Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘green

WPC: It IS Easy Being Green

with 4 comments

via Photo Challenge: It IS Easy Being Green!

Parque Josone, Varadero
Parque Josone in Varadero, Cuba where even the water in the boating lake is green.


Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2017 at 10:32 am

Our fast-growing region needs better rail service, not more crowded buses

with one comment

Derek Moscato, The Province

I am quoted – indeed I seem to be the only source, other than his personal experience. But I am quoted selectively. Which is not surprising considering how short Province pieces have to be. He “interviewed” me by email. Which means I can reproduce both his questions and my answers.

1. Why is bus service in the Lower Mainland seemingly so inadequate? Users are complaining of not only full buses and late buses, but also of cramped quarters (standing room only) and other issues related to lack of comfort. Year after year the complaints are the same, but the level of service is only getting worse.

Bus service has been inadequate in this region since I came here to work for BC Transit ten years ago. There are a number of reasons offered for this state of affairs, but obviously money is at the heart of the issue.

The creation of the GVTA in 1999 was supposed to offer a way forward as it was supposed tor remove the regional transit system from direct provincial oversight (an anomaly among Canadian cities). However, while the legislation made provision for a new funding source, this did not happen (the vehicle levy). An attempt to reduce bus operating cost through the use of contracting (as is used everywhere in BC except Vancouver and Victoria) also collapsed, despite the GVTA “winning” the four month bus strike.

A lot of money has been and is being spent on transportation in this region, but improving the parts of the transit system with the widest reach (and arguably greatest need) is not part of that. Current projects are still determined by the Province. So billions on the Canada Line, the Sea to Sky Highway and mandatory P3s for Translink which means that the Golden Ears Bridge is their biggest single project. While there has been some improvement in the bus system, these have been well below the targets set by Transport 2021, and well below the original Translink Strategic Transportation Plan – now abandoned.

Even though it was clear that there was no spare capacity on the bus system before it introduction, Translink brought in the UPass at UBC and SFU. This has been the biggest single cause of overcrowding on buses. Translink does not have the ability to increase the size of its bus fleet quickly – because that would also need more operating centres (garages) and more staff. There is already a shortage of operators and mechanics, and it is difficult to recruit more in a tight labour market with very high housing costs.

2. Do you think the ongoing situation could have the unintended result of pushing frustrated transit users back into single occupant vehicles?

The extent to which use of SOVs has changed is difficult to estimate since the data we have on travel in this region is so inadequate. It does have the effect of deterring people who would be willing to switch from their cars which we know from various opinion surveys taken over the years. It is poor quality of service which deters car drivers from using transit – not fares.

3. In your opinion, could the bus crunch have been avoided if adequate rail transit was in place? For example, in many metros in Asia and Europe, the long-haul routes (such as our B-Lines routes) are taken care of by subway or light rail?

In my opinion we could have done much better by choosing cheaper, more strategically important rail transit lines. For the type of demand seen here, grade separation as used on the SkyTrain and Canada Line is not necessary but is very expensive indeed. Surface light rail would have had a much greater reach, producing more route miles for the same expenditures. The objection that surface light rail would get in the way of the cars is, to my mind, precisely the point. Transit is a much more efficient use of a 3m wide strip of land. A general purpose traffic lane on a city street can carry 1,000 vehicles per hour. At current occupancies that translates into 1300 people. An exclusive bus lane can carry 10 times that – and light rail system 20 times – and that is with simple traffic signal priority at intersections, not grade separation. As my teachers always told me “the best is often the enemy of the good”. SkyTrain is technically very good indeed. We just could not afford it – and we still are not able to utilize its potential capacity as we cannot afford to buy enough cars to run on it!


And given his remark “The under-construction Canada Line is a good addition, but it’s not enough” let me hasten to add that the Canada Line is not going to be easy to expand, as it has been designed down to a price not up to a standard comparable to SkyTrain. For one thing the station platforms are only long enough for the length of trains on opening day. SkyTrain stations could accommodate 8 car Mk1 trains, even though only 4 car trains were run until recently. Sections of single track running will also be expensive to double once demand warrants it.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 24, 2007 at 9:12 am

Posted in transit

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