Stephen Rees's blog

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

Transit Ridership has NOT been “flat”

with 15 comments

Better Transit

One of the frequently used speaking points of the no side has been the claim that costs have soared while ridership remains flat. Not true. You are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts. Metro Vancouver has recently “upgraded” its website. You can find this table there but for reasons I cannot understand the link in my browser address bar doesn’t translate to a usable link for you. And just searching Translink’s website is, as usual, frustrating  but here is the data as a pdf


And here is the best analysis I have seen yet of the motivation of the NO side

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2015 at 10:44 am

15 Responses

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  1. here is the graphic representation of the table you link:

    regarding how translink operating cost compare to other, it happens I have written a post on it today:


    February 2, 2015 at 11:04 am

  2. I note Norm Farrell has published your comment and is calling into question the veracity of your statistics. He also cites favourably the findings of the Shirocca audit. Given his long history of criticizing the Clark government and their gamed audits of other organizations, it’s surprising he cites one favourably here.


    February 3, 2015 at 8:02 am

  3. Not the veracity – their age. While his graphs showed long term trends it turned out that he was repeating something based solely on recent quarterly reports. Annual ridership data is currently only available up to 2013 – when the ridership did actually turn down slightly – and that seems to be continuing. The No campaign does seem to be making for some strange bed fellows – but the comment stream is richer than just my ripostes. Voony’s comment here is useful too.

    Stephen Rees

    February 3, 2015 at 8:22 am

  4. Stephen,

    I looked at the spreadsheet you linked to, and I’m confused. While the NO side often misrepresents facts, I have to say that the last three years of Translink boardings and passenger trips do look essentially flat. Is there something I’m missing?

    Michael Alexander

    February 3, 2015 at 3:10 pm

  5. Michael, I have deleted your email address from the body of your comment. That will reduce the amount of spam that comes your way.

    In the spreadsheet since 2001 ridership grew every year – except in 2013, when there was a small decline. In the NO side speaking points, they are never very specific about years. I think when we talk about a 15 year plan we should be looking at long term trends, not short term variations. We do not yet have 2014 data. In its existence to date Translink has overseen a significant increase in transit use in this region. Recently they have had to face challenges with their operating funding which has had an impact on ridership growth. The province has used the referendum as a way to defer a decision – as well as insisting on yet more audits – and the Translink Commissioner refused much of the necessary fare increase. Blaming Translink for the result is – I think – unreasonable.

    Stephen Rees

    February 3, 2015 at 3:50 pm

  6. Thanks for posting this data! Sad that many in the opposition has such demands for efficiency from Translink while ignoring real congestion issues like blatantly inefficient individual car use. Included a couple of factoids you may be interested in inside today’s post as I start my own writing campaign about the transit referendum. Won’t be as thorough as you, but I hope you’ll appreciate the perspective I use which is consistent throughout my blog.


    February 4, 2015 at 2:45 am

  7. I agree that the Stuart Parker article is excellent. I study reader comments, and I have been following those on CBC closely. My reading of them has been pointing me in the same direction.

    Comments are overwhelmingly opposed (16 No vs 3 Yes in a random sample of 30). Positive claims about the plan only seem to make commenters angrier. Valid criticisms and peripheral complaints are equally seized on as reasons to reject the tax, from “that scam called a zone system” to “More taxes and there are no public washrooms?”

    I have a more substantial analysis here:

    I have previously advocated for a positive vision. Parker says we need to go negative. I am ambivalent. I know my data is not representative, but it meshes perfectly with the powerful argument he makes. It is necessary for politics to include antagonism, but the easy way out – a blanket attack on politicians – undermines democracy itself.


    February 4, 2015 at 12:41 pm

  8. Have a look at

    The comments section is not a random a sample of the population! In fact it is very easy for a small number of dedicated people to make themselves look like an army online.

    Stephen Rees

    February 4, 2015 at 1:20 pm

  9. Did you read my longer analysis? I am quite aware that comments are not representive. They are nonetheless important.

    First, because people really do read them: they influence perceptions. You implicitly accept this when you say a small number of people can look like an army. The appearance of a No consensus on CBC will influence votes.

    Second, because they illustrate what arguments are being deployed and give some indication of what arguments work. This is the main point I am trying to make. A number of the arguments that are being made and that are effective are not reasons that lead people to vote No: they are rationalizations for a prior decision to vote No. This is the dynamic Stuart describes in action.

    As to whether this is a PR campaign, I very much doubt it. There are so many reader comments and comment discussions on the web in a given day; very few of them can possibly be targeted (outside of China). I have seen a Chinese campaign against CBC in action. It was unmistakable. More substantially, look at the diversity of arguments. There is no coherent messaging. The small group making a lot of noise in that discussion are on the Yes side, not the No side.

    Do you have a more recent poll? That one is over two weeks old.


    February 4, 2015 at 4:33 pm

  10. I suppose it takes the pollsters some time to analyze their data and get it ready for publication

    A BIG problem is that the NO campaign got going straight away. Simple message, not too many people involved, speaking points ready from similar campaigns elsewhere. The YES campaign seems to have had a number of launches – there is another one tomorrow apparently

    Stephen Rees

    February 4, 2015 at 6:22 pm

  11. Although he uses forceful language, I don’t think Stuart is actually advocating “going negative” in the way that term has come to be employed in political campaigning (basically ad hominem). The goal of which is to depress turnout, whereas I think higher participation favours the Yes side in this case.

    I think he’s saying that simply questioning the motives of groups like the CTF, as well as providing factual background on their history, is an effective tactic. They have long enjoyed having the press releases published in newspapers unchallenged, if for no other reason than in this era of slashed newsroom budgets overworked reporters literally have no time to fact-check everything that crosses their desk the way they once were able.

    I do think though that the number one thing the Yes side can do is have volunteers ride transit each day and canvass transit users, who have the most motivation and the most at stake.

    Fighting the fight on internet comment boards is an exercise in futility in terms of achieving actual results, though it might be satisfying intellectually or emotionally.


    February 4, 2015 at 6:22 pm

  12. My point is about learning from the comments, not winning the argument there. I am trying to figure out how to make use of their wealth of data. Polls are scarce; comments happen all the time. Polls can only answer the questions you ask; comments can tell you things you don’t expect: like the impulse to just say No. I experienced a flash of recognition when I read his article, as I was arriving at a similar conclusion based on comments alone.

    I absolutely agree about the importance of getting out the vote, and that social media should probably be low priority. At the same time, social media was essential in the anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign, and based on personal experience I would say there would have been no 2008-2010 Canadian copyfight without it.

    I don’t think reader comments persuade so much as they a) legitimize political positions otherwise absent from discourse; and b) share effective arguments. I therefore worry that the total absence of a position (Yes) might delegitimize it: not to commenters (who are few and seldom change their minds), but to readers.


    February 4, 2015 at 8:07 pm

  13. Spartikus and I may have been too quick to dismiss the potential of comments to persuade. The study described below found that comments responding to PSAs influence readers: but if relevant expertise is attributed to the commenters, they have an even greater impact than the PSA itself.

    Of course it’s only one study subject to its own particular experimental conditions. It suggests comments *can* change minds; whether they do in a given case is another matter.


    February 11, 2015 at 11:54 pm

  14. Is unfortunate the yes side are the pro transit technical argument types. Truly a minority.
    The no side are the unruly masses who are sick of Translink waste. Sick of more taxes with poor services and politicians mandarins and bureaucracy noses firmly entrenched in the feed trough of never ending taxes. Nobody trusts Translink or Mayors council.
    Personally these white collar types are criminals who need to go to jail.
    Wikipedia or Google “streetcar conspiracy”
    This mis-management of transit has been going on for years. Watch “Who framed Rodger Rabbit. And yes transit services should include washrooms. A “no” vote is a forgone conclusion as average Joe blanks out the scholarly essay type arguments sees more tax to inefficient bureaucracy , cringes and for sure will vote no. You yes people are truly fighting a lost cause.


    March 16, 2015 at 6:00 pm

  15. Yes, that just about sums up the No argument. Someone who has not even the courage to use a real name, says nothing of value and offers nothing of substance. I just watched Jordan Bateman on the CBC state that he could not trust Translink – even though he conceded that they run a $1.4bn organization, giving them just one dollar more would be too much. Even though three audits – count them – three – found very little waste.

    As one Yes web site states “That 2012 audit identified $41m in potential savings. Which is great. Over the previous two years, TransLink themselves had already found $98m in internal savings. That’s $139m in total savings over 3-4 years.

    That doesn’t sound like rampant mismanagement to us. That sounds like an organization actively trying to save public tax dollars. And succeeding.

    Despite all that, none of those savings was enough to fund future growth.

    Three years have gone by, and finally we have an opportunity to establish stable, long-term funding for transit and transportation infrastructure for the Metro region. ”

    Which of these two contrasting approaches sounds the most sensible?

    Stephen Rees

    March 16, 2015 at 6:28 pm

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