Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 19th, 2012

Transit Reliability

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I had the experience today of what “reliability” means in transit – and why connections (or transfers if you prefer) are so critical. The issue is not so much overall journey time, though that is of course significant, as the predictability of the arrival time. How much time does one allow for a journey, especially if there is an appointment at the other end, and how much slack do you build into your schedule in case things go sideways.

Actually time is significant when it comes to mode choice. The journey I am about to describe is one that I make regularly by car – and I normally allow 30 minutes each way. Of course there is a variation of plus or minus five minutes depending on traffic, and some times of day are worth avoiding – or checking with AM730 before deciding a route. At one time it seemed to me that the freeway was faster – but the congestion at the Steveston Highway intersection, as well as the inevitable line-up for the bridge doubled that variability factor. Arterial streets may be slower but they are more dependable.

The big doubt factor at present is the potential for icy road surfaces. Having spun out once before I am now much more reluctant to drive when the temperature drops. Today it turned out I need not have been concerned, but having written so much about transit I felt that it was a good reason to test some of the theories. In general, the need to include other stops on the way (pick up some milk, collect the shoes from the repairer, drop off the DVDs at the library – that kind of thing) make transit even less attractive. For one thing, all it takes is somebody slow ahead of you at the check out and your transfer expires.

I find making connections irksome. One on a trip I can deal with, two is near my tolerance level. The Translink real time bus map is a boon – at least when starting the journey. Of course it helps if you are close to the bus stop. Knowing that the bus is on its way is one thing: seeing it depart from the stop just as you arrive breathless at the corner is something else. If you able to use the “where’s my bus” feature on Translink’s web site  then at least you know where the bus is. However, to be able to do that on a mobile device you need something other than a Nokia smart phone: I am told that Androids and iOS work well.

King ED at Valley

I know I left the apartment at 10:00 and the bus was due at 10:09 but the faresaver validation expires 11:48 – which, with 90 minutes validity, makes boarding time 10:22. I checked the schedule and the service is supposed to be every ten minutes 10:00, 10:09, 10:20. So it seems I just missed the 10:09 and the following bus was a bit late – and got later due to extended dwell times at two stops to deploy the ramp. Similarly getting down to the lower level platform at King Edward – after crossing both Cambie and King Edward, then waiting while an airport train went through, made the connection the longest the schedule allows.

Not my bus

It is a fair trek from the Canada Line to the #403/#404 stop outside Richmond Centre or “Brighouse Stn Bay 7” as Translink would have it. I did that quite quickly as this bus was waiting there – and I hoped it would be the #403. Of course, with all the muck on the back of the bus obscuring the route number I was almost aboard before I determined it was a #410. And another one of those came and went before the #403 showed up. I got to No 4 and Steveston at 11:30 – or a ninety minute door to door trip compared to the Translink trip planner’s estimate of an hour (stop to stop).

Brighouse Station is the terminus of the Canada Line but is still an on street exchange around the intersection of Cook and No 3. The southbound connection – again crossing two busy streets – is around 350 metres, as the bus stop is far side of the intersection and is long enough for two arctics from the B Line days.

Coming back I did much better. I left the house as soon as I saw the bus pass Shell Road on the map (which meant I simply cut power to the PC and did not shut down properly) so I arrived at the stop as the bus did. The northbound #403 bus stop is on the same side of No 3 Road as the station but is still more than three bus lengths from the entrance. There was a train waiting to leave.

Stopped before Lansdowne Station

The Canada Line has some odd features in its operations – including slow orders through switches and around curves. The picture shows a stationary outbound service, stopped short of Lansdowne station waiting for the inbound service to open its doors in the station before proceeding. This seems to be taking caution a little too far to me, but seemingly is a regular feature as that had been noticeable on the way down. I also noticed people boarding the southbound train to get a seat for the northbound journey even at midday. This says a lot about the trade off that people make between speed and comfort and suggests that passengers place a much higher value on a seat than transit planners who like to maximize capacity at the expense of seating. Plus of course space for bikes and mobility devices.

When I got off the train at King Edward I had positioned myself to be opposite the exit – which was just as well as a #25 was pulling up to the stop as I got to the top of the escalator. The operator was going to end his shift at Granville Street, so was not hanging around at the stop for stragglers.

Forward view Nova LFS

Of course, you have to be willing to give up this seat – which actually faces inward, not forward – if a priority passenger wants it. But the view on the Nova LFS is better than the New Flyer low floor – and the windscreen far cleaner than a Canada Line train.

Return journey 45 minutes door to door compared to the 90 minute outward leg. Which shows how much time can be saved by making connections (transfers) properly.

Now one round trip is simply an anecdote, not data. But it illustrates how in transit the devil is always in the details. Cheaping out on stations on the Canada line – not having entrances on each corner of the intersection, not having a convenient off street bus loop – makes the overall journey much less convenient than it could be. It sends a strong message to the passenger – that your time is not considered valuable. Removing a direct bus service and inserting two connections means much more than just a slightly longer journey: the #480 used to connect my house to UBC with no transfers, so it was indeed competitive with the car when you consider that you can use the time seated on a bus to read – not something you ought to be doing when driving.

I am sure that everyone who reads this blog entry will have similar stories. But it is going to take a real culture change here to make that experience different. The Mayors are still pursuing imaginary administrative savings – actually I think it is just pique that the Province imposed an auditor on them and not the regional transportation agency. They forget of course that there is a transit commissioner, who has been on the same trail for a while now. But let’s make it all about money – not value for money.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Posted in transit

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