When it comes to service delivery, the TransLink narrative goes like this:


    Delivered transit service hours have fallen behind the population growth since 2010 reaching levels last in 2008. That is leading to more crowding, more pass-ups and a worsening of the overall transit experience [1][18].

The graph presented to support this thesis is usually a truncated version of the below one:

TotalServiceSupply

A problem with this narrative using the total service hours delivered by the TransLink subsidiaries and contractors is that it magnifies the 2010 peak, by including service provided for the Olympic Games. A second issue is that it includes the technical services which could vary greatly without affecting the transit supply. Below is an example of such differences [2]:

route Revenue hour service Total hour service difference in %
All 3,841,860 4,950,000 29%
555 13,500 21,400 60%
96B 42,900 62,400 44%

.

Revenue service or service supply means service dedicated to move transit passengers (passenger can use the provided service).
Total service is the revenue service + technical service (deadhead run, layover…).
That is matching the APTA definitions. Translink’s reports tend to easily interchange the both terms.

The relatively important difference between the total service and the effective revenue service had already been noticed as an optimization avenue by the 2012 TransLink commissioner’s review [17]. The more fundamental issue is that the service/hour provided is not representative of the Transit supply:

  • The replacement of a 40 foot bus by a 60 foot bus wouldn’t increase the service hours per capita, but it could address overcrowding.
  • Faster bus routes infer less hours of service but are improving the service offer.
  • The replacement of a bus route by a rail one, offering much faster and higher capacity vehicles, can both address crowding while improving the offer, while resulting in a decrease in total service hours.

Seat.Kilometres Supply

The seat.km metric; which needs to be understood as (seat+standee).km in the transit world; is a much better way to evaluate the transit supply, and for this reason is widely used in the passenger transportation industry.

As an example: 1 hour of coach service on the express route 555 using the Hwy 1 HOV lane can provide ~3600 seat.km when one hour of C23 Shuttle bus in Vancouver’s Yaletown, provides only ~320 seat.km. Differences in average speed and vehicle capacity drastically affect the offered service which is reflected by the seat.km metric:

VancouverSeatkmSupplyEvolut

The effect of the introduction of the Canada line service in late 2009 is clear. Though service hours may have stayed stable since 2011, the seat.km supply has slightly increased thanks to a greater use of articulated buses. The advent of routes 96B and 555, having higher speed than average, also provides more seat.km at constant service hours. Is this enough to keep pace with the population growth?

VancouverSeatKmCapita

The point is moot. If a downtrend can be observed since 2011, we are nowhere near the 2008 level. The introduction of rapid transit lines tends to exhibit a positive long term trend.

Canadian and International Comparisons

To provide a larger perspective, the Vancouver transit supply is compared to other Canadian metropolitan areas, using numbers as provided by the Transportation Association of Canada [4]. The Vancouver numbers have been normalized to correlate with those provided by the association [5] . Vancouver tends to exhibit favorable trends when compared to its Canadian peers:

CanadaSeatSupply

Vancouver pales when compared to Megalopolises such as Paris, London or Hong Kong [6], but its Transit supply is much greater than in Portland and comparable to the ones of European metropolises of population size closer to Metro Vancouver, such as Lille or Lyon [7]. Nevertheless, this comes with one caveat: both Lille and Lyon are fed by an important suburban train network which has not been accounted for in the following figure:

TransitSupplyPerCapitaInter

The above international comparison is assuming 4 standees per m2 to estimate the vehicle capacity [9]:

system bus LRT Metro RER/MTR/Skytrain
Vancouver 76 386
Hong Kong 105 146 [10] 200 [10]
London [11] 79 252[12] 728 509
Paris [11] 83 230 586 1772
Portland 76 166 [13]

The Occupancy rate
Is the Transit supply good enough or not?

The occupancy rate [14] can be a good proxy to assess the relevance of the supply: the higher the occupancy rate is, the more likely crowding issues will arise. On the other hand, a low occupancy rate could suggest an excess of capacity.

Crowding experienced locally with a low occupancy rate could suggest that the transit supply deployment is not optimal, but some other issues could arise: A directional demand unbalance makes crowding difficult to address without deploying excess capacity on the underused direction.

OccupancyRatio

Possibly a transit world specific: even the busiest systems don’t achieve an occupancy rate greater than 30%. In that light, the TransLink system appears to be a heavily used one.

It is worthwhile to note that TransLink estimates the average transit trip length at ~8km [15] when TfL estimates the average bus trip length at 3.5km and the Underground trip length at 8km [16]. Similarly the average bus or tram trip length is 3.3km and the subway trip length 5km in Paris. The reliability of trip length data could be an issue but a consequence of longer trips in Vancouver is that TransLink needs to provide more seat.km per trip than London or Paris.

(*) This article has been first published in the December 2014 newsletter from Transport Action BC.


[1] Mayors’ council on regional transportation Regional Transportation Investments: a Vision for Metro Vancouver – June 12,2014

[2] Difference between the GTFS data (revenue hr) and the Translink 2013 Annual report (Total service hr). see more in this post

[3] Supply is computed on the first Friday following Labour Day (usually one of the busiest Transit days of the year) of each year from GTFS schedule and fleet deployment observations. The vehicles’ capacity used are the maximum as displayed on the concerned vehicles. see more in this post

[4] Transportation Association of Canada. Urban Transportation Indicators, Fourth Survey. Ottawa :2010

[5] Numbers otherwise differ, possibly due to different assumptions, such as on the vehicles’ capacity. The urban areas, used by the association [4], don’t match either the area covered by the transport agencies, so numbers are subject to caution.

[6] Numbers for Paris come from the Observatoire de la mobilité en Ile-de-France, London numbers from TfL [16] and Hong-Kong numbers from the 2013 MTR Annual report.

[7] Number for Portland, including population, comes from the APTA, and includes the scheduled services provided by Trimet, C-Tran, SMART and Portland city.

[8] Numbers from the Certu (“Annuaire statistique Transports Collectifs Urbains”, 2014) with bus capacity normalized at 83.

[9] Agencies could have different standards (e.g. 6 persons per sqm in Hong Kong). The vehicle capacity is per bus or consist (train) unless otherwise specified. When different vehicle types are used, a vehicle revenue.km weighted average is used.

[10] The capacity is per car. Hong Kong Tram capacity is 125, and Hong Kong Airport train capacity is 120 per car.

[11] Vehicle Capacity number from Report on mobility an transport #1 – Institut D’aménagement et d’urbanisme- November 2014”.

[12] Weighted average of a DLR train capacity (280) and a Tramlink train (200).

[13] The capacity is per vehicle, the Portland streetcar capacity is 200.

[14] Also called Load factor.

[15] Translink: 2014 Business Plan, Operating and Capital – Budget. New Westminster 2014.

[16] Transport for London. Travel in London: report 7. London 2014.

[17] Shirocca consulting Translink Efficiency review. 2012,

[18] A narrative largely echoed by Lower Mainland translink advocates as illustrated here.

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].

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Too many buses

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

fleetutilization

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].

In a previous post, we have examined the general financing of the plan, and noticed that half of the Congestion improvement tax could go toward operating the system. In this post we focuse deeper on the Capital plan

Capital cost and Translink contribution to the plan

When looking at the plan, it is important to make a difference between the capital cost of a project with the effective contribution paid by Translink:

    If the Millenium line extension (Broadway subway) represents 30% of the capital investment over the first 10 yeras, it is expected to represents only 14% of the Translink financial contribution to the capital plan [1]. 77% of The broadway subway is expected to be financed by senior and municipal contributions.

CapitalInvestment

The inner “cheese” represents the partition of the $7.5B capital investments of the plan.
The outer “cheese” represents the partition of the $3.5B of Translink contributionto the plan (difference come from senior government contribution)
(*) Surrey LRT is only partially financed by the current 10 years mayors’ plan: the capital cost is $2.5 billion, from which the current plan finance $1.9 Billions

Congestion Improvement tax allocation

The above represents only the capital cost, so not all the new CIT tax revenues will go toward it, but only the portion not used to fund the Translink expanded service operations. The allocation of the CIT tax to finance the plan will look like it:

CIT revenue allocation per project: half of it will be allocated to the new expanded transit operation. the TRanslink contribution to the Pattullo bridge is expected to be fully financed by tolls, and so is not financed by the CIT

the broadway subway end up to be only 10% of the total Translink plan extension cost to the tax payer. At the difference of other Transit investment, it doesn’t cost taxpayer money to operate, and could be able to generate revenue [1]. More tax $ will fund the roads network (and that doesn’t include the Pattullo bridge) than the broadway subway.

Capital cash flow and project timing

A bit of “reverse accounting” suggests the following [4]:

(*) the Surrey LRT line 2, is only partially accounted in the 10 years plan, an additional $600 million will ne needed in 2025 and 2026

Debt

The CIT generating more revenues in the first 10 years than considered in the original Mayors’ plan, the debt in 2024 could be around ~4Billion instead of $6Billion as published in June 2014 [2].

debt

borrowing and debt repayment (assume a 4.5% interest rate)

As we have seen before, the transit operating costs are expected to increase at a much higher rate than the revenue sources (taxes + farebox revenues), revenues allocated to service the debt will be depleting over the years. ~2023, Translink will be unable to service its debt, it will be missing ~$50 Million to be able to service the debt interest only.

    In fact that was considered in the original plan, expecting ~$390 Million of new revenue by 2026: the current CIT will be actually $50 Million short of it.

At this time, it is unclear how the $50 Million gap will be closed [5][6], but it is fair to say that the plan or at least part of it- that is certainly the Fraser Hwy LRT (Surrey to Langley)- is not financed. Unless the financial forecast is significantly erring on the conservative side:

    The Fraser Hwy LRT would only go ahead if a new source of financing is agreed by 2022.

By this time, the technology choice could need to be reviewed, so one should not worry too much on this line [3]

Removing the Fraser Hwy LRT from the plan could not be enough to keep the Translink financial sheet on sound basis by 2024: scale back of some bus operations could be required. Though that a more cautious ramp up of bus services could be preferred, that is a normal and reasonnable risk. Otherwise, significant saving could be found in the Expo line upgrade program as we have suggested before.

As for the previous post on the Mayor’s plan financial, one will find my “sandbox” worksheet in Google doc


[1] Ideally one would like to consider the full life cycle cost of a project: the Operating cost of the Broadway subway is expected to be more than recovered by fare revenues, and it will allow saving on bus operations too. It is the only Transit project of the plan able to do so. Other transit projects are expected to have a fare recovery ratio of ~17%, involving reccuring costs for taxpayer. Concentrating on the sole cpaital cost is more often than not, misleading

[2] In 2014, the Translink assumption (Translink 2014 baseplan and outlook), was 6.8% interest rate for long term debt, and 5% for the short term debt. Translink has lately emitted bond at 4.5%: we use this last number accross the board but our number could be too optimistic

[3] It seems a bit silly to commit on a technology for a project not expecting to hit the ground in the next 8 years.

[4] Surrey LRT line 1 and line 2 are considered to have the same price per km. the ful cost of the LRT is $2.5Billions. The 10 years plan finance $1.9 Billions of it, ~$600 Million need to be provided in years 2025 and 2026. cash flow model come from the Surrey raid transit phase 2.

[5] The Mayors’ plan implictly suggests a mobility pricing tool to generate additional revenues.

[6] We didn’t have accounted an apparently “exceptional” “partnership” funding toward operation ($50M in 2023 and $35M in 2024) which could slightly delay the time when Translink could not generate enough revenue to service its debt.


To better understand what bring the Mayors council plan (called “expansion plan” below), we ignore the spin and prefer to compare it with the Translink 2014 base plan (what is ensured to happen disregarding of the “plebisicite” result)

Congestion and gas tax

Fiat striking point: both plans estimate exactly same revenue for both the gas tax and parking tax. That is an implicit recognition that the Expansion plan will have no traffic impact, and per extension congestion impact (or if it does, it is mainly by the introduction of the Pattullo bridge toll): something we have already mentioned before.

Capital investment: $7 Billion above the $3Billion already included in the base plan

The $10 billion Capital funding is expected to be financed as below:

capitalfund

(*) The Pattulo bridge revenue is estimated from the 2024 operating budget ($50M/year) [3].
Notice that the figure doesn’t include debt service:

The “Congestion Improvement Tax” (CIT) finances ~22% of the capital funds needed.

Funded Operation (including debt servicing)

Revenue stream

FundedOperation20142024

Base numbers (e.g. “Transit revenue”) are presented for the the base plan, and increment numbers (e.g. “Inc. Transit revenue”) represent the additional revenu provided by the Expansion plan. the bump in 2017 is due to the sale of the Oakridge transit Center (planned in the base plan…but forgotten in the Expansion plan)

The original Expansion plan was targeting to raise $2 Billions over the next 10 years from a new tax to be triggered in several stage. The mayor having elected a 0.5% PST, will allow to raise ~2.7 Billions [1] over the next 10 years, creating lot of room for a more aggressive implementation that originally envisioned.

That said, at the end of the 10 years period, it looks like the PST revenue align with the original plan forecast.

Transit operation: $1.5B added on 10 years

In the next 10 years, the plan is apparently to put 400 more buses on the road, that is increasing the bus fleet size (actually ~1400) by ~30%…to increase service by 25% -it could be an issue here we will certainly revisit.

This, and other rail expansion services, will translate into an additional $1.5B of operating cost (including Transit police and Translink corporate overhead), generating $237M of additional transit revenue [2] as computed on 10 years : The new CIT tax, and additional senior government contribution (UPass) is expected to cover the $1.3B shortfall

Expanded Transit operation represents a relatively marginal increment on the base plan, but mainly funded by tax

Expanded Transit operation represents a relatively marginal increment on the base plan, but mainly funded by tax

The farebox recovery ratio of the added service is anemic [2]:

fare box recovery is expected to go up to 62% in the base plan. it will be 53% in the Expansion plan, thanks to an anemic 17% farebox recovery on the added transit services

Operation vs Capital Investment
In the first 10 years, nearly 50% of the expected CIT revenue will be devoted to operation (it could have been much more in the original plan). The partition look like below

nearly half of the CIT will be dedicated to operate the added service

In 2024, more than 70% of the CIT will be devoted to operate the added transit services, which will have a disastrous 17% fare-box recovery in 2024. That could even compromise the ability of Translink to pay back its debt, according too the CIT variation (inherently very sensitive to the economic climate).

It is possible that, some expanded service could pick-up steam in the years following 2024. If not, it looks those expanded transit are not sustainable in the long term, and will keep Translink on a train wreck course

That said, it is possible that our assumption on the PST growth rate is too conservative (the growth rate of the Metro Vancouver PST tax base is probably greater than 4%, but we have no solid number at this time)


[1] we assume a growth rate of 4% for the PST revenue. That is a conservative estimate, the PST growth rate province wide has been ~5% since 2008.

[2] we haven’t included the provincial contribution to the Students pass program

[3] the $1 billion figure represents the amount of debt which can be reasonably reliably financed by the Pattullo bridge toll. The Pattullo toll revenue forecasts are much more reliable than in the Golden Ears bridge, since it is an infrastructure upgrade

The mayor issued a referendum question draft on December 11th, 2014, and one will find an account of it on the Stephen Rees’s blog. On December 18th 2014, the Province issued its “tweaked version“, to be mailed on March 16th 2015.

left: Ballot proposed by the Mayors council - right: version "amended" by the Province

left: Ballot proposed by the Mayors council – right: version “amended” by the Province

It appears that skeptic people on the outcome of the said referendum could be right: The Province reworded the referendum:

  • Out is the PST, in is a new whole tax which could be as different to the PST as the PST is to the GST. The exact wording is
    A new Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax would be applied
    as a 0.5% sales tax on the majority of goods and services that are subject to the Provincial Sales Tax and are sold or delivered in the region

It is not hard to fathom that the car dealer will escape to the “Congestion Improvement Tax”, the gas station probably too…

Anyway, it looks to open a whole new can of worm generating ever more red tape (and damaging the main argument in favor of the sale tax: equal on a broad tax base)…That is not good!

The name of the tax: “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax”

Do transit investments “improve” congestion?

That is a meme repeated ad nausea: I am not sure people sitting in their cars on Oak bridge share this view.

Let’s dispel the myth: Transit investments never “improved” congestion, and will not magically start to do it tomorrow. they improve mobility choice, and people movement (allowing the economy to continue to growth): that is already a lot, but cars and trucks will still sit in traffic as they do right now.

The tax is certainly misnamed: the only known way to reduce congestion is road pricing.

LRT vs Skytrain?

With the referendum, we could have thought the very nasty debate on technology choice as behind us: Not at all! The Province clearly re opened it:

I had previously noticed many cautious words from the Province such as “The Province will contribute on transit project on a case by case basis, provided a strong business case exists”. When comes transit in Surrey, a recent joint study MOTI/Translink reads:

    The BRT and RRT [skytrain]-based alternatives were most cost-effective overall in achieving the project objectives due to greater relative benefits (RRT) or lower costs (BRT). LRT 1 and LRT 4 [chosen by the mayors] performed the worst in this account, due to higher costs and minimal benefits, respectively”

Today the Province changed not only the tax but the wording of the suggested investments:

  • Out is the Surrey LRT. In is an unspecified “Rapid Transit” link,
  • For good measure, same apply to Vancouver (but here there is a strong business case for a subway)
  • …Number of B lines becomes unspecified too..

Suddenly, lot of clarity, on what we gonna pay and what we gonna get for the money, has disappeared…that doesn’t bode well either.

Referendum vs Plebiscite?

Curiously enough, the referendum is replaced by a plebiscite: the words could be interchangeable..or not. An apparently accepted definition (pretty much as worded by Prime Minister Mc Kenzie in 1942) is:

    “The plebiscite is an expression of opinion by the people on a general course of action proposed by the government. The vote is not legally binding on the government, although there may be a political and a moral obligation to respect the result.”

It doesn’t matter the viewpoint, you see only vagueness on every aspect of the renamed “Transit plebiscite”: That is not necessarily the good recipe to get the “Yes” vote “out”.

On another hand, the Mayors council doesn’t need a referendum/plebiscite to increase the Translink property tax, so it is not like if it was no “plan B” to finance Transit in the region.


(*) I had in fact first posted them as a comment on the Price tag and Frances Bula’s blog

It could be odd to compare a supra national organization to a local transit agency, but have a close look

The European Union organization
We just synthesize below the bodies and mechanisms to generate European laws:

EuropeanGovernance

European Union laws are proposed only by the commission, which is appointed by the European governments. (*) since 2014 the European parliament needs to approve the appointment of the Commission president.

The Commission is the main executive European body, but it is also the body drafting laws. A specificity of the EU legislative bodies (The “Council” and the European Parliament), is that they don’t have legislative initiative right: they can only approve/disapprove bill of law proposed by the commission.

The reason

The European Union framers idea was to avoid a too political European Union, and to have a more technical one to go above the different parochial (nationalist) interests toward the greater good. One has too remember that this structure has been built on the ruins of an Europe devastated by 2 world wars, and include countries of very different size (from Luxembourg to France).

The drawback

It is on of the reason why the Commission is often presented by the medias and local European governments, as a undemocratic/unelected body vested with too much power and not enough control. It is an easy scapegoat for all the local angst,and local governments make very good use of it. The areas of competence of the European Union vs the states are not well defined either (many are shared), so it also helps to fuel confusion.

The Commission has a relative small budget, and by the nature of the Europe itself, language barriers…, has little way to defend itself.

The Practice
Obviously, in practice, the thing work much differently:

The state governments jealous to preserve their influence, tend to appoint relatively transparent commissioners

The Commission will not put forward bill of law without having insurance to have approval of the council, since it is not in its interest to work for nothing, and obviously all laws are approved by representative bodies, and need to get “super majority” at the council (council of state government representatives)

The Translink organization

It looks like it:

The Translink governance: the mayors council appoints the Translink board of directors, and basically need to approve all the Translink management choice, including executive remunerations

Beside the bicameralism, Not too much difference with the European Union in term of responsability and accountability…

The reason

There are not much different of the ones presiding to the EU governance structure: a too parochial and politic Mayors Council. Local interests were taking precedence over the greater good and was putting the regional transit on a wrecking course. The wreckage occurred with the Canada line which the council of Mayors initially refused to approve, (and then later made sure it was built to a cost vs meet objective)

The Province needed to step in, what it did, and reorganized Translink, to strip down the Mayors of political nuisance power on Transit matter. The framer idea, was to have an apolitical body able to submit plan, conceived for the greater good, with all choice technically motivated rather than satisfying political expedient

Elected representatives (The mayors council) of course still need to approve the major decisions, especially Transit fare increase, tax increase, major investment, budget increase…in short: Translink is still fully accountable to the Mayors council

In Practice

The Mayors council never really accepted this type of organization, and quickly painted Translink as a undemocratic/unelected body vested with too much power. The board of directors, they themselves appoint, doesn’t escape to the finger pointing: A pure exercise at deflecting popular angst has been unfolding since 2004

Translink which has not the popular legitimacy to defend itself is put in a weak position: Strong voices usually disappear quickly (Michael Shiffer, Thomas Pendergraast… all left, after a brief but remarked interlude at Translink).

The appointed directors, as competent as they could be, seem to be chosen essentially for their ability at sitting passively in meeting and avoiding the medias. So it really looks like the council of Mayors has spent many effort to transform Translink as a puppet of their own, they can deflect angst on it.

However, virtually all Translink management choices, including its CEO compensation,are approved by the Mayors council. Plan and choice presented by Translink are obviously drafted to get the mayors council adhesion:

  • The Mayors express displeasure at the Burnaby Gondola: Translink put it on the shelve in despite of a positive business case which could have improved the Translink financial sheet
  • The Mayors want to reduce the property tax, without warning: Translink comply with it and put an alternative plan (remember, it is normally up to Translink to put forward such proposal, potentially devastating for its operation, not the Mayors!)

The June 2014 Translink restructuring

In despite of the above, and recognition that the Translink governance is a good model working better than its Canadian peers, the Regional Mayors ares still discontent of lacking some power: A slight restructuring has happened last June, providing more power and money to the mayors. They essentially inherited of all the competency the Translink commissioner used to enjoy (including a specific budget to exercise it).
They can also sit on the Board of directors, what does Richard Walton. A controversed step because as said the Burnaby Mayor Corrigan, the fear is that “What’s going to happen is the mayors’ council is going to be blamed for each and every thing that happens at TransLink.”!…and a reason why they had declined previous similar offers

However, the new legislation, explicitly mentions the need for Translink to consult the Mayors council to draft its plan (what was obviously a common practice required to work toward its endorsement before). The Province seems to have stood firm, to keep Translink as the body putting plan forward.

The referendum could have detracted a bit that, since the Mayors council has made sure to use their new gained authority to inprint its exclusive leadership on the 10 years plan: some implementation choice are more politically grounded that technically justified… However the very principle of the referendum is politicizing the issue, so the mayors can’t be blamed too much for that, since they have to sell the plan directly to the public in a very short time frame

“Why do we trash TransLink?” asked Gordon Price: A great part of the answer probably lie above, but another part of the answer is in the lack of clearly defined Translink responsibilities which pervade as a lack of accountability too:

Transportation responsibilities

The Transportation responsibilities can be described in 3 military terms; Strategy, tactic and operation; which can be illustrated as it:

The different layer of responsabilities

The different layer of responsabilities

  • The Strategy essentially defines the political goals to achieve. Transportation model, land use model, all contribute to this goal.
  • The Tactic essentially defines the mean used to achieve the strategic goal- It is at this stage line on the map are transformed in technical choices – It is essentially an implementation responsibility and that should also include the fare choice (level of subside is a political choice)
  • The Operations design the day to day operations. That is running the buses and trains,and try to run it in an efficient manner.

One of the main issue is that Translink is both an horizontal organization, overseeing transit and roads, but also a vertical one defining the strategy, the implementation, and running most of the operations, ( thru subsidiaries…but existing largely in name only).

That infers a large corporation, hence expensive to run, and probably create too much exposure for a single body:

  • A trouble on the Canada line will see angst directed at the Canada line management, the very discrete InTransit BC, not Translink
  • An operational problem on the skytrain will see angst directed at Translink and not BCRTC (The skytrain operator)


The public is probably right: the BCRTC president, Doug Kesley, was Translink COO few months ago, similar observation could be made with the CMBC management….lot of permeability between all the Translink subsidiary

A suggestion

There is no much fundamentally wrong with the Translink governance model: It is a good model shielding implementation and other important technical study and choice of political interference and still providing a good level of accountability, and there is no doubt that Translink critics, such as Jordan Bateman, benefit of this good level of accountability and transparency, however:

  • The board of directors relevance could be improved, with direct appointees by the Board of Trade, the Port authority, and other relevant organization recognized to have vested interest in the region transportation
  • For this reason, the Province should also be represented to the board of Directors
  • I could also welcome the appointment of some individual, such as Gordon Price or Jarret Walker

Translink responsabilities need to be redefined

It is clear enough that the “strategy” level is a political one: it shouldn’t be the role of Translink to define the Regional Transportation strategy: this thing needs to be defined by a body also overseeing other regional aspect, and mainly land use planing: Metro Vancouver is the natural forum for this

That said, it is clear also that implementing a Transportation strategy, which infer the choice of transportation mode and other technical matter, as well as overseeing operation, is a complex matter which need a sui generis body: That should be the main role of Translink. Because its role is to implement a strategy defined by Metro Vancouver, it is only natural to have Translink reporting to the Metro Vancouver board. a dedicated Mayors’ council on regional transportation is just a distraction, and an impediment to the good march of Transit and more generally transportation in the region

Operations should be clearly separated of Translink: Translink still should oversee its network operations, but not be directly involved in them: Each subsidiaries and contractors should provide an operational plan on a ~5 years term, meeting performance and objective defined by Translink. Translink then should audit its different operators.

Eventually, tendering part of the network operation, or some route on the model of the Shuttle buses, could be considered too.

Added on December 22, 2014
Interlude

Below is a video illustrating how the CEO of the Hong Kong Transit agency, MTRC, functioning as a corporation (including listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange) is treated by the Legislative Commission:

Skytrain fizzle again

October 2, 2014

A recurring and cherished headline at RailForTheValley : Tought time to be either a Translink or skytrain cheerleader those days, isn’it?

Let’s ignore the disastrous Translink crisis communication and let’s go to the facts:

The facts

The system control lost communication with a group of 10 switches (the one in red in the map below), defacto neutralizing Metrotown, the 2nd busiest station on the network [1], and Patterson:

skytrain-diagram-default-switch

The cause

Some people claim it is due to lack of funding for proper maintenance of the Skytrain system. Either they are right:

    That could mean the reinsurances by both Translink and BCRT officials that they are able to keep the skytrain system in a state of good repair, were lies…proper action should be hence taken to sanction such misbehavior.

…or they are wrong: The cause is not due to a lack of funding.

Some also call for redundancy for each piece and bit of the system they see failing: If we follow this logic we could end up to have a full redundant Expo line 2!

…In fact here we don’t have enough information to dissert on the cause of the failure but we have nevertheless some questions regarding the below items:

  • The time to restore the system
  • The problem switches which don’t need to move in normal operation, but still neutralize the system on a communication failure with them (which apparently can’t be manually overriden).
  • The switches at both end of Metrotown monitored by the same communication device.
    • A different switches partition control, (Switch group East of Metrotown under a card, group west of Metrotown under another one) could have left the 2nde busiest station still open, whether a single communication control card fail.

…But here we touch to the Skytrain system design itself, for which we have already expressed concerns.

The Contingency plan

Skytrain operation

At first they have operated the Expo-Millenium line in 2 different segments Waterrfront-Nanaimo and Edmonds-King George/ VCC Clark with a shuttle train Nanaimo to Joyce (6th busiest station on the system [1]“).

The way this is operated have system wide consequence:

    Frequency on any section of the system is constrained by the fact only one train is allowed on a single track section, either Commercial-Nanaimo or Edmonds Operating Center-Edmonds Station (…and only one track per station was used, as per my observation).

It is apparently for this reason, that Royal Oak was closed (too long a single track section between Edmonds and Royal Oak). Keeping Royal Oak open, could have

  • Drastically reduced the bus bridge length.
  • brought metrotown area/ in walkable distance of the skytrain for many patrons providing well needed relief to the bus bridge

It could be a better operation arrangement that the one in place on “dead end” sections (e.g Edmonds operation center-Edmonds), to enable to preserve or minimize the impact on the overall train frequency on the rest of the system:

tracks on the left side of the switches are used as 2 single tracks with a drawer to preserve good frequency on the double tracks section (right side of the switches)

see also here for other single dead end track operation

Translink/BCRTC should have better Skytrain operation contengency plan, to make the best use of their system, in degraded mode.

Bus operation

The bus bridge was working relatively well – at least in the West direction around 7:30pm – but could have been improved:

    Instead to have a single special bus route serving all the closed Skytrain station, what involve many street detours, when most of the rider are just interested to go to the other end, it could have been better to have 2 routes:

  • A non stop route (Joyce-Edmonds)
  • All skytrain station stop route

In addition, of it, Translink staff should advise existing alternative route – route 106 Edmonds to Metrotown was painfully underused – and beef up some other regular routes – Route 19, the obvious alternative to Skytrain was oversubscribed, but was running as per schedule (no additional buses)

Information

Passenger information could have been much better

  • 22nd entrance station had a sign reading “All trains stop at Edmonds station”…what is true every day…
  • Announce of skytrain station closure should be done on buses before alighting at skytrain stations
  • Announce of alternative regular bus route to reach main destinations should be done both on the skytrain and the buses

We have already noticed the poor reliability of the skytrain, but on the bright side, we are noticing some slight progress in the handling of the recurring skytrain failures.


[1] http://www.translink.ca/~/media/Documents/customer_info/translink_listens/customer_surveys/transportation_improvements_research/2011%20SkyTrain%20Station%20Counts.ashx

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