Stephen Rees's blog

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

Mr Rees Takes the Bus

with 6 comments

It has been a while, but since there is an upcoming transit camp, and downtown parking prices are becoming alarming, I decided to buy a book of two zone tickets and try the bus for a change.

Before I get on to that though, I do want to reiterate my complaint that parking pricing in Vancouver is actually perverse. Most commercial parking operators try to maximize the turnover of their spaces. But in Vancouver commuters are given discounted prices, while short term parking off street is penalized. Moreover, many spaces are taken out of the market permanently through long term contracts. For instance, if you try to park at SFU downtown you will find that nearly every space is reserved. What this means is that visitors who come downtown for various reasons are actively discouraged from coming by car, but those who work downtown are given preferential treatment. In terms of generating revenue for downtown businesses this is not a very clever policy. And in terms of making money on scarce off street parking space, very poor business.

Translink has introduced a new travel website – but it simply bumps you back to their strange trip planner when you try to use it to find out about buses. I feel sorry for those unfamiliar with the transit system who rely on this tool. They must have some very odd trip experiences. For instance, it suggested that I take the Community Shuttle to No 3 Road, the 403 southbound to Highway 99 and then a 601 to Vancouver. Which might seem faster by the schedule but is actually quite a high risk scenario. Two transfers means twice the opportunity to miss a connection, which with infrequent routes can be very expensive in terms of time wasted. And these are not timing points, so there is not a very high probability that any operator will wait for you to make the connection. And, by the way, though I specified I wanted to be downtown by 11 , the offerings all had later arrival times. Geographically, the most direct route is 401 to Richmond Centre then the B Line, which is what I did. And B Line being frequent, if I missed the connection that way it did not really matter too much. In fact due to the bus company’s policy of installing far side stops, any connection is longer and more hazardous than it need be since it imposes at least one if not two road crossings, back across the intersection – and where you were probably not let off the bus while you watched your connection sail past.

B Line on NO 3 Road

I had thought that the B Line passenger information system had been taken out – but it was working, and working well. I will have to find out more about that. The buses were running in bunches, of course, with two trying to work “skip stops” but forced by people determined to get off and general traffic to stop everywhere. Anyway, door to door time just over an hour from home to SFU’s Wosk Centre arriving about 11am. Which is both as advertised and really not bad compared to driving. Of course, I should have been better prepared as the stops do not have shelters. My jacket might be adequate for driving, but not for hanging around on street corners in the rain, which you have to do when you take the bus, if only to ensure you do not miss the one you want through running early.

The return trip was much worse. The shelter at Waterfront is completely useless as it has no back or sides. The info system was being very pessimistic, and the promised “next B Line in 20 minutes” turned up in ten. There was, inevitably, a large youth asleep across the courtesy seats at the front – with his feet on the seat. He remained there unchallenged. But as with the morning journey I did get a seat all way. The driver was one of those lead foots who ensure that standing passengers get thrown around due to sudden stops. The transfer at Richmond Centre was over a twenty minute wait – again no shelter and heavy rain, but I eventually got a bit of a doorway and the 401 was on schedule. So the one ahead must have either run early or not at all. Either way the crowding was significant. The bus had no heating working in the passenger area. The windows were fogged and wiping away the condensation did nothing to improve visibility as the exterior was so filthy – probably from salting the previous day due to a rare early snowfall. For a stranger to the area or someone not used to the stopping pattern of a bus route this is not a trivial issue, but I did note that passengers were ready to assist each other. And I even heard the “thank you” call to the operator as they left by the back door – something I have only ever encountered here. Journey time coming back 90 minutes – mostly because of the transfer at Richmond Centre and the low frequency of local buses even at the afternoon peak period.

Overall, what would have been a quick run into Vancouver for a lunch time meeting turned into an all day trek. And this is without anything actually going wrong. Yes it was cheaper – though that Translink journey planner showed that driving a small car (if you don’t put in parking) for that journey is cheaper than the bus. So if you get free parking as a perk of your employment then the chances of you putting up with this level of service is not great.

Why cannot buses be heated in the passenger area? Why is there no requirement to turn on the interior lights for all the time when passengers are on board? (Vancouver bus operators seem to be more sensitive to reflections on the windscreen than any other transit system I have used). Once upon a time, Canadian buses had a warm wall system that pumped hot air between the inner and outer skins – and up through vents in the sills to keep the windows clear of fog.

And I did try that text message service – you send the stop number to 33333 and it texts back the next scheduled buses. It didn’t work. But then if I try to call the traffic station (#730) that doesn’t work either so maybe it is an incompatibility with the Rogers network.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2007 at 5:38 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

6 Responses

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  1. Stephen, you should try texting to the TextBus system rather than TransLink’s, I prefer it. You just text your stop # to 74636 (“QINFO”). It shouldn’t have to do with your carrier.

    And yes, I’ve rode on some of the older commuter buses with the side heating system. I was pleasantly surprised one morning when I went for a nap and felt a nice drift of heat. Those commuter buses (not to confuse with the highway coaches), also have a good layout with lots of space for those sitting and those standing, and some even have little personal lights. I think they usually run these buses on the 502 and 501 between Surrey Central and Langley Centre. Despite their age, I think I like them better than the New Flyers and Nova buses, which collectively seem to have so many ridiculous problems.

    Paul Hillsdon

    November 28, 2007 at 6:47 pm

  2. In Boston, Mass., it’s very common to hear passengers thanking the operator as they leave the bus.


    November 28, 2007 at 9:31 pm

  3. Thank you’s are also very common in Calgary.

    So are real bus sheltors with walls and roof. Though they are made of glass which some youths seem hell bent on destroying every once in a while.

    I really wish buses would have a scrolling led sign at the front of the bus facing the passengers that displayed the upcoming sign. I’ve been burned by the foggy/dirty window problem before.


    November 29, 2007 at 9:52 am

  4. Paul – the operators I have spoken to seem to like the old GM buses too. I have not tried a Nova bus but I notice they are now appearing on the 100 and 424 – and without the operating centre letter code in front of the number too. Oh dear, I begin to sound like a bus spotter. I am not surprised that Nova conform to the current design ethos “It doesn’t work but it looks pretty”

    Sugsu – I must try to get to Boston sometime

    S – our 98 B Lines have just such a system plus a recorded voice which says things like “The next stop is Airport Station”. These will become more common as the result of a result Ontario court case, and many systems have now to comply with accessibility legislation. It is striking how much better transit becomes for everybody when more care is taken of people with disabilities. On my buses yesterday, Mums with strollers had the front step lowered without having to ask.

    Stephen Rees

    November 29, 2007 at 10:20 am

  5. […] Vanderhill on Flickr makes my point about bus window visibility nicely – though the exterior seems to be clean in this […]

  6. […] last time I took a bus downtown I blogged about it. I hear all sorts of stories from other public transport users. My son and daughter seem to […]

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