My Thoughts – Re: Transportation and the July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns

My Thoughts – Re: Transportation and the July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns

The July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns have probably perplexed a lot of people. In the past week, a lot of us bore witness to a level of chaos that I think had yet to be seen on the SkyTrain system in 28 years of operation.

We enjoy our SkyTrain service so much that I think that we have developed a collective expectation that things will always work out the way they’re supposed to.

Here are some of the responses I spotted on Twitter regarding the breakdown:

http://twitter.com/SantiHenderson/status/489950692669267969

http://twitter.com/BaD_KiTTy_MeLz/statuses/489943859783168001

http://twitter.com/CTVVancouver/statuses/489943945120874496

You can clearly see that there’s a lot of frustration; there’s a record of the incovenience. There’s an aura of madness that goes up in the air, as no one wants to be made late.

http://twitter.com/Charlesvancity/statuses/491315698174414848

We’re tempted to question the SkyTrain system. Bus drivers’ union leader Nathan Wood – who, on CKNW, raised an issue that Light Rail systems have outnumbered SkyTrain-type systems in terms of construction around the world, is just a bit concerned that our main rapid transit backbone can have trouble fostering a busy transit network. While his numbers on the amount of SkyTrain systems in existence are slightly off of the actual amount, I can see why people would want to raise those questions after a series of unique, 5-hour closures.

How much service was actually disrupted?

Reliability chart - SkyTrain vs other systems
Reliability chart – SkyTrain vs other systems. CLICK TO ENLARGE

You might have already seen this graphic, actually. I was wanted for a guest post on the Vancity Buzz, and had just finished creating this chart when the second consecutive major SkyTrain issue hit commuters Monday mid-day for what was unfortunately the second time in under 7 days.

SEE ALSO: Vancouverites are spoiled with SkyTrain – Vancity Buzz guest post by Daryl

Usually SkyTrain is operating for 20 hours daily – and while it’s absolutely unfortunate that the recent issues that plagued SkyTrain commuters hit during busier times of day,  a 5.5 hour meltdown constitutes just over 25% of that service – meaning service was fine for the rest of the day. This is a far better record than what was achieved during the Portland transit meltdown of 3 weeks ago, where more than 60% of service fpr the day was not on time.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a 132 hour work-week for the SkyTrain. 5.5 hours represents approximately 4% of service provided for the week, and well under 1% of service provided for the entire year. We had this twice in one week – meaning 11 hours of service were not operated on time – but that still represents less than 0.2% of all service provided throughout the year.

SEE ALSO: Reality Check – Why is SkyTrain breaking down so frequently? – Vancity Buzz

For the rest of the year, SkyTrain is operating normally – 99.4% of service is provided, with a 94.7% on-time performance rate. SkyTrain lets us down sometimes, but this isn’t actually happening a lot of the time. We enjoy reliable, rapid service that gets us where we need to go.

On most days, we get a reliable service out of the SkyTrain system for the duration of the day.
On most days, we get a reliable service out of the SkyTrain system for the duration of the day.

What should we do about this

There’s no question that issues and system shutdowns like this can be inevitable – so is there something that we can do about it? I think that there absolutely is – and looking at these issues, it seems that there’s a lot we can learn from this. For example – a lot of the time SkyTrain will fail, it impacts all riders because many bus lines connect to SkyTrain stations. A strategy to minimize delays during system shutdowns could involve the redirection or extension of bus routes to key areas to serve riders where they already are.

Normally, the best transit agencies can do when this happens is implement a shuttle bus bridge to repace the rapid transit service. This was the same procedure in Toronto and Portland, as pointed out above. The bus bridges are released as demand allows, but there’s no specific protocol that is followed in the event of a failure – meaning it can take some time before the bus bridges actually start, with passengers delayed until then.

PHOTO: Shuttle buses line up to board passengers at Metrotown
No one llikes to deal with slower shuttle buses replacing SkyTrain service!

But, it’s important to be prepared.

So, here’s an important disclaimer: I was lucky enough to not be there for both of these recent SkyTrain disruptions.

But, before you lambast me with comments of “you don’t know what we face!” or “try being on a train when it happened”, I would like to comment that I have seen my share of SkyTrain delays and disruptions before.

Prominent was the one that hit our system in April 2013, when a power rail issue in New Westminster halted trains on the system for close to an hour and required the deployment of shuttle bus bridges. I was on the problem train, and remember what it felt like as my train was passing the problem area and the electricity was suddenly cut. I remember how staff restarted the train and tried to move it past the area again, only for it to once again come to a grinding halt. I was heading from Surrey to the last showing of the theatre play at Windermere Secondary School, to see the performance and meet some friends in a yearly event that I consider to be something of a tradition. With the level of delays, I was unfortunately not able to make it to Windermere until the play ended.

It’s important to remember that transit isn’t the only form of transportation that isn’t always reliable. Accidents on key arterials or bridges can disrupt the flow of traffic in the region, especially when there are two or more bridges blocked at the same time. As a driver, you might know an alternate route that might be slower but will get you there with less congestion and less time waste. I think the same needs to be true for riders of transit.

Sometimes, there’s just no way to make it on time. Regardless, I still think it’s important to be somewhat prepared for when there are issues – and handle ourselves calmly and responsibly in times of crisis.

Gas prices of late are reaching all-time highs in Metro Vancouver. Source: Vancity Buzz
Gas prices of late are reaching all-time highs in Metro Vancouver. Source: Vancity Buzz

There’s an important message that can be had from the recent issues, one of which is a need for all of us to step back and realize that every possible way to get around has some sort of volatility. Even as we walk, we risk tripping on something that can temporarily impair our most basic ability to get around. The reality is, no matter how we choose to get around, we may run into issues. And, with the amount of money we sink into our demand to get around, it’s understandable why there’s such a high level of frustration when a transportation service you must rely on does not work out – not just on the SkyTrain but everywhere else.

Think about it. It’s true, right? So much of the money we earn goes towards the basic function of getting around. Transportation defines the way all of us live – so much that I think we don’t realize that it costs a lot of money to get around in this society. We take our transportation for granted – and for the younger ones, who may have benefited from the subsidized and discounted U-PASS, it’s especially not easy to realize this. However, this is the reality of the life we live. An average suburban household might spend more than 60% of income on the house and car – dealing with gas prices at all-time highs and ownership costs.

But where do I start?

It all starts with looking at where you live and where you might be going, and looking at your alternatives well in advance. For example: what are the bus routes near your house, and where can they take you. Which routes are your best options (accounting for frequency, speed, etc.) Or, if you live in Surrey and you tend to need to get across the Fraser River a lot, how much money can you set aside in case you need to pay for a cab to get across? If you vaule your money, what are the alternate bus routes to get you around once you do get across? (for example: the 123 from New West Station goes to Brentwood, or the 100 22nd St Station goes to South Vancouver).

As a society, we have to be anticipative of issues and have the knowledge to deal with it in real time – because often, transit authorities have limited resources and can’t always do that.

Appendix

Anyway, to conclude this, I’ve seen the comments to the Vancity Buzz post on Facebook, etc. and some of you asked for the sources for my on-time performance numbers – which I have listed below.

I know it’s questionable given I have omitted certain systems, so to clarify – if there’s a system I omitted, it may be because of the difficulty in actually finding the numbers (the internet, in a limited time frame, can only get you so far!) or due to measurement standards that weren’t too comparable (I was looking at adding some Light Rail systems in New Jersey to the list, but NJ Transit’s stats measure with poor standards that consider runs on-time even if they are 6 minutes early or late, so I chose to omit). Listed below:

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Surrey Rapid Transit Vision - Minimap

Background

(scroll down to read the vision!)

If you’ve read about me in any way, you’ll likely know about my issue with the Surrey at-grade rail (Light Rail Transit) proposal. It was the turnkey issue that became responsible for dragging me into a world of politics. As a stakeholder,  it motivated me to educate myself as best as I could about issues in the community, and is the reason why I pay attention.

My problem with Light Rail? As much as everyone seems to like the option – especially over a SkyTrain expansion – and as much as it DOES work well in many locations around the world, the reality of Light Rail in Surrey is that it won’t help us achieve ambitious goals (rather restricting us from getting to them ever); won’t move our people the most efficiently; and won’t give us the most benefits for the cost.

These aren’t wild claims; these are facts and stats that have been made clear in numerous studies, including TransLink’s Surrey Rapid Transit Study. So far, people across the city of Surrey – from stakeholders to big advocacy organizations like the Surrey Board of Trade – have disregarded these facts and stats. It really dismays me to see that over $5 million that was put into the Surrey Rapid Transit Study – which was made specifically to compare the rapid transit options from a technical perspective – is largely going to waste.

One of the most alarming things about the proposal for me is that one of the proposed corridors (104 Ave to Guildford Town Centre) will actually see transit worsen with Light Rail, especially during its construction. It’s been a concern not just as a long-time resident of the Guildford area (and a rider on 104th Ave transit routes), but as a generally astute Surrey issues follower for the sake of citizens in all areas, and our region.

With over 5 years of advocacy of Light Rail Transit from numerous city organizations and politicians, stakeholders like me now face a situation where city organizations that control our future unanimously support Light Rail and unanimously disregard its serious downsides. Light Rail for Surrey was recently approved in the Mayors’ Council’s regional transit vision, which is why I believe the time for action is more urgent ever. It’s a perfect time, actually, with the next municipal elections only months away and the attractive lure of political discussion in this city being just around the corner. I think there’s a real potential to turn this around, and I think it has to be done more than ever.

So today I present you with a new Surrey Rapid Transit Vision: a vision that promises more practicality at a lower cost, and with more than twice the transit improvement benefits for our citizens. And, I plead that you don’t ignore this.

It’s the convergence of my best research, put together in a way that residents, current politicians and candidates for the upcoming Surrey municipal elections will be able to understand. In the following months you will be seeing me circulating this presentation to associations in the city and working hard to make this issue clear in advance of the next municipal elections. You’ll see me contacting potential Mayor and Council candidates,  current politicians, the media and stakeholders about this issue. You’ll see me working at this because I believe this is a big issue and people NEED to hear about it, right now.

Without further ado:

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: A Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

(Recommended: Tap the icon on the bottom right to view in full screen!)

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

SkyTrain critics deny benefits of driverless rail

SkyTrain critics deny benefits of driverless rail

Transit gurus in the region constantly criticize SkyTrain and it doesn’t make sense.


I think I’ve pretty much seen it all: unfound claims on SkyTrain’s financial burden, claims that entire tram networks could be built at the same cost as a SkyTrain extension (ignoring the impracticalities of trying to conduct such a massive replacement of buses without ever improving transit speed), and other alternate light-rail transit (LRT) proposals that just don’t make any practical sense.

SkyTrain is constantly being challenged, and this contention has had a phenomenal effect in getting people involved with transit planning matters. Some of the biggest names we know in Metro Vancouver transit issues discussions – the ones you might hear about in newspapers; examples include: Paul Hillsdon, Nathan Pachal, Jordan Bateman, John Buker – are or at one point have been motivated by a criticism of SkyTrain rapid transit.

If there were no one to respond to these criticisms and unearth the problems with such a viewpoint – as I am doing so now – the quality of transit planning in Metro Vanouver would deteriorate to the point where perhaps no disagreement would be had on transit projects; and consequently, little progress would be made in changing communities and peoples’ lives for the better.

Denying the Benefits

SkyTrain critics deny SkyTrain’s potential as a high-quality rapid transit system. They don’t even want to see it acknowledged that SkyTrain generates billions of dollars in transportation, developmental and economic benefits. They clutter our blog-feeds, newsletter sections and comments with endlessly varied suggestions to perpetuate the belief that SkyTrain simply isn’t the best option for investment.

They’re often proponents of Light Rail Transit (LRT), an alternative option that could allow rail transit to be built in a somewhat more flexible manner (including at-grade and on-street), who are quick to bring forward the positives of community-building, lower capital cost and less obtrusive (at-grade) infrastructure as upsides when compared to SkyTrain.

Can LRT be an appropriate solution in the transit planning sense? Absolutely. That should be quite obvious: there’s a reason why light rail investments are so popular around the world, with hundreds of proposals to reference at any time. However, the versatility of LRT should not be resulting in the dismissal of SkyTrain as another great – and often better – solution to addressing transportation problems, especially here in Metro Vancouver.

And yet, the critics are relentless in their criticisms. . Worse – they’re ridiculing and, apparently, finding reasons to shame our system and the way we’ve built it. These are the worst kind – the kind that try to deny altogether that building SkyTrain has provided Metro Vancouver with any benefits – and the ones who should arguably be disallowed from participating in public policy debacles, because they seem to have no understanding of what has been happening here in Vancouver for the past 30 years.

Metrotown has been phenomenally influenced by the introduction of SkyTrain. In the past 9 months I have spent living in Burnaby, I have witnessed the growth of at least 6 new high-rises.
Metrotown has been phenomenally influenced positively by the introduction of SkyTrain. During the year I spent living in the Burnaby area, I witnessed the growth of at least 6 new high-rises. You can see many of them in this photo.

Sample contentions by SkyTrain critics that are incorrect

1. SkyTrain hasn’t gotten people out of their cars.

TransLink’s trip diary data is a difficulty: there is little bearing that can be had about the accuracy of the measurements (this is a sample size) and the types of commutes that were recorded (i.e. are they commutes to work, shopping, and at what time of day/day), but nevertheless, it is a valid source. It’s used by TransLink and Metro Vancouver in regional planning matters,  and is and often utilized by SkyTrain critics. As SkyTrain critics have been quick to point out, the 2011 value is only 3% higher than the valule recorded in 1994 – the year SkyTrain was expanded across the Fraser River and into Surrey. It’s tempting, when you look at this, to think that SkyTrain has failed us in serving its original purpose.

The problem with these numbers is that they really don’t tell the whole story.

The trip diary draws data from 22,000 households in the region, and is meant to take a “snapshot” of a day in Metro Vancouver transportation. It is a partial survey – it’s not the same as the much more accurate ‘journey-to-work mode-share’ numbers collected by Stats Canada from every household, which show that transit mode share in Metro Vancouver is a bit higher than that collected in the Trip Diary and – together with walking and cycling – has grown significantly since 1996.

Closer studies have suggested that the biggest impact in transit modal shift is coming from SkyTrain and SkyTrain expansion. The City of Vancouver has also collected more specific numbers [Vancouver Transportation Plan Update – CLICK HERE] that not only show a big increase in transit ridership from outside of the city (i.e. connected by SkyTrain) – but also that the amount of motor vehicle trips actually declined for the past decade, despite population growth.

An even closer 2009 study [Niko Juevic SFU study – LINK HERE] that more closely looked at households within both 400m and 1500m radii of Expo and Millennium SkyTrain stations showed even more significant changes – outpacing transit modal shift across the region. The opening of the Millennium Line SkyTrain had a phenomenal effect on the surrounding area: within a 1500m radius of each station, transit mode-share had nearly doubled 4 years after the line opened – growing at more than 4x the regional average rate.

I compiled a summary of these numbers in the graphic below:

Modal shift in Vancouver - data compiled from Statistics Canada, Metro Vancouver and 2009 study by Niko Juevic

2. 80% of SkyTrain riders are recycled bus riders

South Surrey Park and Ride's Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr
351 buses at Bridgeport Station wait to depart for South Surrey Park & Ride. Photo credit: Flickr – Stephen Rees

While I’ve never really been able to track a definitive source for this statistic (I have seriously only ever heard it from one SkyTrain critic group), I see it repeated in discussion circles and used as justification that SkyTrain is weak at attracting ridership. SkyTrain critics have repeated this number to contend that the majority of riders on the SkyTrain were already taking transit before the line was built, claiming that this is “double the industry standard” – and were extremely vocal in certain situations where SkyTrain expansion replaced one or mutliple bus routes, especially in the case of the Canada Line (which replaced express segments for multiple south-of-Fraser bus routes heading into Vancouver).

Firsty, I have never understood why such a vague 80% number is being portrayed as a weakness. In the City of Calgary, a single centralized high-density core and the most expensive downtown parking in North America combine with free park-and-ride facilities along Light Rail Transit lines to give the Calgary C-Train the majority of its nearly 300,000 daily boardings. The Calgary C-Train is a versatile system and many of its riders have chosen to use transit, but not for their entire commute – the first segment of their trips is more often being done by car than by bus, walk or bike.

If the majority of SkyTrain riders are taking other transit to get there first, then that is at least as much a strength as much as it is a weakness (and, very likely, very much more a strength) – because this kind of transit commute coherency is simply not being replicated by other rail transit systems.

The versatile Calgary C-Train services nearly 300,000 boardings every day - but outside of the city core, Park'n'Rides such as this one contribute the majority of C-Train ridership. Image source: Calgary Transit website
The versatile Calgary C-Train services nearly 300,000 boardings every day – but outside of the city core, Park’n’Rides such as this one contribute the majority of C-Train ridership. Image source: Calgary Transit website

Secondly, this claim – at least in the case of the Canada Line – certainly doesn’t hold up to collected ridership numbers.

Passenger measurements by Canada Line operator ProTransBC collected by the Richmond Review were showing that Canada Line ridership in its first few weeks averaged 77,000 – meaning over 55% of today’s ridership numbers were already on board the Canada Line before September 7th, 2009 – when the 98 B-Line and 490-series express routes were terminated, and the many South-of-Fraser express buses (351, 601, etc) were terminated at Bridgeport rather than continuing to downtown Vancouver.

These bus routes make up only a small percent of the Canada Line’s total ridership – the vast majority were choosing to ride the Canada Line before any of these buses were transferred to terminate at Bridgeport or eliminated. A rider survey conducted in 2011 indicated that 40% of those surveyed were new to the system – that being, they previously drove and did not take transit at all for that commute – and that riders’ biggest vaues for the system were speed, frequency and reliabillity.

With the cancellation of the 98 B-Line and associated peak-hour express routes, it’s true that a number of the Canada Line’s passengers were riders of the previous bus-only system; however, this is something that needs to be expected from all rapid transit projects regardless of technology and alignment. Each and every SkyTrain line, C-Train Line, Portland MAX line, etc. replaced a previous bus service and took in riders from that bus service.

Claims like this also downpay the benefits being provided to any previous bus riders, whose faster commutes are fostering increased productivity, lower stress levels and better comfort. For most of the first month of operation, the 98 B-Line continued its operations alongside the new Canada Line until its termination on September 7th. Riders had the option of continuing to ride the 98 or take the new SkyTrain – and as evidenced by ridership numbers that averaged more than double what the 98 B-Line carried before the new SkyTrain opened, the majority of 98 riders were opting for the faster ride.

The proof is in the ridership

A Canada Line train pulls into Marine Dr Station - photo by Larry Chen, license obtained
A Canada Line train pulls into Marine Dr Station – photo by Larry Chen, license obtained

See also: Surrey’s Next Mayor should Push for SkyTrain – Surrey Leader letter

The Canada Line, which was introduced just 4 years ago, is already a Vancouver icon; a part of this city’s fabric of life. It’s hard to believe that less than 5 years ago, the link between downtown Vancouver and Richmond was a miserable bus trip that took as long as the SkyTrain’s Expo Line took to travel nearly twice the distance to Surrey. As a daily rider of the Canada Line to reach Kwantlen University in Richmond (and again later in the day to go from there to work downtown), the Canada Line’s benefits are evident to me in person. I don’t have to worry about potential traffic issues heading into Vancouver that can make buses (or even light rail trains) late – and neither do the 121,999 others who ride with me each and every day.

Riders, stakeholders and decision makers have been clamouring to build something similar and soon under Broadway between UBC and Commercial-Broadway Station. Support has been near unanimous, because previous experience with SkyTrain has shown us that we can be confident about the expanding the system.

Local mayors who were concerned that the expense of SkyTrain would make TransLink’s assets like electric trolleys “crash” were proved wrong when the Canada Line exceeded ridership expectations well ahead of time.

In walks of transit planning and provision, I have always thought that SkyTrain isn’t getting enough credit for what it does. SkyTrain has been part of why Metro Vancouver has lead North American cities in transit ridership. We rank third in transit trips per person per year, behind only New York and Toronto.  We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C. – cities with full-size metro systems – and far ahead of cities with only LRT systems. This has grown from 4th in 2006.

We are achieving great things because we approved the construction and expansion of the SkyTrain system. Which is why making sure SkyTrain critics who mess up the facts do not get a grip on transit-planning decision makers is my top priority for this year.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

No credit for TransLink – 4: Rising efficiency

No credit for TransLink – 4: Rising efficiency

No Credit for TransLink - A blog series on darylvsworld.wordpress.com. Original photo: CC BY-SA Lisa Parker, flickr

TransLink has released the 2013 year-end financial & performance report, and the numbers in terms of TransLink’s financial situation are looking pretty tasty.

In spite of wide, dubious claims of “taxpayer waste” and awards that were given based on such claims, TransLink managed a surplus last year of almost $50 million, helping restore a reserve fund that has been largely dipped into in the past few years in order to maintain service levels. Revenues increased by 1.6% while expenses were reduced by 1.7%. This happened despite some major introductions in 2013 such as the 96 B-Line rapid bus in Surrey.

Here’s one extremely interesting line in the new report:

Operating cost per service hour in 2013 at $143.55 is 6.3 per cent lower than budget.

I reported last year that TransLink’s operating cost efficiency already surpasses Montreal’s and Toronto’s transit systems. It looks like this is getting better.

There was one more interesting line for me, in 24 Hour newspaper’s report on the matter:

In terms of service cuts, Expo and Millennium SkyTrains did have weekend mid-day frequencies reduced by one minute, but that won’t continue, she added.

In 2013, weekend SkyTrain service frequencies shifted from 6 minutes on individual lines and 3 on combined portions (Columbia-Waterfront, Bridgeport-Waterfront) to 7/3.5 minutes. This is something I campaigned against in 2012 (resulting in a presentation to the Regional Mayor’s Council) contending that savings could be offset by decreased revenue as ridership drops with rider discomfort.

And, indeed, riders weren’t enjoying the reduced service. There was little impact to be had on Sunday…. but on Saturday, it was easy to find yourself passed up if a smaller 4-car Mark I train pulled into the station. Strollers and cyclists faced limitations in boarding trains, and it really did “feel like rush hour all day”. I ended up sending numerous complaint forms myself over Saturday SkyTrain overcrowding, probably among many as complaints per 1 million riders went up this year. Thankfully, due to other efficiencies that have been found in the system, this is going to be over soon. Hooray!

An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the "efficiency" recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.
An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the “efficiency” recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.

The amount of boarded passengers across the regional transit system dropped 2.2% this year. I could contend that reducing SkyTrain weekend frequencies might have had to do with this, but it’s important to remember that there were two fewer business days than 2012 (2012 was a leap year, and Family Day was introduced in 2013). Farebox revenues nevertheless increased, and at 7.3% this appears to be in line with the average fare increase rate (cash fares rose in January for the first time in 5 years); much of this increase was in shifts to prepaid fares (less cash fare payments! yay!), indicating that riders are choosing to commit to more regular transit use.

See also: No Credit for TransLink – 2: Where are the good stats?

Here’s to hoping more media agencies take notice and give TransLink deserved credit for following up with audit demands.

Cost-cutting measures such as optimization of bus routes and new software upgrades for SkyTrain have helped put TransLink in the black, according to its annual report.

TransLink chief financial officer Cathy McLay told 24 hours on Wednesday the transit provider had a surplus of $47.9 million at the end of 2013, an amount that’s been added to its “safety net” totaling $342.7 million.

“We’re particularly proud this year,” she said.

 [READ MORE – 24 Hours Vancouver]

Big savings in 2013

  • Service optimization: $1.5 million
  • Not ordering 66 buses and associated parts: $2 million
  • New park and ride revenue: $100,000
  • Reducing weekend SkyTrain service: $390,000
  • Using community shuttles on low-frequency routes: $411,000

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

No credit for TransLink – 2: Where are the good stats?

No credit for TransLink – 2: Where are the good stats?
No Credit for TransLink - A blog series on darylvsworld.wordpress.com. Original photo: CC BY-SA Lisa Parker, flickr
Aaron Meier (@aaron_meier) – Feb 14

Friend told me that@Translink is more expensive than other cities. Time to remind people of the graphic by @daka_xhttp://goo.gl/NbHnB5

Aaron Meier on Twitter sent out this tweet a couple days ago, referring to a write-up I did last year on TransLink’s transit costs (see: Transit is More Affordable in Vancouver (Infographic)), which looked at what were the fares across the transit systems covering 3 major Canadian cities. Overwhelmingly, I found that TransLink gave you a better deal and could get you further for less, when the zone system and fare payment variables are fully taken into account.

To this day, that article has been one of the most popular on my blog – overshadowed only by write-ups containing even more compelling stats reveals having to do with TransLink that I published last fall (see: Was TransLink Audited Correctly?).

From Infographic: Transit is more affordable in Vancouver
A snippet from Infographic: Transit is more affordable in Vancouver. More infographs and info at [CLICK HERE]
Positive stats like these could be making all the difference in how we perceive our transit system and our transit authority (TransLink), but they aren’t going around in the discussion circles. Instead, our perceptions about TransLink have been more often defined by convoluted stats that those who hold an anti-Translink agenda might twist to suit their wishes.

When I published my first and very popular “No Credit for TransLink” write-up, another regional issues blog – Price Tags, the blogging outlet of the very vocal SFU City program instructor, Gordon Price – was helping me build momentum on the issue at about the same time, having published The TransLink Hate-On: No Credit a few days after my feature focusing on the media’s TransLink treatment. A number of other articles focusing on where TransLink can be positively credited followed up on Price Tags, so I’ve been paying close attention to the site for the last few weeks.

Today, my attention was directed to a new post that came out just today featuring some very important statistical information from Peter Ladner (twitter: @pladner), a person I remember to have written a very good letter denouncing the province’s TransLink referendum proposal (which I was opposed to as well) last fall.

I highly suggest that the rest of you read up on this and enlighten yourselves. I think this is really important information worthy of sharing on at least a few other blogs out there. See below…

Ladner Letter – 1: Is TransLink a success?

February 15, 2014 on Price Tags

I don’t want this to get missed.  Peter Ladner’s comment in the post below:

My letter to the Sun in response:

TransLink’s biggest failure is in selling its remarkable success. It astounds me that your recent article on TransLink, loaded as it was with financial facts and figures, missed the most important question: after all these funding and governance issues, has TransLink been a success?

Since 2006, the shift of trips to transit in Metro Vancouver is unmatched in North America. s number of transit trips per person per year.

We have more than three times as many transit trips per capita as Portland, which is the #2 city in the 2.0-2.6-million population peer group in North America.

Among all cities in North America, Metro Vancouver is third, behind only New York and Toronto with their heavy rail subways, for transit trips per person per year. We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington D.C….

[CONTINUED – READ MORE on Price Tags]

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

No credit for TransLink – 1: The Media

No credit for TransLink – 1: The Media

No Credit for TransLink - A blog series on darylvsworld.wordpress.com. Original photo: CC BY-SA Lisa Parker, flickr

So, TransLink.

Everyone hates the name, whips them around, and places insubordinate amounts of blame on them for rather small-scale issues; the PR team gets put through no-win scenario after no-win scenario, and the many of us on the sidelines paying attention to the region’s transit issues are starting to become worried, given this public perception may be key in the face of an already-gloomy looking outcome for a transit expansion referendum later this year. In short, TransLink has become a tarnished brand.

It has seemed for a long time that there are few people, if any, out there who are able to see the good that TransLink does or has in place for us (one example: we in fact collectively pay less up-front at the farebox than other large cities in Canada for our transit); and, many times I’ve pointed out many times how twisting of important data creates that inability. However, there are some instances I have noticed, which are not ensured by any sort of twisted data, that just befuddle me and make me wonder what in the blazes is going on.

An example in particular that’s on my mind right now? The Georgia Straight report by Stephen Hui on the recently announced 2014 TransLink service optimization [CLICK HERE].

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:

Additional Changes

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.

Service Improvements:

  • 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?

A stopped TransLink articulated low-floor electric trolley. Photo credit: CC BY-SA Flickr: Atomic Taco
Photo credit: CC BY-SA Flickr: Atomic Taco

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Toronto rapid transit review recommends SkyTrain expansion over LRT

Toronto rapid transit review recommends SkyTrain expansion over LRT
Scarborough RT
A Scarborough RT train in Toronto boards passengers. The Scarborough RT uses the same propulsion technology as Vancouver’s SkyTrain system, using a fleet of Mark I cars.

Looks like my calls are being echoed in the City of Toronto. Someone out there is seriously listening to me, for I had previously proposed the very idea this think tank is proposing through Better Surrey Rapid Transit (SkyTrain for Surrey), in an attempt to communicate to people that SkyTrain expansion can make sense.

I have been pushing for quite some years now for a SkyTrain expansion in my home city (Surrey) over the current Light Rail expansion plan on account of SkyTrain making a lot more sense (most of you reading probably know this of me). As part of that, I went ahead and applied some of my thinking onto Toronto’s transit proposals in a special article I wrote regarding the under-construction Eglinton Crosstown Line. I published that write-up more than 1.5 years ago, in March 2012.

The use of [SkyTrain technology] would provide the same cost savings that moving a portion of the LRT at-grade would and more, despite a need for complete grade separation.  It would provide faster, more reliable service and be more flexible in capacity expansion, and also remove the travel time penalty associated with at-grade LRT.
[READ MORE – “The Compromise is SkyTrain – Toronto should be pursuing this technology and not LRT on Eglinton” on SkyTrain for Surrey]

I supposed that using linear motor-propulsion “ALRT” (also known by some critics here as “SkyTrain technology”) would cut down on the Eglinton Crosstown Line’s tunnel size and tunneling costs (the LRT is being built with a 6.5m diameter tunnel, whereas SkyTrain technology requires just a 5.3m diameter tunnel), saving billions and billions of dollars, and opening up the room for grade-separating the rest of the line and providing better service throughout, increasing ridership numbers and improving the business case. The Crosstown Line is currently being built for at-grade LRT technology, assuming that further expansions would be at-grade.

A map of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in contrast to Toronto's current rapid transit system
A map of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in contrast to Toronto’s current rapid transit system

The Neptis Foundation yesterday submitted a very bold critique of the Metrolinx “Big Move” plan that seems to agree with a lot of my previous propositions. The 144-page study recommends a different Toronto rapid transit plan than the one being recommended by Metrolinx. It thinks in the same way I have thought, in that leveraging the Scarborough RT’s ALRT/SkyTrain technology and extending it would make more financial and practical sense than the current proposal to build LRT.

Business case of LRT proposals vs. study's SkyTrain proposal [CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Neither Metrolinx nor TTC seems to have given serious consideration to development of Scarborough and Eglinton Crosstown lines using ALRT or similar “light metro” technology. This technology has been applied very successfully in more than 20 cities around the world. 89 Some architects and urban designers prefer surface LRT, because it is less visually intrusive, and can run in mixed traffic and pedestrian environments, albeit at much lower speeds. But faster services on exclusive rights-of-way are far more effective, and efficient, at getting motorists to switch to transit.
The Toronto LRT schemes could be greatly improved by building them with fully exclusive rights of way, perhaps automated ALRT or similar technology. Ridership would be much higher, as would the benefits to the region. And the costs could actually be less.
[READ THE FULL REPORT – CLICK HERE]

The author, a UK-based railway consultant, is calling for the full package: a switch of the Eglinton LRT line to a SkyTrain-technology ALRT line with driverless train automation, grade-separation of the full line (including Phase II) to offer faster journeys, and shorter station platforms (appropriate given higher train frequency). He cites that such a setup would generate more than twice the benefits and cost half as much per new daily transit rider. This is based largely on the basis that as a faster SkyTrain-type line it could provide better service and attract more ridership, which is very sound. It isn’t rocket science: when compared against light rail transit systems throughout North America, our 68km SkyTrain system here in Metro Vancouver is outperforming all of them in ridership numbers. There is value in better rapid transit service.

Here is one excellent question I would like to highlight: the study questions a proposal to refurbish the existing Scarborough RT line (a 1980s-era SkyTrain technology line traversing eastern Toronto), noting that the costs to refurbish the RT line to use LRT technology are higher per kilometre than the from-scratch SkyTrain construction costs for the Evergreen Line in Vancouver:

At $1.8 billion for 10 km, the Scarborough LRT line would be considerably more expensive than the Sheppard Line, 68 or about $180 million per km. About half the cost is for conversion of the existing 6.5-km RT to accommodate low-floor LRT cars, with overhead power collection. This involves substantial reconstruction of six intermediate stations, and complete reconstruction of Kennedy Station to provide a larger underground loop, and track connection with the Eglinton LRT so TTC can exchange cars for maintenance purposes (but not for through-running with passengers). The balance is for construction of 4 km of new line, mostly elevated, from McCowan to Sheppard Avenue.
Note that at $180 million per km, the cost per km for the Scarborough RT is about 30% higher than the cost of the Evergreen Line, a fully grade-separated ALRT line in Vancouver, even though the Scarborough line uses mostly existing infrastructure, and otherwise operates through a broadly similar corridor.
Concept: Douglas-Lafarge Lake SkyTrain Station on the Evergreen Line SkyTrain
Concept: Douglas-Lafarge Lake Station on the Evergreen Line SkyTrain

The study recommends building on SkyTrain technology on account of finding that the LRT proposals in Transit City and following plans had low (or negative) benefit:cost ratios, in exactly the same manner as I am recommending SkyTrain technology in Surrey based on a negative benefit:cost ratio for LRT – and does a great job at making a case for it, addressing issues raised with capacity and size of rolling stock, among other things.

The author officially proposes the “Scarborough Wye” concept, for 3 rapid transit lines using SkyTrain technology: the existing Scarborough RT with renewed infrastructure, its extension to Malvern Centre, and a new line from Scarborough Centre to North York via an elevated right-of-way in the centre of the 401 Freeway and down the existing Sheppard Subway tunnels. He makes the case that the whole concept could be built for an outstandingly low cost per new transit rider and a high benefit-cost ratio – better than any of the LRT proposals that have gone through thus far.

Scarborough Wye proposal from Toronto transit plan critique; CLICK TO ENLARGE
Scarborough Wye proposal from Toronto transit plan critique; CLICK TO ENLARGE

We can only wonder if the common sense overflowing from this study could possibly prevail in the upcoming decisions at TTC and Metrolinx, and I hope something moves forward because it does look like SkyTrain technology is the solution for providing a lot of high quality transit. I think it would send a good message across Canada and to Metro Vancouver’s decision-makers and planning authorities as well.

More on Michael Schabas, the study author

Michael Schabas is a UK-based railway consultant who has been involved in launching several new railway projects and businesses.

With a background in urban rail projects in the Canada and the United States, he came to London in 1988 as Vice President for Transport for Olympia & York (O&Y), who were developing the Canary Wharf project in London Docklands. He led O&Y’s involvement in planning and promotion of the Jubilee Line Extension, and also instigated the re-signalling and re-engineering of the Docklands Light Railway.

Between 1981-1986, he worked for the UTDC (Urban Transportation Development Corporation) and was involved in the early development of the automated rapid transit technology used in Vancouver’s SkyTrain system.

Source: Wikipedia; Also see: his website

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

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:

IMG_20130923_173751_016

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

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

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]

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: TransLink didn't propose .5% sales tax

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: TransLink didn't propose .5% sales tax

I almost let this one slip under my nose! It looks like the Langley Times published one of my letter submissions from last month.

One of the things I noticed in the letter I responded to is how misinformed some TransLink critics can be on who did what. I could explain more, but the best explanation would probably be to read my letter:

Editor: I think that Gordon Price is right — whoever set this widespread anti-TransLink agenda has really damaged the state of transit debate in this region.

Particularly, the recent letter in The Times (“TransLink is never satisfied,” Sept. 12) is like many I’ve read before, in that it’s painting a completely incorrect picture of TransLink. If you’ve heard about the .5 per cent sales tax proposal recently, it was brought up by two well-known South of Fraser transit advocates — not by TransLink. TransLink’s board has never requested a sales tax of such calibre for transit.

The .5 per cent sales tax proposal was first brought up earlier this year by a group of people we have previously elected to lead us: our mayors. The Regional Mayors’ Council has been very vocal in trying to ensure that transit investment in this region can move forward.

Why is that? Because they know that investing in transit is the most efficient way of providing needed new transportation options for a growing population….

[READ MORE – Langley Times]

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.