Stephen Rees's blog

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

Who cares about the bus?

with 7 comments

Seven Oaks Magazine.

A link to this article was posted on the Livable Region Coalition’s list serve. I thought I would pass it along, but bear in mind this thought. The Bus Riders Union – the reference right after the end of this piece – does not exactly share the “non-sectarian voice” that this publication seeks to be. But it is fair enough that they be heard as most of the main stream media seem to ignore them most of the time, which of course simply pushes them to be even more obnoxious as a way to get some attention.

It is certainly true that transit systems are trying to win additional riders, and therefore do not seem to be especially responsive to people who are already committed to transit. It is simply sensible market segmentation. There is simply not much point trying to win over people who would not be caught dead on a bus, or who believe their time is far too valuable to waste. Similarly, if you are what is called “a captive rider” i.e. someone who has no choice but to use the bus, then you will, whether or not there is some additional incentive. So to make the best use of limited marketing dollars, attention goes to winning over those who can be persuaded to change modes. That is why mode share – or market share – is the important indicator not ridership. Similarly if the people who start to switch to the bus formerly walked or used their bikes, you have also not had a positive effect on the environment. Which is why I think proposals to put free transit service in downtown are brain dead.

But I also think that there is every reason to hang on to the riders you have got. It costs eight times as much to win a new rider as keep an existing one, and Greater Vancouver has one of the highest rates of “churn” of any system I am familiar with. A lot of people have tried to use transit and given up. Even so called “captive riders” can also find other ways to get around (walking, cycling and getting rides with other people) or finding other ways to meet their needs – shopping on line, or downloading videos rather than going to the multiplex to cite only two examples.

The decisions to invest in system expansions tend to be made by provincial politicians even in a region that is supposed to have its own regional authority. The GVTA has decided to depend on provincial and federal support to determine its priorities. And provincial and federal politicians like to have ribbon cutting opportunities. Just buying some more buses may make much better sense, but it is much less likely to capture their attention.

The analysis applied by the BRU is based on US experience – especially the way that LA decided to build a rapid transit line rather than more buses, which was interpreted as a blow to the existing transit users who were more likely to be poor and black. This analysis does not fit well to the Vancouver experience, which is more nuanced to our (very) peculiar local politics. The original GVTA Strategic Plan was based on the LRSP approach of “intermediate capacity” rapid transit (rapid bus or conventional light rail) which being cheaper than grade separated would go further – literally. By adopting the Canada Line as the first priority, the province stuck to its Vancouver centric, don’t get in the way of the car, approach. This means there is not enough for expanded bus service or light rail in the outer parts of the region. It is not a class or race issue here. Middle class, affluent Vancouver rejected the use of light rail on existing tracks and fought Richmond Rapid Bus into submission – so there was very little improvement in transit service for suburban commuters, but lower income residents of Marpole got a much better bus service into downtown. The Canada Line is simply the same policy only much more expensive, with distinctly negative impacts on existing bus users from south of the Fraser (including Richmond).

Meanwhile, Translink had also decided to introduce U-Pass even though it did not have enough bus capacity to serve either UBC or SFU adequately – let alone both at once. And did not make adequate provision to get enough new bus capacity into place before the demand from these universities exploded.

We need to better understand transportation needs in low density, “many to many” Origin/Destination pairs that is the pattern of demand common to most of the region – and come up with solutions that are less environmentally damaging than increased car use. Which may be conventional transit in some denser corridors – but is likely to be quite unconventional elsewhere.

Updated 30 October, based on a post to LRC general list

Written by Stephen Rees

October 29, 2006 at 8:06 pm

7 Responses

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  1. …” lower income residents of Marpole got a much better bus service into downtown” Not so! we just got a lot of “Not in Service” buses, going to the busbarn at SW Marine Drive and Hudson. When Canadaline/RAV goes into operation, we were told (and it is on their website) we will no longer have the 98 B-line going on Granville. Marpole covers a large area and transit service is certainly not uniformly available.


    October 30, 2006 at 6:19 pm

  2. I was speaking about the introduction of the #98 B-Line, which happened five years ago. No the more recent relocation of the main Vancouver depot from Oakridge to under the Arther Laing. And of course the B-Line will be withdrawn, as will all express bus service from Richmond, South Delta, South Surrey and White Rock. They will all feed into the Canada Line. Translink does not operate buses “in competition” with rapid transit.

    Stephen Rees

    October 31, 2006 at 8:57 am

  3. I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn TransLink about lacking duplicate bus service on rapid transit routes. That’s certainly the policy with B-Line routes, which have underlying local service, and at the very least the Canada Line will retain local service (#15) through the Vancouver section. I suspect that there will also be local service along No. 3 Rd in Richmond as well, the details of which will be sorted out during the upcoming Richmond Area Transit Plan.

    TransLink has been in ongoing consultation with residents along Cambie about the details of the local service once Canada Line is complete. See the latest news release:

    Click to access News234.pdf

    Inside Source

    November 6, 2006 at 11:18 am

  4. Thank you for drawing that to my attention. That is a significant departure from previous policy. It is a shame that they did not decide to put back trolleybuses on the #15 as they will have new low floor, silent electric trolleys by the time the Canada Line opens – just not enough of them.
    B Line was different as it was introduced on top of existing over loaded bus service on Broadway. The initial #99 B Line route was cut back to Broadway at Commercial once the Millennium Line was opened. Significant service reductions were made to the Granville St trolleybus (the route number has changed several times in recent years) as the 98 B Line picked up a lot of passengers in Marpole and gave a faster ride downtown for people boarding at the major intersections. Additional express bus routes to Richmond had to be added as the 98 B Line was overloaded, and many complaints about the need to transfer were made. Though they had new numbers they did not look too different to early routes cut when the 98 was introduced – but they did allow for pick up and set down in Vancouver.
    Local bus services from Richmond will no longer go into Vancouver, and will be converted to feed the Canada Line, as will express services from South Delta, South Surrey and White Rock, ending “one seat” rides from these communities. Unless you have access to information I have not yet seen.

    Stephen Rees

    November 6, 2006 at 11:54 am

  5. No, you’re right about the end of Express/Coach service from South Delta & SS/White Rock (though I don’t know about local Richmond routes). All of those services will terminate at Brideport station in Richmond. While some convenience will be lost, that will (hopefully) be made up for with significant gains in reliability. As it stands, those services are very unreliable, since the buses get stuck in all kinds of traffic once they hit the Oak St bridge and through downtown Vancouver.

    Other benefits include WAY better service to the airport from these parts of the region (which should be a great benefit to those in South Delta where it seems many airport employees currently live). In addition, it should be much easier (read cheaper) to incrementally increase this service, since each route segment will now be much shorter.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not apologist for the RAV Line. But given that it’s happening hopefully some good can come of it as well. Only time will tell.. (fingers crossed)

    Inside Source

    November 7, 2006 at 8:09 pm

  6. How is the prioritization of mega-projects like the RAV line which benefits developers & big business (overwhelmingly rich & white), over expanded bus service to poor working class communities of color not an issue of class & race?
    New West, East & South Vancouver, Surrey, Delta, Coquitlam, Port – Coquitlam, Richmond…service sucks and the fares will go up at least 2 more times before any significant investment in buses is made
    I’m tired of the grandiose visions of transit that play right into the plans of big business…. maybe you should think about race & class a little more to try and understand how the constant grind of unaffordable fares, overcrowding and long waits impacts peoples lives – especially in a context of insecure work, government cut-backs and rising housing costs.
    Transit needs to work for everyone – but particularly for the people who use it and depend on it the most. If it is based on the needs of the people who use it for everything (jobs, health care, outings, childcare)- it will work for the “choice” rider who only needs it to commute to work.
    Remember this is a public-service, it’s supposed to be part of a “social-wage” to improve the quality of people’s lives. I’m pretty sure that the defining features shouldn’t be trying to make a rich white man who has every privilege in the world take the bus – when he can afford to drive his car in half the time. Subsidizing his transit & building fancy & fast rail lines is a travesty of the definition of a public service….but this is what happens when you depoliticize the issue of transit.
    A bus system (including rapid bus) that is affordable, frequent, reliable, and accessable should be the first priority.


    November 22, 2006 at 7:28 pm

  7. I would agree that prioritization of the RAV line (now Canada Line) was a mistake. The introduction of the UPass made the situation on Broadway intolerable. The original idea was that there was going to be a surface light rail line along Broadway – although it would not have got all the way to UBC. The Millennium Line – since the technology chosen was SkyTrain – would have imposed multiple mode changes – still does, come to that.

    You may be right that it was a “race and class” based issue, but it didn’t look that way to me. It was much more clearly Political in both cases. Glen Clark chose to build the Millennium Line. Ken Dobell pushed the RAV line – even though it wasn’t in any plans. I would say that shows the difference between the NDP and Liberals. Both lines served their constituencies, not the needs of the region.

    Yes, the region needs more buses. It also needs much more handyDART – this segment of the population gets the least transit service compared to its needs. Of course that doesn’t fit your class and race mantra either. I do not want to see a transit service that only meets the needs of the transit dependent. It should meet the needs of everyone. Getting people out of their cars is the goal – increasing mode share from its present 11% to 17% was the target – and still is as far as I am concerned. Poor people (and “communities of colour”) do benefit from rapid transit. New Westminster and North Surrey both get the benefit of a fast ride.

    Rapid bus would be a good temporary solution if it was granted exclusive bus lanes. That did not happen in the case of the present B Line services (apart from a trivial “showcase” on No 3 Road, since dismantled). The city engineers were (and are) still obsessed with not getting in the way of the cars. Yet we know that reductions in road space reduce traffic.

    Transit can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the biggest and most intractable problem human survival faces). Properly planned transit expansion along with better land use planning has always been central to the Livable Region Plan – which is still the legally mandated regional growth strategy. Better travel choice provision would also include priority for pedestrians and cyclists – more traffic calming – more shopping streets closed to cars – more taxis – dial a ride and shared ride services – demand responsive transit in low density areas – more community organised transit service – increased emphasis on safety (which includes reductions of collisions and their severities). The system should and must serve the entire population and provide people with a way to reduce their car dependence, and provide a healthier way of life for all.

    Stephen Rees

    November 23, 2006 at 7:44 am

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