Transport Action BC

2012, February 16

TransLink’s 2013 Fare Increase

Filed under: Announcement, city transit, Ferries, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , — Rick @ 2:50 pm

Transport Action BC has responded to TransLink’s request for a major fare increase in 2013. The following issues were submitted to the TransLink Commissioner for his consideration as part of his review of TransLink’s request.

Our concerns are with the timing of the fare increase and about transit service and ancillary operations. We feel these issues should be addressed as part of the fare review process. We are not, a priori, against fare increases, as long as they are justifiable to maintain and improve service on a system that is already efficiently run.

  1. Timing:

The 2013 fare increase, if approved, would be implemented just prior to the Compass smart card fare system. Item 15 of the Fares Questions and Answers (Q&A) on the TransLink Commissioner’s web site states TransLink plans significant changes to existing fare media with the Compass card implementation, although no details are presented.

This begs the question of why is TransLink proceeding with the 2013 fare increase when its implementation period may be less than a year? There are costs to implementing a fare increase and similar work will be required as part of the Compass card implementation. This could lead to TransLink being questioned on the efficacy of two fare changes in a short time period. From an outsider’s perspective, it would be seem sensible to bundle all fare changes into the Compass roll-out, eliminating one set of fare change costs and reducing public annoyance over back-to-back fare changes, including a significant fare increase.

    2. Transit Service Operations:

TransLink states (Item 4, Q&A), a fare increase is needed to continue existing service levels and maintain the transit system in a state of good repair. However, TransLink should justify that the transit system is currently operating as efficiently as feasible.

 Transit system users will notice that TransLink’s vehicles spend large amounts of time parked at route terminals or waiting at timing points along a route. Anecdotal observation suggests this unproductive time is excessive. Examples are short headway routes where 2 – 4 vehicles may be observed at a terminal or twenty minute headway services where a following vehicle arrives at the terminal before the preceding vehicle has left. Layovers may be necessary for service recovery and shoulder period schedule adjustments. They should not be used as a scheduling convenience or de facto method of providing Operator breaks to avoid the rigours of contractual negotiations with the Canadian Autoworkers Union, WorkSafe BC and / or the Ministry of Labour.

By way of comparison, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) allows its Operators to arrive at terminals 2 minutes before the vehicle’s scheduled departure time. Operator breaks are provided as part of the Operator’s schedule, not the vehicle’s schedule. This keeps vehicles moving and picking up passengers.

A transit vehicle is an investment of several hundred thousand dollars. To have such an investment sitting idle for a significant portion of its working day (up to 20 minutes per trip in some cases) is not an efficient use of an expensive resource.

Additionally, as more frequent services are introduced, do lengthy layover times lead to unnecessary vehicle purchases to provide that service? Excessive vehicle requirements increase space needs for terminal layover space and garage and maintenance facilities. Optimising schedules to minimise lengthy layovers could result in capital and operating cost savings through reduced vehicle needs.

TransLink should state that unproductive schedule time is minimised and schedules are optimised for service efficiency and cost effectiveness. This would support its case that the fare increase is needed to maintain the current system in a state of good repair and ensure service expansion is effectively implemented.

Routing inefficiencies in the system should also be validated and justified by TransLink. There are deviations from grid routing that may have been necessary at one time but should be re-evaluated in terms of ridership served, overall route ridership, and impact on route mileage and service hours to ensure they are still viable.

To its credit, TransLink has initiated the Service Optimization project which has led to service adjustments by re-allocating resources from some lightly used services to areas of overcrowding. This initiative is laudable and should be a permanent part of TransLink’s service operations design. However, the optimizing process and analysis should be more transparent to the public and politicians in order to rigorously support changes, particularly service reductions.

A rigorous, robust and transparent service operations design process enables TransLink to resist political expediency in allocating its limited service resources. The South of Fraser area has received significant increases in transit service, possibly due to political pressure resulting from claims that Surrey residents “pay” much more to TransLink than they receive in service. Future increases to transit service, anywhere in TransLink’s service region, must be based on clear evidence that that is the best use of those resources, not the politically convenient one. Any deviation from this policy must have clear lines of responsibility and accountability published.

Once service is established, TransLink and its subsidiaries should ensure that full use of available technology is made to monitor and regulate service. TransLink has a GPS-based AVL which monitors vehicle location and schedule adherence and allows two-way communication between Operators and a central control facility. TransLink should assure the public that the AVL is being effectively used to ensure transit service is operating as close to schedule as feasible. Controllers should be responding to transit service disruptions (delays, off schedule, surge loads, collisions, etc.) by proactively re-routing service, short-turning vehicles and otherwise adjusting the transit system to minimise passenger inconvenience.    

   3. Ancillary Operations:

 The roles and responsibilities of the Transit Police and Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) Transit Security group should be reviewed and clarified to minimise overlap, maximise co-operation and ensure that each group is truly necessary and making effective use of its resources. We have several questions on this topic.  

  1. Is it necessary to have two separate organisations, within TransLink, doing the same function – essentially checking fares?
  2. Are large, police-special Dodge Chargers an appropriate vehicle for the CMBC Security Group?
  3. The Transit Police seems to have defaulted to being the SkyTrain Police. What is its role vis-à-vis the rest of TransLink’s facilities and service region?
  4. Can the public should be assured that the Transit Police are principally engaged in transit-related duties and not acting as a quasi-regional force dealing with matters more appropriately dealt with and funded by municipal forces?
  5. Where do SkyTrain and Canada Line Attendants fit into the security matrix?

 None of these queries should be construed as stating TransLink’s security services are unnecessary, ineffective or wasteful. What is needed is clarity to and visibility around their functions, effectiveness, funding, and resource utilisation.  

   4. Concluding Remarks:

 We believe the above discussion items are valid issues relevant to the four considerations the TransLink Commission will weigh when analyzing TransLink’s proposed 2013 fare increase:  

  1. Maintain TransLink’s financial stability.
  2. Allow TransLink to provide planned service.
  3. Encourage TransLink to minimise expenses.
  4. Keep fares as low as possible.

 TransLink will have a more effective and supportable rationale for its proposed fare increase, if it publicly addresses our stated concerns. Openness and transparency can only assist TransLink make its case on a sensitive issue such as a fare increase. Formal public presentations and hearings should be considered.


2010, August 8

Best Transport System on Earth?

Filed under: Buses, Ferries, Inter-city rail, Rapid Transit — Matthew @ 12:43 pm

No, sorry it is not in Vancouver or British Columbia or anywhere else in Canada for that matter. I think it is possibly in Switzerland. They have built an efficient multi-modal transport system centred around the train, but integrated perfectly with buses and lake ferries. The system runs as they say “Like a Swiss watch” and they aren’t exaggerating. The trains arrive on schedule almost all of the time and a delay of more than 2 minutes will be announced. It is truly a pleasure to travel in Switzerland so easily with no hassles. Travel between any two cities in Switzerland is possible every hour or half hour with easy connections between platforms at main hub stations like Geneva, Bern, Zurich and even smaller stations such as Speiz (near Interlaken).

A good way to visit Switzerland is with an 8 day (or less) Swiss Pass which allows unlimited travel with inter-city railways, buses, ferries, and urban transport systems of even smaller cities.

Comparing a country with a first-world transport system in a country like Switzerland or Germany, with the under-developed transport system of Canada is unfair. It is order of magnitudes better in Europe; however it is good to know what is out there, so we can aspire to improve things at home.

For more information about Switzerland:

swiss railway train

Locomotive of Swiss National Railway, at Martigny, CH, taken by Oren H. March 2008

2010, June 8

Greater Vancouver Transit Ridership up After Olympics

Filed under: Buses, Ferries, Rapid Transit — Rick @ 8:43 pm

TransLink  reported a significant, post-Olympic bump in transit ridership. January 2010 ridership was up 3% over January 2009; February 2010’s ridership swelled 51% due to the Olympics; and March 2010 was up almost 20% over March 2009. TransLink would not speculate on the long term impact on the organisation’s finances, assuming ridership stays at these elevated levels. However, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation  weighed in, pointing out that TransLink gets “… a lot of cash …” from senior governments to build facilities that it cannot afford to operate. CTF spokeswoman Maureen Bader questioned whether the Evergreen Line should be built if TransLink does not have funds to operate it. (Note that I cannot recall  the CTF making similar comments about highway infrastructure.)

Reporting on the same topic, The Vancouver Sun  noted that TransLink’s underutilized facilities such as the SeaBus and West Coast Express had seen the most significant post-Olympics passenger gains. There were also ridership increases on the Canada Line and its south of the Fraser River bus linkages. The report also states that turnstiles will be installed in rapid transit stations and a contract for a smart card system operator will be signed by the end of this year. Part of the smart card initiative is to replace the current three-zone fare system with a fare-by-distance system.

BC Ferries’ FOI Legislation and Executive Compensation

Filed under: Ferries — Rick @ 8:32 pm

BC Ferries CEO, David Hahn, says forcing the corporation to abide by provincial freedom-of-information legislation could cost $3 million annually, putting upward pressure on ferry fares. The change results from the provincially ordered Comptroller General’s report. That report also found that BC Ferries’ executive and directors’ compensation was much higher than for boards at BC Crown Corporations. BC Ferries’ directors’ compensation has been rolled-back but executive salaries, including Hahn’s $1 million annual salary, is grandfathered. Hahn stated that any changes to his compensation would lead to his resignation. He says BC Ferries is not a Crown Corporation, although it continues to receive $100 million in public subsidies, and needs its role as an independent organisation clarified.

2010, May 25

TransLink Annual General Meeting (for 2009)

Filed under: Buses, Ferries, Rapid Transit — Rick @ 9:21 pm

The Vancouver Courier reported on TransLink’s 2009 annual general meeting , held aboard the organisation’s newest SeaBus, MV Burrard Pacific Breeze. For 2009, TransLink reported 188,000,000 revenue passengers (8,000,000 more than 2008) and a $67.3 million deficit on an operating budget of $1,250 million. It stated the $130 million funding increase approved by the Mayors’ Council does not allow major transit service improvement for 2010. However, service will be fine-tuned for greater efficiency; resources could be moved from poor performing routes to those requiring more service. A hiring freeze, eliminating staff and executive positions will reduce administrative costs but fuel and maintenance costs and increased use of discount passes are affecting the organisation’s finances. Vancouver city councillors, Geoff Meggs and David Cadman, provided their take on TransLink funding, essentially stating it is a provincial problem

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