Translink operating cost benchmarking

February 2, 2015

Some graphs, with number coming from [2]:

All numbers for 2012 unless specified otherwise. 'Toronto++' includes Toronto TTC, Durham region, York region, Mississauga and Brampton.
Operating cost for Vancouver are separated as Transit operating cost only (computed without considering the Canada line, Translink overhead, and police). full total is including those ancilliaries cost usually not compounded for other agencies - see (5)

There is 2 conclusions we can draw.

save for Winnipeg
Translink has one of the cheapest operating cost per capita

…and the below graph, from [2], suggests there is a lot of room to increase funding from municipal source, which could have avoided the March 2015 plebiscite:

transit funding per source from [2]

transit funding per source from [2]

Translink has one of the most expensive operating cost per trip

Comaprison according to the 2012  Translink efficiency review

Comparison according to the 2012 Translink efficiency review

It is not as dramatic as the difference pointed by [1] using some selected peers (figure left). Since we don’t have access to the CUTA numbers, we can’t judge of it, but we notice a mismatch with numbers provided by Calgary transit [2] and [1]

Because Translink has also the highest average fare, the net cost/trip for the taxpayer is in line with the one seen in Calgary.

Operating cost per trip has increased in 2013, mainly due to a reduction of ridership induced by a fare increase. The result is overall positive: Translink achieves a greater cost recovery ratio. That said, it looks Translink has hard time to lower its operating costs

The reason, often given, is that the Translink jurisdiction covers a much greater area than its peers. The argument is valid but not sufficient to explain the higher cost:

  • The “Toronto++” area (in the top graphs) includes Mississauga, Brampton, York region and Durham region: while a very large region, the average operating cost per trip is still lower than in Metro Vancouver. The numbers could be heavily squeezzed by the TTC (90% of the trips of the Toronto++ area)
  • ~90% of the Translink revenue service is provided in an area not greater than Ottawa or Toronto (see our post here)

It could be some other issues at play, such as too costly labour contracts. Other issues we have previously mentioned in this blog:

Too little bus productivity

layover at Davie

We have already pointed, in a previous post, the relatively high discrepancy between the total service (including layover, deadheading,…) and the revenue service (when the bus pick up and carries passenger). This was also noticed by [1].


Too many buses

With more than 1500 buses, the Translink bus fleet is oversized. At peak hour, only ~1000 buses are in revenue service:


Translink has a fleet of ~1530 buses, but the scheduled service requires only ~1000 buses in revenue at peak (computed on friday Septmebr 5th)

The oversizing of the bus fleet has also been pointed by the 2012 Translink efficiency review [1] as well as the Provinical audit [3] ( since that time, the bus service has stayed basically the same, but more buses have been added to the fleet). Below is an IBBG benchmarking suggesting it was already the case in 2008:

2008 fleet utilization in some major cities (anonymous data from IBBG) : Vancouver bus fleet utilization is guessed to be the purple triangle curve

Too many political interferences

The main issue Translink is facing is to move from a social service objective to a productivity one for many of its bus routes. “social service” is an important component of Transit but when ridership pick up on a route, diversions and other distractions, to achieve specific social goals, become increasingly expensive.

We have mentioned previous examples of it for this, the route 49 being a case in point:

bus diversion, are a burden for  efficient Transit operation

bus diversions are a burden for efficient Transit operations

The removing of the diversion could reduce the route operating cost by ~10%. We have noticed many other opportunities in this blog to dramatically reduce operating cost of specific bus routes. Those opportunities are usually well identified by Translink, but the main obstacle to those significant cost saving measures are usually the cities’ council themselves:

A conclusion also drawn by a previous Translink audit [3]:

    It is the committe’s observation that Translink’s decision on services and investments are sometimes based on community by community pressure or requests from individual local governments, rather than technical or financial merit.

[1] TransLink Efficiency Review, Shirocca Consulting, March 2012.

[2] Calgary Transit Funding and Fare Strategy Review, Calgary Transit, February 2014.

[3] Review of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation authority, BC Ministry of finance, October 2012.

[4] International Public Transport Benchmarking: Learning from othersBen Condry, Imperial College London, University of Sydney, December 10th, 2013.

[5] see our reference spreadsheet post for further explanation on operating cost computation. The total presented here is as given per [2].


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