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.
Surrey’s 96 B-Line, linking Newton Exchange with Guildford Town Centre through Surrey Central, was originally made possible with a transfer of 11 of the region’s oldest articulated buses (S8001-8011) to Surrey Transit Centre in late 2013.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.
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.
I wrote this segment as a part of the recent article I did commenting on the new study for Light Rail in Surrey. The quote from the study that caught my eye and may perhaps catch the eyes of others invested in transit planning, is this prominent suggestion that…
Unlike Rapid Bus or SkyTrain alternatives, the LRT will have a permanent physical presence in their exclusive rights-of-way and yet be at a human scale and have a gentle footprint in keeping with the lower density portions of the lines. (Surrey LRT study)
Notice how the author attempts to justify the Light Rail technology aspect in this way, by suggesting that the “permanent” presence of rail-based transit (i.e. visible rails on the street) has a positive implication on image from riders and developers, that isn’t achieved with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
(SkyTrain is the existing, fully grade-separated, driverless rapid transit system in Metro Vancouver)
Investing in enhancing bus service instead of physical rails on the street is not a failure to create “permanence”. After all, rapid transit improvements are justified in the first place because the demand for the transit on that corridor is already quite high without it.
According to a new report released by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, BRT systems in North America are outperforming LRT in terms of how much development is generated per transit investment dollar. While the study found an LRT line in Portland had generated the most development, when this was divided per dollar of transit investment, the LRT line actually generated 31 times less development, than the system that led the per-dollar development measure: a BRT system in Cleveland.
“Per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, Bus Rapid Transit leverages more transit-oriented development (T.O.D.) investment than Light Rail Transit or streetcars.”
According to the study, the top predictors in T.O.D. outcomes are not related to the choice of technology; they are:
Strong government support for redevelopment
Real estate market conditions
Usefulness of transit services – speed, frequency, reliability
Clearly, when the outcomes are given similar marketing and promotion, developers don’t actually care if the system uses rails or not.
Here in Canada, York Regional Transit in Ontario, with its “VIVANext” program to implement city-wide BRT, is helping to challenge the popular notion that only rail systems can reinvigorate communities. The video shows vibrant urban communities growing around future BRT stations.
Myth #2: Light Rail creates “permanence”
Light Rail is praised by supporters for creating the idea of “permanence” – which has to do with the presence of physical tracks in the streets. The suggestion is supposed to be something along the lines of, “we invested rails in this corridor so that it will never disappear.”
This is a very dangerous myth – and one of the reasons this is dangerous is because of the untold implication, wherein going straight to a Light Rail system results in other parts of the transit system lose transit service, as a means of coping with the associated costs.
Perhaps the best example of this is the downtown streetcar system in Portland, Oregon. The reveled streetcarhad vibrant beginnings in its promise to provide a clean, high-quality service every 10 minutes, promoting and connecting new developments in the downtown core.
Its big-ticket issue, however, lies in the fact that it was not planned around actually improving mobility. The resulting service was not significantly more useful than existing city buses, and was often slower than walking or cycling. It was easily and frequently disrupted by accidents, poorly parked cars, and a host of other issues.
Above video: Portland Streetcar gets stuck due to a poorly parked vehicle, in what would be a minor and avoidable adjustment for a bus.
Throughout its history, the streetcar has also received service cutbacks – which arguably challenge the notion that rail has “permanence”. The streetcar has never once operated at the initially promised frequencies of 10 minutes. The cutbacks were initially to the point where you would have to wait as long for a streetcar in the supposedly-vibrant city centre, as you would for a bus in a lower-density part of Surrey.
The streetcar’s ridership is so low that only 6% of the streetcar’s operating costs comes from farebox recovery. 94% of operating costs must be subsidized, and the subsidy is so heavy that it has City Auditors concerned that the streetcar is taking away from other basic services.
What is clear about the Portland streetcar example is that the ‘rails’ in the transit lines haven’t made any meaningful difference. They have added so little value, which ends up coming out negative against the funding issues that affected transit service throughout the region.
When the streetcars are unable to run due to an accident or some issue, the replacement shuttle buses are providing essentially the same service as the streetcars. It has had some people thinking whether Portland could follow examples here in Vancouver and in Seattle, launching a well-branded, electric trolley-bus service could have been more suitable for not just the streetcar routes, but other bus routes throughout the city as well.
Bridging the gap between BRT and LRT
Recently, consultant Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit blog (which as you’ll notice, I’ve already referenced a few times in this write-up) mentioned that when naturally low-performing local and suburban bus services are excluded from the picture, frequent bus service is nearly as cost-efficient as LRT (in terms of the cost for every rider on the end-service).
Many advocates of LRT would rather have you look at the bus vs LRT operating costs per rider, as they apply to the entire transit system. This creates misleading attitudes surrounding buses, because the numbers include the local and suburban bus services that are naturally poor-performing (and on top of that, will likely never be replaced/justified by an LRT, ever).
The numbers above demonstrate that when you give buses the service quality and frequency usually associated with a more expensive LRT investment, they can be nearly as cost-efficient to operate. Likewise, if buses are also given the same amenities that add to comfort, image and sleekness, then they will likely be appreciated as much by the public.
BRT can receive the same “permanence enhancements” as LRT such as branding, way-finding information, landscaping, lighting, and dedicated rights-of-way. Many BRT systems have adopted innovative features that go a long way towards bridging the gap between BRT and LRT.
BRT advocates often cite examples in South America (such as Bogota, Colombia and others) that use BRT so extensively and so innovatively, that it is considered a replacement for heavy rail. I believe there is another worthy example that deserves some serious attention, and it’s within North America:
“Look ma, no hands”! In Eugene, Oregon, the “Emerald Express” BRT system adopted a magnetically-guided automated steering system, allowing the bus to make more precise turns and dock with precision at every BRT station. The revenue service of this guided system was introduced in June 2013 and is now celebrating its 2nd anniversary.
This guided BRT design allows for reduced lane-width requirements. Steering is automated through the electronic guidance, which only requires pavement under the wheel tracks. This provides an opportunity for the inclusion of additional green space between the tracks. The guided bus technique allows for “precision docking” at the stations.
While the buses do need to be specially equipped, they can still run on other roads. This system does not require the extensive infrastructure and costs of previously-developed “guided” BRT systems, and can in fact save costs by allowing a tighter, narrower running right-of-way for rapid buses.
It’s time to consider BRT
Where could you go with Bus Rapid Transit? I personally think that a lot of the potential of BRT systems is dismissed not necessarily because of disapproval, but also because the discussion is never really started. You would never be able to travel from King George & 88th and end up in South Surrey or even Coquitlam without transferring, on the currently proposed LRT system. Unfortunately, that’s been pushed out as a key consideration in transit planning here.
The Emerald Express is an excellent example of how current technology can be used to bridge the gap between BRT and LRT. And, on top of the examples showed in Eugene, there are so many other ways to “bridge the gaps”.
At this point, basically every heavily-promoted LRT feature can be replicated with BRT (and likewise, every streetcar feature with buses). Well-designed BRT systems incorporate lements such as: sheltered stations with wait-time displays, off-board payment, seating and other amenities adding comfort and ambiance. Hybrid diesel-electric or electric trolley buses can be used to lower or eliminate carbon emissions – and provide the smoother, non-jerky ride quality of electric vehicles. Plus, double-articulated buses are increasingly being used – giving a little more flexibility in terms of capacity (Light Rail’s current running advantage).
If BRT can gain more traction in this decade, it will pave the way for much better transit in all our cities, because BRT costs a lot less to implement, and has numerous flexibility advantages over Light Rail systems in urban settings. You could build more BRT than an LRT with the same dollar, and extend its reach further by through-running onto other corridors.
In order for this to happen, transit advocates must abandon any and all adherence to the “only rail creates development” myth. The fear-mongering, excuses and nay-saying from pro-LRT activists is becoming a serious setback to the realization of transit potential in our cities.
As a Burnaby resident and transit user for the past 8 months, I must admit that I, perhaps among others, have been bothered by the lack of structure in Burnaby’s bus transit network.
It’s evident if you ever have a look at a map of Vancouver’s transit system and Burnaby’s transit system. Notice how Vanouver manages to conform to a standard grid – but once Boundary Road is crossed, the grid gives way to a series of indirectly routed buses that twist and turn along Burnaby’s many local streets. There’s some coherency in the form of the busiest and most popular routes crossing the city (the 25, 106, 123, 129, 130, 135 express) but most of the routes swerve around the city in a non-gridlike fashion, and are unable to manage frequent transit network (FTN) service levels.
For example, through travellers from Kingsway to Edmonds St and 6th Ave on the 106 face a lengthy detour as the bus detours to reach Edmonds SkyTrain Station. And, you betcha, that lack of a through connection on the C5 from Royal Oak Station to Kingsway (where there are businesses, including a major grocery store) and points north is an annoyance. The winding state of many routes also makes commutes much longer – as such that if I want to travel home from – say – the bowling centre near Holdom Station, I’ll usually take the SkyTrain the long way around. This is often faster than timing the 129 and then actually taking it, but still much slower than if I could drive. Network gaps and limitations like this are a serious impediment to transit ridership growth in Burnaby.
According to TransLink, capacity utilization of Burnaby and New Westminster’s buses dropped 2.6% in 2012 – and it was the only area of Metro Vancouver where this value dropped. Cost per boarded passenger decreased – but did so at a lower rate compared to other areas of Metro Vancouver, exceeded by only the North Shore area where it rose 1.2%.
Many of these bus routes were initiated with the introduction of Expo Line service in 1986, and received minimal redesigns with the introduction of the Millennium Line in 2002, probably not helped by the major transit strike that occurred just 1 year prior. There have been a few changes since that I feel have been particularly good, such as the current C5/C7 service in South Burnaby (which apparently replaced a number of bus routes that ran less frequently and not in both directions), but there are still a lot of gaps in the service. I would like to see a regular service down Imperial Avenue east of Kingsway, but instead riders are currently being forced to walk long distances to access their bus.
While I was browsing through the numerous transit-oriented articles on Voony’s Blog, I found the graphic that inspired me to write this article attached to a comment on a write-up focusing on the proposed route 49 change:
The concept points out a simplified Burnaby bus network where routes are straight, simplified and apparentlly more frequent. The commenter (mike0123) had this to say about his image:
The local transit network in the southeast corner of Vancouver, in all of Burnaby, and in all of New Westminster is poorly integrated with rapid transit and with other local transit. The loopy patterns are similar throughout, and they are inherently indirect and infrequent and slow. Nearly all routes currently run every 30 minutes off peak.
Bus routes should run primarily on arterials perpendicular to rapid transit and connect at the stations. They should cross the city so that connections are possible at Hastings, the Millennium Line, the Expo Line, and at Marine. There should be fewer routes that are more direct and have higher frequency.
The image [above] shows a network in which most of the routes run better than 15 minutes off peak and all of the routes run at most every 20 minutes off peak. This is possible just be redistributing service without any increase in cost.
The last line captured me before I clicked on the full-size image because I see this as a value riders do consider important and may consider in their favour when discussing changing Burnaby’s transit network.
Mike makes a great point. TransLink has pointed out in their transit system performance analyses in 2013 that the highest performing routes on the system had these four common characteristics:
Direct, simple and consistent routing
Serve areas of strong demand
Busy destinations at both ends (strong anchors) and along the route
In my proposal, I have determined that there are overlapping services, and many places with extremely lacking services. By removing bus routes, higher frequencies may be achieved. This though, will decrease the coverage level (eg: I have removed the 116). From my analysis, the higher frequencies and less routes in my proposal will save money, or at least cost less than the current system.
There’s a useful point-out of which routes have what frequencies (8 or better, 15 or better, or above 15) during a mid-day time point just before the PM peak, which shows us that many of the current routes/corridors simply do not manage 15 minute off-peak frequencies. The whole plan is based on a “bus skeleton” basis of focusing on frequency and simplification. The proposals manage to give the entire network a 15 minute off-peak frequencies.
The proposal also comes with a fully costed business case analysis, which analyzes the cost of providing the current and proposed bus networks (it seems that Mike’s proposal has also been included in this analysis). All in all, it checks out: many Burnaby residents receive a 15-minute off-peak bus service in return for routing changes, and it’s possible within existing budget limitations: it doesn’t cost TransLink any (or much) more money to do this.
The Practical Limitations
Unfortunately, all proposals have their flaws – and these ones are no exception. Both of the concepts are impressive in that they try to get all services to improve in frequency, but such improvements can often come at a cost to mobility.
In Mike’s proposal, many areas lose their direct connections with important travel markets and anchors. For example: services cease to exist where the 110 currently runs north of Metrotown Station, cutting off service to a major local travel anchor (Burnaby Central Secondary School – a very large school that hosts special programs not found in other schools) in addition to Central Burnaby residents in general. It would also limit connections to Burnaby’s City Hall and Art Gallery from the rest of the city and region.
The proposal also eschews major, popular portions of route 106, including Kingsway west of Imperial Street and in front of Metrotown Mall; direct connections between Edmonds Station and both Kingsway and 6th Street are also cut off. I think these changes to the 106 will become a huge problem, because the 106 is one of the 10 most cost-effective routes on TransLink’s entire bus network. As well, entire corridors in New Westminster that currently see frequent, 15-minute service – including both 8th Street and 8th Avenue – are cut from service, alienating several local businesses and residents from the service that drives their sales and productivity.
Entire areas are seeing a significant cut in bus service options. South Burnaby, for example, loses a lot of the service coverage provided by the C5, C6, C7 and 116 in favour of just one service that seems to replicate what existed before the C5 and C7 were created. Riders have less choice, and it is not as easy to travel to places like Metrotown.
All in all, the more frequent service comes at a cost: new walking distances to buses in some instances exceeds 10 minutes – something that could become particularly problematic for disabled transit users, as well as senior citizens.
In Kyle’s proposal, much of the existing bus network coverage is actually retained, but there area number of obvious flaws: the first that stood out to me being the removal of the C5 – a popular transit link from my station of residence (Royal Oak). Not only does the plan limit an otherwise quick connection with SkyTrain for South Burnaby residents, but the whole plan prevents South Burnaby area commuters from making any connection to Marine Drive (route 100) and South Vancouver altogether, unless they travel to 22nd Street Station.
In many of the proposals, connections with major anchors are compromised. Proposals 2 and 3 cut 8th Street service, as with Mike’s proposal, limiting connections to Douglas College, New Westminster Secondary and many local businesses. In some instances, major anchors are just barely missed; proposal 1 has a great bus route going down Royal Oak that could offer a connection to Metrotown or Royal Oak, but this is eschewed in favour of a turn on Oakland to reach Edmonds Station, which has become a centre for several routes.
The 116 is also removed – which, while explicitly mentioned in his article on the matter – is done without the provision of any replacement, alienating commuters into the South Burnaby industrial areas altogether. The reason for the removal was just something I didn’t understand, especially seeing as the 116 is doing better than many of Burnaby’s less frequent bus routes, ranking 94 of 212 Metro Vancouver bus routes in terms of cost per boarded passenger.
There are also a number of less optimal route choices. In all three proposals, the Forest Grove and Government Street areas are relegated to using a one-way 136 bus service. This will provide a one-way service every 15 minutes or better, but as I (and hopefully you also) know from TransLink’s guidelines on good route design, one-way services usually aren’t very cost-effective, nor are they in any way optimal for mobility at the end of the day.
So what should we do, anyway?
I agree – there’s a lot of room for improvement in Burnaby’s bus transit network. Mike’s proposal shows us that by pursuing a more Vancouver-styled network based on intersecting routes in straight lines, better frequencies throughout can be achieved. Kyle’s proposal also shows us that by simplifying the skeleton, we can make vast improvements to service frequencies.
I do, however, think there’s another important question we need to ask before trying to proceed with anything, that being: Is Burnaby ready for a modified network?
Some of these ideas can be carried forward. Kingsway/12th Street residents (especially those between Edmonds and 14th) coud benefit from a straight route that offers more direct connections to major anchors such as the growing Edmonds Village and Community Centre, Tommy Douglas Library, and Nikkei Japanese Cultural Centre. Straight north-south connections, so long as connections to places like Burnaby Central Secondary aren’t affected, could help residents better and faster connect with SkyTrain service and regional centres. #28 riders could probably live with the longer walk to the bus stop in favour of a straighter and more direct service on Boundary, and a route down Royal Oak Street north of the station would be absolutely great for riders. Optimizations for increased frequency always help.
However, the current network is actually doing fairly well.
As I mentioned earlier, cost per boarded passenger decreased – but did so at a lower rate compared to other areas of Metro Vancouver, exceeded by only the North Shore area where it rose 1.2%. Nevertheless, at $1.33/boarded passenger, this is still the second lowest cost of any area in Metro Vancouver, defeated only by Vancouver itself.
That means that the current bus network is nevertheless working: the amount of passengers attracted to each bus justifies the costs better than in many other areas of Metro Vancouver.
The power of community consultation
The community consultations for the recent route 49 changes were popular, that would have resulted in the end of a longtime service detour to Champlain Heights that has existed since before the Expo line was built, and before the route even serviced Metrotown in Burnaby.
More than 150 stakeholders showed up to the Metrotown consultation centre in protest of the change that would have seen 49 Ave service remain on 49th rather than detour in Southeast Vancouver to service the Champlain Heights area, seen by many planners, riders and myself as a barrier to ridership and reliability on the route. The pre-Expo Line detour costs riders 5 to 10 minutes, mostly affecting riders from Metrotown heading to points on 49th, Langara College and the Canada Line SkyTrain and Richmond.
These stakeholders cited heavy ridership in Champlain Heights as well as the service needs of many seniors in the area as reasons to keep the current 49 arrangement – and I believe they had legitimate concerns. A good friend of mine who I work with in organizing the Northwest Fan Fest event lives on 49th west of Champlain Heights, and was among the more active opposition of the 49th change.
I think this shows two problems with trying to make the transit network better:
Improving the network overall often requires more funding (which we currently are figuring out how to provide) in order to make sure certain groups don’t lose out from the changes
It’s important that there is an active discussion with the community before any bus route changes are made.
Many of the proposals sought forward by individuals like Mike and Kyle or by TransLink itself in any finalized concepts could be shot down in favour of established and subjective needs. At the end of the day, while there’s a lot of room for improvements, I think we’re going to have to be careful to ensure that in the end, both connections are improved and everyone is happy with the new service.
The writer makes mention of two important points of service optimization (changes requiring consultation, and changes involving service reduction), but completely fails to point out a number of positive changes that were also listed in the TransLink source page:
TransLink also plans to make frequency and service improvements along busy corridors across the system. These improvements will be implemented over the course of the year during regularly scheduled service changes in April, June, September and December.
Fraser Hwy. (Surrey/Langley) (502)
Scott Rd. and 72nd Ave. (Delta/Surrey) (319)
410 service in Richmond (Richmond/New Westminster)
41st Ave. (Vancouver/UBC) (41/43)
49th Ave. (Vancouver/UBC/Burnaby) (49)
Broadway (Vancouver/UBC) (9/99/14)
Hastings St. (Vancouver/SFU) (135)
Como Lake (Coquitlam/SFU) (143)
Marine Dr. (North Shore) (239)
Notice how the first change on the list suggests that a badly needed service improvement on Surrey’s overcrowded 502 route is the top priority. Such a prospect should have come hand-in-hand with cheers, good feelings, and “finally!” letters to the editor; however, the writer does not give any readers the opportunity to celebrate, simply failing to mention these positive service improvements.
It doesn’t come as a surprise for me, because this won’t be the first time I’ve pointed out the Georgia Straight and its authors for what seems to be a biased, anti-TransLink view. And, assuming I am right about such a motive, it’s a very clever move on their part. The writer approaches the topic with neutrality and objectivity, not spinning the article with any obvious viewpoint, but readers are likely to make up their own spin anyway because they see only neutrals or negatives, and do not see the omitted positives.
It’s not just the Straight, either. I’m sure most of you remember the time last year when the media (especially TV media) converged on TransLink for doing as any other company would by providing coffee to its employees.
So, to the media gurus out there with the competence to possibly provide me with an answer… I’d like to ask you a question.
Why is there such a need for TransLink to be seen by the public as the bad guy?