Stephen Rees's blog

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

Warning sounded over Olympic bus plan

with 8 comments

Jeff Nagel continues to do a good job keeping an eye on Translink. But the continued barrage of complaint from Jim Houlahan about the shortage of buses does not get any clearer. The union leader continues to talk about  “the less than 1,100 standard buses in TransLink’s fleet” as though the artics, community shuttle and express buses don’t count. 1,400 vehicles is the actual number though, as I have said before, I think we need to talk about FEU (forty foor equivalent units) just as they do with containers.

What is significant is that Salt Lake City added 1,000 buses for the 2002 winter Olympics. Translink plans to have 180 extra – mainly by keeping old clunkers running for longer. That is not actually a very good way of ensuring reliable service. The US solution  was to call for spare capacity from other cities that see heavier peak loads in the summer than the winter and could thus afford to lend equipment and crews for the two week sports festival. Just working from first principles it seems that we will be 800 buses down on Salt Lake games. And the fact that we have SkyTrain and the Canada Line will be small comfort at many of the Olympic sites. The nearest Canada Line station to the speed skating  Oval is about a mile away. And the Pacific Coliseum is similarly not served by rapid transit.

TransLink spokesperson Judy Rudin said the Olympic plan is still subject to review.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said. …

There are no plans to lease extra buses to bolster the transit system just for the period of the Games.

I think this is short sighted.

Recently the speed skating Oval was opened in Richmond. Extra buses were added to two routes in Richmond (#401 and #407) as parking was going to be at a premium at the uncompleted facility. Trouble is neither of those two routes actually serves the facility – the nearest stop is actually not very far way, but it is also far from a straightforward walk. Nobody used the extra buses.

If transit is to be an attractive, useful alternative to driving then Translink has to get much better at understanding how to make routes easy  and convenient to use. The biggest block to transit use in this region is lack of service frequency and the planners at CMBC and Translink are both way out of line on what they feel is a “frequent” service. It does not mean ‘more buses than we had last year’. It means that people do not get passed up at stops – and do not have to wait for interminable periods of time due to chronic unreliability. It is not just how many buses you have, but how you use them and how much priority the bus gets in congested traffic. In my travels recently I have been been frequently struck by how easy it is to use buses elsewhere – and how frustrating it is to be stuck at a bus stop here not having the slightest idea of when – or if – the next bus will arrive. And while I am at it why not have a look at this bus driver’s blog which is where I got the graph which compares the percentage of service at ten minute or better headways here and the other two largest Canadian cities.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 8, 2009 at 11:42 am

Posted in Olympics, transit

8 Responses

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  1. Studies I have seen that frequent service is considered 10 minutes or less, with a 4 minute service being an optimum service. 4 minutes headways is the point where scheduled frequencies stop attracting new ridership.

    What I see time and time again on Fraser and Victoria is up to 3 bendy-buses, driving in a platoon, where the first bus is full to the gunwales and the last bus has one or two customers! Surely this is bad transit management and a poor use of buses.

    Of course Jim Houlahan wants more buses, because more buses mean more drivers and more drivers mean more union membership.

    That being said, I believe VANOC collectively prays every night that there will be no snow for Vancouver’s 2010 winter games!

    Note: I have lived in the UK twice in my lifetime and both times I never drove a car. The bus/tube/train system got me where I wanted to go quickly and efficiently. There was no confusion with time tables (Nottingham ran 15 minute off-peak bus service until 11 PM with a schedule that remained unchanged for 20 years) unlike TransLink, where it takes a graduate course in computers to navigate their schedules. User friendliness is the key to good transit and TransLink is wanting badly.

    Malcolm J.

    January 8, 2009 at 12:03 pm

  2. Someone, I never can get it clear in my mind who or which entity, has shown complete lack of foresight for years regarding transit in the Lower Mainland.

    My brother has been a driver for almost 30 years. He tells me in the last month or so that CMBC has more drivers than it knows what to do with. Apparently CMBC shifts them around from depot to depot but there aren’t enough buses for them to drive.

    Because there are so many very good transit models to learn from around the globe I have to assume that there is a lack of will or lack of know-how here. Either way, there needs to be a new attitude toward transit from the people who make the decisions or we need new people making the decisions. This has gone on too long.

    Malcolm is quite right. Victoria #20 a disaster. It’s not an occasional problem, it is a daily problem. Apparently the artics, which runs less often than the 40 footers did, run into bottlenecks at places like Broadway Station and the schedule goes out the window. By the time they head south, especially at rush hour, up to 3 buses are bumper to bumper all the way to the end of the line. If there are 3 buses in a row it figures that eventually there is going to be a very long wait for buses somewhere along the route. Fraser has the same problem but doesn’t seem to use artics as a general rule.


    January 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm

  3. In the town where I was born transit inspectors routinely rode buses. Part of their job was checking if passengers had tickets but their main job was checking how the system actually performed day to day as the contract signed by City hall and the transit management company specified a well-defined level of performance. The town councilors made sure that it was respected if only to ensure that they would be re-elected.. Unfortunately for us TransLink’s masters aren’t accountable. I have lots horror stories about our transit system, like everyone else. I have also used buses and rapid transit in quite a few countries where I didn’t even speak the language yet managed to find my way around without problems. I would hate to see Vancouver transit made to look like a bumbling fool during the Olympics yet this is perhaps what we need to wake up our politicians and businessmen (by the way I bet that hordes of tourists, used to posted prices on goods that includes all the taxes and even tips, will be very upset when they see the actual amount of their bills)

    Red frog

    January 8, 2009 at 9:32 pm

  4. Bunching is typical – streetcars in Toronto do that a lot. I suppose the trolleys have the same problem that they can’t leapfrog each other.

    Maybe they should add the occasional diesel bus onto each route that could play leapfrog?

    Ron C.

    January 9, 2009 at 5:50 pm

  5. WRT the 10 minute service figures, they could be misleading depending on whether the figures refelet areas with similar population densities.
    i.e. for Toronto do they reflect TTC only or do they include the surrounding regions’ transit ssytems (i.e. the bus service in areas equivalent to Surrey, Coquitlam, etc.) or conversely, are the “Vancouver” figures restricted to the City of Vancouver?
    You need to make sure that you are comparing apples to apples.
    Toronto does seem to keep its buses in service longer – a good number were originally built in the 1980s and 90s:

    Ron C.

    January 9, 2009 at 6:01 pm

  6. The artic trolleys actually run on the 3 Main and 20 Victoria.

    @Ron C – That graph probably is misleading. TransLink classifies “frequent” as 15-minute service or better, from 06:00 to 21:00, 7 days a week. There aren’t many at 10 minutes or better, which probably explains the 12%. Even using TransLink’s definition, the percentage will be higher than 12%, but it will still be lower than TTC’s and STM’s.


    January 9, 2009 at 10:38 pm

  7. Eric

    The graph is not misleading any more than 15 minutes is “frequent”.


    The TTC also covers areas which are suburban. And in fact as has been shown here the developed parts of Surrey are actually denser than the developed areas of Burnaby – and much of Vancouver outside of the downtown core is remarkably lower density.

    The simple fact that Vancouver has inadequate transit cannot be excused by this argument. And the fact that Toronto is underfunded too – as evidenced by keeping buses well beyond their design life and thus increasing life cycle costs – is irrelevant.

    Bunching is caused in part by lack of traffic priority on street but also by the scheduling practices which do not allow for drivers to take adequate breaks. There is, of course, no way to actually improve schedule adherence in real time, which would require a different operational philosophy as well as a new set of operational rules.

    Stephen Rees

    January 10, 2009 at 8:31 am

  8. I have nothing but praise for Montreal’s STM, which really does a damn fine job of moving people around this city. It helps to have a denser city of course, but the métro really does cover the city very well. Bus stops at major intersections have the route map and the weekly schedule, many bus shelters have the system map, every bus stop has a number you can call for the next 3 scheduled busses (and they’re on time most of the time, too), and if the bus goes to a métro or commuter train station, it is indicated on the sign.

    The neighbourhood station maps are just fantastic, especially compared to Vancouver’s hokey things. They have accurate bird’s-eye view of important landmarks and buildings and points of interest and parks, show the street addresses and bus routes (with those useful bus stop numbers) around the station, underground passageways and métro entrances.

    And the best: it’s the habit of bus drivers here to stop and wait for those rushing for the bus, even if they’re on the other side of the street waving desperately. This, compared with memories of people getting close enough to hit the side of the bus in frustration as it pulls away from the curb…


    January 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm

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