Stephen Rees's blog

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

Olympic commuters sticking with public transit

with 11 comments

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

11 Responses

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  1. Wow. Commenting on that Province story you linked to, for all those people who would give up sex before they give up their car…we don’t have the data on how the question was worded, but maybe they reason they can give it up so easily is because they’re not having any? I think the connection between libido and physical activity is fairly well-established…

    As for the transit side of things, two things seem to be missing for me, with regards to explanations on increased rider share: the recession, and the increased capacity from the 48 new cars. For the latter point, I suppose frequency on the system overall hasn’t increased enough from March 2009 levels to be a huge deal. I think the former is still pretty important in terms of asking whether the Olympics actually “converted” people or whether a whole chunk of people have actually become transit dependent, not by choice.


    May 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm

  2. “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)”

    According to TL’s schedule, it lists frequency as every 12-15 minutes on sunday evenings until ~ midnite. Of course, there are always delays due to traffic, but you seem to be suggesting that translink is systematically providing 25% less bus service than advertised in their schedule.

    If so, this would be a large trangression on TL’s part. Perhaps a quick email to jhennifer at the buzzer can clarify this. I would like to think timing is off due to traffic delays, although on sunday evenings, there si less traffic and I would think there is little reason for large discrepencies with the stated and actual schedule.


    May 25, 2010 at 7:29 pm

  3. Everytime I wait for the 99B line at Broadway/ Commercial, weekdays and weekends, at around 2 to 3 pm, there is a sizable line of people waiting for the bus.
    Today 2 ” out of service” buses drove by, even though one of the line went pass the place where the gates close the station at night.

    As for needing staff to man special gates for people with suitcases, buggies, etc. everyday I see at least 2-3 staff, plus police, on the platforms at Lougheed.

    Stephen..please do talk about distance based fares and smart cards. Last year I made a list of fares in several towns, both big and small, in the USA, Europe, Japan…(doing it was relatively is updating it that is a bummer as some change fares January I, others July 1 etc.)

    The towns that charge fares by the distance only do it for single fares. Even buying a booklet of tickets gives a reduction.
    These towns ALL give good discounts for regular users buying a monthly commuter pass (some give 1 to 2 free months if one subscribe to a yearly pass, paid monthly by automatic debit)

    In some towns like London, Paris, Berlin..they still have fare zones. In Japan main towns one buy a pass for a route only (from home to work or school). In all the above towns, trips taken outside the zones or route subscribed to are charged at a lesser amount than if paying cash.

    Doesn’t anybody at TransLink knows what other towns are doing??? some towns much smaller than Metro Vancouver have had cards for several years.

    TransLink is looking for a smart card supplier!! have they checked Google??

    Red frog

    May 25, 2010 at 11:41 pm

  4. […] a “No Fun City”? Thoughts on the Privatizing of our Public Spaces [Beyond Robson] Olympic commuters sticking with public transit [Stephen Rees's blog] Vancouver ranks high in global survey [The Globe and Mail] City and […]

    re:place Magazine

    May 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

  5. @ Stephen:

    Here’s a link to the story about you may be referring to in the last paragraph. It includes the great NYT infographic that maps the historical relationship between driving and gas prices:


    May 26, 2010 at 11:51 am

  6. Thank you for that link. I had not seen the NYT story or graphic (which I know I would have remembered!) but the data seems to be the same. Very useful.

    Stephen Rees

    May 26, 2010 at 11:59 am

  7. With the population of BC potentially hitting seven million within the next generation, the increase presumably mostly in cities, at the same time as liquid fuel decline (and increasing oil & gas prices), urban resiliency will probably be forced to move to the top of the Issues To Deal With pile.

    I predict public transit will of necessity become a lot more important than it is now.


    May 27, 2010 at 1:37 pm

  8. There’s good news, there’s bad news and then there’s confusing news. This report seems to be mostly good news with some confusing news and some bad news.

    The bad news: the turnstile issue. If the turnstiles were done properly they could probably make an improvement in the perception of passenger safety, especially in certain stretches of the system. The permanent presence of staff in the stations could also improve the overall customer service. But it won’t do a damn thing on revenue and cost a lot. And frankly, given that this is a mandated project that Translink gives every impression of lacking enthusiasm for, I expect them to cut every corner and suck out even the possibility of the benefits I mentioned.

    The confusing news: changes to the fare system. Right now, the fare system simply doesn’t respond to the needs and realities of people’s travel in the Lower Mainland and desperately needs an overhaul. You should not have to pay $3.75 to travel from Scott Road to Columbia. But Translink seems to have no clear idea of what kind of fare structure to replace it with, what the alternatives are and how to implement it beyond talking about Smart Cards and rattling on about a supplier. A supplier is the easiest bit really. Translink needs to be having the community consultations now, reviewing the system and considering the possibilities for a new structure to properly price journeys in Metro Vancouver. Personally I rather like the model in Taipei, which is distance based on the MRT and the buses operate on a flat fare. I don’t know how adaptable that may be to Metro Vancouver, but this is what we need to be thinking about. Also the new fare structure and Smart card project really needs to be de-linked from the faregate project. The new fare structure and smart cards is a much higher priority.

    The good news: higher ridership. Really, this is kind of self-evident. Frankly if we had any decent leadership around here, they would be ramming home this point both to the provincial government and the public and using it to finish the primary Skytrain network and start building the secondary light rail network that the Metro needs, as well as finally building up a proper South of Fraser system. Sadly, the message never seems to sink in.

    YVR Steve

    May 27, 2010 at 9:59 pm

  9. After reading Gridlock jeopardizes recovery in the SUN (may 27, 2010)

    I tried in vain to find the TO board of trade survey of commuting times in 19 cities..
    However I found that The Toronto Board of Trade has published a paper about the importance of TRANSIT for the Greater Toronto.

    check under May 19, 2010 in

    “Moving ahead on your number one issue
    Today the Toronto Board of Trade released The Move Ahead: Funding “The Big Move.” For years, you have told us that efficient, seamless regional transit is your number one priority. Our latest discussion paper is designed to foster discussion on how to meet this pressing need.

    The Move Ahead outlines and analyzes 16 revenue tools and one cost-saving mechanism that could be implemented in order to fund Metrolinx’s bold regional transportation plan, The Big Move. The Move Ahead is not a set of recommendations. Rather, it puts options on the table for serious dialogue and debate — by Torontonians and their municipal candidates.
    …In our 2009 policy survey, 78 per cent of members identified transit improvement as a critical issue. In that same survey, 72 per cent of respondents ranked figuring out how to pay for ambitious transit plans as one of their top five priorities for this region…”

    etc. The Move Ahead: Funding “The Big Move” is highlighted in blue. Click on it to read about various options..
    (One of them, by the way, is the “versement transport” a tax collected on salaries in the Paris region. the report briefly notes that it is also collected all over France.
    Indeed! This is a major reason why even towns around 1/2 million people can afford an automated transit system or big trams. Small businesses are exemptedfrom the tax and richer towns pay more than their poorer suburbs)

    further down in the article:
    “Metrolinx president presents bold plan to keep transit on track.
    On Monday, May 17, Metrolinx President and CEO Rob Prichard took to the Toronto Board of Trade podium to present “Achieving 5 in 10,” a revised plan for building the “Big Five” transit projects that received government funding within the agency’s The Big Move regional transportation plan.
    “The goal is to complete the Big Five projects in 10 years, while reducing the cash flow requirements by $4 billion,” said Mr. Prichard. “It is bold and it is aggressive, but it is doable. It will be demanding, but we are confident we can deliver on this plan.”

    Does the Vancouver Board of Trade has a similar ambitious plan for Metro Vancouver transit? if not why not?

    Red frog

    May 28, 2010 at 2:58 am

  10. @ Red Frog, here is the link (page 45 of the PDF)

    Click to access Scorecard_on_Prosperity_2010_FINAL.pdf

    Vancouver was #14 of 19 metro areas with a commute time of 67 minute, tied with calgary.

    Of note, Vancouver’s commute time remained the same in 2005, compared to 1995. Calgary’s commute time showed an increase of 14 minutes in a similar time frame.


    May 28, 2010 at 10:34 am

  11. Thanks mezzanine..
    I do wonder about lots of figures..from the increase in transit ridership in Vancouver to the low number of immigrants in Paris..(considering how many well-known French people have at least one immigrant parent, grand parent etc. or are immigrant themselves, considering also that, until recently, immigrants changed their name to a French one ASAP).
    To stay on the transit track…Tokyo and Osaka do have dense enough systems, for their population, that are also easier to navigate than many others, for those can’t read the local language.

    Red frog

    May 28, 2010 at 11:39 pm

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