Transport Action BC

2017, February 11

Canada Line and Snow

TransLink’s Canada Line experienced two major shutdowns (Feb 3 / 6, 2017). The cause was the apparent inability of trains to travel northbound between Bridgeport and Marine Drive Stations.

 
These incidents are a reminder of a similar incident in November 2010 when an early winter snow storm led to service disruptions in the same location. At that time, Transport Action BC engaged with TransLink over the incident because we felt that the Canada Line’s private operator (InTransitBC / Protrans) should have been better prepared for such storms, which are not unknown in Vancouver.

 
One of our concerns was that there were no public statements about performance penalties to the Canada Line’s private operator. We assumed penalties were in order, based on our understanding of P3 contracts, whereby the contractor receives bonuses for exceeding performance standards and is penalised for failing to meet them. TransLink indicated that performance penalties were not an option because the incident occurred during the contracted two year “learning curve” in which performance penalties would not be applied to InTransitBC / Protrans. Details are here.

 
A secondary concern was that P3 “value engineering” may have designed resiliency out of the system in order to minimise costs and/or maximise profits. This issue was never addressed by TransLink.

 
The latest incidents have received much more public attention, possibly because social media allows an immediate, more voluminous, public response forcing mainstream media and TransLink to respond in kind. The general disenchantment of TransLink as a result of the 2015 Transit Plebiscite’s No Campaign may also be a factor.

 
According to TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond, the cause of the latest delays is a steep section of track to the bridge over the North Arm of the Fraser river . TransLink’s The Buzzer blog  adds that trains require full power to get up the steep track grade and icy buildups prevent trains from reaching full power.

 
This brings us back to Transport Action BC’s secondary concern about the November 2010 incident – did P3 design considerations result in a structure that is subject to operational failure under certain weather conditions? At this point, this issue has not been publicly discussed.

 
Of immediate interest, though, has the TransLink / BC Rapid Transit Co / InTransitBC / Protrans response been acceptable or reasonable? To be fair, it must be realized that the recent snow conditions are unusual and infrequent and we can be certain that front-line staff are doing their best under trying conditions. However, heavy snow falls are not unheard of and Vancouver gets 2 – 3 of them a decade.

 
Several issues for consideration:

 
1. Where are InTransitBC and Protrans in all this? To my knowledge, no representative(s) of the Canada Line’s private operator have met the press or given any kind of a public interview (apology?) regarding serious service disruptions. Does the contract (P3) with TransLink allow its management to minimise its involvement in dealing with the affected public during delay situations? One can understand, TransLink wanting single points of contact when dealing with the media but the severity of these disruptions warrants some response from InTransitBC / Protrans.

 
2. Obviously, de-icing, sanding and other winter operations procedures were not entirely successful in keeping this section of the Canada Line in service. An internal post-mortem will be carried out but will the results be publicised to assure the public that changes will be made to operations to mitigate snow issues in future?

 
3. Performance penalties should be applied to the Canada Line operator for the recent disruptions. However, will the details be made public in order to reassure the public that their interests are met and that Canada Line management is being held accountable for its operations?

 
4. Will  InTransitBC / Protrans be required to pay the costs of operating the bus bridges that were required to get passengers around the delays? Similarly, if fare rebates to compensate riders for their inconvenience are given, will inTransitBC / Protrans cover the costs? Again, this is an issue of accountability and transparency around how taxpayers’ money is being spent.

 
5. Is the organisational structure that integrates Canada Line operations within TransLink effective for dynamic situations requiring rapid decision making (such as a snow emergency)? The Canada Line contractor reports to the BC Rapid Transit Co., the TransLink subsidiary responsible for running the Expo / Millenium lines. Bus Operations, a separate silo in TransLink’s organisation structure, manages Coast Mountain Bus Company, the provider of buses for bus bridges. Does this structure allow for effective and responsive communications between management, front line staff and the public when dealing with emergencies? For example, how far up the management chain does a Canada Line request for a bus bridge go before being passed to the Coast Mountain Bus Company? How are bus bridge set-up and operations communicated between the various transit operators and the affected customers?

2016, July 25

TransLink Plans Should Change With New Circumstances

Filed under: Rapid Transit, Streetcar-LRT — Tags: , , , , — Rick @ 8:50 pm

Long time Transport 2000/Transport Action member, J. Bakker developed a rapid transit scenario for Vancouver as an alternative to the proposed Broadway SkyTrain extension to Arbutus. He based his discussion on several major infrastructure and political changes that have or will/may occur in Vancouver. The changes are significant enough that he feels a major re-think of rapid transit in the city is necessary. He also comments on the City of Vancouver’s apparent antipathy to Light Rail Transit and the limitations created by the length of Canada Line stations. Mr. Bakker sent his proposals to TransLink and the provincial minister responsible for TansLink, Peter Fassbinder. The responses thanked him for his efforts but were otherwise non-committal.

The proposals are presented for discussion and do not represent an official position of Transport Action BC.

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TransLink Plans should change with new circumstances.

By

J. Bakker

Professor – Emeritus, Civil Engineering, University of Alberta

Recent Changes

  1. The first change is the relocation of St. Paul’s Hospital to a site North of the VIA/Bus station. Transit access to this site is poor and too far away from the Science Centre SkyTrain station.
  2. The second change is to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.
  3. The third change is the acquisition of the Arbutus Corridor.
  4. The fourth change is the destruction of the track between Olympic Village and Granville Island.
  5. The fifth change is that the Federal Government will fund half of the infrastructure costs.

Present Problems

There is an overload of passengers between Broadway and Downtown. Half or more than half (depending on time of year) of the passengers from the [Millenium] Evergreen Line transfer at Broadway to the Expo line causing the congestion. It is a problem now and will be a greater problem in the future. Students from the East extension of the [Millenium] Evergreen Line are more likely to go to Simon Fraser University.

The Canada Line Underground Stations have been under-designed, allowing only one unit trains. It is too expensive to extend the underground stations to lengthen trains to multiple units. While some capacity increase is possible, the Canada Line will not handle the growth forecasted for Metro Vancouver in the future.

First Solution

Extend the [Millenium] Evergreen Line from Clark VCC north along the VIA/Bus station (south entrance) and the future St. Paul Hospital (north entrance) and then go via a station at Hastings to Waterfront. Interline the Expo and [Millenium] Evergreen lines at Waterfront. Passengers can then reach downtown (Waterfront, Burrard and Granville Stations) without a transfer at Broadway/Commercial . This proposal will relieve the Broadway to Downtown section of the Expo Line. It will also provide better connections to the SeaBus (one instead of two transfers) and the Canada Line.

TransLink Rethink-Figure 1

Figure 1.         Map showing proposed [Millenium] Evergreen Line Extension to Downtown Vancouver and with its connections to other rail transit lines  [Base map by ccmaps]

Second Solution

It would mean that the Broadway Line would not use linear motor technology. If the Broadway line is built underground then it should use the same tunnel dimensions as the Canada Line but with longer stations. However initially a surface LRT line would suffice. The LRT [cost] estimate for a Broadway LRT line was high in comparison to an underground line. I suspect the reason was the requirement of a depot. This depot would take a block or so next to Broadway, an expensive land acquisition. With the purchase of the Arbutus Corridor a better location would be near the North Fraser River.

TransLink Rethink-Figure 2  

Figure 2.         Broadway at Cambie looking West with superimposed green Light Rail.

 

The design of a Broadway Line should be kept simple. Between the Broadway/Commercial and Arbutus, the Broadway right of way is adequate to accommodate a surface Light Rail line. If the line then uses the Arbutus right-of-way to 12 Avenue and then west along 12 Avenue to UBC, costs can be kept down. The stretch between Broadway and 12 Avenue on the former CP right of way is an ideal location for an interchange station with the Arbutus line described later.

The space used by the LRT should be grassed and landscaped where possible. The traffic signals would control the operations but would have to be retimed.

If and when the time comes to go underground, which may occur in stages, and then the infrastructure should be designed for the cross-section of the Canada Line, even if Light Rail units would operate there first. In Brussels staged construction was used. First there was surface line, then portions were placed underground, but tram equipment (or LRT) was still used. When the entire line was underground Metro equipment was used. The process took maybe 40 years.

 

 Light Rail is not a Cancer

It almost seems that the City of Vancouver views Light Rail technology as a cancer that must be eliminated. In 2010 the City and the Administrators of Granville Island invested $8.5 million for associated upgrades to the infrastructure to upgrade a Heritage Line. The two month operation used two Light Rail Vehicles (Bombardiers Flexity) from Brussels for the operation. The City considered the streetcar demonstration “a tremendous success”, with over 550,000 boardings during the two months of the experiment.[8] Bombardier received an award for “Exceptional Performance and Outstanding Achievement” at the 2010 CUTA awards, recognizing its operation of over 13,000 one-way trips with zero equipment failures, zero station delays and zero injuries. Mayor Robertson tried to purchase the Brussels streetcars, but was unsuccessful.

It is astonishing that the City is now destroying this investment. It has removed the overhead wire and is about to remove the tracks. This vandalism shows little respect for the taxpayers’ dollars and it should be questioned if Vancouver really deserves any transit infrastructure investment with this attitude.

The excuse is a housing development. Using air rights it is possible, to have both development and to maintain the tracks. However there has to be a will to preserve this path. Unfortunately the city seems to have a will to block any possible Light Rail path.

TransLink Rethink-Figure 3

Figure 3.             Development above LRT tracks in San Diego.

Light Rail is more Cost Effective

Light Rail will give more rail transit per dollar spend. At this point in time there is a great backlog as to where Rail Transit could be used. Rail Transit has a lower coefficient of friction between wheel and rail, than buses have been rubber and asphalt. Because Rail Transit is electrified it will have fewer emissions than diesel buses. Furthermore because of the rail guidance, productivity can be enhanced by coupling units, particularly in peak hours. To spend billions of dollars because some do not want to see transit and put it underground is waste of scarce dollars at this time. Many opponents seem to be unaware what landscaping can do to improve the visual impact of surface Light Rail Transit.

The Third Solution

Develop the Arbutus Corridor. Ultimately this line should go to the North Shore, but initially should go to the future St. Paul’s Hospital. When the North Shore portion is built the Arbutus to St. Paul‘s Hospital would become a shuttle connector.

 

The Design of the Canada Line Stations

The stations were designed to accommodate one unit trains. To limit the size of stations is astonishing, in light of the London Docklands experience. The London Docklands Light Rail was initially built privately by the Canada Warf Development. They built their stations (on overhead structure) for one unit trains (an articulated car with two sections). I visited the Docklands Light Rail project when it was running under test in 1981. The short stations were the first thing I noticed. In Edmonton the underground stations were built for five unit trains even though initial operations only required two units. I questioned my hosts on it and was told it was a cost saving measure. London Transport for London took over the line soon after start of operations. After a number of years it was found that they needed longer trains and so they extended all stations for two unit trains. Barely completed it was found they actually needed to use three unit train lengths. So they kept rebuilding and extending instead of preparing for growth.

The Canada Line this error was repeated, but it is worse because most stations on the Canada line are underground. Extending underground stations means shutting down the entire line for a few years and has a massive reconstruction job. All the station control equipment is located at the end of the platform.

There are ways to increase capacity somewhat. The present trains can be replaced with a three section articulated unit. Using the 3 metre spare space on the stations and having both ends protruding in the tunnel, capacity per train can be increased.

 

Building a Light Rail Relief Line is a Better Alternative

There is an imbalance in loads between the Airport line and the Richmond Line. Together with the limited ultimate capacity of the Canada Line, a relief line from Bridgeport via the Arbutus corridor is the best alternative. It will also be possible to extend this line further south into Richmond. Right of way should be preserved now.

Initially this line could go to the future St. Paul’s Hospital / Station location. However a study should be made if an LRT line can be placed under the Burrard Street Bridge (Space has been reserved for it in the piers), and then underground under Burrard. Such a line should be deep enough so that it can be extended to the North Shore in tunnel under Burrard Inlet. One of the problems with the Canada Line is that it is at the same elevation as the Expo Line at Waterfront and cannot be extended to the North. A deeper station would have made that possible.

With the City acquiring the Arbutus Corridor from the CPR, there are opportunities but also dangers. The critical portion is the curvy section between where the CP right-of-way bends away from Arbutus until it rejoins West Boulevard. The city must prevent encroachment of this right-of-way by gardeners and keep this portion available for two tracks of LRT.

There is a great opportunity though to combine landscape architecture and the Light Rail line. Such a design should include bike and footpaths with grassed Light Rail right-of-way.

TransLink Rethink-Figure 4

Figure 4.         This picture shows a Light Rail unit on a grassed right-of-way in Bordeaux superimposed on the Arbutus right-of-way.

 

TransLink Rethink-Figure 5

Figure 5.                     Schematic Map of the proposed Vancouver Rail Transit

 

Surrey LRT

In Surrey the transfer between the SkyTrain and the LRT should be made as convenient as possible. Cross platform interchange is the best and could be achieved at King George Station and the proposed line to Langley.

The Real Transportation Solution.

The real Transportation solution in the region remains to use cars in areas where there is no congestion and to use transit in areas where there is congestion. The transition is Park – And – Ride. It is unfortunate that TransLink imposed a charge on the South Surrey Park-and-Ride lot. A free parking structure would be a better solution and far more cost effective than a 10 lane bridge.

 

The Fifty Percent Federal Contribution.

The increased Federal contribution for Infrastructure from one third to one half should be applauded. However it should mean that more rail transit lines can be built, not that projects should be made more expensive because someone else is paying for it. The purpose of these investments is ultimately to serve passengers, not ribbon cutters.

With the many projects being submitted only the cost effective proposals should be  considered.

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J. Bakker was born in The Netherlands in 1929. During World War II he learned what a `no oil’ society was like. In 1946 he went with his parents to the U.K. He went to school in England, graduated from Glasgow University in Civil Engineering in 1954, got his Diploma at Imperial College in 1955 and then went to Purdue University in Indiana. Here he got his M.S.C.E. (Transportation) in 1957. From 1957 to 1959 he was the engineer in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In 1959 he joined the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the University of Alberta where he lectured in Highway Design and Public Transportation. He took early retirement in 1991 but stayed on half time until 1994. He also served ten years on the Council of St. Albert. In that time period it was taken from near bankruptcy to a thriving, financially sound community with controlled growth.

During his career, he consulted on Transit Networks and Timed Transfers with many Transit Systems. He was an advisor to Edmonton Transit and was involved in the construction of Edmonton’s North-East LRT line – the first North American Light Rail Line built since World War II. He set up the transit systems of St. Albert and Sherwood Park. In 1995 he was sub-consultant to Dillon Consulting Engineers and recommended the diesel LRT (O-Train) in Ottawa.

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.

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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.

2014, July 3

CPR working on Arbutus Corridor – 2

The CPR continues to assess the Arbutus rail corridor for a possible return to operations. Some survey work and brush clearing has been completed. However, this work cannot be completed until encroachments on the R-o-W are removed. According to the railway’s web site, the encroachments on CPR property must be removed by July 31, 2014 to allow the railway to “… upgrade the rail line to ensure it meets the regulated safety requirements for our [CP’s] operations”. (Rick -link updated – 2015-02-10)

The well-established community gardens are considered encroachments so they, too, must be removed ( “transplanted” in CPR parlance). Obviously, this is upsetting residents who work on or simply enjoy the gardens. No official response from Vancouver city council as yet. However, 2014 is a civic election year so some fireworks will be forthcoming.

2014, May 25

CPR working on Arbutus Corridor – 1

The CPR recently caused a furore on Vancouver’s West Side by sending out a memoranda to residents titled “Notice to Residents – Train Activity in Your Community” regarding upcoming work on the Arbutus rail corridor. The company states that it will be surveying the line and evaluating track conditions with an eye to its ability to quickly access its Right-of-Way (R-o-W), make repairs and, possibly, run trains.

Crews have been clearing brush along the line, although, as of May 25, 2014, this had only been done south of Broadway. The “Community” Gardens that have taken over the R-o-W along West 6th Avenue are safe, at least temporarily. Update: May 28, 2014: Crews were clearing the tracks along West 6th Ave. but leaving the gardens untouched. Update: June 3, 2014: Crews had cleared to the north side of Broadway.

Anyone who has seen the R-o-W knows that it is useless for running trains and would require very large investments to make it  viable for train operations so what is the CPR’s real end game in this flurry of activity?

Unfortunately, local media have simply parroted resident’s concerns about the possibility of trains running by their back yards. Unasked are serious questions about the timing of this sudden interest by the CPR in its R-o-W, the line’s current condition, how much investment is required to re-build it, what businesses would be served by re-instated train services (the Bessborough Armoury  on West 11th?) , why has the brush clearing stopped at Broadway, etc.

Vancouver City Council is adamant that the line remain as a “greenway” until such time as it can be redeveloped as a north-south transit line. Unfortunately, the current “greenway” is also a convenient illegal dumping ground. Ironically, even crews installing transit stop concrete pads – a city responsibility –  at the WB  stop on 16th Ave.  at the R-o-W were seen dumping excess  soil on the R-o-W.

Gordon Price, the Director of SFU’s City Programme has commented that the CPR may be “softening up” local residents and Vancouver City Council for development proposals. This would fit with current CPR CEO Hunter Harrison’s drive to maximise shareholder value. The R-o-W is a valuable asset that is not generating revenue for the company.

Liability issues may be another CPR concern. An overgrown R-o-W, rotting ties, slippery rails and illegally dumped trash are potential hazards that could lead to messy and costly legal actions, if someone is injured on the property.

Or perhaps, the CPR is looking to the future and planning for construction of a subway line along Broadway. The Arbutus corridor is approximately midway between the Broadway rapid transit terminals – VCC/Clark and UBC. It could be an ideal staging location for bringing in heavy equipment for tunnel construction and also spoil removal. Using the rail line for these purposes would keep a significant amount of truck traffic off city streets.

This would provide the city with a north-south transportation corridor – just not the one it wanted.

2012, June 1

Canada Line Service Issues

Filed under: Announcement, city transit, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 4:46 pm

Transport Action BC has ongoing concerns with certain aspects of Canada Line (CL) performance and the seeming unwillingness of TransLink  to hold the concessionaire – InTransitBC  and Protrans BC  – publicly accountable for any shortcomings.

Significant service disruptions occurred on April 16, 2012, inconveniencing customers for most of the service day. The disruptions, centred on Olympic Village Station and affected service on the entire line. Anecdotal evidence from a TABC member indicates sporadic and crowded service. Possible cause(s) of the disruption have not been publicly released and media coverage of the incident was minimal.

Stalled train problems were also experienced at Olympic Village Station on the evenings of April 13 / 14, 2012. Again anecdotally, another TABC member heard that computer control issues requiring staff to monitor trains were, relatively, more frequent, prior to the April 16 incident.

It is unclear if these various incidents are related as there has been no public accounting.

Transport Action BC requested a detailed, open and public post-mortem on the disruptions. The Canada Line’s operating company has passed the two-year “learning curve” allowed in its contract . Performance penalties should be considered as part of TransLink’s response to the disruptions.

Furthermore, evening maintenance has affected Canada Line service many times in the past 18 months. This may be justified, but it seems excessive for a system less than three years old.

We are concerned that the perceived lack of action holding the concessionaire publicly accountable for Canada Line performance jeopardizes TransLink’s credibility and its ability to provide a reliable and attractive service. It also significantly weakens the original rationale to use a P3 model to build and operate the Canada Line.

Transport Action BC sent a letter to the TransLink Board on April 20, 2012 detailing our concerns but a response has not been received. This blog posting is an expanded version of the contents of that letter.

2012, May 31

Public Transit Boosts Local Economies

Filed under: city transit, Rapid Transit, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 8:52 pm

Some intriguing numbers surfaced in media reports on the recent disruptions of Montréal’s Métro. The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal  and the Montréal Economic Institute  provided estimates of the economic impact (lost productivity) of the disruptions.  The Board of Trade estimated the 90 minutes of disruption cost the city’s economy $11,000,000 while the more conservative MEC estimated $9,300,000. Put positively, the Métro generates significant productivity benefits to Montréal’s economy.

Unfortunately, details on the methodology used to derive these numbers are not available. However, the number can be used to calculate an order of magnitude estimate of the value of public transit to a local economy.

Operating conservatively, I‘ll assume the productivity impact [PI] is a high estimate, given the political situation under which it was released.  Therefore, I’ve reduced it by approximately 50% to $5,000,000 per 90 minute time period [MTP]. Also, I’ll assume that most of the productivity impact of the Métro is provided during the peak hours when the system is at its busiest. Peak hours are generally considered as 06:00 – 09:00 and 16:00 – 19:00 or 6 hours / business day which equals four, 90 minute time periods:

  • 4 (90 MTP) X $5,000,000 (PI / 90 MTP) = $20,000,000 PI for 1 business day.
  • 20 (business days / month) X 12 (months / year) X $20,000,000 (PI /business day) = $4.8 billion PI / year.

Thus, Montréal’s transit system has a positive, $4.8 billion productivity impact on the city’s economy each year.

The Société de transport de Montréal [STM], which operates the transit system, has a 2012 operating budget of $1.23 billion. I’ve used the total budget number because the Métro and bus system operates as a network of interdependent modes – customers have to reach the subway somehow. Using the PI / year calculated above, we find that the public investment in Montréal’s transit system, through fares and taxes, generates an annual return of almost 400% in productivity impacts:

  • {($4.8 billion PI / year) ÷ ($1.23 billion STM 2012 operations budget)} X 100 = 400%
  • Eliminating the percentage gives a constant of 4, which I’ll call the TPI [Transit Productivity Impact]

Assuming, and remember we’re dealing with orders of magnitude in this discussion, that TransLink’s transit operations provide a similar boost to Metro Vancouver’s economic productivity, we can estimate the impact of transit using TransLink’s 2012 budget. TransLink forecasts that transit operations will cost $871 million and transit police $29.6 million for a total of about $900 million. I’ve included policing costs in the calculation because their presence adds safety, security and comfort to the transit system, thus encouraging ridership.

  • $900,000,000 (TransLink 2012 transit operations budget) X 4 (TPI Factor) = $3.6 billion PI / year.

Thus, in spite of all the negative publicity TransLink has received lately, the organisation still provides significant economic benefits to the region it serves. Admittedly, this is a very basic analysis based on an unsubstantiated number from a media release in a highly charged environment. However, it should help us move away from the image that public transit is simply a costly drain on taxpayers which only benefits a few (the “loser cruiser” attitude). Public transit must be treated as a valuable, respected, public investment tool that, in addition to social and environmental benefits, also has significant economic ones.

 

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.

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

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