Buses battling with Broadway traffic – credit photo (1)


The lately adopted Vancouver Transport 2040 prescripts an underground Extension of the Millennium line along the Broadway alignment to address the transportation demand on this corridor. This left still open 2 questions:

  • That probably is not coming in service before 2020 at best, What to do in the interim?
  • The subway will probably stop short of UBC (Arbutus in the most optimistic case), leaving the demand unaddressed on western section section of the corridor: how to address it?

Translink is calling for an LRT, skytrain combination: If there is a good case to build the subway soon enough up to Arbutus as a regional priority, the case could be significantly weaker for the LRT part of the combo, especially in regard of competitive demand coming from the South of Fraser. That left the buses on Broadway, for the foreseeable future, and something need to be done now to handle the existing demand, which will only increase with the advent of the Evergreen line.

The answer is two prongs

    Divert as much as demand on other corridors, mainly #84 and #41/#43.

    The main drawback of those solutions, is that they are not servicing central Broadway. Due to weaker demand, frequency is less attractive than on Broadway, triggering a vicious circle. A way to address it is to offer a better level of service, on at least the route 84:
    Double Decker buses are probably a solution worth to explore for this route. Beside it, real time information like on Main, can contribute to attract more rider on this line.

    A 45ft double decker, with 2 stairs and 3 doors (here a Man Lion’s City DD in Berlin) can have tremendous capacity. Its appeal can eventually help to relieve Broadway overcrowding if deployed on parallel routes like the 84 – credit photo wikipedia

    Increase capacity and efficiency of the buses

    Bigger bus is part of the answer. Double Decker could be an answer – but

    • It can be a self defeating answer due to its additional attractiveness (so such solution should be applied to relief line)
    • One of the major reliability/efficiency problem of the B line is due the dwelling time, and that is known to be a potential weakness of the Double Decker

    Longer articulated buses should be the answer. Not only longer, but with at least 4 doors per bus, since it both improves:

    • The practical capacity of the bus, by better partitioning of the load
    • The dwelling time

    Should the bus be double articulated, that is 80feet long, or not?
    A priori it is not a right step:

    • Due to frequent Local service, the 99B bus performs a significant amount of weaving, operation becoming more complex with 2 articulations
    • Proper alighting at bus stop could also be compromised by the above, affecting negatively the dwelling time
    • It can be complicate to redeploy such buses on other routes. curb space at bus stop being not the least of the problems

A 65+ feet bus with 4 outside opening doors, and proper interior layout, can probably have 20% more practical capacity than the current 60 feet bus while overcoming the above drawback [2].

This Man Lion’s city GXL is 67ft long, and with 4 doors, it has vastly more capacity than a 60ft bus 3 doors, like currently operated on Broadway.

The buses presented above could not have the right to operate legally on BC roads, but it is a stroke of a pen to allow them. The Los Angeles Transit Agency, LACMTA, operates a fleet of 45 feet and 65 feet buses, showing a North American market for such bus size.

The bus lanes
The lack of bus lane in Vancouver is a shame:

  • Bus lanes on Main between Broadway and Hasting should be a no-brainer,
  • Bus trip on Main between Hasting and Broadway are scheduled to be between 8 and 12mn, whether it is off peak or rush hour, and there is an excess of 800 daily bus trip on this portion of main used by some of the busiest bus lines of the network, #3, #8, #19 carrying a combined 20 millions of rider/years. Needless to say, not only the lack of bus lane increases significantly the operating cost of those route, but it also imposes a tremendous economic burden to the region in term of lost time

    bus lane with traffic signal preemption – – credit photo (1)

  • Bus lanes on Broadway
  • Matters are a bit more complex due to the weaving of local and express services, requiring the use of 2 lanes of traffic by buses, but clearly there is significant room to improve the efficiency and reliability of the route. Here is What we suggest for the Cambie#Broadway intersection:

transit priority improvement on Broadway at Cambie involving an half scramble intersection: right turn traffic proceed while pedestrian cross in diagonal. buses can move thru the intersection yielding to peds

    The problem of this intersection is the heavy pedestrian traffic conflicting with the right turning cars movement which is heavy too. This is affecting the buses. Having an extra cycle for bus only doesn’t necessarily help the pedestrian flow, which is mainly oriented NW-SE (West bound bus stop – Cambie station). Because the bus can use 2 lanes of traffic, keeping general traffic moving is important too: that means right turning car shouldn’t block the through traffic. So the proposal is an extra cycle for:

    • Right turning car only and buses, and pedestrian in diagonal only
    • to allow quick “flushing” of right turning car , pedestrian E-W crossing is red
    • right turn from Cambie shouldn’t be allowed on the extra cycle
    • Because bus go through, they could conflict with the half scramble: a yield to pedestrian rule then apply to them: A carefully designed scramble allows a 40feet bus to yield in the middle of the intersection, and still allow car following him to do a right turn
    • The next cycle is green through Broadway, to allow bus to clear intersection in case of blocked behind the scramble.

    Due to the presence of the half scramble, regular pedestrian crossing are less used, allowing greater right turn movement on all corner at all other time …eventually improving the general output flow of the intersection, and in any case improving the general output flow of Broadway.

There is still some room to accommodate growing demand on Broadway. It could not be an excuse to not investigate longer term solutions like a subway, but the prospect of the later is not an excuse to do nothing now. Right answer is in the hand of Translink, but enabler are mainly the Province, to allow bigger bus on the road, and the City of Vancouver to allow more efficient operation on its street, this by starting by giving more consideration to buses and their rider than parked cars.

[1] Translink’s buzzer: Building a better transit line: how location and land use make or break good transit service, august 2, 2012

[2] see Bus capacity : some remarks , November 9, 2012

[3] see UBC line rapid transit act 2, April 5, 2011


Bus capacity : some remarks

November 9, 2012

Pretty often, you can see in the news that double articulated bus have extraordinary carrying capacity, e.g. 300 passengers [1], news somewhat used by advocacy groups or lobbyists to promote their idea. The point is that the capacity number refers to a context, be South America or China, where bus occupancy standard could not be at par with the ones seen in North America [6]. This need to be placed into a proper context:

The “Normalized” bus capacity curve

The curve below uses a capacity index normalized at 1 for the staple 40 foot bus, rather than an absolute pax capacity. This curve has been essentially drawn from number collected from the LACMTA which has a fleet including 40″, 45″, 60″ and 65 foot buses, and other correlations to deduce that the bus capacity as function of its length is looking like it:

Capacity of a bus as a function of length

The curve begs explanation:

There is lot of “dead” space in a bus, bus driver space, wheel’s room…which will impair its capacity. As well the interior configuration and doors can affect the circulation inside the bus (usually a bus carries less pax per sq meter rear of its back door). The bus articulation area is a kind of a dead space of its own too, and it is usually 5 feet long…The scheme below illustrates the issue:

Different common bus length, top bus is a NewFlyer D40LF for reference, bottom is a Van Hool AGG300 in a custom design (mettis) for Metz, all others are Mercedes Citaro buses in different lengths

The bus articulation joint leading to an sub-optimal use of space is also

  • an additional source of maintenance.
  • and additional constraint on door location (leading to additional dwelling inefficiency)

Due to the above, transit agencies could look at buses with extended body rather than more articulations. The bus maneuverability is usually maintained by rear wheels steering [2], a relatively common occurrence on European bus 45ft or longer.

The doors configuration

Step free bus interior with door behind the rear axles is a relatively common occurrence seen in Europe: The reason is to encourage people to occupy the rear of the bus, and offer a better load partition along the whole bus length. That leads often to 3 door 40ft+ bus and 4 door 60ft+ bus, which have the other advantage to improve the dwelling time:

A 3 doors, step free floor (Lyon ETB12 on left), removes circulation barriers and allows a better load partitioning of the bus than a more traditional setting (New Flyer D60LFR Translink) - credit photo (5)

But there is more to doors: outside opening doors could be preferred to the ones consuming precious interior space [3]:

An iris-bus with outside sliding door

Additionally, they don’t interfere with passengers in overloaded bus, allowing faster opening/closing operation. The freed space can allow more optimal organization of the interior space:

Inside of an Irisbus Crealis (OEM model): door opening on the outside open space in the inside.

Notice that the UK agencies, like the Hong-Kong companies, in general adopt a different policy than the continental Europe ones in regard of bus doors. Pretty often bus come with a single large door, which has the advantage of discouraging fare dodger, allows more seating spaces, and less strain on the bus HVAC system. Paris’ RATP used to have 3 door 40ft and 4 doors 60ft, but eventually reverted to 2 door 40ft and 3 door 60ft in an attempt to discourage fare dodger

The double decker bus

In theory, it offers a tremendous capacity. But, beside the room taken by the stairwell, the separation of space on two levels prevents an optimal partitioning of the load. However, one of the main drawback of the double decker is considered its longer dwelling time making it a solution less interesting than articulated bus in normal urban condition[4].
That said, most recent double deckers, as the one illustrated here, the new London bus, NB4L (37 feet) or the Man Lion’s city DD (45 feet) and improved the dwelling time, by having to stair well (providing a good circulation on the upper deck) and 3 doors

In despite of pure geometric drawback as noticed above, The question of the relevance of the double decker bus need to be kept open, since people tend to like it, and there is at least 2 reasons for that:

  • It offers 2 different spaces, usually a quieter one on the top deck, ideally suited for longer journey
  • It offers greater comfort than artics bus, especially rear of artics bus

Those reasons able to attract more customer, in addition of operating advantage (it make a better use of road/curb/yard space) can offset other drawbacks as noticed above.

An embryon of this post had been posted on SPP in 2010. It is written in the context of addressing the Vancouver Broadway capacity issue

[1] World’s Largest Bus: China’s 300 Passenger Youngman JNP6250G Set to Serve Beijing and Hangzhou, June 17, 2012

[2] this video illustrates it

[3] this video illustrates it

[4] That is at least the conclusion of the consumer group London travel watch as cited by wikipedia,

[5] Lyon’s ETB12: www.t-u-f.org, Translink NewFlyer D60LFR: translinkphotos.webs.com

[6]Lacmta estimates the capacity of its 65 footer at 100 pax. The constructor, Nabi, will come up with number at 71, while in Bratislava, a similar bus length will be considered able to carry 200 pax. Bi-articulated buses operate more often than not in area having generous standard for bus capacity closer to the Bratislava than the Los Angeles one.