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

Archive for December 8th, 2006

Transit ridership and service figures unclear

with 2 comments Vancouver

“Lies, damn lies and statistics”

Or, in the case of Translink a vivid imagination. At one time it was thought that the new electronic farebox would at long last bring some reality to the business of estimating ridership. But then the operations people got worried about the delay to service while everyone swiped their tickets and passes, so passes remained “flash media”. Automatic counters are now being deployed on new buses. There are counts and survey of course, but the problem with a count is that you have no idea how that relates to individual journeys – many people are probably counted several times. So you get this issue of “boardings” and “trips”. Then there are fare audits, which attempt to establish the extent of fare cheating, but then if someone is dishonest enough to ride without a ticket they are unlikely to be truthful when asked about their origin and destination.

Sample surveys and trip diaries try to make up the data gap, by tracking individuals who report all their journeys in some detail. 5,000 such diaries are collected every five years as part of the regional travel survey. That is enough to be statistically significant at the regional level, and allows for some “calibration” of the model together with cordon or screen line counts. But it is a very small sample – 0.04% of trips – compared to the 4% of trips that get counted in the Toronto Travel Survey.

Back in the bad old days of Glen Clark, a head count reduction was demanded of what was then BC Transit. It was realised that cutting operators or maintenance staff would be catastrophic, but the loss of “checkers” (the people who conducted passenger counts) would not have an immediate effect on service. And then there was always the use of market research firms who could do focus groups and questionnaires and the like.

But the good thing about this sort of data is that you don’t have to be bound by it. There’s plenty of room for interpretation and “professional judgement”. For example, the first two years of data from the farebox were simply ignored by the planners, because they were so different from what the estimates had been telling them for so long. And then there was the auditor, who did not understand that the estimates of fraud were based on calculations made from the total fare revenue divided by the “average fare”, which in itself was based on an estimate of ridership which included a set percentage for fraudulent travel.

The people who think that everyone rides Skytrain for free are mistaken. Most people get to the station by bus, and have a transfer or a pass. That’s why they don’t buy a ticket from the machines. But bus operators do not enforce the fare system – it’s too dangerous and not worth risking a faceful of knuckles (or worse) for an expired transfer. Most people are basically honest, and passes allow so many trips that they are a real bargain, so the decline of the cash fare is actually part of the plan. Counting coins is expensive, but Translink is much cheaper than the banks if you need to buy lots of rolls of coins.

UPDATE Based on information provided by the comment below this post has been revised

Written by Stephen Rees

December 8, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Posted in Transportation

Don’t Forget the Country

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Michael Kluckner wants us to honour rural heritage buildings as well as urban ones.

By Charles Campbell

This a long piece but well worth the read. BC is losing its heritage. In cities because of the pace of development, in rural areas because there is no money. Mr Kluckner is going back to Australia having published many books on BC’s vanished heritage. For me it seems a bit odd to refer to buildings that are 150 years at the oldest as ‘heritage’ – but that’s because of where I come from. I am also pleased that the author of this piece recognises the contribution of the National Trust, but it must also be said that “death duty”, as the UK inheritance tax is called, played a large part, as endowments to the NT allowed for a measure of tax relief and allowed people to live in their homes as long as most of the building is opened to the public for at least part of the year.

I also appreciated the parallels between conservation and the urban environment

“I always felt that the worst canard that has ever been foisted on Vancouver is that it will always be Vancouver because it has the beautiful mountains and the view and the harbour.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, the city — particularly the residential parts of the city — didn’t have an understanding of the values that made the place so interesting to live in. And it was the evolved neighbourhoods, the change in the layers of the landscape. I began to paint these things, focusing on things that were completely emotional as opposed to architectural. Dappled sunlight on the side of a building at a particular time of year, the way that the colours were. This is something that I would go back to every year to look at.

“As you clear-cut these neighbourhoods — this analogy of clear-cutting came up because it was so much a part of the environmental movement — it seemed to me that we were in the city at that time, and to a certain degree now in the multi-family [parts of the] city, we were living in something that was as visually interesting as a plantation forest.”

“I tried [as a heritage advocate] to make the connections between the broader issue of sustainability and the environmental movement and heritage preservation, which is about reuse, and about controlling the rate of change, and about having layers in the landscape. The media in general and the broader environmental movement is obsessed with seals and bears and so on, and can’t seem to make the connection between the way people live and the values they have about human-made objects and the richness of the city.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 8, 2006 at 8:28 pm