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?

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2016, June 13

Federal Transit Funding – 2

Peter Fassbender, provincial Minister Responsible for TransLink, responded to The David Suzuki Foundation’s open letter to various Metro Vancouver and provincial politicians urging them to come together to ensure Metro Vancouver receives a share of available federal transit funding. Unfortunately, the letter seems more aggravating than conciliatory to the Mayors’ Council.
The Minister re-commits the province’s oft-re-committed $246,000,000 as its contribution to Phase One of the Mayors’ Plan for Metro Vancouver’s transit future. Further in the letter, he states that the province’s “increased funding” (no figures or timing given) will ensure that Metro Vancouver does not miss out on federal funding. Tellingly, he refers to negotiating “bilateral agreements” with the federal government while, separately, working with the Mayors’ Council on local funding details. This seems to be telling the mayors that they are not welcome at the federal table and to let the ‘big boys’ negotiate the major funding agreements while they gather their pennies together.

 
Fassbender also commits the province to work with the mayors, through his Deputy Minister, to investigate how to capture some of the land development benefits (increased property values) that result from transit investments. It should be noted that property value increases are largest along rapid transit lines, which is only one component of the Mayors’ Plan, which includes major increases in bus service and several new B-Line (express) services. Rapid transit construction is long term so any benefits from increased property values are far in the future. How these values can be ‘taxed’ in the near term to support the Mayors’ Plan is not addressed? And in the Lower Mainland’s housing market, how would it be possible to differentiate, for taxation purposes, between increased property values due to transit investment and those caused by market demand.

 
After dictating to the Mayors that the province will handle federal negotiations, that they must deal with a Deputy Minister on taxing future, transit-related property value increases, and that they “confirm details of [their] respective funding commitments.” with him, Fassbender categorically states the province will not change the TransLink governance structure to give the mayors more control over how the agency spends the tax dollars the mayors are mandated to raise.

 
Rather insultingly, he states they can attend TransLink board meetings, as individuals with no voting rights, to “share their views”. Apparently, this could lead to greater confidence that the board is spending tax dollars to benefit the region.

 
None of this augurs well for an early agreement between the province and the Mayors’ Council on the transit funding issue.

 
Minister Fassbender’s letter is attached here – Minister Fassbender Letter to Mayors-2016-05-30.

2016, May 23

Federal Transit Funding

The David Suzuki Foundation  is urging BC and Metro Vancouver’s political leaders to put aside their differences and create a common front to negotiate transit funding with the federal government. The Foundation sent an open letter to various politicians on May 18, 2016. Transport Action BC is a signatory to this letter.
The federal government has started providing funding ($840 million to Toronto; $900,000 to Whitehorse) to other centres so it is urgent for BC’s politicians to work together and put forward a unified stance when dealing Ottawa on the transit funding issue.

The text of the letter follows.

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5/18/2016

The Hon. Christy Clark
Premier of British Columbia
Office of the Premier

Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council

Cc: Hon. Todd Stone; Hon. Peter Fassbender

Re: A call for leadership to invest in transit and transportation in Metro Vancouver

Dear Premier Clark and Members of the Mayors’ Council,

We the undersigned are a diverse group of organizations from business, labour, health, environment and student associations working together to advocate for investment in Metro Vancouver’s transportation system.

We are writing to urge you to act quickly and take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the recent federal budget to improve transit and transportation in our region. As you know, in its budget, the federal government made a commitment to a $370 million “down payment” toward the 10-year Metro Vancouver Transit and Transportation Plan. The federal government has also shown tremendous leadership by agreeing to pay 50 per cent of all capital transit costs provided agreements can be struck with the province and local mayors.

These commitments have changed the landscape for transit funding in our region, but with this opportunity comes a challenge: we need to be ready with regional and provincial funding, or else these federal dollars, collected from local taxpayers, will go to other cities and provinces that are ready. For the good of our economy and the health and livelihood of citizens, this cannot happen. We are calling on the province and the Mayors’ Council to work together to ensure that we are ready to get Metro Vancouver moving again.

Expansion of transit services — especially when they’re electrified — is crucial for Metro Vancouver to improve air quality and health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote economic development and job growth.

A growing number of studies confirm that congestion costs our region more than $1 billion each year due to lost productivity, increased operating costs and lost business revenue and regional GDP. It has been estimated that investment in transit could save the health care system at least $115 million annually, and likely considerably more if the benefits of increased physical activity were also included as part of the cost-savings analysis.

We ask you show leadership by putting history and political differences aside to work together and ensure we are ready to take full advantage of federal support and start improving transit and transportation. Adding new federal dollars is an essential prerequisite for moving ahead with stalled transit improvements so badly needed for the Metro Vancouver region, and for B.C. as a whole.

Lastly, we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the importance of using newly available federal funds to implement the full set of regional transportation improvements outlined in the Mayors’ Council Transportation and Transit Plan rather than a few projects here and there. A regional approach to transportation investments will ensure that Metro Vancouver residents and businesses throughout the region will benefit. Local and provincial governments have the power to help us make history in B.C. and Metro Vancouver through implementation of a world-class provincial and regional transportation plan.

Should you require more information, we would be happy to meet with you or your staff.

Thank you for considering this request.

 BC Federation of Labour
 BC Healthy Living Alliance
 BC Teachers’ Federation
 British Columbia Golf
 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
 Clean Energy Canada
 Connecting Environmental Professionals – Vancouver Chapter
 The David Suzuki Foundation
 Dialog Design
 Disability Alliance BC
 Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association
 Downtown Vancouver Association
 Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association
 Dr. Lisa J. Jing Mu, Medical Health Officer, Fraser Region
 ForestEthics
 Gordon Price, Director of the SFU City Program
 Graduate Student Society at SFU
 Greenpeace Canada
 HandyDART Riders Alliance
 HASTe BC
 Heart and Stroke Foundation
 HUB Cycling
 Offsetters
 Perkins+Will Architects
 Peter Ladner, Columnist, Business in Vancouver Media Group
 Public Health Association of BC
 Renewal Funds Company
Transport Action – British Columbia
 Vanterre Projects Corp
 Victoria Lee MD MPH MBA CCFP FRCPC, Chief Medical Health Officer, Fraser Health Authority

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, December 5

“BC on the Move” Online Survey Closes Soon

The BC Government’s online survey for its latest 10 year transportation plan closes on Friday, Dec. 12, 2014.

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone announced the next 10-year transportation plan (“BC on the Move”) and consultation in October 2014. Consultation documents and details are here. Take the survey here.

SFU’s Gordon Price notes that funding for the planned projects is not subject to voter approval even though Vancouver area transit projects are subject to a “Yes” vote in the upcoming transit funding referendum. According to Price, the plan continues the province’s current highway projects with a bit of a sop thrown to cycling and transit.

The plan does mention rail but only as a mode for moving bulk goods and containers efficiently. Improvements to / support of intercity bus and rail passenger services are not considered.

2014, March 21

Tolls and the Transit Referendum

Recent comments by Todd Stone, BC’s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister,  on tolling a new/refurbished Pattullo Bridge further muddy the issue of tolling and road pricing as a TransLink revenue source. He says a tolled Pattullo Bridge “…would seem…” to contradict the province’s tolling policy that a “free” (i.e. taxpayer subsidised) alternative must be available to any tolled structure

The Minister also hints that federal contributions to the Pattullo Bridge project may be jeopardised by proposed tolls as “… the feds have tended not to invest in [tolled] projects…”.  

Both statements are concerning because they contradict earlier indications that tolling was acceptable for the Pattullo Bridge project and, indirectly, insinuate the federal government into the transit referendum discussion.

In 2013 the Minister stated that tolling “possibl[y] … could” fund a new Pattullo Bridge. While not a ringing endorsement for tolling, the Minister’s statement did indicate that Victoria would not be averse to TransLink tolling a new bridge. And certainly, there was no mention of the Pattullo as a “free” alternative.

Concerns that tolls could jeopardise federal participation in the Pattullo project are misplaced.  The federal government is building the Champlain Bridge replacement in Montréal and it will be tolled “to minimise use of public funds”. Similarly, the Evergreen Line project has significant federal involvement and its users will be tolled (through their fares). So there seems to be no reason to assume the federal government will not participate in the Pattullo Bridge project, tolled or otherwise.

So what changed in the intervening months to cause the Minister to re-think Patullo Bridge tolls and also imply the provincial tolling policy also applies to TransLink?

A number of possibilities come to mind.

  1.  Is the Minister laying the groundwork to keep road pricing and bridge tolls out of TransLink’s funding options in the upcoming referendum? But this would contradict statements he made in the Globe and Mail  indicating regional Mayors could include road pricing and tolls in their transportation funding proposal.
  2.  Does his emphasis on the Pattullo Bridge as a “free” alternative indicate that TransLink is expected to provide the “free” alternatives to provincially tolled projects such as the Port Mann Bridge and the new George Massey crossing? Are Metro Vancouver’s taxpayers to be triple-taxed (provincial taxes, tolls, and TransLink taxes) to support purely provincial projects? And if the provincial tolling policy applies to TransLink, what are the “free” alternatives for transit riders who are tolled each time they use public transit?
  3. By limiting TransLink’s funding options on the Patullo project, is the Minister forcing TransLink to seriously consider a smaller replacement bridge – 4 lanes vs. 6 – or even a re-furbished bridge? A smaller Pattullo could increase traffic and revenue on the province’s Port Mann Bridge. This could also drive a wedge between Metro’s mayors. Surrey favours a 6-lane replacement while New Westminster wants only 4-lanes.

These are highly speculative considerations. The likely reason for the Minister’s changing statements is ongoing provincial uncertainty on the entire issue of transit funding, tolling and road pricing and the TransLink funding referendum.

The Liberal promise to hold a referendum on future sources of TransLink funding had a populist appeal during the heat of an election. TransLink was the ideal organisation to bully on the campaign trail; it spends a lot of money, it is perceived as unaccountable and not transparent, and allegations of waste regularly receive heavy media coverage. The fact that its structure is a provincial responsibility was simply ignored.

 However, the referendum discussion has opened the door (Pandora’s Box?) to serious public debate around tolling, road pricing, usage fees, vehicle levies and other revenue sources.  These new revenue sources appeal to the true believers in free market economics, a source of significant Liberal support. Unfortunately for the provincial government, they are anathema to much of the voting public – particularly motorists.

The province may have created a dilemma that will prove difficult to resolve – how to retain support from these two opposing and significant constituencies?

Thus it continues to bob and weave on tolls, road pricing and the transit referendum, with conflicting statements and positions being put forth. The unfortunate lack of provincial leadership on this issue is going to make getting a winning referendum question and winning the referendum much more difficult.

2012, June 8

6-lane Pattullo bridge not in best interests of Metro Vancouver

Filed under: Studies — Tags: , , , , — Matthew @ 8:32 am

Letter that Transport Action BC sent to TransLink this week.

We are writing regarding TransLink’s decision to replace the aging Pattullo Bridge with a wider, 6-lane facility. We do not think that a higher capacity Pattullo Bridge is in the best interests of our region. It meets neither the goals of TransLink’s 2040 vision, nor does it fit into the strategies set out to meet TransLink’s goals. Given the extraordinary cost and risk of this project, the relatively small constituency it serves and the exemplary opportunity in this corridor to create the 2040 mode shift which is so critical to the economic viability and livability of our region, we urge TransLink to rethink its plans for this bridge.

image of the bridge arches

Pattullo Bridge details, photo by Flickr user GS+

When it opened in the 1930’s the Pattullo Bridge was the primary crossing of the Fraser River for vehicle traffic and served as a regional connection between the Burrard Peninsula and the Fraser Valley/USA. With the opening of the Port Mann Bridge and the Hwy 1 corridor in the 1960’s this role was, however, lost. Indeed, the primary role of the Port Mann Bridge was reinforced recently by the Provincial decision to replace it with a massive 10 lane structure and to widen Hwy 1. The Pattullo now serves mostly the local needs of Surrey, New Westminster and Burnaby residents; a connection which is largely duplicated by the SkyBridge and the extensive SkyTrain network which has successfully served the residents of these communities and remains less than full capacity. In short the local needs of the Pattullo Bridge users (typically less than 40,000 users/day – 2 way trips) do not justify the almost 1 billion dollar investment from the regional Transportation authority, particularly when other options are available.

TransLink’s models have predicted significant traffic growth in the Pattullo corridor yet these predictions cannot reflect our region’s changing demographics, the influence of peak oil on travel patterns and choices, and the improved land use patterns throughout the region, all of which reduce the need to travel distances to get to work or amenities. These factors have already resulted in a considerable reduction in travel demand in many cities throughout North America. TransLink has an opportunity to encourage this shift in travel behavior by investing in quality public transit and preferentially supporting energy efficient modes for goods movement. To achieve this mode shift TransLink must invest in the quality transit connections to SkyTrain, particularly in Surrey where lack of transit services continues to fail the expectations of residents. In addition, improved transit connections within Surrey will promote land use changes which will reduce the need to travel throughout the region.

Much of the growth in goods movements envisioned for this corridor can be handled through the rail and river modes using existing or modestly upgraded facilities and investments in better intermodal connections. In the future the role of these modes will be much more important if our ports are to compete on the international stage in a world of high energy costs and unsolvable congestion challenges.

Finally we are concerned that the high cost of a 6 lane Pattullo Bridge could have detrimental impacts on transportation throughout the region if the traffic predictions are not met and TransLink is left with unfunded liabilities similar to the current situation with the Golden Ears Bridge. It seems that TransLink’s traffic models over-estimate the traffic demand when tolls are involved. Additional debt servicing costs could leave other essential elements of the transportation system starved of operating funds.

In conclusion, we ask the board of TransLink to reconsider its determination to build a 6 lane replacement to the Pattullo Bridge. TransLink should be using the strength of its multi-modal mandate to ensure that transportation corridors and facilities are used as efficiently as possible and that all major investments contribute directly and effectively to the important goals outlined in TransLink’s 2040 vision.

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.

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