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#19 to Metrotown at Stanley Park
#19 leaving Stanley Park

Just a normal day in paradise – with times from the friendly systems that now track my movements

car2go from Yew at Nanton to the Aquatic Centre, English Bay

Depart 11:40am Arrive 11:54am

Bus from Stanley Park – after ten minutes wait at the terminus

2:26pm 19 to Ganville Street

2:54pm 16 to Nanton arrive 3:20pm

Despite heavy traffic on Georgia, the #19 made good time as it ran for most of the time as SORRY BUS FULL. The bus was a diesel, not a trolley, and was running a short turn to Main Street.

The wait on Granville Street seemed long as the Transit app kept reporting “real time” expected departure times that got updated intermittently.

I have not been using car2go much recently as there was often no car available when I wanted one. They sent me a rather plaintive email to tempt me back so the trip downtown was actually free.

Not that I was in a hurry or anything but I think I am going to be looking for car2go more often.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 15, 2019 at 3:55 pm

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Do we really want driverless buses?

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Image taken from original article in Smart Cities Dive

A consortium has been formed of US transit agencies who want to try out driverless buses. The idea is that the cost of getting into this new technology will be lower if it is shared.

I think the idea of a consortium to try out new technologies is a good one, and one that has a long history in transit. What worries me is that this is starting with a technology that I do not think needs to be the first priority. It is understandable, given the high percentage of overall operating cost that is due to driver’s wages and benefits. We have had driverless trains in this region for a long while. SkyTrain has also had significant numbers of people committed to patrolling the system to ensure passenger safety and security.

Recently an incident on the top deck of a British bus has awakened concerns here about passenger security on the double deckers shortly to be introduced here. (Hint: the driver has either a periscope or camera to see what is going on upstairs.) While assaults like this are relatively rare, bad behaviour by passengers is not. For this reason, bus operators are now getting protective screens on the new buses when they enter service. Equally, it is not unheard of for bus drivers to be the first responders in other cases of emergency. And one thing that we have probably all seen for ourselves is the reluctance of other people to get involved when someone else needs assistance. The response time to someone pressing an alarm on SkyTrain has also been an issue on occasion.

While a bus operator may not have all the skills and knowledge of a paramedic or a police officer, they are trained in what to do in an emergency. And often the interpersonal skills that they do have (and are now selected for) have been used to effectively reduce the tensions which can lead to rapid escalation.

There are autonomous buses in operation in France and elsewhere, but so far they have been limited to low speeds, short distances and relatively traffic free areas.

“The consortium [on the other hand] is expected to purchase 75 to 100 full-sized, autonomous buses that will run at full speed in real service environments.”

This seems to me to be unnecessary at this stage. And one of the things that has been improved in this region since I arrived has been the atmosphere on board buses since the emphasis in selection changed away from “has an air brake license” to “has people skills”. In general, the attitude and welcome you get on boarding the bus has been one of the best features of the ride. It would be a great shame to lose this. I also wonder how an autonomous bus would be alerted to the need to lower the ramp at a bus stop for a passenger with a disability – or delay starting until they were safely in place on board.


Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2019 at 11:07 am

Posted in transit

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The Free Transit Illusion

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One of the reasons that I blog much less these days, is that I got bored with myself. Every time I sat down to write it seemed that what I was writing, I had written before. Even when I was writing that it was repetitive, I kept on. Yet the illusions that beset us continue to be repeated. As if those notions had not already been disproven, repeatedly.

It is a truism, but it takes more energy to refute a falsehood than to repeat. Conservatives rely on this. Almost everything they assert turns out to be untrue. Yet the policies they endorse continue to operate despite their obvious failures. Wealth has never trickled down. Holding down wages has not created more jobs. Making drugs illegal has not reduced their use at all. Increasing spending on the military has not made us safer. Prisons do nothing to reduce crime. Corporal punishment is not effective at improving children’s behaviour.

The left also endorses fatuous policies, ones shown time and again to be ineffective. Mostly deciding to adopt the policies of previous, conservative governments. The BC NDP is doing now exactly what the BC Liberals endorse: Site C, highway widening, cutting down old growth forests, expanding LNG.

Just as we know what we should be doing – reducing ghg emissions being the most important – what we actually do barely scratches the surface and mostly we continue with business as usual.

There is a problem of poverty. Just as providing homes turns out to be the only effective solution to homelessness, so providing money is the only way to relieve poverty. The first thing new Premier Ford did was cancel the Guaranteed Income pilot project – just in case it proved that point once again.

Here we have once again fallen into to happy illusion that in order to deal with poverty – and the fact that some people have a hard time paying their transit fares – we should make transit free. The latest developments here have been an endorsement by Victoria City Council – and now by Kai Nagata of Dogwood who uses Jason Kenney’s swearing in as a hook for a piece about what to do when Kenney “turns off the taps”. Kenney, now sworn in, says he won’t – yet.

It is not surprising that in support of this proposal a number of easily disprovable assertions are made

“Zero-fare public transport is the norm in many cities across Europe. ”

Actually very few cities – Dunkirk (France), Tallinn (Estonia) and apparently two dozen other French urban areas – though only Aubagne is named and analyzed. Luxembourg is going to try it nationally, though it is a very small country and has made its own economy successful by being a well known haven for tax evasion.

There is a list at https://freepublictransport.info/city/ but it is not reliable. Calgary, for example, is shown on that list, but its own webpage provides a list of fares – free only applies to a downtown section, not the whole system, and pets. Frankly, I am not about to spend any more time checking the veracity of ALL of the rest of the assertions but Winnipeg isn’t a free system either. Bizarrely England is listed as fare free – that may just be a formatting error or a reference to the Old Age concession of a free bus pass. This is of limited value since it does not apply to other modes – trains – and in the deregulated market where local government has been deliberately starved of funds there is little to no socially essential service outside of the dense urban area. The country bus is largely a fond memory. The lack of revenue for the operators (little to no subsidy from local government, no income from pass users) means there is no incentive to increase service.

By the way, Seattle used to have a free fare zone downtown, but dropped it. It is one of the few transit systems in the US that reported increased use last year.

There is a wikipedia article (see below) but it lacks references (though the bit I quote has a source).

The notion that appeals to Dogwood is the mistaken belief that free fares will get people out of their cars and onto transit, and that this will reduce congestion and thus fuel consumption. Nagata simply asserts this belief. The evidence does not support it. The inescapable rule is that traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. Congestion exists because there is more demand that can be accomodated. Congestion tends to be worst at peak periods – journeys to and from work or education – and on some routes on public holidays – the road to the ferries from Tsawwassen on the Easter weekend being a most recent case. Generally people adapt to predictable congestion but just as a few will try car sharing, or leaving really early, others will drive when it seems “not so bad”. And there is a sort of equilibrium. Like most human compromises one which leaves everybody equally dissatisfied. We know that adding lanes to freeways just increases the amount of traffic, just as removing a freeway usually reduces congestion. The only thing that we know works is to price road use – when it is free it is over consumed – and provide more and better transit service that, as far as possible, uses its own right of way to avoid the congestion. You have to do both. Oddly, pricing roads, even though successful, is much less tried than free transit fares, which mostly isn’t.

From Wikipedia

Several large U.S. municipalities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been judged unsuccessful by policy makers. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some disadvantages:[7]

  • An increase in vandalism, resulting in increased costs for security and vehicle-maintenance
  • In large transit systems, significant revenue shortfalls unless additional funding was provided
  • An increase in driver complaints and staff turnover, although farebox-related arguments were eliminated
  • Slower service overall (not collecting fares has the effect of speeding boarding, but increased crowding tends to swamp out this effect unless additional vehicles are added)
  • Declines in schedule adherence

This U.S. report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the goal of enticing drivers to take transit instead of driving is not necessarily met: because fare-free systems tend to attract a certain number of “problem riders”, zero-fare systems may have the unintended effect of convincing some ‘premium’ riders to go back to driving their cars. It should be kept in mind that this was a study that only looked at U.S. cities, and the author’s conclusions may be less applicable in other countries that have better social safety nets and less crime than the large U.S. cities studied.[7]

[7] Perone, Jennifer S. (October 2002). “Advantages and Disadvantages of Fare-Free Transit Policy” (PDF)NCTR Report Number: NCTR-473-133, BC137-38. Retrieved 1 November 2012.

So if free transit does not attract drivers, who does it attract? Here it will be the homeless – kicked out of shelters during the day and looking for somewhere warm and dry. And for people to panhandle. The transit police will not be able to cope as without the need for proof of payment, removal will be at best temporary – even if they do manage to persuade the most offensive to leave. It will be gangs of kids. It will be people with nothing better to do than go for a ride somewhere – anywhere. Yes free transit increases the number of people on transit – just not the ones that you wanted to leave their cars behind.

The other reason that people do not leave their cars for transit is simply the inconvenience and relative slowness of transit (all those bus stops) compared to driving. Even for relatively short trips in denser parts of the region, car is still the preferred mode. It is not until there is a clear transit advantage for some trips do people switch in significant numbers. Clearly the expansion of the SkyTrain has worked well. In the parts of the region where additional road space is next to impossible, car trips are being curtailed. Where there is a better alternative, it does get used. More people are also choosing to walk or ride a bicycle – and the option to not own a car, but use ones that are available (Modo, car2go et al) – reduces the need to own a car, and thus try to maximise the return on capital investment. (“It’s sitting in the driveway, I might as well get some use out of it.”) The recent record boost in transit use, and the growing mode share for bikes and walking in Vancouver has nothing to do with transit fares, but everything to do with comparative advantage. And protected bike lanes – not white lines or sharrows.

Nagata also makes the fundamental error of assuming that governments (federal and provincial) will fund free transit. So far, the only thing that they have been willing to do is fund capital projects – preferably expansions – and usually with ribbon cutting opportunities and naming rights (The Canada Line for instance). What has always been lacking is adequate funding for operations and maintenance. Canada, on the whole, has done a much better job than the US. The shameful condition of the New York subway being one of the most glaring examples. Government also likes to play at innovation – which has given rise to several expensive, and usually short lived, experiments like the Whistler hydrogen buses. Instead of doing the essential dull, repetitive non-newsworthy state of good repair and high reliability transit cannot do without. Much of the innovations have not actually been necessary, but one thing that did come out of the imposed electronic fare collection system was essential data on how the system is used. In earlier times, Greater Vancouver saw a complete neglect of data collection as a result of foolish cost cutting. At least some of the newer and improved services now being provided is from a better understanding of when and where people are travelling – despite the lack of tap off on buses.  Again, a free fare system loses all that information.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2019 at 11:01 am

Posted in fares, transit, Transportation

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Opinion: It’s time to give the West Coast Express the big expansion it deserves

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West Coast Express (BCVX) 906

The long title comes from an article published yesterday in the Daily Hive written by Ian Ius. He has had a brainwave which had me wondering why no-one seems to have proposed this before – as far as I know. The short version is that while WCE would be hard to expand along the Burrard Inlet, it would be possible to run an all day, every day, service from Coquitlam out to the Valley with the Evergreen Line providing connections to the rest of the system. It is worth your time to click on that link and read the whole thing.

I thought at first I would not have much to add, and I apologise if you have read some of this from me before. I make no claims to originality here.

I have always advocated a better transit link between Surrey City Centre and Coquitlam Centre. Yes you can do that by SkyTrain now, but with two transfers and an indirect route. I think a better service could be provided by a nonstop direct bus on Highways 1 and 7 over the Port Mann Bridge. The new low floor express buses would do nicely.

18468

Photo by UltraBuizel 10 on flickr Creative Commons Licensed

The other thought that occurs to me is that there is a very good example of the integration of heavy rail passenger service with freight in Chicago where the Metra Services run on several Class 1 railroad lines. The most intensive freight plus Metra route is the BNSF “Race Track” out to Aurora Illinois from Union Station. This has multiple tracks and a very advanced signalling system. Sadly, Metra service on Sundays is only once every two hours, but there are plenty of freight trains that pass in that time.

METRA 194

There is also a commuter rail system the serves the Montreal metropolitan region, some of it electrified. I have yet to experience that. Which, by the way, is also the case with West Coast Express. Not that I haven’t tried, but I just couldn’t come up with a way to make it work when I was travelling out to Abbotsford for evening meetings.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 5, 2019 at 11:30 am

Not another award!

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The Daily Hive reports “Vancouver has been ranked as the second best city for public transit in Canada.”

While some residents (particularly transit users) may be surprised, the new ranking comes from Redfin, a tech-powered real estate brokerage.

You have to do a bit of digging but by following the links you do finally get the methodology of the transit score

“The value of a route is defined as the service level (frequency per week) multiplied by the mode weight (heavy/light rail is weighted 2X, ferry/cable car/other are 1.5X, and bus is 1X) multiplied by a distance penalty.”

So basically they use the schedule to determine frequency. Not actual performance.

Note too that even if you had a bus system that had exclusive right of way, or signal priority and lots of bus lanes, it would still score less than rail – no matter if that is grade separated or in mixed traffic. That’s how “modern streetcars” get such a good press, I guess. Just pay no attention to video shot from a bus in Boston whipping past congested traffic. Or to Jarrett Walker who is adamant that the choice of steel or rubber wheels is not really significant.

For the actual experience of using two of Translink’s “high frequency” routes – see the previous post.

The reason I groan at these awards is the effect they can have on Management. Far too often they did not want to hear anything that sounded like criticism – or the need for improvement. What they wanted staff to be were cheer leaders. “We’re Number 1” (in a contest that was no contest at all) was their mantra. I think there has been some change in recent years.

While I’m reposting video from Twitter take a look at this one from Brent Toderian. This is a modern light rail system in Nice, France crossing the Place Massena – and using its batteries. Elsewhere in the city it raises its pantograph to collect power, but what struck me about this delightful urban space is the total absence of overhead wires. While the trolleybuses we now have here can operate on their batteries, it is not an everyday occurrence because the bus is then much slower, has a short range and requires someone to lower and raise each pole individually. So to divert the  #14,  #16 and #17 during Millennium Line extension construction under Broadway new wire is now being strung along 12th Avenue.

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 11.45.18 AM

Diagram from Translink via the Facebook group ELMTOT

Hopefully the next batch of electric buses that get bought for Translink will have better off wire capabilities.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 11, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Free transit motion to be debated by Vancouver city councillors

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The headline is taken from a CBC News story and the motion will be debated tomorrow. It also provides a link to the motion as a pdf file. The motion asks Council to support the All on Board  campaign. Apparently there is going to be a “research report containing evidence” – but that is not ready yet. You might think that it would be a Good Idea to have had that ready in time for the discussion. Because there is remarkably little evidence on offer so far either in the motion’s “Whereas” section or the campaign website. Other than some people think it might be a Good Idea and other places have already tried it.

What needs to be considered is how much revenue is going to be lost from this proposal and how it might be replaced. The motion suggests that the Provincial Government will be approached for more funding. Presumably, the Province will also have to consider if this is something that needs to be applied province wide. If not, then you can expect the attention to switch to property taxes as that is about the only source that the municipalities can access. I would certainly expect that someone will actually do the necessary policy analysis, which, of course, is entirely absent so far. This would include some assessment of the costs to increase transit supply at peak periods – and also at times when young people are not in school and can be expected to be enjoying their new found freedom to ride transit as often and as far as they can go. I would also expect questions to be asked like why does this demographic get pushed to the front of the line when others – the aged, the disabled, the desperately poor adult population –  fail to get anything like such generous treatment?

I accept that for low income families even reduced fares for children can be inadequate to be affordable for many trips. At one time people who had transit passes could take their spouse and children with them at weekends for no extra charge. I forget now when that concession was withdrawn, but I would be willing to bet that cost was a concern.

It is true that giving children free rides will increase ridership – though the campaign has not made any forecast of that. Nor have they considered what other ways might also increase ridership and their comparative effectiveness. What we do know, and what is not mentioned anywhere in these materials, is how increasing service frequency and improving reliability (through traffic management measures) can offer much higher rates of return at lower levels of cost, and can be better targeted. For just as there are families that can’t afford transit, there are plenty for whom the fare is not the deterrent that inconvenience, unreliability and inadequate service undoubtedly are. Transit takes you from where you are not to a point at some distance from where you want to be. And for a lot of the trip will expect you to stand, or be crowded with others, or left at a bus stop wondering how long your wait will be. People who have invested heavily in a vehicle, and its insurance (which does not vary by distance driven) have a vested interest in getting as much use out of that expense as possible. And despite traffic congestion and the hassle of finding parking still get a better travel experience than transit riders for most trips. The car is at your convenience and takes you all the way without a transfer!

I do think that the province ought to be increasing what it spends on transit, I just think we need to be a bit more considered about how that money is spent. I also think that transit should not be considered as a social service or a redistributive device. If people are poor then giving them more money is far better than giving them scrip for approved expenditures. Free transit passes are as prescriptive as food stamps and both can be a stigma. Giving free rides to children whose parents are wealthy may not actually reduce car use all that much, if at all and is palpably wasteful.

And anyway, why are we focussed on transit and not asking why these kids are not walking more or using their bicycles? Might it be something to do with concerns about their safety?

 

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Geography and demographics perpetually conspire against Delta

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There is a piece by Justin McElroy of the CBC that discusses transit – or rather the lack of it – south of the Fraser and in particular – in Delta. As usual this is in the context of the Massey Tunnel. And I found myself irritated by McElroy’s journalistic attitude. Which is a shame since I generally enjoy reading his stuff.

He has got some data that he puts into Infograms – but the one thing that is very obviously missing is this map

screen shot 2019-01-11 at 10.27.31 am

The original is a pdf that you can get from metrovancouver. It is the second one in the list. Most of Delta is either agricultural or the protected area of Burns Bog. The only population centres are Ladner and “North Delta” – the bit of Surrey that flops over the municipal boundary in the northeast corner.

“Strip away the urban studies jargon,” says McElroy – which is frankly offensive. What Kevin Desmond says is simple and obvious. But what would have made it clearer is if the article had included this map. The relationship between transit service and residential density is very basic and very clear. Though what is a bit of a surprise is that Tsawwassen does not even show up on this map. It is not labelled but does show the “urban containment boundary” – and is still pale green , not the orange of the next density step up. I am not sure if the next census is going to be much different – or if it will show the Tsawwassen FN as a separate “municipality”. But then White Rock doesn’t get a label either though Semiahmoo does. But that is because the labels refer to “Regional and Municipal Centres”.

And actually the lack of transit in this region is nothing to do with geography or demographics. It is simply politics. For 16 years we had a provincial government that neglected transit except for a its pet megaprojects – and foisted an unnecessarily divisive referendum on transit funding which has held back service growth. That log jam has now been broken and things are getting better slowly, but clearly priority for new service has to go to where overcrowding is worst. The province is still fumbling over the need for better regional connections because MoTI is still run by traffic engineers keen to build more and bigger roads. Everyone else seems to understand induced traffic, and the only real argument seems to be over transit technology – which is actually much less important than transit priority.

And while I think there is improvement, we have by no means solved the underfunding of transit operations and maintenance. Senior governments only want to fund projects that have nice photo-ops for politicians, not the dull but essential everyday need to keep the fleet running. Which makes me even less tolerant of the people who keep pushing the idea of free transit, as though we did not already have enough issues of overcrowding and pass-ups. If we had lots of spare capacity and the ability to replace fare revenue from some other source I might be more receptive, but these never ever get mentioned by the free fare crowd. They seem to think that somehow not collecting fares actually saves money, which is not true here – and is only true is very small, underutilized systems – mostly in the US. If you really want public services to be free please concentrate on health and education – which are supposedly free but are not by a long way. When you do not need health insurance for any treatment, and anyone can go to post secondary education without needing loans or grants or scholarships, then I will accept that free transit can be next up. But recognize that means making wealthy people pay more taxes. As we have seen with property tax, you can expect pretty hard push back.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 11, 2019 at 10:52 am

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

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