Stephen Rees's blog

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

Bus drivers union campaigns for purchase of more buses

with 6 comments

Vancouver Sun

“We’re short on buses,” said Don MacLeod, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 111.

“We need to address that shortage now. We’re recognizing what bus drivers have been facing out there for a long time. The overcrowding, the delays, the pass-ups, the inadequate service. It’s gone on for years.”

I agree and have been writing something very much like that on this blog since it started. Allison Cross puts some Translink statistics at the bottom of the story – no one from Translink is quoted – to give the impression that something is happening. But it is woefully inadequate. Not just the story in the Sun, the response on the ground. Yes some more buses are being bought, but not nearly enough to meet the demand. No distinction is given here between new buses that replace old buses too decrepit for further service. What is needed is to see the number of additional buses added to the fleet.

Jim Houlahan also talks, when he and I appear on public platforms together, of the number of buses that actually get put on to the road at peak periods. Not only is there a shortage of serviceable vehicles, there are not enough drivers. CMBC has been running a campaign to recruit drivers for a long time, but with unemployment low, and many jobs paying as well but with much less stress, and no risk of assault from disgruntled members of the travelling public unable to board overcrowded services. CMBC is having a hard time keeping up with the numbers. Especially as the current generation of drivers get to the point where they can retire. Once again the discriminatory policy that forces retirement at 65 is hitting hard. Now, I am not in favour of allowing those too old to cope with staying at work, but if someone is willing, fit and healthy then they can be found duties on less stressful routes than the Hastings trolley,and their years of wisdom are invaluable as trainers.

The shortage of buses became apparent once the bills for SkyTrain had to be paid. We have invested in a very expensive system which services only a small part of the region. And since the transit budget is not enough, but the bills for SkyTrain are huge, there is less left for the rest of the region, that is not served by the trains. Surrey in particular, where the growth of population has been largest, has been left behind Burnaby and Vancouver – and has constantly reminded Translink and its predecessors of that fact. Even anti-transit Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum – who was chair of Translink – understood the problem, but was powerless to change things.

And the current administration has made sure the Mayors will no longer be alwed to murmur their discontents – as they did with the flawed Canada Line – and has continued with the Vancouver gets SkyTrain first policy. My current prediction is that they will be boring the tube under Broadway before the Evergreen Line gets started – if (God help us all) Campbell gets another term.

And there is another thing that is simply not understood. If you buy more buses the service gets better. And that attracts more passengers. It becomes a benevolent spiral. Yet what the previous CEO insisted on instead was UPass – which for a system without any spare capacity was grossly irresponsible. Because the current overcrowding started with UBC and SFU students using their compulsory passes much more than anyone dared to anticipate. And the recent spike in gas prices added to the numbers of people trying to use the transit system. If more money had been spent on buying buses, then ….

You get the picture

UPDATE  Oct 22

There is now a web site and a facebook page. The following is taken from the latter

What’s the problem with our bus system?
Consider the following: currently we have only 1100 buses in service in our entire Metro Vancouver system – that’s not nearly enough! That works out to just one bus for every 1800 Metro Vancouver residents. But 15 years ago, Metro Vancouver had one bus for every 1200 residents. That’s also the current rate of buses in Toronto and Montreal. In other words, we have 50% more residents per bus than we used to, or that Toronto or Montreal have now! No wonder you can’t get on. And it’s not supposed to be that way. Metro Vancouver’s Livable Region Strategic Plan called for 1900 buses to be in service by 2006. And Translink’s own first 5 year Strategic Plan projected 1600 buses in service by 2006. It’s no surprise we have a problem – we are between 500 and 800 buses short.

Here’s another way to look at why we need More Buses Now
In 2002 the convention bus system carried 160 million boarded passengers. By 2004 it jumped 30 million to 190 million passengers, nearly 20% more! But during those same two years, the number of buses and service hours only increased by 2.5%, just a fraction of the need. And each year since 2002 bus ridership has increased more than projected, while plans to buy buses do not even meet current needs.

What is the result of this bus shortage?
Compare Metro Vancouver to Toronto and Montreal’s service:
Percentage of bus routes with 10 minutes service or better
Toronto 59%
Montreal 58%
Vancouver 12%
BC Premier Gordon Campbell has announced a Transit Plan to double the current number of buses on the road – but that plan wouldn’t be completed until 2020! That’s far too many years to watch overcrowded buses pass up waiting riders.
It’s time for action – it’s time for More Buses Now!

Written by Stephen Rees

October 20, 2008 at 10:01 am

Posted in transit

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6 Responses

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  1. Given the state of the local economy, I doubt hiring and retaining operators will be a great concern for CMBC in the near future.


    October 20, 2008 at 10:30 am

  2. Quote:

    “but the bills for SkyTrain are huge, there is less left for the rest of the region, that is not served by the trains.”

    At last count, the annual subsidy for SkyTrain (those pesky debt servicing charges) is over $200 million and soon the subsidies for RAV will soon kick in. Here best illustrates the folly of building a metro on routes that do not have the ridership to support it!

    The problem is going to get worse and with very dark economic clouds on the horizon, it will be political suicide for any politician to support any new transit taxes.

    Many transit experts have tried to warn out politicians on the dangers of spending large sums of money on comparatively small metro lines, yet more is to come. According to Vaughn Palmer, there are currently plans to spend $3 billion on the Expo line, which will include a 10 km. extension to th line. The other $2 billion is to refurbish the line!

    The cost of the proposed UBC subway is now exceeding $3 billion, yet no one in the provincial government seems to ‘get it’. We don’t have the money to fund politically prestigious subways, while at the same time operate the rest of the transit (bus) system.

    I guess the 1980’s comment from Norman Thompson; CBE, FCA, ACMA, English Transit consultant and builder of the worlds busiest subway (Hong Kong): “Vancouver is adopting a non-commercial approach……….I hope they have lots of money”, has now come true.

    A note: A source in the industry has told me that the Libs. are definitely planning for a SkyTrain subway to UBC. It is to be called the ‘Legacy Line’, – no joke! The problem is, like the Evergreen Line, with SkyTrain already opted for, it will be very difficult to cobble together a Liberal P-3.

    Malcolm J.

    October 20, 2008 at 8:23 pm

  3. Talk about building subway/skytrain in area’s which dont have the ridership is pretty silly if your examples are the Broadway corridor and the North/South corridor in Vancouver.

    You cant physically put that many more busses on Broadway, there are some things that can elp cram a few more on, but not all that many more can really be crammed in and yet the demand is still there for more. Streetlight synchronizing and more dedicated lanes will only help so much. It’s gotten to the point in demand where the alternate routes are having to have spill over bus routes, such as on the 84 line.

    I’d say its got the ridership to justify light rail…

    Then, once you’ve dug the subway, the 99 and 84 lines will cease to exist, the 9 and 4 will be cut back, the 17 line will be able to terminate at Granville and most important for drivers, congestion will be decreased from the simple lack of busses along the route.

    Hell, I’d be willing to bet that the Broadway route will take stress off of the hugely stressed 25 route.

    Then what do you have? More busses and bus drivers than you know what to do with. The 25, 41 and 49 routes will be able to be further articulated (as the removal of the 98 will only do so to a fairly small extent) and the suburbs can finally start seeing more busses.

    It’s not a universal solution to all of our problems, but its still a damn good idea.

    Patrick Meehan

    October 21, 2008 at 2:21 am

  4. You can put more buses on Broadway, to say you can’t is silly, the problem is very poor management of the bus system. In Europe, unless ridership exceeds 15,000 pphpd, subways are not built. This “subway will solve everything’ line of thinking is just why we are in this predicament in the first place.

    Now, a tram/streetcar service down Broadway, with a three minute service (20 trips per hour) with modern modular cars (250 persons per car), would have a capacity of 7,500 pphpd – far more capacity than the buses using the same route and far cheaper to operate because they would need about 75% fewer drivers.

    Note: 2 car trains would double the capacity to 15,000 pphpd.

    The cost to build a good LRT line would be about $20 million/km. versus over $200 million/km. for a bored subway. Trams on Broadway could carry in excess of 20,000 pphpd, far more capacity than would ever be needed for the route.

    This is why LRT is built, there is no need for debate, because metro/SkyTrain lost the debate decades ago, only no one has bothered to tell anyone over here!

    Malcolm J.

    October 21, 2008 at 7:59 am

  5. Oops!

    A 3 minute service should read 5,000 pphpd
    A 2 minute service would be 7,500 pphpd
    A two car train would double capacity of each.
    Most European tram operations can operate at 30 second headways during peak hours.

    Malcolm J.

    October 21, 2008 at 8:02 am

  6. “most important for drivers, congestion will be decreased from the simple lack of busses along the route.” Which is exactly what is wrong with the idea. Congestion will not be reduced – more cars will be attracted until the congestion is the same as it is now. Traffic expands to fill the space available: very simply people make more and longer trips – even if the population does not change at all there is more traffic.

    We ought to follow the example of Copenhagen and reclaim our city for people. More cars is a recipe for disaster.

    Stephen Rees

    October 21, 2008 at 9:46 am

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