Stephen Rees's blog

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

Transit riders less satisfied

with 3 comments


It is time for me to apologize to you, my readers. I made an assertion that turns out not to be true. Translink, I said, could not absorb an increase in ridership due to the recent spike in gas prices, because it had no spare capacity. It turns out, according to this story, that they managed to cram on some more riders.

The transportation authority’s second-quarter report for 2008, released this week, shows a ridership increase of 2.6 per cent, almost a full percentage point higher than the 2008 target.

The transit authority is taking no credit for this

Spokesman Ken Hardie said the new riders coming to the system might have had “very high expectations.”

“Adding capacity is probably the main thing we can do,” said Hardie

That is because “satisfaction levels slipped in all services.” So the increase in ridership is largely because people literally sucked it in and shoved themselves onto services that were already full. The calculation of “crush loading” varies – mostly by reference to geography. Only Japan (as far as I know) has white gloved pushers literally shoving people into the cars as the door close.

In some cities, like New York and Chicago, crowding increased to the extent that the transit authorities have introduced trains without any seats. We are not at that point yet. But ever since I came to Vancouver ten years ago, I have seen a transit system that was overstretched at peak periods, with not enough capacity, and a high “churn” in ridership of people who try the system and simply cannot put up with it for very long. But when gas prices hit $1.50 a litre, people really had very little choice. The recent drop in gas prices (suspended – of course – for the long weekend, despite another drop in the price of crude) has probably meant that some people have gone back to driving.

Of course people switching modes have “high expectations” compared to those who have no choice but to put up with unreliable and overcrowded services. “Choice riders” always do. And for the last ten years at least, to my direct experience, nothing has happened that has changed those expectations – or Translink’s failure to meet them.

Which is why you will meet so many people here who say “Transit sucks”

Written by Stephen Rees

October 10, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Posted in transit

3 Responses

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  1. Ah, is TransLink’s ridership figures accurate? I think not. The problem with ridership and capacity is that if a transit route is at capacity, it can not handle more passengers, unless one wants to ride on the roof.

    The problem of high ridership could be the number of people who have discount passes, now use the transit system more. On paper, ridership is up, but in reality there is little or no new ridership.

    The late Des Turner, over a period of 10 years from 1986 to 1996, tracked BC Transit’s claims that ridership on SkyTrain increases by “X%” each year (sorry his later papers have gone missing since his death). Extrapolating the percentage increases claimed by BC Transit, reported in press releases, SkyTrain should have been carrying nearly 300,000 passenger’s a day, by 1996!

    TransLink’s ridership figures are voodoo and on some routes, even 1 bus that doesn’t show, or 1 rake of SkyTrain vehicles sidetracked due to problems, creates transit chaos and gives the appearance of much higher demand!

    What is needed is an annual or biannual independent audit of ridership, by the auditor General to ascertain real ridership numbers.

    A note: We still have 4 hourly bus services in South Delta that operate virtually empty all day long!

    Malcolm J.

    October 10, 2008 at 9:01 pm

  2. Same question as at “fare evasion” if buses are added do riders increase? I would say yes. Intersting about the empty buses in Delta. David Freer (I think) Gateway official told Delta Chamber of Commerce that when South Fraser Freeway is built people from Delta will drive 20 minutes to catch the Skytrain at Scott Road. If they are that eager for transit, why not add express buses from Delta.

    Also K. Wilson wants the South Fraser Freeway to eliminate congestion at Anniville, Sunbury and the highway 99 and highway 17 interchange from 3:00 to 6:00pm. Well the buses only run every 20minutes along that road at the least. More often might help. Also the interchange problem is due to the tunnel more than anything. There are less buses in the afternoon than in the morning down the 99.

    Finally given where all the congestion is occuring, why are they starting construction of the South Fraser Freeway at Bridgeview which has absolutely no congestion?

    Bernadette “no trucking Freeway” Keenan Surrey North Federal candidate and Surrey Councillor Municipal candidate.

    Bernadette Keenan

    October 12, 2008 at 10:18 pm

  3. Scott Road is one of the few stations with a large park and ride lot, but if you are in your car and driving anyway why get out at and fight to get onto SkyTrain? Most of those who park at Scott Road have driven relatively short distances – they either do not like walking or taking the bus.

    Infrequent service is unattractive because if you miss the bus, it is a long wait for the next one. With frequent service, you do not even need to know the schedule – there will be a bus along very shortly no matter when you get to the stop.

    Stephen Rees

    October 12, 2008 at 10:24 pm

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