Transport Action BC

2016, April 18

Robson Street to be Closed to Transit

The following was submitted by Transport Action BC to the Vancouver Sun as an op-ed piece. It was written in response to the City of Vancouver staff report recommending that the 800 block (Robson Square) of Robson Street be permanently closed to all vehicles, including transit. This proposal requires a permanent re-route of the 5-Robson bus along Burrard and Pender Streets.

The Sun declined to print the submission.


Making Robson Square in Vancouver more welcoming to people is a great idea, if it is inclusive, accessible, and is not built at the expense of accessibility to other destinations.

However, if Vancouver wants more than a pedestrian island between two thoroughfares, it should start from a pedestrianisation strategy, making sure that pedestrianisation is not done at the expense of accessibility but enhances it and supports the city’s retail sector. Walking and cycling support many travel purposes but they have limitations in range and the ability to meet certain needs. Weather conditions, cumbersome shopping bags, travelling with children, personal mobility challenges or simply being tired are all issues that factor into a decision on how to travel: a good city transit network is needed to complement other active transportation modes, and to make sure access to the city core does not discriminate against people based on their ability to walk or cycle.

Many European cities recognize that vibrant pedestrian spaces must be accessible and inclusive for people of all abilities. Furthermore, with an ultimate goal to reduce auto usage in their centres, their pedestrian spaces are not built at the expense of transit. Rather, transit is seen as the connecting spine of pedestrian spaces. That is why European cities have mastered the art of seamless and safe integration of transit into their pedestrian realms. This is a recipe also successfully applied in Denver’s 16th Sreet Mall.

The importance of transit to the success of pedestrian places was recognized by Arthur Erickson in 1974, when he was envisioning Robson Square: “The only traffic through the Square will be inner city buses, linking the West End and False Creek. Since buses function as people movers, they are seen as a compliment or enhancement to the pedestrian activity of the civic square…”.

The foundation principles for a good transit network, upon which a good pedestrianisation policy can be built, are well-known, and were recognized in the 1975 Vancouver downtown bus review . The most important is to have direct routes going straight to the center of gravity of an area to minimize walking. That is how the downtown bus grid network was built, why retail strips gather along it, and why the current Robson bus route is well patronized with over 3,000,000 passengers per year. A detour to avoid Robson Square may mean little for a motorist but for a transit customer, it means a less legible route with compromised connections to the rest of the network. It forces transit users on a circuitous routing, eliminates the quickest and most direct connections to the rapid transit system, penalises riders who wish to transfer to southbound buses on Granville, and inserts a gap in the transit grid on one of downtown’s few major east/west transit routes. Ultimately it results in a less accessible Robson retail strip, as well as a less inclusive Robson Square for the most vulnerable people.

Closing Robson Square to transit fails on all counts of accessibility and inclusiveness. Additionally TransLink estimates that the bus detour could add $300,000.00 to the route’s annual operating cost. Will the City cover those additional costs?

Robson Square has been a popular downtown meeting spot but the Canada Line opening and recent proposals for the VAG North Plaza indicate that a square facing Georgia Street could be the new ‘natural’ meeting place downtown since it closer to rapid transit and regional bus services than Robson Square.

Prudence dictates that a decision to close the 800 block of Robson should be delayed until the VAG North Plaza changes are completed and their impact evaluated. A successful public space rehabilitation of the North Plaza could render the Robson closure anachronistic, and even be detrimental to the North plaza success, without granting success to the Robson Square, since the level of pedestrian activity may not be great enough to activate both squares.

Rather than a case by case street closure policy built at the expense of transit and inclusion of people of all abilities, a better approach is to learn from the successes in Europe and North America, to develop an effective and ambitious pedestrian oriented space strategy; which doesn’t necessarily mean full closure of streets; but which is articulated around an efficient transit network, to effectively reduce the presence of cars in downtown without compromising its accessibility and inclusiveness.


2014, December 17

SkyTrain Expo Line Station Upgrade Project – 1

Filed under: Buses, city transit, Pedestrian, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 10:05 pm

TransLink is upgrading several Expo Line SkyTrain stations. The upgrades are needed due to the age (some are almost 30 years old) of the stations and to improve passenger flow, accessibility, capacity and security. This is a large, multi-year project. Details are found here. The second phase of public consultation for Joyce-Collingwood and Metrotown Stations was recently completed. Transport Action BC is supportive of this project but has some concerns based on information provided during the latest round of public consultations.

TransLink (TL) responded to the concerns on January 15, 2015.

Joyce-Collingwood Station : The Joyce-Collingwood Station east station house exits are underused while the bus loop (west station house) generates significant congestion at its exits. Also, note that Route 43 generates pedestrian congestion between Bus Bay 5 (Joyce St., south of Vanness Ave.) and the station. The long-term vision addresses these issues but the current project phasing does not as it only proposes to upgrade the east station house. The re-location of the Joyce-Collingwood Station bus loop should be concurrent with the east station house upgrade to improve the transit customer experience.

TL – The East Station House is being upgraded first as a result of the Upgrade project’s key goal of doubling the Expo Line’s capacity. The project’s funding agreement with senior governments is conditional on addressing this goal.

At the December 1, 2014 open house, it was mentioned that the bus loop re-location required more funding to acquire the necessary land. The City of Vancouver owns this land so an agreement allowing TransLink to use it, without purchasing it, should not be impossible to negotiate. A funding shortfall could be addressed by re-scheduling the installation of the bike storage room.

TL – The land parcel in question is not owned by the City of Vancouver. The purchase cost exceeds the current project’s budget. The land will be acquired when funds become available and a purchase agreement is negotiated.

Issues with the long-term vision include: • There will be several intersections (streets, laneways and bus loop entrances) in this short section of Joyce St. These may negatively impact pedestrian, transit and traffic operations around the station. TransLink and the City of Vancouver should work together and consider merging laneways and bus loop access/egress to mitigate excessive mode conflicts. This will especially be true at the northeast access from Joyce St. as redevelopment of 5050 Joyce St. is proposed.

TL – TransLink and the City of Vancouver are working to improve station area safety. Laneway access issues are within the scope of this effort.

• The bike storage area could be better located next to the east station house rather than in the middle of re-located bus loop which is seen to be very busy.

TL – The proposed bike storage area is within the East Station House as this is the closest station location to the densest part of the neighbourhood. Minimising conflicts between cyclists and other station users is being addressed by TransLink and the City of Vancouver.

• Similarly, the taxi stand could be located nearer the east station house to improve accessibility and visibility from station exits and Joyce Street.

TL – The taxi stand will be located as close to the East Station House as safely possible. Bus stops will be located immediately next to the station house, allowing safe and convenient transfers.

Metrotown Station: The proposed design re-locates the “major bus routes” to the south side of Central Boulevard. Thus, buses will be facing southeast as they load but their destination is west (Routes 49, 430) and north Willingdon (Routes 129, 130). This is a concern because it implies routing these vehicles along Central Boulevard, Imperial Street and Willingdon to route. This will increase passenger travel time by several minutes for those heading west and north. It will also increase operating costs of these routes.

TL – TransLink acknowledges that travel time for routes 49, 129, 130 and 430 will increase by several minutes under the proposed service design using South Central Boulevard. However, these are the busiest routes serving Metrotown. The design allows direct drop-off and pick-up at the station, improving connectivity between SkyTrain and surface routes. The City of Burnaby was involved in the development of this service design, ensuring “neighbourhood integration plans” were considered. [Rick: the decision to increase travel time on Route 49 is somewhat ironic. TransLink’s service optimisation identified the Champlain Heights jog on this route as a candidate for elimination – to reduce customer travel time]

We suggest that Bus Bay assignments be reviewed to reduce passenger travel time and operating costs. For example: • Routes 49, 129, 130 and 430 drop-off on South Central Boulevard and pick-up in the existing bus loop. • Routes arriving from east Central Boulevard drop-off on North Central Boulevard and pick-up on South Central Boulevard, east of the existing bus loop. • Local Routes C6, C7 and 116, serving South Burnaby drop-off and pick-up on North Beresford Street. We also suggest that the design of the station houses be refined to maximize the waiting area for bus patrons along South Central Boulevard and reduce the walking distance between the SkyTrain platform and bus bays. A direct pedestrian access to the bus loop island from the passerelle should be considered as well. These concerns have been given to TransLink. We will update as responses become available.

2013, January 14

Google Transit available in Kamloops

Filed under: Buses — Tags: , — Matthew @ 5:01 pm

You can now find information about BC Transit buses in Kamloops from your smartphone or computer.

Example of BC transit routing

Example of BC transit routing


2012, November 25

Transport Action BC opposed to closure of Robson Square to buses

Transport Action BC is concerned with the City’s decision to extend the Robson Street closure between Howe and Hornby Streets for an extended trial that is seems intended to become permanent. The closure has serious implications for transit users that must be considered.

The bus re-route around the closure is circuitous, particularly for those on Robson wishing to use the Canada Line or southbound buses on Granville Mall. TransLink schedules five to seven minutes travel time from Robson & Burrard to Pender & Granville. Transit users wishing to travel south then spend more time getting back to Robson Street. Thus, transit riders are penalised over ten minutes for every one-way trip compared to the direct route on Robson. Walking to Granville Street from Burrard & Robson is quicker for transit connections but this is unattractive for seniors or those with mobility aids, and even less attractive in the wetter, colder months. Additionally, the re-route forces an additional transfer on those who wish to board the Canada Line at City Centre Station.

The net effect of the closure from a transit customer’s perspective is highly unfavourable. Anyone with a choice between transit and driving will find driving relatively more direct and attractive while those without access to a car are taken needlessly out of their way and forced to make additional transfers.

Creating active, pedestrian plazas is laudable. However, it is ironic that in a city aiming to be “green”, the two streets chosen for long-term “activations” are major transit corridors. By routinely diverting transit from these streets the City is reducing the legibility, directness and overall attractiveness of transit. Meanwhile, no effort is spared in providing on-street parking on other streets where corner bulges and wider sidewalks could make permanent improvements in walking conditions throughout the city. Existing plazas, such as those at Robson Square, the Art Gallery and Main Library function far below their potential, presenting off-street opportunities for improving pedestrian amenities.

We suggest that the City take a more holistic view of its transportation priorities before making a final decision on permanently closing the 800 block of Robson to transit. Such considerations must also figure prominently in Viva Vancouver’s seasonal closures.

Buses will play a major role in Vancouver long into the future. It is time surface transit received more respect from City Hall.

Adapted from a letter Transport Action BC sent to Vancouver City Council
More on this topic on Price Tags blog. Circling the Square.

2011, November 12

LRT expansion in Surrey

Filed under: Buses, city transit, Rapid Transit, Streetcar-LRT, Studies — Tags: , — Matthew @ 11:49 am

South of Fraser Mayors want for Light Rail Transit in Surrey, and the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure is listening. LRT technology is a better fit for the lower density region consisting of Surrey and Langley many believe.

TransLink is doing a comprehensive study of transit options in Surrey called the Surrey Rapid Transit Study. Phase 1 has been completed and phase 2 is underway with public meetings scheduled for early 2012.

As reported in the last Western Newsletter of Transport Action, Surrey has put together a vision of LRT on its website.

Surrey’s video on YouTube:

CBC Story – Mayors push for new transit line for Surrey and Langley  (Mobile version)

Portland LRV

An example of a low floor light rail vehicle in Portland, OR

2011, June 19

Transit Rider “Pass-ups” in Vancouver

The Vancouver Sun analyzed transit passenger “pass-up” data provided by Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC - TransLink’s main bus service Operator). The newspaper found four routes where “pass-ups” occur much more frequently than all other routes – 22 Knight-MacDonald, north and south of the Burrard Bridge; 25 Brentwood Stn-UBC along much of the route; 49 Metrotown-UBC between Victoria Drive and Cambie Street ; and 99 Broadway Stn-UBC at several main intersections.

Several CMBC managers and the Canadian Auto Workers (Operators’ union) president provide insight into the “pass-up” problem and reasons why it is difficult to address.  A fixed service hours budget and limited depot space preclude simply adding more buses. Replacing 40’ buses with articulated ones requires changes to stop lengths and rebuilding loops with tight turning radii. Apparently, CMBC ‘encourages’ its Operators to maintain consistent vehicle spacing between buses but headway consistency is a route supervision (i.e. management) issue. Operators have enough to concern them without having to wonder how far their bus is from the one ahead.

The ultimate solution, according to TransLink, is the “Compass” smart card that will be implemented in 2013. This will allow TransLink to offer different fares at different times of the day. Higher fares in the peak periods could encourage some customers to shift their travel times, potentially providing some relief on overcrowded routes.

However, the article doesn’t question if CMBC is making the most efficient use of TransLink’s buses. Regular transit users know that Vancouver’s buses spend much time at terminals and certain intersections not moving.


There are valid reasons for idle time; it allows vehicles to get back on schedule and provides Operator breaks. But, given overcrowding problems, is so much slack time the most effective way to solve these issues? Are there other ways to keep buses on schedule and provide Operator breaks but keep buses moving and picking up customers? Experience elsewhere suggests there is.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), for example, allows Operators to arrive at terminals, a mere two minutes before their scheduled departure time. It still manages to run an effective service (one of the highest fare box recovery ratios in North America) and provide Operator breaks. It does this using on-street Route Supervisors and electronic vehicle tracking. Service adjustments are made ‘on the fly’ to meet customer demand and return vehicles to schedule. Operator breaks are provided as part of the Operator’s schedule and not the vehicle’s schedule, thereby keeping vehicles in service and picking up passengers. The TTC also implements schedule changes much more frequently than most transit systems (8-10 times / year vs. 4 times / year). This allows it to be much more responsive to changes in passenger loads by re-assigning service from lower performing routes (and route segments) to those with crowding issues.

Closer to home, a Seattle transit system audit estimated savings of up to $23,000,000 by tightening bus schedules. Vancouver may not be directly comparable to Seattle but this is an order of magnitude estimate of potential savings that could be used to revamp bus schedules to alleviate the “pass-up” problem.

There may be contractual, operational and political issues that prevent CMBC from overhauling its bus schedules and operational procedures but shouldn’t TransLink and CMBC assure taxpayers that they are using the current bus fleet most efficiently?

2011, May 16

Transit planning in BC

Filed under: Buses, city transit, Regional transit — Tags: , — Matthew @ 10:13 pm

BC Transit is embarking on a number of transit studies for communities outside of Vancouver, such as Victoria, Abbotsford and Fraser Valley communities, Kelowna, and Kamloops. Transit Future as BC Transit calls it, asks for public input for these different regions.

More specifically, on the Abbotsford & Mission service area of BC Transit, the City of Abbotsford, and the City of Mission have embarked on a 25 year transit strategy. This strategy is based on the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Fraser Valley Transit Study released in December 2010.

Many of the initiatives involved in this report such as creating a transit connection between Chilliwack and Abbotsford, the important link between Abbotsford into Langley is not being discussed at all. While presently you can take the 21 Aldergrove Connection and link to the 502 Aldergrove/Surrey Central Station service, it is ignoring a serious issue. People in Abbotsford cannot effectively access employment in Langley Township, Langley City, and Surrey unless they use a car.

Thanks to Ken Wuschke for developing this post. For more information see his Transportation Choices blog.

The relavent entries:

Transit and land use: North America’s fatal flaw

Gloucester Industrial Estates: A proposed bus route network

2011, March 31

Lots of TransLink News

Filed under: Buses, city transit, Rapid Transit — Matthew @ 10:45 pm

New Smart Card

There’s lots happening at TransLink these days. Today they announced the name of their new smart-card, to be called Compass.  The smart card will go into service in 2013, after construction at stations, system installation, a pilot project phase.

Compass card image

The look of the new smart card for TransLink.

The main benefits of the new smart card system, according to TransLink are:

  • reduce fare evasion because you won’t be allowed through the gate without the card. Will you be able to hop over the fare gates though?
  • fare gates are thought to be a visual and physical barrier to people trying to use the system without paying
  • the smart-card will allow TransLink to track the number of passengers using the system at any time, where and when allowing them to adjust service to meet the demand where and when it is needed.

To learn more about the smart cards see TransLink’s FAQ page.

The cost of system to set up is $171 million, $30 million from the BC government, and $40 million from the federal government.

UBC Rapid Transit Line

The public consultation goes into phase 2. Another round of open houses are being held for the Broadway-UBC rapid transit line. The list of possible designs show options for Bus Rapid Transit, two for Light Rail Transit, one for Rail Rapid Transit (SkyTrain), two combination options, and doing nothing (ie. the current system of buses with minor improvements.

Spring Service Changes

On April 18th , the spring service schedule goes into effect. Of particular note, is the reinstatement of trolley bus service on the Cambie St bridge. The 17 Oak bus, which was tied into the 17 UBC bus will be separated into its own service. The UBC bus becomes the 14 UBC / 14 Hastings. This should reduce confusion for people. Currently the 17 could be going to UBC or to Oak street while it is travelling south on Granville street. This PDF map shows the changes proposed for the 10, 14, and 17. Route 15 will no longer cross the Cambie bridge, but will be linked with the 50 False Creek South/Waterfront bus at Olympic Village station, see map here.

Not all the changes are positive thought, the 26 Joyce Stn/29th Ave Stn, 27 Joyce Stn/Kootenay Loop, and 29 Elliot/29th Ave. Stn, 110 Metrotown Stn/Lougheed Stn, will see their service drop from 30 min frequency to 60 min frequency after 10PM every day. The 101 Lougheed Stn/22nd St. Stn will be reduced to hourly after 8PM. There are many other examples of decreased frequency mainly on suburban routes in the evenings.

The rest of the changes are mainly seasonal in nature due to the end of the winter semester at most universities and colleges. These changes were driven by TransLink’s Service Optimization plan that aims to increase the productivity of the system by 2% by putting service where it is most needed and match service to the demand.  For a full list of April’s changes, go to TransLink’s service changes.

2011, February 5

Bridging the Gap between losing a commuter service and beginning Regional Transit

Filed under: Buses, Inter-city bus — Tags: , , , — Matthew @ 1:10 pm

The following is a guest post by Murray Gamble of Squamish.

There are two Commuter bus services in the Sea to Sky Corridor. BC Transit and PW Transportation, the third-party provider, are partners in both. There are different Municipal partners for the two services.

The Squamish Commuter, between Squamish and Whistler, is run by the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Squamish provides half of the local Municipal funding but, has no participation in the operation.

The Pemberton Commuter, between Pemberton and Whistler is operated by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, with funding from Pemberton and Mount Currie.

In 2010, near the end of its Operating Agreement, Whistler attempted to reduce its costs by raising fares 60%. In November, a monthly pass went from $145 to $232. Service was uncertain beyond December 31. Eventually, limited service was to be offered until March 31. Finally, regular service was extended to March 31.

Service beyond March 31 remains doubtful.

Parallel to this, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has been collecting information and reports toward the goal of discussing Regional Transit within the SLRD. There seems to be little doubt that there will be a period without inter-community transit between the cancellation of the Squamish Commuter and the implementation of any form of Regional Transit.

A group of Transit Advocates is proposing an interim service model.

Currently, it is possible to travel both ways between Pemberton and Squamish every morning. It involves two buses, run by different Municipalities, with different printed schedules and a change of buses in Whistler. Few people know about these trips which take 1 hour and 45 minutes. The same distance takes 1 hour and 30 minutes to drive.

The first suggestion is to combine these trips to provide through service and to make the information available in a combined schedule.

In the afternoon and evening the Squamish Commuter makes a scheduled trip from Squamish to Whistler, spends a few hours servicing routes within Whistler, then makes its scheduled return trip to Squamish.

Instead of serving as a Whistler bus between it’s Commuter trips, it could continue to Pemberton, providing through service between Squamish and Pemberton. It could leave Pemberton to coincide with it’s return trip from Whistler to Squamish.

By combining the morning trips and extending the afternoon and evening trips, morning, afternoon and evening service would be provided in both directions. The last trip to Pemberton would leave Whistler at about 10:45 pm, providing a much requested late trip between the two communities.

Squamish does not currently have evening Transit service through the week and has no service on Sundays or Holidays. If the Squamish Commuter started its evening service earlier and followed the Southbound drop-off route before beginning the Northbound pick-up route, a very basic evening service would be available in Squamish 7 days per week. This trip could be added to the Squamish Transit schedule.

Combining the morning trips and extending the afternoon and evening trips would provide 3 trips in each direction. Transit service would connect Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish. It would involve adding less than 5 service hours to the existing Squamish Commuter schedule.

It has also been suggested that service be extended to Black Tusk and Pinecrest Estates, between Whistler and Squamish. In 2010, Federal Gas Tax monies were used to build an area for buses to pull off Highway 99 and turn around. It has since been equipped with a shelter. The Commuter bus drives within sight of the bus shelter but, does not stop there.

Efforts to promote this plan include long letters to Elected Officials, edited versions in local newspapers, interviews on CBC Radio and a presentation to the Board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

For more information, to join the Cause or to make a comment, visit Pemberton Whistler Squamish Bus, on Facebook.

– Murray Gamble

2011, February 3

Sea to Sky Transit Threatened

Filed under: Buses, Inter-city bus — Tags: — Matthew @ 12:26 am

Sea to Sky Corridor

Murray Gamble, a Squamish resident has been mounting a campaign to save the bus that runs between Squamish and Whistler. The loss of Commuter transit between Squamish and Whistler, which will end as special funding drys up,  is happening at the same time that the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District is looking into Regional Transit.

It seems like these cities should work together to create a system that will link the region together. Finding a way to save these intra-regional trips that exist already would be a good first step.

For more info:

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