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

Archive for May 25th, 2010

Olympic commuters sticking with public transit

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The Vancouver Sun reports a good new story on transit – and despite my oft repeated cautions about the quality of data on travel in this region, one that has credibility.  In fact I would suggest that you go to Translink’s web site for the full story

Comparing first-quarter revenue ridership (first time one boards a transit vehicle) 2009 vs 2010

Translink ridership dataSome of the increase was due to the additional riders attracted to the Canada Line before and during the Olympics.  The newest SkyTrain line carried 2.49 million riders in March (not counting those transferring from South of the Fraser bus routes, which had formerly travelled into downtown Vancouver).  A sizeable amount of the remainder also likely reflects people who made the switch to other parts of the transit system during the Olympics and, finding that it worked well for them, stayed on after the Games.

SeaBus and Canada Line are the two parts of the system that do actually count passengers all the time. SeaBus has turnstiles, not for fare checking but for vessel safety: Canada Line has overhead counters at all station entrances.

The kicker is at the end. Transit, as we all know, has cut the service it offered during the Olympics and cannot afford to expand capacity. It is, however, still being forced to spend money needlessly on a project which will do nothing to help expand capacity or improve service.

What is in TransLink’s near future, however, is turnstiles in transit stations by the end of this year and planned “smart cards,” which would charge transit riders based on the distances they travel by 2013.

Turnstiles are supposed to increase revenue collection, due to the widespread myth that fare evasion is out of control on SkyTrain. They won’t of course, but they will increase costs – both through debt service and maintenance. Moreover, staff will have to be available at stations to ensure that people who cannot pass through the gates due to having baggage, or a stroller, or being in a wheelchair can be let through an otherwise locked gate. That means either less ticket checking or more staff – either way, higher costs or less revenue.

A turnstile can only tell if the ticket is valid at that time and that location, which is often different to the journey being made. Back in the old days, long transfers were one of the biggest sources of evasion – bus operators tore off too much time when issuing a paper transfer. That ended with machine readable transfers. Fare evasion includes people using one zone tickets for two and three zone journeys, and people using concession fares that they are not entitled to.  Ticketless travel on SkyTrain is comparatively rare – as the ticket checks on board trains now conducted at random by SCBCTA police confirm.

What we now know is that the people who tried transit liked it and stayed. Will they continue to like it if capacity is not steadily expanded to meet growth in demand? Will turnstiles make people feel safer? No. They will add the inconvenience and frustration – especially if gates are not manned properly and people find that they are not able to complete their journeys. Expect a rise in complaints too from expiring transfers as people are delayed both by the gates, pass ups and service disruptions inevitable when there is insufficient resource to keep up with demand.

Fare by distance is a whole ‘nother matter – and probably something that I ought to devote a separate post to in future.

By the way, this positive story needs to be seen at the same time as the Province’s recent gleeful reporting of a WWF survey.  I am not at all surprised that few Canadians want to give up their cars, but people in Vancouver who have joined the car co-op or other car sharing schemes have found that they can live without car ownership. It is not just that we live in places designed for cars not people – though that is, of corse, the main reason we are car dependent. It is that we make more journeys than the journey to work, and those journeys are difficult to make especially outside peak periods. For instance, the Main street trolleybus – popular enough to get articulated buses despite the proximity of the parallel Canada Line under Cambie Street – has 20 minute service frequencies on Sundays (this is based on the service intervals being reported by the real time bus stop signs not the schedule). So even though you can take the family with you on your transit pass (something that many people seem to be unaware of) it is still often a matter of long waits and inconvenient transfers on a street which has had more invested than nay other on things like curb bump outs and real time information. Yes we have spent more on transit – but not nearly enough – and we have done little to curb car use or build more people friendly places.

And I am sure I saw – but of course now cannot find – a story last weekend that car driving has yet to recover to the levels seen before the 2008 crash. The story related to the United States where the “recovery” has yet to have much impact on ordinary citizens – and transit has been slashed in many places as gas tax revenues are way down. They may not have given up the car – but they certainly drive less, and make more multipurpose trips than they used to. Just like we are seeing here.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 25, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Posted in transit