Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘bus

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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“TransLink expands Metro Vancouver bus service by 105,000 service hours”

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artic-unloads-at-bridgeport

The headline comes from a Vancouver Sun article. There is not much in the way of context – other than two previous announcements of smaller increases earlier this year and a reference to the Mayor’s plan for expansion.

So I went to the Translink web site and dug out the 2016 Transit Service Performance Review which informed me that last year Translink delivered 3,897,000 bus service hours, which was a 1% increase on 2015 – which is also the compound annual growth rate for the last five years.

Which means that was has been announced is a 0.02% increase in bus service, if we assume that all these quoted figures are annualised.  And, of course in 2017, it is less than that since these new service hours will only be delivered in the last quarter of the year.

So good, that we are getting more bus service in this region. But the rate of population growth is “6.5 per cent since the last census in 2011” (also a Vancouver Sun report, but of census data). So we are only just keeping pace with the increase in the number of people, let alone making a bigger impact on transportation trip making (“mode share” in planning jargon).

So one cheer for Translink and raspberries to Postmedia for simply printing a press release without any analysis.

We must commit to a much faster increase in transit use – which means more service hours for buses, more transit services of all kinds and much more priority for buses operating in traffic – which is most of them, most of the time. Just to give you some idea of what the plan needs to look like, take a gander at this new expansion map for Sound Transit.

Translink now has the details of the September sheet change online

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

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Double-decker buses could roll into Metro Vancouver

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This was the headline in the Surrey Leader last week.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond says double deckers are run by BC Transit in Victoria as well as his former employer Sound Transit on intercity routes between Everett and Seattle, where they’re popular with passengers.

Desmond said he believes they could have potential to add capacity in certain parts of Metro Vancouver, although they couldn’t run on routes with low obstructions.

“They would not fit through the Massey Tunnel, for example,” Desmond said.

Well the buses currently used in Victoria wouldn’t, but that is only because they are 4.4m “highbridge” buses.

BCT 9510

But that is the tallest buses get, and there are many places where these buses are too high. And the manufacturers do produce much lower double deck buses. Some of the more recent purchases for GO Transit in Toronto, for example.

DI410 - GO 8311 - Toronto, York University - 29 Sep 2016

Paul Bateson photo on flickr, used by permission

This is an Alexander Dennis Enviro500 Super Lo version at 3.91 metres high. The Massey Tunnel has a posted height limit of 4.1m: similarly there is a restriction on Highway 1 west of Abbotsford of 4.3m. So again for service on the express 555 from Langley to Braid Station, double deckers would provide much more seated accommodation. I would warn, however, that the seating currently in use on both Translink Express services and BC Transit double deckers is too close for comfort on longer distance services. Packing as many people as possible onto a bus may be good short term economics, but for passenger retention and more diversion from private cars, I think people of over 1.7m need to have adequate knee room when seated. Just because many airlines go for tight seat pitch is not a good example for other modes!

UPDATE

And just to show that there are many choices in low height double deckers, here is another from Italy built by the German maker Setra. The S341DT has a height of 4m and up to 93 seats.

Tiemme 2406 at Poggibonsi Station

And while we are on the subject of higher capacity buses I can think of some routes where a few of these would not go amiss

Hess Lightram 3 - TPG (Transports Publics Genevois) n°783

Geneva Public Transport Hess Lightram 3 on the airport route

Written by Stephen Rees

October 1, 2016 at 11:25 am

Posted in transit, Transportation

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BC Transit offers Hydrogen Buses for sale

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BC Transit 1000

I saw this story on the CBC News last night so that’s where I am linking to. It gets picked up by the paywalled press too, of course, but what I think is interesting about this version is the commentary from Eric Denhoff President and CEO of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association..

While these buses may have saved some greenhouse gas emissions, the admission that the hydrogen had to be trucked from Quebec offsets that a bit. Hydrogen is of course freely available everywhere: extracting it, packing and shipping it is, of course the expensive bit, and itself consumes lots of energy. And the trucks which drove back and forth across the continent were diesel powered. There is also a plant in North Van which vents hydrogen it produces as a byproduct which is not clean enough for the finicky fuel cells.

What annoys me about the web version of this story is that is misses the correct attribution of responsibility. The TV news had quite a bit about the decision by Gordon Campbell to buy these buses and have them run in Whistler during the Olympics. It also mentioned the complete failure of the “hydrogen highway” that he announced with Arnold Schwarzenegger that never materialized.

The Province always has money for these ribbon cutting, PR fluff type projects. Obviously just not enough money for Whistler’s transit system to keep running the things. There is never enough money to run transit in BC but every so often they go all loopy and buy a bunch of white elephants. Several different iterations of CNG buses wished on to Vancouver before they got one that actually worked reliably. Even though the emissions from diesel buses fitted with mandatory control equipment now equal the tailpipe performance of CNG. Not that there is much wrong with air quality in Vancouver.

It is also worth noting that the CBC web version mentions that there is a Plan B if BC Transit can’t find a buyer, which I would think is the most likely outcome.

NOTE This post has been corrected after correspondence from Eric Denhoff (April 28, 2015)

The Natural Gas System is Leaky and in Need of a Fix

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The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically.

That’s a really neat summary of a new study from Stanford. The mainstream media is reporting this – often behind paywalls – so the link I have posted is to the original not them. It also seems that they have decided the story is to be about buses. That’s in the report but a ways down

the analysis finds that powering trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel fuel probably makes the globe warmer, because diesel engines are relatively clean. For natural gas to beat diesel, the gas industry would have to be less leaky than the EPA’s current estimate, which the new analysis also finds quite improbable.

“Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” Brandt said.

At first this was the item that made me think I should blog about it. I have long been critical of the way that in BC we have glommed onto to NG as an alternative transportation fuel and have so often found it wanting. I won’t repeat that here.

What struck me was much closer to the top of the story

Natural gas consists predominantly of methane. Even small leaks from the natural gas system are important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A study, “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” published in the Feb. 14 issue of the journal Science, synthesizes diverse findings from more than 200 studies ranging in scope from local gas processing plants to total emissions from the United States and Canada. [emphasis added]

“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

So instead of me ranting about buses I am going after the more significant target. Our Premier’s obsession with LNG, and how this is going to be both our fiscal salvation – and will help other countries wean themselves off dirtier fuels like coal.

The problem with natural gas – methane – is that is far more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. As noted above “30 times more potent than carbon dioxide” which means while burning methane is cleaner than burning coal, if just small amounts leak unburned then the advantage in terms of impact on climate is negated. Since the leaks have been underestimated up to now, that means we now need to rethink some of our strategies. I think it is very common for the people who promote fracking to downplay the destructiveness and carelessness of their activities. So the phrase “some recent studies showing very high methane emissions in regions with considerable natural gas infrastructure” is striking even though in context it is stressed that these levels are not characteristic of the continent as whole. The frackers keep secret the chemicals they add into the water – and deny that these chemicals damage the water supply of people downstream. Rather like the way the tarsand developers prefer us to not pay attention to what happens to the water supply people who live near the operations depend on.

Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows. Not only does burning coal release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, mining it releases methane.

But I do not think that justifies a strategy that throws LNG in as the be-all and end-all. Recent developments in solar power, for instance, are showing that the competitiveness of this source of electricity has been greatly improved. BC has all sorts of renewable energy sources that remain virtually untouched. Geothermal energy, for instance, seems to be mostly confined to a few spas and hot tubs. Wind and wave energy generally is ignored, despite our location on the shore of the Pacific.

There are also very real doubts about the viability of some of the proposals being floated for LNG plants, which seem to me to based more on wishful thinking than clear headed analysis of the realities of a market place that has recently seen a flood of new production for a product that is difficult to package and transport to market. It is still the case that what I was taught in that CAPP course all new employees of the Ministry of Energy were required to attend, that what comes out of the ground is either oily gas or gassy oil. And what the market demands here is usually liquid fuel, and the gas is flared. About half of the volume produced I’m told. Using lots of energy to liquify the gas and then ship it around the planet to be sold at competitive prices to places that can pipe gas in from much closer locations does not seem very likely to be viable.

But mostly I am very tired of this administration pretending to care about the climate (because we had the carbon tax implemented before other places) while doing their very best to undermine the limited success we have had in reducing our own ghg. Which may not be entirely due to good management but simply reduced levels of economic activity.

TransLink signs deal for 25 new hybrid buses

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The Vancouver Sun announces that Translink is going to replace 25 buses. This is not exactly news – but then its the summer and the “silly season” when anything will do to fill the paper. Bus life in North America is around 18 years – in terms of a life cycle cost analysis – but in the US transit authorities can use their federal funding to get replacements after 12 years. Or at least they could, if that hasn’t fallen to the steady assault on public spending in general mounted by Republicans in Congress over the last few years. So the “aging buses, the majority of which are diesel-powered and date back to the mid- to late 1990s” are due. If you can’t make the sums add up, remember that there is a “lead time” between the date the bus is ordered and when it is delivered. I am out of the loop now, but at one time it was as long as two years.

The very odd insertion of the phrase “majority of which” makes me wonder if Richmond is really the origin of the buses being replaced. All of the Richmond buses are diesels. The only other power sources for Translink buses are electricity – all the trolleybuses are in Vancouver – and compressed natural gas all based in Port Coquitlam. There may be a few of the experimental buses used for fuel comparison trials still around. Oakridge seems to be the lair where these oddities have languished. CMBC’s coy habit of putting green canvas on its fences limits what can be seen from the outside, but maybe some insiders will comment below.

The Sun uses a crude graphic from the old MoT press guff about rapid bus for the new Port Mann. I wonder if a sub-editor is being pointed in the choice of picture. You get the benefit of the extensive Rees Archive of transit bus photos on flickr

Translink R7150 Steveston 2007_0429

Due for Replacement: New Flyer diesel 40′ low floor – seen in Steveston
my photo on flickr

Translink R8076 D60LF on 98 B Line Richmond BC 2007_0708

Or possibly the articulated 60′ version bought for the #98 B Line and now used on the #480 UBC and the Tsawassen ferry service
my photo on flickr

8139

Current generation of New Flyer Hybrid arctic 60′ used for UBC services – likely the replacement model
my photo on flickr

More information from Canadian Manufacturing

Written by Stephen Rees

July 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Posted in transit

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Changes Coming to Bus Routes to UBC?

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Mathew Laird has just tweeted

Hearing rumours the 480 is to be eliminated and the 100 extended to UBC. Direct bus from #newwest to UBC in the near future? Interesting…

The #480 is one of the heaviest loading bus routes in the region. When the Canada Line was introduced, most bus routes got shifted around so that the train would do most of the heavy lifting for traffic between Richmond and Vancouver. The UBC route was an exception, since the east west routes that link from Canada Line stations to UBC were already over capacity – especially the #99 B Line along Broadway. The articulated buses from the old #98 B Line were diverted to the #480 – and other routes like the #49, #43, #44 and so on.

Oddly enough I was recently being passed by a southbound #480 on Granville Street in Marpole. It struck me that it is the only survivor of a whole series of bus routes that used to do the somewhat circuitous routing of Granville, South West Marine, Hudson, and then 71st Ave to the Oak Street Bridge

#480 route diagram

The southern end of the #480 route diagram

What struck me then – and is quite obvious from the map – is that the current routing to Bridgeport Station actually duplicates part of the Canada Line – and that Marine Drive Station is a lot closer. Of course, at one time the #480 would take you to Richmond Centre (Brighouse) and even, on otherwise deadhead runs, all the way to Steveston and Shell (the Richmond Operating Centre). I bemoaned its loss then.

Loadings on the #100 between Marine Drive and 22nd Street stations cannot be anything like those between UBC and the Canada Line on the #480. But maybe the number gets changed if the new routing is different to the dog’s leg of the #480 (41st Ave and Granville) but took the more obviously direct routing of South West Marine Drive. That takes me back to my days working at BC Transit when I was regularly lobbied by the locals along the Drive who feared a direct bus past their doors to UBC. While there is no service bus along that route, I have seen many dead head miles run that way. So perhaps opposition these days is not as strong as it once was?

480 at UBC May 2010

480 at UBC May 2010 my photo on flickr

One thing is for sure. If there is a reworking of the #100 expect much of it to be short turns UBC to Marine Drive and not a lot of it going all the way to New Westminster!

Afterthoughts

In all fairness to the good folk of SW Marine Drive, I should make it clear that they did not so much oppose a direct bus as express the fear that we (BC Transit) would be persuaded to run a direct bus as a way for the City Engineers to then press for a widening of the Drive to four lanes. At the time I thought that showed a remarkable faith in our resources (even then buses were overcrowded and there weren’t nearly enough of them to meet demand on existing routes) and the City’s willingness to spend money on roads. While I am sure that there were some engineers who would have salivated at the thought, the City Transportation Plan was very clear in its opposition to increasing general purpose traffic capacity. And the same engineers then bitterly opposed any and all suggestions about bus priority in general and bus lanes in particular. It’s all different these days, of course.

The #100 was at that time a very long and highly unreliable route from 22nd Street to the Airport. It operated from the Port Coquitlam Operating Centre as there was simply not enough room at the Oakridge Operating Centre. Though there was no deadheading – it operated on one of the New West – PoCo routes to get to and from home base. Indeed, even now reliability of a UBC – New Westminster route via South West and South East Marine Drives would be a real issue. It does now however run past the new Vancouver Operating Centre – so a lot of revenue and non revenue miles of the present #480 would be saved.

I am not sure about the amount of space on the trains though.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 13, 2012 at 11:08 am