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

Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Gothenburg gets battery buses

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In my in box this morning is a press release from Volvo announcing an order for 157 articulated electric buses to start delivery next year.

Volvo supplied image of a new articulated bus

What struck me is how much bigger this initiative is compared to what is happening here. Translink is trying out four buses on one route. Gothenburg is comparable to Vancouver in population: it “has a population of approximately 570,000 in the city center and about 1 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area.” (source: wikipedia) These buses are also much larger capacity than anything on the road here – 150 passengers per bus! You notice from their supplied picture that it has four sets of doors, not three as here. They will also charge at bus stops along the route “using the industry common charging interface OppChargeTM” – so I begin to wonder what was so ground-breaking about route #100. By the way the energy use of these buses is 80 per cent lower than that of a corresponding diesel bus.

But then Scandinavia does seem to be much more determined to create a truly green city than we are. Oslo, for example, has now removed on street parking in its city centre.  

“If you decide to drive in downtown Oslo, be forewarned: You won’t be able to park on the street. By the beginning of this year, the city finished removing more than 700 parking spots–replacing them with bike lanes, plants, tiny parks, and benches–as a major step toward a vision of a car-free city center.

“Without those parking spots, and with cars banned completely on some streets, few people are driving in the area. “There are basically no cars,” says Axel Bentsen, CEO of Urban Sharing, the company that runs Oslo City Bike, the local bike-share system. The city’s changes are designed, in part, to help improve air quality and fight climate change, but the difference in the quality of life is more immediate.”

As usual local businesses opposed the change, claiming its would hurt trade – but the outcome has been quite different. There are now more people in downtown – walking and cycling. Pretty much the same as our experience with protected bike lanes – which were opposed but have benefitted local businesses.

I am sorry that the timing of this post may be a bit awkward when the current labour dispute is top of mind. But it is clear that one of the major concerns of the bus operators is that traffic has got worse, and that Metro Vancouver in general – and the City of Vancouver in particular – has been a laggard in providing buses with priority on street which would go a long way to making services more reliable, schedules more predictable and life a lot easier for both passengers and bus drivers. Our politicians seem to be more concerned about the people driving cars – who are the ones causing the problems.

Clearly we need something like the system now in use in New York – but first we would actually have to put in the bus lanes!

https://twitter.com/i/status/1186355796940079104

Written by Stephen Rees

November 5, 2019 at 10:58 am

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Arbutus Station

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Translink has released its first “preliminary conceptual design” of what the proposed station on the Broadway Subway is going to look like. They put it on the BC Ministry of Transport flickr stream which makes it easy to display here.

Arbutus Station looking northwest

“Arbutus Station looking northwest

Artist’s rendering of preliminary conceptual Broadway Subway Project station design. Final streetscape and potential development will be subject to the City of Vancouver’s Broadway Plan. Learn more: engage.gov.bc.ca/broadwaysubway/stations/

Arbutus Station looking southeast
Looking South East from 8th Avenue

My bet would be that there will be some additional use of the “air rights” above the station. Either with a building – equivalent to what happened at King Edward on the Canada Line. Or perhaps it will stay like this and square footage will be added to something in the vicinity.

This is what the same corner of Broadway and Arbutus looks like now

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephen_rees/45184182172/

Written by Stephen Rees

October 31, 2019 at 8:45 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation, Vancouver

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Broadway at Cambie

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Broadway - City Hall Station

There is a very useful article by Kenneth Chan who in his usual diligent fashion covers the details of how the interchange at City Hall station is going to work when the new Millenium Line extension opens.

The most disappointing feature is that there will still be only the existing single station entrance. This is because there will be much less passenger activity as all the interchange traffic will be handled by three underground routes. Much of the existing foot traffic is people transferring from buses.

I am putting this quote here simply because I will then find it more easily. Not so long ago I had Harold Steves telling me on Twitter that the Canada Line north of Bridgeport is “fine”. No, it isn’t. I wish I had had this data to hand at the time.

“Like the Expo Line, the ultimate future capacity of the Millennium Line is 25,000 pphpd. In contrast, the ultimate future capacity of the Canada Line is 15,000 pphpd; currently, the Canada Line’s peak capacity is running at about 6,000 pphpd, and this will increase to over 8,000 pphpd when all 24 new additional train cars (12 two-car trains) go into service in January 2020.”

BUT it is not the volume of passengers at the station that concerns me so much as the sheer convenience and improved pedestrian safety that would result from an entrance on each corner. Which is the way that most busy stations in major cities with subways – or elevateds – are laid out. Maybe not all of them get escalators and elevators – but they do cut down the number of people who have to cross a very busy intersection, with often long waits for a suitable light.

There is now a very useful diagram of how the proposed underground interchange will work – taken from the BC Ministry of Transport’s flickr stream

Broadway-City Hall Station

Written by Stephen Rees

September 23, 2019 at 12:41 pm

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Captain’s Log

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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 (4.9km)

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 (8.35km)

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

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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