Stephen Rees's blog

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

“External transit review needed”

with 5 comments

The Times Colonist has an opinion piece with the above title. It starts with an interesting revelation

Buses in the region have the ability to extend green lights at 21 intersections, improving travel for thousands of people. Transponders have been bought, installed and tested.

But almost two years after they were announced, they’re not being used. The City of Victoria has apparently not made the necessary changes and B.C. Transit has not succeeded in pressing for action.

That’s a disservice to travellers and a waste of money. The devices were forecast to reduce fuel costs by more than $1.5 million a year. Those savings have been foregone.

Actually it may or may not be a waste of money. It depends on what happens to the rest of the traffic: it might be argued that while the transit system might save some fuel all those vehicles idling longer at the light waste more.

Of course, it is not money we should be looking at on its own but the “generalized cost” – mostly the value of time but you could also look at externalities like pollution too. Then what matters is not the vehicles but how many people they are carrying. If the bus is empty (for instance going to “Not in Service” as so many seem to) and there are lots of carpools and vanpools then again the City that controls the traffic signals might be right. I doubt it, but it is a consideration.

The opinion piece then gets into the Light Rail proposal – and the need for a vote on it – even though it would be “non-binding”. And thus a complete waste of time.

The linkage it seems to me is tenuous at best. Yes, the lack of signal priority for transit is a concern, but don’t blame BC Transit for that. Blame the municipal politicians. In fact the very same people on the “seven-member Victoria Regional Transit Commission is appointed by the provincial government from the ranks of local councillors and mayors”.  As the Colonist notes that has limited powers – but obviously if the mayors and councillors of Victoria thought transit was important, they would issue direction to their engineers. The fact that they haven’t suggests that they care more about the votes – and money – from their local supporters than they do about transit – or even environmental justice. Poor people use transit: rich people drive (a simplification but broadly correct) so current policies that favour car drivers are regressive. Just like sales tax.

The Capital District is not alone, of course. The shameful neglect of transit priority is common in BC – in fact is arguably worse in this region. There are bits and pieces – mostly grudging. One of the oddest is the new bus lane on (provincial) Highway #99 – which has been almost finished for months, but is still not open. What is that all about?

The unfinished bus lane

The unfinished bus lane - my photo

Who might do a “transit review” anyway – and “external” does not mean “independent”. I cannot say that the ones the Colonist cites – of Translink and BC Ferries – inspire confidence. It may indeed be that once again transit governance needs to be revisited. But it is not the structure that causes the problem. It is the political direction of the provincial government – and the strong small c conservative bias of local governments – that results in transit being given short shrift. Because as we have heard so often spending on transit is a subsidy but spending on roads is an investment. And you simply do not see Very Important People like Mayors and Councillors riding the bus.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm

5 Responses

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  1. When I went to Strasbourg in 1995 especially to look at their new tramway (LRT for North Americans) one of the first things I noticed was that the lights changed to green for the tram as it approached..

    Several towns in Europe already had for many years–some since the 1970s–all their traffic lights controlled by a computer.
    Are Metro Vancouver lights on such a system? I somewhat doubt it as we have 2 sets of lights 1 block apart outside my building and they seldom work together to smooth out the traffic

    Red frog

    May 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm

  2. Controlling traffic lights in favour of public transport is essential for a succesful system. There are more things to do: constructing buslanes (you mentioned it), avoid bus stops with sidings (the bus has to stop on the street and to block the individual traffic) and offering competitiv tariffs for daily users.
    Don’t forget to make some parking lots outside of the city center and let the buses (or the LRT) run at least every 5-8 minutes.
    A very interesting fact you mentioned is, that many buses in Vancouver are going to the station of “Not in service”. This must be a very important city/town in your neighbourhood… I think, these empty rides can be handeled better.


    May 19, 2011 at 7:43 am

  3. BTW: this comment has been written on a Thalys-Highspeed-train between Brussels and Paris… WiFi included in the ticket price 🙂


    May 19, 2011 at 7:58 am

  4. Speaking of things that are a waste of money…
    Putting a northbound bus lane between Steveston and 91 is pointless. The highway is already 3 lanes wide there and its capacity exceeds the capacity of the roads feeding it. The northbound problems at the 17 interchange, Massey Tunnel and Steveston off ramp guarantee the bus lane will never be of any practical value. Richmond asked for an interchange at Blundell to take some of the load off Steveston and got an interchange on 91 instead. The Ministry of Transportation doesn’t have a clue.

    Re: “Not in Service”
    It makes some operational sense to store buses near the places they’re used, but those considerations are overruled by common sense. It not only costs way too much to obtain urban land to use for bus storage it’s extremely poor land use to have what amounts to a giant parking lot in the middle of the city. As a result buses are stored up to 20 miles from the routes they serve and drivers have to spend a significant portion of their shift getting to and from their service area.


    May 19, 2011 at 10:34 am

  5. Case in point re: bus storage would be North Vancouver District’s rejection of an expanded North Shore Transit Centre on a new site (due to neighbourhood objections) – so buses that can’t be stored at the existing North Shore facility are stored in Burnaby.


    May 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm

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