Next-generation buses coming to 96 B-Line

Next-generation buses coming to 96 B-Line

I am pleased to announce that I’ve received word through forum networks such as Skyscraperpage and CPTDB that new buses coming to Surrey Transit Centre will be 60-foot hybrid articulated buses for the 96 B-Line.

This newest bus order is being assigned to both Surrey and Burnaby Transit Centres to replace old articulated buses due for retirement, and the first buses will be arriving later this month. They will be similar to the 12000-series Xcelsior XDE60s (pictured above) currently being used on routes in Richmond and Vancouver.

The new buses will feature a hybrid diesel-electric transmission to improve energy-efficiency and solve the ride jerky-ness of plain diesel buses, offering smoother and higher quality rides. LED lighting will be used along with a better-optimized seating layout. Finally, these buses will be air-conditioned, giving Surrey riders a more comfortable experience in warmer summer months.

XDE60
One of the upcoming buses, pictured by Wade B on Flickr; licensed CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
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96 B-Line waiting to depart Guildford Exchange

Surrey’s 96 B-Line, linking Newton Exchange with Guildford Town Centre through Surrey Central, was originally made possible with a transfer of 11 of the region’s oldest articulated buses (S8001-8011) to Surrey Transit Centre in late 2013. These buses were the first “B-Line” buses brought to the region to service the #99 B-Line back in 1998.

Due to their age, the old buses aren’t always available; standard-size buses are often used as a substitute when one of the articulated buses is in for repairs or maintenance.

The upcoming XDE60’s will let the old buses be retired, while giving the city 12 of the fleet’s newest articulated buses (one additional bus!). This will ensure that every bus running on the 96 is articulated.

Surrey Plan Full Cleaned Up FINAL CROP BRT MAP
[OPEN TO ENLARGE] Concept of rapid bus service instead of LRT on King George Blvd/104 Ave.
I look forward to the arrivals of S15001-S15012. As a regular 96 B-Line user I’m excited for the new transit experience that these new buses will bring for Surrey transit riders.

I’m also excited for the potential they have in demonstrating BRT (bus rapid transit) as an option for improving transit the city. As some of you know, I have been a strong proponent of a BRT network and SkyTrain expansion over the currently proposed Light Rail Transit network in Surrey.

A Bus Rapid Transit network would reduce transfers by enabling buses to through-run onto corridors like 72nd Ave or continuously down King George Blvd. to White Rock Centre. Riders on the corridor could then use buses for longer-distance commutes with less transferring. This would also cut down on the amount of transfer line-ups that crowd buses and space at transit centres such as Newton Exchange.

It would be less disruptive to build BRT infrastructure compared to LRT infrastructure, with the potential to build gradually and avoid the service disruptions riders would face with edge-to-edge street construction required for an LRT system. A BRT system would also cost less to operate; City officials have still not demonstrated what the plan is to pay for $22 million in annual deficits for operations of the city’s LRT network.

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This is an actual photo of LRT construction work in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, and shows the reality that Surrey commuters will have to face if the City moves ahead with an LRT.

96 B-Line Execution proves that TransLink Listens

96 B-Line Execution proves that TransLink Listens

Surrey transit

Like many other riders and observers of the 96 B-Line, one of the first things I thought when I noticed the new artic buses going down King George Blvd. and 104th Ave, alongside the usual 321 and 320 buses, was that many 96 B buses weren’t as well used as the crowded 320s and 321s.

When I started my classes at KPU this fall, I often found myself going through Surrey Central Station in the mid-day (1:30-2PMish) on a near-empty 96, passing long lineups for both the 320 and the 321. It was something that was being noted by many members of Skyscraperpage – an urban observation forum – in a discussion during its launch.

The whole situation  had me concerned as an early adopter of the 96 B-Line for my commutes and a transit rider in Surrey, and so I brought the following points to the discussion at SSP:

Originally Posted by xd_1771 [LINK]

The 96 is a bit of a special case; with the exception of the 104 Ave corridor (and the 337 will still exist, and is extremely popular), it’s not really replacing any main express services that previously existed. It IS the first express service.

That was different in the case of the other B-Lines. I’m pretty sure that before the #99, there was another express bus of sorts that made its way to Broadway (I think it was the #85). In the case of the #98, it took over many direct-to-Vancouver 400-series express services from Richmond (and some were later reintroduced during peak hours only). The #97 replaced the express bus route #147, and its introduction was aided by the new Millennium Line.

The issue here is that riders are still seeing the #96 as a complement and not as the main service. There’s been a definite need for this B-Line, however, and so this should change as time goes by. People need to be given time to make discoveries of how there are benefits. The 96 will be heftily more reliable than the 321 as the service is far more predictable with less stops. Ridership moving onto the 96 will eventually improve conditions for those who insist on continuing to use 321.

Neither TransLink nor the City of Surrey have done well on the part of marketing. The City of Surrey could have lauded its introduction in a press release of sorts (with a Mayor or Councillor speech maybe) and that would have hugely helped introduce the bus route to the entire city. TransLink could put some signage at the 320 and 321’s major terminals to direct riders onto the 96. Also, destination signs; 96 is labelled as Guildford Exchange/Newton Exchange, and so it might not be immediately clear to 321/320/etc riders that this bus also services riders headed to SkyTrain. Those appear to be the primary issues that are preventing the 96 from gaining huge traction.

Notice the two points I highlighted in bold: wayfinding signage at stations, and desgination signs on the buses.

In mid-September I noticed that the 96 B-Line articulated buses were starting to have “via Surrey Central” signs on the front window of the bus, visible to any riders that might be looking at the bus and thinking that it did not connect with SkyTrain at Surrey Central and King George. About the same time, I noticed one wayfinding sign put up at Surrey Central Station to direct some riders to one of the 96 stops.

Today I was back at Surrey Central heading into Surrey, and noticed a barrage of new 96 B-Line wayfinding signage on the station houses and in places otherwise directly visible to riders. At least one of the signs was inside the main station house, directly visible to exiting SkyTrain riders. Pictures below (click to enlarge):

Whether TransLink was actually having a look at SSP or not and whether I may have unintentionally actually influenced the execution of the 96 B-Line bus route is yet to be actually confirmed. I can, however, report on the effects of this.

I’ve been noticing a number of other things about the 96 B-Line, as a regular rider. Firstly, the buses are indeed being used well and are gaining ridership faster than I had predicted in early September. On September 23rd – after 20 days of 96 B-Line service – I spotted the first full, standing-room-only 96 B-Line bus departing for Newton from Surrey Central. I rushed to take a picture of it with my smartphone, and put that photo on Twitter:

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I think that the adjustments to the execution are really helping.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Give the 96 B-Line a chance

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Give the 96 B-Line a chance
TransLink/Coast Mountain Bus Company D60LF at Surrey Central Station. This bus will serve on the future 96 B-Line.
96 B-Line at Surrey Central Station

I wrote quickly in response to a couple of letters in last Tuesday’s Surrey Leader complaining about the new 96 B-Line in Surrey. The Surrey Leader has delivered, and you can read my letter response which appeared in Thursday’s issue. Meanwhile, here’s a snippet….

This letter is for frustrated 320 and 321 bus riders.

I ride transit every day and like you, I have seen the situation on the 96 B-Line, 320 and 321; adaptation has been slow, 320s and 321s are often sardine-can full and the 96 is not always sardine-can full.

Before you decide to be dismissive about the 96, I would like to suggest that you look at what it is providing for other riders, and to potentially you.

The 96 B-Line may be the single biggest improvement TransLink has ever granted to a corridor in history: it is the only B-Line route ever introduced that is not replacing previous express buses. The 99, 98 and 97 all replaced express buses that were well utilized.

If you’re riding the 320 and 321 and not having a great experience, I encourage you to take note of the 96 and see how it fits with your commute – try it first. One letter writer who dislikes the 96 could walk two blocks in either direction to a stop served by it…..

[READ MORE – SURREY LEADER]

PHOTO: TransLink testing Surrey B-Line bus

PHOTO: TransLink testing Surrey B-Line bus

I caught this photo at Surrey Central Station on the way to work today. The front was labelled “NIS – TRAINING BUS”.

(Click the photo to enlarge)

TransLink/Coast Mountain Bus Company D60LF at Surrey Central Station. This bus will serve on the future 96 B-Line.
TransLink/Coast Mountain Bus Company D60LF articulated bus at Surrey Central Station. This bus will serve on the future 96 B-Line.

The 96 B-Line will begin service in fall 2013.