Stephen Rees's blog

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

Transit Fare Review Stakeholder Forum

with 8 comments

I attended the second forum at the Translink headquarters on Monday. Somehow I seem to have missed the whole phase 1 of this project. However you can always go to the translink website and catch up.

Before the meeting we were sent the Phase 2 Discussion Guide which included the following

Learn more by reading the discussion guide or watching our online videos. Then let us know what you think by taking the survey and participating in our online discussion forum, which will be open between January 30 and February 17, 2017. You can find all of this at

The guide sets out the different types of fares that were considered during Phase 1 but did not report what was heard in the first phase. It does summarise the winners and losers in each of the scenarios that were examined. There is also this diagram which shows what happened when the mid-day discount was ended

This example shows how a simple fare policy change can have a major impact on system costs, crowding and passenger comfort.


This is the first time I have ever seen anything as official as this which admits that the decision was wrong. Full disclosure, I was at the time a relatively new employee at BC Transit. I was not by any means unfamiliar with transit fares policy and how it can be evaluated, but what astonished me at the time was how few people with whom I was working seemed to understand some simple, basic principles. I had, however, got used to the response I heard about how I was new and therefore could not possibly expect to understand how this system worked.

I would ask you to take note that there is nothing at all on either axis of this graph to show what is being displayed. Time of day is not to hard to interpolate, but the ridership top and bottom does need some indication of value, I think.

Terms of Reference

Project Background

The Transit Fare Review is a comprehensive review of Metro Vancouver’s fare structure that aims to recommend fare policy changes that will increase transit ridership by delivering a better customer experience and improving system efficiency today and into the future. It is comprised of four phases: Phase 1 (Discover), Phase 2 (Define), Phase 3 (Develop), Phase 4 (Deliver) running through to 2018.


TransLink will:

1. Consider the feedback received through the Stakeholder Forums as advice when making decisions, and

2. Will report back on how the feedback contributed to the decision-making process.

Stakeholder representatives will:

1. Provide TransLink with feedback that reflects the perspective of their organization or constituents to better inform the overall decision-making for the development of the plan, and

2. Participate in the Stakeholder Forum meetings or send a delegate.

Composition and Membership

Each organization is asked to send one to two participants to appear on their behalf as their representative. TransLink is seeking a commitment from organizations for consistent participant attendance at all future Stakeholder Forums during Phases 2, 3 and 4, in order to ensure continuity.

Governance and Authority

All stakeholder feedback will be shared with TransLink staff and considered as advice.

Meeting Logistics

One to two stakeholder forums will be held per Phase. All Forums will be held over the next 24 months. Advance notice of Forums will be provided. Forums will be held during the day time at TransLink’s head office in New Westminster.


The outcome of the Stakeholder Forums will be publicly reported at the end of each phase in a Summary Report. The Summary Report will be available online at

I am going to record what I heard, but I would encourage you to go online and take the survey if this material is of interest to you.

The meeting was opened by a facilitator from Modus who emphasised that we were “not deciding anything” but rather reporting what we were “thinking and feeling”. Many of the people present were representing groups – “stakeholders”. A show of hands demonstrated that most of them had not been present at the first meeting – though there might have been someone else from their organisation.


Only three factors in the fare structure were going to be discussed – distance travelled, time of travel and service type. The findings of the meeting are reported on line – but the first two were actually available at the end of the meeting. The goal was to recommend changes that would increase ridership, be simple to understand, fair and affordable. The structure of the fare system is supposed to contribute to the quality of service. It was emphasized that “the most economically vulnerable should have access to transit”.

Phase 1 of the exercise had shown that there was not a lot of support for the current three zone system.


Taken from the Phase 1 Summary Report

The rest of the meeting was taken up by working in small groups to look at more detailed questions relating to these issues. At each subquestion we were presented with a large poster on which to affix sticky notes with our comments and “votes” using coloured sticky dots.


After each exercise there was an opportunity for discussion

At my table were a couple of representatives – one from the Metro Vancouver Alliance and the other from a union. They said that they felt the zone system- and fares by distance – are “erecting walls” and intended to “keep people in the poor part of town”. There is an issue of social isolation due to both cast and lack of access to services. Professor Robert Lindsay of the UBC Sauder School said that fare by distance was a better representation of the cost of providing service than zone system and should be preferred for “economic efficiency”. There were also comments that the concentric rings of the current zones do not reflect  current trip making which is now much less oriented towards commuting between the suburbs to Downtown Vancouver than when the zone system was created. It was suggested that if there were to be a new zonal system it ought to reflect the multiple  centres of activity across the region. It was also necessary to reflect the difference between the journey to work and other types of trip purposes.

I pointed out that one of the major differences was between the grid system of routes in the centre of the region versus the hub and spoke of the suburbs. Great concern was voiced about how the route structure in the suburbs imposes longer distances through indirect routings (to increase ridership pick ups) and transfers. I also expressed my reservation about recommending any finer gradation of fares while the Compass system on the bus does not include a “tap out”. Translink representatives assured me that this was a temporary problem that was about to be fixed.

One of the major concerns about the time of travel section was the need to reduce overcrowding  and pass ups. There is currently no incentive for people making one zone trips to change their time of travel to avoid congested periods – and this was made worse by making the bus system one zone all the time.

When looking at travel by service type it was pointed out that the current service provision generally does not allow for service duplication: for instance, there is no bus service over the Patullo Bridge, so SkyTrain is the only transit option. I also pointed out that there is no direct express bus service between Surrey and Coquitlam centres – both major regional centres – but only an indirect, double transfer SkyTrain ride.

When the results of the analysis of the voting on the distance and time questions were presented it became clear that the group I was part of was not representative of the rest of the meeting.

One thing that did become clear was that there was an almost complete absence of hard data to inform the people present of the results of their choices. But one thing that the Compass system ought to have provided by now was a wealth of information about how people in real life make choices about their travel. For example, the decision to make bus a one zone ride means that there is now a choice by fare for journeys to the North Shore. It is now a one zone bus ride or a two zone SeaBus trip. While we were all busy doing stated preference, there is a whole bunch of much more reliable revealed preference data. I was not all surprised to be told that Compass data is proving difficult to analyze, and that none could be made available due to privacy concerns that is currently preventing data collection on mixed mode “linked” trips. Equally since there is no tapout on the bus, distance travelled can only be interpolated from other sources.

While I do encourage you to go online and take the survey, I feel it is only fair to point out that the reason Translink chose to buy Compass was that it would make fare by distance feasible. Gates at SkyTrain stations could have been operated by the previous “mag swipe” fare media – which is what they use in New York City. A single zone system to this day.

Also worth reading Anthony Perl’s thoughts on the effect of distance based fares when there is no equivalent road pricing


Written by Stephen Rees

January 31, 2017 at 11:44 am

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. There would be many changes for the better if funding wasn’t collected at the farebox.

    IOW, public transit should be free to ride and funded 100% by government instead of the 75 % as now.

    Marc Erickson

    January 31, 2017 at 1:19 pm

  2. Fares are indeed around 32% of revenue – or at least that is the last data I could find (2012 !) The idea of fares free transit did come up at our table. One problem that then brings is the occupation of space on transit by people simply seeking somewhere warm and dry. Also it is not “government” but taxes – and as we saw from the last referendum, raising taxes to pay for transit gets little support from voters.

    Stephen Rees

    January 31, 2017 at 3:31 pm

  3. The problem with varying fares by service quality is that it creates an incentive for low-income community groups to oppose SkyTrain extension. In US cities where the subway is more expensive than the buses, such as Washington, there is transit apartheid, with poor people taking buses all the way to city center even when a rail transfer would create a much faster trip. This forces a choice between duplicative service and screwing low-income riders whenever there’s any expansion. When Washington opened a Metro extension to Anacostia and reconfigured the buses to serve the new station, this led to a lot of controversy because the riders not only had to transfer but also were slapped with a higher fare.

    Worse, higher-quality transit service usually has lower operating costs. As of 2012, the Expo and Millennium Lines are around $1 per boarding. The 99-B is even cheaper (with shorter average trips), but most of the buses, even the frequent core buses, are more expensive than that.

    The Vancouver system of mode-neutral fares with free transfers (except WCE, but the ridership there is a rounding error) is the best industry practice. It ensures that TransLink can reassign bus service as the SkyTrain network evolves, for example by gutting the Cambie buses once the Canada Line opened. The studies for the UBC SkyTrain extension project reduced operating costs, coming from gutting the 99-B and reducing service on the 4, 9, 14, 44, and 84. This is much harder to do if there’s any cost difference between a bus-only trip and a bus-SkyTrain trip. Kits is pretty rich, and a lot of the existing 99-B ridership transfers from the Millennium Line, but there are still low-income workers there who take buses who could be taking trains if they existed and the fares stayed equal.

    I also don’t think the current zonal system is bad. On the contrary. It effectively charges you extra to enter the city from the suburbs, while keeping fares low for trips staying in the suburbs. With POP replaced by faregates, the trip between Coquitlam and Surrey can be done on a single-zone ticket, and this is good. It means that fares are lower in areas where TransLink is less competitive with cars and where passengers don’t ride through the most crowded areas. A passenger making trips that are entirely east of Broadway/Commercial brings revenue to TransLink and does not, on the margin, require any additional SkyTrain service; the marginal cost of transporting this passenger is 0.

    Alon Levy

    January 31, 2017 at 5:39 pm

  4. “trip between Coquitlam and Surrey can be done on a single-zone ticket”

    No, they can’t. Because there is no bus service over the Patullo Bridge. The journeys that are possible run over the Alex Fraser, which is out of the a long way out of the way for most trips.

    Stephen Rees

    January 31, 2017 at 7:55 pm

  5. Not bus – SkyTrain. I knew someone who lived in Burquitlam and worked in Surrey and rode the Millennium Line to the Expo Line. That requires a two-zone ticket then, but now it can be done on a one-zone ticket, with wrong-way transfers at Lougheed and Columbia.

    Alon Levy

    January 31, 2017 at 8:10 pm

  6. I have written on this here:
    the take out, reflecting some opinion expressed here, is that fare should be

    distance based on the rail network.
    fixed route based price n the bus system (with time variation on/off peak, but not distance based variation)

    regarding cost recovery, now translink mentions them in a new accountability page: so last numbers are at 51.8% (*) what is pretty good. As far I can see this figure include the Translink police and debt servicing of the canada line (direct and indirect thru an annual payment to the Canada line operator), if you remove this Translink specific (to get some figure you can compare with other system), the cost recovery is ~62%.

    (*) the ~32% is the Transit farebox revenue into the overall translink budget, whichs happen to fund roads and bridges too…: The fact that Translink communicated on this number as if it was the transit operation cost recovery illustrate the the Translink communication problem.


    January 31, 2017 at 10:20 pm

  7. forgot to mention but important: please, no tap out on the bus

    it is a hassle for the transit rider, slow down the unloading, and you can still interpolate the drop of point of a trip, assuming most rider will board the bus at the same location on their return trip.

    not sure I understand why it is complicate to collect compass statistic on trips (saying x people traveled form A to B is not saying who has traveled).


    February 1, 2017 at 9:57 am

  8. @Voony I doubt that Translink reads this blog: I hope that you have used the link provided to submit your views to the review process.

    Stephen Rees

    February 1, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: