Stephen Rees's blog

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

Canada Line subsidy will be felt for years to come

with 19 comments

Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight forecasts “bad news for taxpayers and transit riders.”

it might take until 2013 before the Canada Line generates 100,000 riders per day

He adds that peak oil will also add to Translink’s woes and rehearses the history of the decision. But what caught my eye was a comment beneath his article

A quick search on the internet shows that the 98 B-Line has approximately 18,000 boardings daily or 9,000 passengers daily:

The annual revenue from the 98 B-Line might be $20 million if you really push it and do some creative accounting, and maybe 10% of this $2,000 million is left over after paying for the light bulbs at the stations, security costs and other operating costs for the RAV Line.

Now I am impressed when a comment not only provides statistics – but also a source and a link where it can be verified. The “briefing note” itself is undated – but it seems to be from around 2003.  Now while I applaud the anonymous “Vancouver Resident” for his research skills, the math used is based on a false premise. The Canada Line replaces a lot more bus service than the B-Line. Every express bus from south of the Fraser will be short turned at the new Bridgeport Station. It would not be hard at all to go look up the Translink web page and get the list of truncated services.    (I find hard to take that this represents “increased choice” that this release claims: it is a forced transfer.)

· #311 Scottsdale
· #351 Crescent Beach
· #352 Ocean Park
· #354 White Rock Centre / White Rock South
· #601 South Delta / Boundary Bay
· #602 Tsawwassen Heights
· #603 Beach Grove
· #604 English Bluff
· #620 Tsawwassen Ferry

I poked about a bit – including on the one designed to inform about Richmond changes – but I do know that the following routes will cease to run

  • #488 Garden City
  • #490 Steveston
  • #491 One Road
  • #492 Two Road
  • #496 Railway

These routes appeared at the first sheet change after the B-Line was introduced, as Vancouver passengers were filling all the buses and preventing Richmond commuters from getting home. Some duplicate parts of the  B Line route on Granville – some run on Oak Street.

And, of course, there will be some people who used to use the #15 on Cambie itself.

Now all of these buses carry passengers – but I do not know how many and I am not at all sure I would believe Translink’s data – even if I could find it. But certainly a goodly percentage of passengers on the Canada Line on September 7 and thereafter will be people who used these buses. So “Vancouver Resident’s” calculations need to be revised.

But the second assumption about revenue is also misplaced – because you do not pay a fare to ride a bus route or a train line but a transit system – and on weekday  daytimes you have to pay more depending on how much of the system you want to use.  So there is no way to determine how much revenue the B line now collects – because many people who board the bus have a pass or a transfer.

Thirdly, there will be some people who will now start to use transit because there is now a train. It has to be said that there is a demographic difference in Vancouver between bus passengers and SkyTrain passengers. Males between the ages of 20 and 50 – especially in higher income brackets – who would not be seen dead on a bus will happily board a train. And the new route will make some journeys that previously required transfers – or slow rides – will be faster for some. So that will attract additional  transit passengers. Though I will be very surprised indeed if it makes a significant difference to the overall share that transit takes  of the region’s transport market. Because that forced transfer – and the routing along Cambie – will also deter some users, and they may well decide to drive instead. Because while the train  may be faster than the bus it is the overall journey time (door to door) , its comfort and convenience, that will count.

All of which seems a bit long to add to the comments section on the Straight’s page.

R8062 sb on No 3 Road on #98 B-Line

Written by Stephen Rees

August 16, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Posted in transit

19 Responses

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  1. 2013?!? Unless Richmond can magically produce 40-50 thousand new northbound transit customers it simply isn’t going to happen at all.

    Vancouver is very well served when it comes to direct downtown buses. Cambie itself has never generated more than 600 transit passengers per hour in the peak direction and the parallel services are, for the most part, more efficient than trying to use a cross-town bus and transfer to the train. The current cross town services are focused on destinations outside the downtown core and carry only a small number of passengers who will be better served by the train. The train may attract a few drivers from directly along Cambie, but with little or no time saving and a significant drop in comfort I wouldn’t expect much. Given that the provincial government stated that they expect a majority of Canada Line riders to be in Vancouver it would appear their ridership estimate is a pie in the sky before even considering those crossing the Fraser.

    You can write off South Delta and South Surrey. As Malcolm J. and others in the area have confirmed, people there are buying cars to avoid the forced transfer at Bridgeport. Expecting people with luggage to haul themselves across downtown and pile onto subway is ludicrous. Only a few will consider that burden and the $5 per person fare a bargain to YVR.

    That leaves only Richmond itself, a municipality that saw bus ridership drop when the 98 replaced direct neighbourhood services to Vancouver.

    I agree that some demographics who would not ride a bus will ride a train, but subways offer a poor user experience and thus do not attract passengers the way above ground systems do.

    I expect real Canada Line ridership (not some contrived PR number) in 2013 will be far below projections in the same way that Expo line SkyTrain ridership today still hasn’t met the projections for 1996.


    August 16, 2009 at 10:26 pm

  2. Stephen you are right of course.. Other transit systems have shown that actual passengers numbers where higher after 1 year than expected, but then it wasn’t in North America..where a car is more precious than anything else.

    in defense of Translink I don’t think that many transit systems in the world can tell how many passengers they have on a a given day on any line taken at random. In theory systems with smartcards can check all that but is it practical and cost effective to find out? judging by my own daily trips for the past 10 years I use quite a variety of different routes during the week.

    What matters is how much money is collected from all types of fares and what percentage of the total income do the fares cover?

    Another point that is that most transit systems bring many of their buses, old fashioned streetcars etc. to the nearest rapid transit line.
    I lived in Toronto for many years and everyday took a bus from my home to the first of 2 different subway lines I took daily and finally took a streetcar to my workplace.
    All the news LRT built in the past 15 years in Europe have meant a drastic change in the bus system map.
    Check these 2 bus routes in Toronto–chosen at random– that intersect one another and link each with 2 subway lines and other transit systems

    I do have a concern with the long distance between some of the RAV stations on at Broadway (with another entrance at 10th I hope) then one at 24th then 41st…way too far apart compared to the spacing between stations in Toronto, Montreal, London etc.
    I know that other stations are planned but none for 16th in the middle of the major Cambie shopping strip.

    Red frog

    August 16, 2009 at 11:23 pm

  3. The 98 B-Line records about 27,500 riders in 2007 (Regional Transit Model Phase B, page 93), and the express coaches have 20,000 riders per day in 2006 (2007 Transportation Plan, page 6-1). Those 2 alone would have almost half of the target riders.


    August 17, 2009 at 12:17 am

  4. According to the GVRD in 1980; “the reason that choice for ALRT (SkyTrain) was made, was that peak hour ridership will be over 20,000 pesrons per hour per direction in the peak hour, by the year 2000.”

    Stations along the RAV Line were kept few and far between to keep the journey time to YVR under 30 minutes. I understand that there is an agreement with YVR (they chipped in a couple of hundred million for RAV) that journey time must not exceed 30 minutes.

    If this is in fact correct, I doubt that more stations will be added in Vancouver and one wonders if there is a penalty to be paid if the journey time is greater than 30 minutes. There is an FOI on this matter but the secrecy behind RAV and In Transit BC rivals the old ‘USSR’.

    Malcolm J.

    August 17, 2009 at 6:37 am

  5. […] the ribbon [City Caucus] Canada Line subsidy will be felt for years to come [The Georgia Straight] Canada Line subsidy will be felt for years to come [Stephen Rees's blog] INTERNATIONAL Plotting the path of renewable power lines [San Francisco […]

    re:place Magazine

    August 17, 2009 at 9:05 am

  6. snowystar: everyone who studies transit south of Richmond believes ridership on the express coaches will plummet once the forced transfer kicks in. One local blogger knows 7 transit riders in that region who have recently purchased cars for commuting.

    Whether it’s car centric suburbanites or city dwellers, forced transfers cause people to look for alternatives.

    Optional transfers are quite a different thing. My wife and I both take a bus to SkyTrain instead of a bus directly downtown because the ride on the direct bus is terrible. It’s far nicer to sit on a cross-town bus and then stand on SkyTrain than try to stand on a the direct bus.

    Canada Line won’t change anything for us even though travel time will be nearly equal. Going west would mean a longer, more crowded bus ride followed by a long dark tunnel. SkyTrain offers a nice view most of the way downtown.


    August 17, 2009 at 9:15 am

  7. I think it makes little financial sense to run a competing service with a low fare recovery when there is excess capacity on a brand new rail line. Yes, you’ll lose riders, but you can deploy those buses elsewhere in the system and increase the overall capacity.


    August 17, 2009 at 9:49 am

  8. But the express bus services are not competing bus services at all, rather they are a ‘express’ service’ giving the customer a direct, no transfer journey to town. As well the express buses service Grandville St. (and the private schools along Granville St.) and not Cambie St.

    For a $10.00 return journey from S. Delta to Vancouver, I expect a seat and a no transfers. The car becomes a better alternative if I have to stand and have to transfer.

    The one lesson I have learned for the success of a public transit system, is provide the customers what they want or they will take their business elsewhere.

    I’m afraid RAV may show that “The Emperor (TransLink) has no clothes.”

    Malcolm J.

    August 17, 2009 at 12:32 pm

  9. What was the total ridership of the #98 + express buses prior to the Canada Line opening?


    August 17, 2009 at 1:08 pm

  10. A good transit system runs competing services to attract the maximum number of people. Once a transit rider buys a car for commuting they’re unlikely to ever return to transit.

    Of course North American governments place no intrinsic value on transit and expect operations to break even. It’s obvious to many people that the benefits of transit go far beyond the financial statements of bus companies, but our conservative leaders simply don’t understand anything without a dollar sign next to it.

    It’s truly shocking that people who value money so highly continue to waste so much of it on SkyTrain and it’s cousin under Cambie Street. You’d think they’d want the cheapest possible solution so the rest could be directed elsewhere.


    August 17, 2009 at 1:22 pm

  11. Today, the opening day for the RAV Line (I still can’t call it anything else than what it is, a line that serves the communities of Richmond, Airport and Vancouver Line, and not a line that crosses Canada).

    Junior reporters, none familiar with the history of the RAV story, are saying that boardings, please stop using the term ridership as it gives the impression that this means ‘riders’, will reach 100,000 per day by 2013. Some reporters from Global TV and CBC Newsworld are even reporting that this project was “on budget”.

    Historical records, only a few years old, from the days when the votes took place at the Translink Board, claimed over 100,000 boardings by 2010 and not 2013! Also, the claim that this project was on budget is misleading. No one would play any game where the goal posts were constantly moving so why would anyone claim that this project was on budget. Actually this project is no different from several other Olympic related construction projects in that it too had significant cost over-runs. However, if you continually revise your budget upwards, discarding the previous budget, can you really call your project “on budget”. A project that was suppose to cost a bit over $700 million in 1996, $1 billion in 2000 and $1.3 in 2002 came in at a little over $2 billion. Hardly on budget.

    Also, if anyone thinks transferring from a bus to a train and then to two more buses, when only a single bus did the job previously is a better service is just not thinking correctly or just doesn’t have a clue about commuters south of the Fraser River.

    I agree this is a forced transfer for those living south of the Fraser and just like the last transit strike showed, these commuters, not transit dependent, are more than capable of driving their vehicles to work or school rather than taking transit.

    The only reason transit users south of the Fraser are being forced to take the train is to justify and help pay for the $70 million a year taxpayers, vehicle users and transit users will have to pay to subsidize this line.

    Now lets talk about capacity. What does $70 million a year buy you in terms of buses? Approximately 200 buses could be purchased and operated by a driver for the same dollars. This includes the cost of the bus, the operator, maintenance and fuel. The capacity for this alternative transit option is 10,000 boardings per hour. None of the buses are forced to operate in a fixed corridor so they are more flexible to place in areas where real transit needs and near immediate potential needs are present.

    Imagine spending over $2 billion to achieve a maximum capacity of 6000 boardings per hour! Does this really make economic sense? Especially when you consider that 550,000 single occupancy vehicles are traveling on the region’s roadways during the peak morning rush hour!

    Politicians and those incapable of adding up the numbers have been stating that this RAV Line will take 200,000 vehicles off the road. Just how so? Since a vast majority of the users, over 85% will be those already using transit.

    Question: With a capacity of 6000 an hour just how many hours per day would the RAV Line have to operate at full capacity?

    Answer: More than 16 hours a day at full capacity!

    Question: Is there any other urban rail line serving a North American airport and the central business district comparable to what Translink believes their daily boardings to be?

    Answer: Looking at comparable densities and transit service, I could not find one in North America. In fact, the Blue Line in Chicago that serves three areas of Chicago, including one significant transit dependent community, and the world’s second busiest airport in the world does not meet the same daily boardings Translink believes their mini subway system will achieve.

    So go figure.

    In San Francisco, they did not reduce express bus services when they introduced BART in 1979, they increased them. You don’t decrease service or downgrade it in order to increase transit share. David Gunn, former head of the Toronto Transit Commission, head of Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia transit systems understood this well. In times of decreased government (tax) subsidies, Gunn and his crew increased services and increased the number of people using transit in all the agencies they worked for,

    Gunn commented to a reporter when asked when one should build an urban rail line, he said, when buses are running bumper to bumper. This way you know you have the number of users to support the high capital cost. The City of Vancouver never designated their curb lanes for transit only along Granville south of the Granville St. Bridge. Nor did Translink provide traffic light systems so buses could squeeze another 20 seconds on a light about to turn amber. Despite other transit systems having these technologies in place for the last 25 years!

    We have a concrete, steel and rail lobby headed by some of the largest global construction and engineering corporations in the world. Like a bunch of travelling carnies, they show up to milk yet another unsuspecting public. It’s absolutely disgraceful and I hope the rest of those Cambie merchants who paid dearly for this line get compensation.


    August 17, 2009 at 1:22 pm

  12. “PanamaJack” Please direct questions like that to Translink – they are the authority not me. But you could also just look at an earlier comment on this thread

    Stephen Rees

    August 17, 2009 at 3:17 pm

  13. Today is the opening day of the Canada Line. How about saying something positive? I rode from Yaletown to Templeton and back downtown. There was long wait to get on at Yaletown, but overall I was impressed.

    I hope you all try it out.

    Matthew Buchanan

    August 17, 2009 at 7:35 pm

  14. I went to the airport then to Richmond then back downtown and like that new line. The cars look good, there is lots of space for luggage and bikes or wheelchairs and, with a huge window at the front of each car and side windows right next to it, riding in the 3 rows at the front is wonderful.

    I know that I will use it several times per week and will go to Richmond much more often now than I did with the B-Line.
    One guy in our car had made the trip from Toronto just to attend the opening and was very impressed. Grass is always greener …

    Red frog

    August 17, 2009 at 8:18 pm

  15. Hey Matthew, I’m glad you were impressed and sincerely hope I’m wrong about the number of people who will use the new line.

    You and I will be paying for the construction, operations and subsidies to the private operator for the rest of our lives and our children probably will be too. Knowing that has greatly reduced the thrill I get from new infrastructure.


    August 17, 2009 at 8:26 pm

  16. Big deal David, it only amounts to $50-$100 per person per year in the Metro Vancouver. much less than the $10,000 it takes to own and operate an automobile per year. Then there are the thousands of dollars per person that we all pay to subsidize automobile use. I suggest everyone take a deep breath and get some perspective.


    August 17, 2009 at 8:57 pm

  17. Judging by the yesterday’s numbers (first full day of operation just shy of 100K) and personal observations from riding the line
    we won’t have any problems reaching 100K rides per day. As far as I am concerned money well spent.

    Dejan K

    August 19, 2009 at 6:47 am

  18. The Canada Line is a great line. I think it will be great. I don’t think there will be issues with hitting the number of riders even before the end of the year. I would also like to note to everyone that there is alot of development that is suppose to occur in and around all the stations and line in the very near fututre which will push the ridership of the line even greater. The line is also already one that connects areas that have well developed and fairly high densitys so as time goes on with even more density in these areas the line should be really well utilized.

    The only issue I think we will have is that the line is going to need more trains and maybe require some thing that makes the two car train turn into a three car train so that each train carrys the max number of people possible each time a train arrives at a station.


    August 20, 2009 at 12:27 am

  19. The way I look at it, there will be about 130 less extremely loud, polluting buses on Vancouver residential streets between 6am and 9am alone.

    Think about the improvement at Burrard/Dunsmuir where all these buses terminate.

    Think about Granville Street which is used in both directions – so 260 less buses in 3 morning hours alone!

    As of Monday, Granville will be down to ONE BUS – the very quiet, zero emissions #10 Trolley!


    September 1, 2009 at 6:09 pm

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