food shopping location as well. Take a look at the map before you talk about “out of the way stops”. And perhaps take a drive along Kerr past 54th in the morning, after school and in the evening and see the people waiting at the stops there. And perhaps drive the 500m from 54th to 49th on either Tyne or Kerr and see if it really takes you 2 mins at all times of the day or night.

        This has nothing to do with Translink being a social service. It has to do with servicing dense neighbourhoods efficiently. But hey, it’s only East Van, not a 30 floor tower in sight, so why do they need good bus service? Seems to me this is more a case of Translink looking to reduce service, and better do it on the east side than in the darling areas on the west.

      • bar foo Says:

        One further comment here: “it has disproportionate effect on the 95% users of the 49”. Garbage. No-one, not even Translink, is suggesting that 95% of the users of the 49 travel past this kink in the route. Anyone travelling anywhere west of Kerr is not affected. Likewise anyone east of Tyne. Where’s the analysis to find out how many people are on the bus when it turns, and relate that to the people who get on and off in the diversion?

        What really annoys me about this particular issue is that there’s so much talk about how we should make this city more transit-friendly, walkable, livable etc, but we’re willing to just throw one of the more transit-friendly neighbourhoods along a particular route under the bus in order to make questionable savings. Without even considering the people in the neighbourhood. (As Translink’s “open house” in Metrotown(!) to discuss this illustrates).

      • mike0123 Says:

        The deviation in the 49 makes the 49 far less useful for trips across the deviation. Slow, indirect routes should be expected to produce less ridership because they waste peoples’ time.

        A network made up of a grid of straight routes minimizes trip times (given sufficient frequency, which is the case here) and headways for a given amount of service.

        If the 26 is not frequent enough or does not provide adequate connections, advocate for the optimization of the 26.

      • Voony Says:

        Mike answer is excellent and complete:

        I could add:

        The most friendly transit service is the one generating the highest ridership, and Mike provides keys (as well map) toward that.

        Far boo says: look at the map before you talk about “out of the way stops”:

        This detour could have existed at a time when Metrotown was a minor business park before the advent of the skytrain, but now the anchors of the 49 line are Metrotown, Canada Line and UBC. With the growth of those anchors, Champlain Mall has become a minor destination, (which being along Kerr, is better served by bus 26 in fact).

        That is the difference with bus 430 or 407 making a “detour” to Bridgeport, which act as an anchor for those lines

        As soon as you use people social status (senior, disabled…) to justify a certain transit routing, you envision Transit as a social service.
        Again, it is one of its function, but if Translink want to attract a large cross section of the population beyond its captive market (people with no other choice), it needs to provide an efficiency and legible service. That doesn’t prevent to address the “social shortcoming” of an optimal network, by operating extra route to ensure a minimum transit coverage (that is the “social mandate” of Translink), but its FTN (structuring network) should not be built upon this social service premise.

        PS: I have rode my bike in the area

    • mike0123 Says:

      The outcome of a series of optimizations should be a network made up of frequent routes that cross the city, like the network in most of the rest of Vancouver proper. This type of network will permit far more frequent, cost-effective, connective, fast, and reliable transit on all routes than is possible with the existing network design.

      A series of optimizations is not likely going to happen all at the same time, partly because there are physical improvements that need to be made along with each optimization and partly because some people will always think that a change is not in their immediate interest.

      Eventually the development of East Fraserlands will require further changes to the network in that part of the city, but hopefully changes can be made sooner that make the 26 not just more frequent but also connect it to east-west routes further north.

  6. bar foo Says:

    Again, the reality on the ground is different from what you’re saying. Champlain is a major anchor in that area of East Van. The detour is 1 major block long. There is nothing but SFH along 49th between Tyne and Kerr. Translink says it adds 4 minutes to the trip, but I actually took the time to measure how long it takes from 54 to 49th along Kerr, and it’s around 1 min. I’m sure there are times of the day when it’s longer, but it’s still inconsequential.

    If your thesis that this should be an express route serving Metrotown, Cambie and UBC is correct, then advocate to remove all stops between major north-south routes (ie stop only at Kerr, Victoria, Knight, Fraser, etc). After all, almost nobody gets on/off at those other stops. That would make the 49 an even better service, wouldn’t it?

    Really, the point of transit is to serve the people who use it, not some abstract ideas founded on a (misleading) view of a map.

    • Voony Says:

      Per definition an anchor for Transit, is a bus stop (or a cluster of bus stops), generating a “disproportionate share of ridership.

      the route 49 has ~140 bus stop (both direction), 10% being on the Champlain detour, but this detour and its 14 bus stops, generates only 5% of the ridership…that prevents Champlain to qualify has an anchor.

      The 4-5mn time saving is provided by Translink, and that is consistent with the bus timetable (430 can be used as a reference, as well as some 49 run staying on 49 between Kerr and Tyne).

      regarding operating a layered service on 49avenue (express + local).
      * The corridor is eventually too weak to support such arrangement.
      * 49ave is a single traffic lane per direction, limiting the added value of an express buses.

      I concur with what says Mike below: bus stop consolidation is a better option.

      The average bus stop interval on the route 49 is 250meter East of Dunbar: A consolidation of bus stops (ideally a single bus stop instead of 2 if not more between major arteries such as Main and Fraser ) toward a still very reasonable 400 meter bus stop interval could make the service much more attractive for most people.

      Again, if the goal of Translink is to serve only the actual customer…it could be no need to build the Evergreen line or other heavy transit infrastructure: The Translink goal is to increase its customer basis: that can impact a minority of actual customer, but the important is to increase the overall ridership

      • bar foo Says:

        Pretty disengenuous, Voony. Pick any 7 stops along the 49 and see if their boarding/disembarking is higher than the Champlain area. (Nice try calling it 14 stops, making it sound like it’s really excessive. Where have you ever seen stops counted in both directions as separate stops?!). And note how the Translink report is worded “Majority of riders (95%) do not get off in this segment”. How about boardings? How about the particular stop at 54th and Kerr?

        And if the goal of Translink is to build ridership, why would you reduce service to one of the most dense areas of south-east Van?

    • Voony Says:

      Bar foo, I am not sure you understand the concept of detour.

      Pick any 7 stops along the 49 [other than the ones on the Champlian diversion,], they will be on the way.

      They don’t force the bus to go out on an expensive (money and time wise) detour to serve them…at the difference of the Champlain diversion…
      I have already stated this in a previous comment

      and again the goal is not to reduce service, but to provide better service for most…

  7. mike0123 Says:

    Many of the stops on the 49 are too close together east of Fraser, often less than Translink’s guideline of 250 m to 400 m between stops on local frequent transit routes. Some of the stops should be consolidated, ideally so that stops are opposite each other at signalized intersections.

    One way of making transit faster along 49th is by leaving the 49 as is and adding a rapid service with stops only at streets with intersecting bus routes, like on Broadway and like with the 430 east of Knight. On a route that does not have sufficient ridership to support frequent local and frequent rapid simultaneously, the fastest trip is often on whichever service shows up first. Also, a lane allocated to transit cannot be shared by local and rapid without an additional lane to bypass stops.

    If most people are ambivalent about mode, it may be better to operate a single mode with stops spaced at the high end or slightly above Translink’s guideline for frequent local transit. This would result in a stop at each intersecting bus route and usually one or occasionally two stops between each bus route. This stop spacing might minimize trip times for most trips. This stop spacing is typical of modern tramways, I think because it provides good enough coverage and good enough speed in one service.

  8. julax Says:

    obvioulsy who ever wrote this is not using the 49. We all agree that 4/5 minutes is not going to change anything to those who go to UBC for instance. Now if you really want to reduce the time, reduce the stops, some of them are way to close to each other. Fraser street for instance. But most importantly if you want to reduce the time efficiently, re-route the 49 at marine drive and Dunbar and make it go along marine instead of going 41st. Bypass Dunbar which has 22 bus and 7 and do not take 41st avenue. On 41st avenue, there are already 2 buses, 41 and 43. Here you go, you gained 4/5 minutes.

    • Voony Says:

      If I understand you correctly:
      it is OK to remove a bus service in someone else neighborhood (.e.g Dunbar) , but not in yours…

      Notice: The 49 passes by the Dunbar loop to offer a connection with bus 7,22,41,43,480….and roughly, only half of the bus 49 go West of the Dunbar loop (UBC)

      • julax Says:

        Exactly, why would the people in champlain heights be penalized, don’t you have enough buses in Dunbar? We only have one. Get over it.

      • mike0123 Says:

        Except for the other one.

      • julax Says:

        I see that this is going nowhere, no one enjoys having their bus detoured,That;s what I was trying to say but my sarcasm got missed. The debate is closed since 49 IS not changing routes.

  9. julax Says:

    oh and why would I take 49 to dunbar to take 480 which follows some of the 49 route. And i want to take 22 Ill take at knight street..

  10. Voony Says:

    If you want to go somewhere along McKenzie, from 49th ave: transferring from the 49 to the 22 at Dunbar makes by order of magnitude shorter trip than transferring at Knight street

    …More generally a good network allows to go from anywhere to anywhere: That is Transit freedom…and the Dunbar loop is an important component allowing that.

    Another important thing with the Champlain detour:
    I was thinking to write a post on it but. here it is:
    Today, the bus 430 ensures a connection between Metrotown and Richmond Center.
    It is a redundant service with the faster option Canada Line+49 from Brighouse…but not necessarily faster enough from Bridgeport to justify a transfer:

    a 5mn shorter trip on the 49, makes the CanadaLine+49 always a faster option than the 430…

    So not only the removal of the Champlain detour could allow a 10% operating cost saving on the 49, but it has ripple effects on the relevance of the route 430 as we know today…the 430 could be suppressed (generating more saving) or rather realigned to increase the Transit offer rather than to have it to compete with the Canada Line+49:

    The 430 also ensures a connection between Metrotown and East Richmond (otherwise not feasible in less than 2 bus transfers), so this part of the 430 needs to be maintained (and that is the main reason this bus is well used- it is usually empty between Bridgeport and Brighouse), but rather than to connect with the Canada Line, it can go to South Delta/Ladner, extending the transit offer rather than offering redundancy…this at no additional cost
    (see more on that at A Richmond Transit plan: The regional view

    Greater transit coverage and greater option from anywhere to anywhere, and still with a minimal amount of transit route, is what allows an efficient network, vs a network made of detour to satisfy special interests… which at the end work against the general interest.

  11. […] While I was browsing through the numerous transit-oriented articles on Voony’s Blog, I found the graphic that inspired me to write this article on a write-up focusing on the proposed route 49 change: […]

  12. […] The mayor’s plan could also have gained to be “down sized” to meet the Transit demand in a more realistic and fiscal restrain way: We have already questioned the relevance of some choice, like the accelerated, but very expensive, upgrade of the expo and Millenium by 2020 to be able to absorb a ridership which is not forecated to happen anytime sooner than 2041. It is even possible that very similar objective to the one stated in the Mayor’s plan could be achieved with 0.25% PST instead of 0.5%: We will eventually try to explain this in further posts, but it could certainly pass by key bus service improvment such as the one once proposed on the route 49 […]

  13. […] have mentioned previous examples of it for this, the route 49 being a case in […]

  14. […] detour, like the Champlain Height diversion on the route 49, need to be discontinued… without asking permission to the city of […]

  15. […] 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 […]

  16. […] was proposed to address  some legitimate concersn of the Champlain Heights residents. In our post dedicated to this route, we have suggested an alteration of the route 26. something also done in the 2015 proposal, and […]

  17. […] While I was browsing through the numerous transit-oriented articles on Voony’s Blog, I found the graphic that inspired me to write this article attached to a comment on a write-up focusing on the proposed route 49 change: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: