Stephen Rees's blog

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

Report: Transit agencies need new data sources to reverse ridership decline

with one comment

The headline is taken from an article in SmartCitiesDive about a report by KPMG (which you can get as a PDF if you want) but the TL:DR version is

“By analyzing three cities — Denver, Houston and San Diego — KPMG found access to transit stops is not the problem. Instead, the report says “current fixed-route bus service has not kept up with consumer preferences or been responsive to shifts in value of time perceptions.”

Yes transit decline is a problem in US cities. Except that Seattle has done pretty well – by expanding its bus services.

More and better data is always a good idea – but in this case I am not convinced. Transit ridership here is doing better, mostly because Translink seems to have got over its funding difficulties. But that doesn’t mean we are really tackling  the fundamental problem – which is usually summarized as “transit sucks”. It takes us from where we aren’t to where we don’t really want to be, stopping frequently on the way.

Just as an example here is a trip that I have had to make by transit in recent history

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 12.23.56 PM
Straightforwardly transit nearly door to door – short walk each end – via the #16 and the #9 – both reasonably frequent trolleybus routes. These are the predicted travel times: the actual time of my recent trips was usually longer: 45 to 54 minutes. Because of the transfer I have stood at bus stops for at least 10 minutes – often longer. One day I managed to hit the operator changeover twice – so I was sitting on buses while the new operator went through all the necessary steps of setting mirrors, seat, log-in to multiple systems. During the journey there was the usual delay while encumbered passengers with luggage, strollers and powered wheelchairs negotiated getting on and off. Since these are such common experiences, I wonder that Google does not factor them into the predicted travel time. Getting on the #9 headed out to UBC yesterday afternoon, the operator told us to get on by the centre door as it would take someone extra time to get off (an unheard of procedure). The bus was so crowded I could not actually see why that might have been.

Here are the comparisons for driving, walking and cycling for the same trip

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 12.32.10 PM

Note that in this case Oak Street traffic is bad – at the time I did that query it was snowing.

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 12.34.38 PM

Walking is more direct and not a great deal different to transit in travel time. Though that crossing of Granville Street midblock can be a scary experience.


Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 12.36.32 PM

So cycling that way would be faster than the Greenway: I have no idea what bike parking is like at VGH – but coming back would be slower due to the change in elevation.

I think that it would be possible for transit to be improved in general simply by operating more frequent services, but also by making transit more reliable through well known traffic management techniques, to shift priorities away from moving and parking cars to more efficient modes. This is also known locally as political suicide. Actually I might withdraw that if the West Vancouver B Line gets approved. But as long as the car is one third of the trip time of transit, which would most people choose?  And do we actually need to hire KPMG to keep telling us that?


1     These maps came from Google. There is now academic research on how these time estimates compare to Uber data.

2     I recommend getting the Transit app for your phone. The latest version showed me that if I got the Canada Line from downtown and transferred to the #25 at King Ed I would get home much faster than waiting for the #16 (no transfer).

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Transportation

One Response

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  1. No need to be a slave to the suggested routes – you could easily alter your walking route to cross Granville at the light on 16th Avenue with almost no change in time or distance.

    I live in Killarney in SE Vancouver and whenever I need to go to VGH I try to bike because of the difficulty and cost of parking there. Some of the bike parking areas are oversubscribed but I’ve never had a problem finding somethings secure to lock my bike up to.

    Vancouver’s network of bike routes make these kinds of trips pretty easy to take, particularly if you take a bit of time using the contour view on VanMap to choose routes that avoid the worst of the hills. But it can be a bit dicey in the kind of snowy and freezing weather we’ve been experiencing recently.

    Sean Nelson

    March 1, 2019 at 8:45 pm

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