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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for August 30th, 2006

TransLink puts fantasy buses on Broadway

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TransLink puts fantasy buses on Broadway

Jim Houlahan puts some perspective on TransLink’s recent announcement

“TransLink hopes to reduce severe congestion on overcrowded routes in the Broadway corridor this fall as more than 200 new buses are put into service.”

When you take out the buses yet to be delivered, the replacement buses, and the handyDART buses there actually won’t be much visible expansion. Community Shuttles will release some bigger buses where they are needed more, but as usual at this time of year, Translink’s spin doctors have been trying to get the good news out ahead of the inevitable complaints that will come on the first day of the new semester – and will continue through the first few weeks “until things settle down”. Which means until enough students give up trying to use their UPass at peak periods. Given that they have done this for the last several years, kudos goes to the Sun for printing something to counter the now familiar PR babble.

UPass was fundamentally flawed from the start. The policy of “revenue neutrality” has superficial appeal, but ignored the inevitable impact of rising cost of service provision on a bus system that was already under severe pressure. Translink has always been shy of tackling Coast Mountain Bus Company (its biggest subsidiary) over costs. They won the bus strike, but you wouldn’t know it, because the hard won argument about the ability to contract out was never ever put into practice. Coast Mountain remains the single source of service for most of the conventional buses – and now Community Shuttles too, thanks to some union concessions. But across BC, contracting out works in nearly every other community – except Victoria. And in Greater Vancouver all handyDART is competitively tendered. Comparisons with other bus operators made using data collected by CUTA show that Vancouver has a relatively expensive system. The planners will counter that is because it is a geographically large system, with relatively low population density. But there is very little data released into the public domain that would make possible realistic comparsions with similar places. And also ignores the success of other places which have used competitive tendering of carefully specified bus services a way toboth reduce costs and improve service – London (England) being the prime example.

I sympathise with Jim, who wants more work for his members, and thus more spent on buses. And it could be (and has been) argued that spending on improving bus services would do more to grow ridership than building yet more expensive rapid transit in parts of the region already well served. But that bus left the stop some time ago. Commitments made to hugely expensive capital projects seem likely to continue to starve the bus system for years to come. And Translink will continue to point to the need for other levels of government to contribute. Which neatly diverts the argument away from their own lack lustre performance in controlling costs.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 30, 2006 at 2:57 pm