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