Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The dangers of having a too efficient transit system: the SkyTrain meltdown

It has been a rough few days for transit riders in Metro Vancouver. On Thursday, the SkyTrain system was shut down during the evening peak travel period due to a failed computer component. This left many passengers stranded both at SkyTrain stations and in SkyTrain cars for up to five hours. This was really bad, but the system was repaired and service restore.

I don’t say this lightly; I’m very grateful that no one died due to the failures that shut down the SkyTrain system on Thursday and Monday. Other transit agencies, like Toronto’s TTC, have had people died when system failures occurred.

The SkyTrain system is very reliable —TransLink claims the system has 95 on-time performance— who could have predicted that there would be two system meltdowns within four days?

Luckily on Monday, the failure occurred during lunch, and TransLink was able to have service restored for the majority of the evening peak travel period. I was impacted by both Thursday’s and yesterday’s shutdown, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

During the system failure yesterday, I saw some truly silly comments from the anti-tax, anti-transit crowd saying that if TransLink didn’t have a new head office, executive staff, public arts, police, or a facility to refurbish old SkyTrain cars, there wouldn’t have been a system failure on Thursday or Monday. The implication was that TransLink was spending money on these items instead of keeping the system in a state of good repair; this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I take the SkyTrain from Surrey to Main Street Station at least five days a week, and sometime after 8pm. Because TransLink is replacing the power rails along the entire Expo Line to keep the system a state of good repair, it takes me an extra 15 minutes to get home if I’m working the late shift.

On top of that, TransLink is also rebuilding Main Street – Science World SkyTrain station due to its age. This means that I have to transfer to a special shuttle train which adds another 10 minutes to my commute.

I’ve also ridden in the refurbished older SkyTrain cars. TransLink is refurbishing, and not replacing, the older SkyTrain cars to extend their service life. This costs less than buying new cars while still improving the reliability of the system.

I have certainly been impacted as TransLink works to keep the SkyTrain running, so when I hear people claim that the SkyTrain failures of the last few days are due mismanaged priorities, I have the question the creditably of the people making these claims.

Ironically, the people campaigning to strip TransLink of funding in the name of efficiency may be responsible for the time it took to get service restored and get people moving over the last few days.

What should be apparent from the last few days is that having a resilient transit system is important.

When the SkyTrain was shut down on Thursday, I was able to take the West Coast Express to get back to Langley.

During yesterday’s SkyTrain shutdown, I was able to take the new B Line from Surrey Central to Netwon, catch a bus on the frequent transit network to the new South Surrey Park and Ride, then take an express bus to the Canada Line. I was only 30 minutes late for my work which is near the Olympic Village in Vancouver.

Due to the provincially mandated requirement to become more efficient, TransLink has reduced the resiliency of the system.

For example, TransLink didn’t purchase a $20 million backup system that may have allowed SkyTrain service to be restored faster on Thursday. Also, TransLink doesn’t have the long-term funding to pay for the over $1 billion in upgrades that will be required to keep the SkyTrain from becoming overcrowded and running as reliably as possible over the coming decades.

TransLink has tightened up the amount of spare buses and staffing on the bus network. This means that when emergency bus service is needed, there are fewer people available to drive these buses, and few buses available.

Running an efficiency transit system is important, but should transit service be optimized at the expense of reliability?

I will say that TranLink does need to review how it communicates information to customers during a SkyTrain shutdown. I have posted about this in the past, and moving forward, I hope TransLink will work to improve how it communicates to customers during a discontinuation of SkyTrain service. This includes simple things like providing information about where to catch a bus bridge.

Over the last week, the whole region has been made aware of the important role that transit plays in getting people around Metro Vancouver. A well-funded transit system is critical for the livability of people who live in our region.

Monday, July 21, 2014

City of Langley Updated Neighbourhood Profiles

Every few years, the City of Langley releases statistical profiles for the various neighbourhoods in the community. These neighbourhood profile areas are based on the location of elementary schools in the City.

Land-use map from City of Langley Official Community Plan. Select image to enlarge.

The City of Langley has defined six neighbourhoods in total. The Nicomekl River and floodplain runs through the middle of the City. Neighbourhoods north of the Nicomekl River include Nicomekl and Douglas; neighbourhoods south of the Nicomekl River include Simonds, Blacklock, Alice Brown, and Upland. Besides being a physical separator, the Nicomekl River is also a social-economic and land-use divider.

City of Langley Neighbourhoods. Select image to enlarge.

Neighbourhoods south of the Nicomekl River have single-use, residential zoning with the vast majority of housing being single-family. Almost all housing was building between 1960 and 1990, and there has been very little change in the last quarter century.

Neighbourhoods north of the Nicomekl River are more diverse. They contain a variety of housing options: single-family, row houses, and apartments. The neighbourhoods north of the river are also home to retail, offices, service, and industrial businesses. They are also home to the mixed-use, downtown core.

Almost all development activity in the City has occurred north of the Nicomekl River, and has not been single-family housing. In fact, the amount of single-family housing in the City of Langley has remained contain. Both the Nicomekl and Douglas neighbourhoods contain the newest housing stock. Over 90% of population growth has occurred in neighbourhoods north of the Nicomekl, with the Nicomekl neighbourhood absorbing the majority of the growth.

The average household income in neighbourhoods north of the Nicomekl range between $43,016 and $53,760, while the average household income in neighbourhoods south of the Nicomekl range between $89,636 and $94,916.

The overall population of the City of Langley continues to age with the Douglas neighbourhood having the older population in the City.

For more information about neighbourhoods in the City of Langley, you can download the full neighbourhood profiles.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Langley received $83.9 million in transportation services from TransLink in 2013

One of the common things I hear in Langley is that TransLink is taking money from the community while only delivering marginal services. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I looked at TransLink’s 2013 Bus Service Performance Review, TransLink’s 2013 Statutory Annual Report, plus the 2013 Annual Report from both the City of Langley and Township of Langley. What I found is that Langley actually gets more from TransLink than it puts in. Both the City and Township of Langley may be getting close to $9 million in extra services that directly benefit these communities.

My calculation doesn’t include the cost for SkyTrain, West Coast Express, other regional transit routes, or other major roads that are partial funded by TransLink. In fact, I didn’t even include the 320, 341, 364, 388, or C70 bus lines that connect directly into Langley. When factoring in these additional services, Langley is getting an even better deal by being a part of TransLink.

Revenue Received

Property Tax
Township of Langley: $12.1 million
City of Langley: $2.8 million
Total: $14.9 million

Golden Ears Bridge Tolls: $39.4 million

Total Actual Revenue Collected: $54.3 million

Estimated Fuel Tax Collected: $15 million
(Fuel tax collected is about equal to property tax collected regionally)

Estimated Transit Fare Collected: $5.5 million
(Based on 40% fare-box recovery)

Total of Actual and Estimated Revenue Collected: $74.8 million

Service Provided

Transit Service (Bus Lines)
501/590: $2.8 million
502: $5.2 million
509: $261,000
531: $1.4 million
555: $1.2 million
595: $1.1 million
C60: $302,000
C61: $320,000
C62: $770,000
C63: $302,000
C64: $286,000
Total: $14 million

Major Road Network
City of Langley: $299,000
Township of Langley: $2.3 million
Total MRN Cost: $2.6 million

Golden Ears Bridge Cost: $67.3 million

Total Cost of Services Delivered: $83.9 million

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bus ridership up as TransLink improves service in the South of Fraser

In April, I posted that transit ridership started to decline in 2013 and into 2014. This is no surprise giving the fact that TransLink has been forced to cut service* as a result of provincially mandated “service optimization”. This optimization, combined with the unwilling of the province to work with the region to come up with a long-term funding solution for transit in Metro Vancouver, is limiting the transit growth and the livability of our region.

Yesterday, TransLink released their 2013 Bus Service Performance review. I thought I’d share some of the highlights from the review.

2010 – 2013 Financial and Service Performance Results. Source: TransLink Financial Planning & Translink System Analytics, Not Automated Passenger Counter Data. Select graph to enlarge.

The amount of transit service hours in the region has been modestly declining over the last few years. While ridership has dropped, the amount of system boardings per service hour has actually gone up: 4 percent for the overall transit system, and 6% when only looking at the bus system. This shows that people are willing to take transit, but there simply isn’t enough service.

TransLink’s transit service can't be delivered more efficiently. For the few years prior to 2013, TransLink was able to reduce service hours while still growing transit ridership. When cutting service hours results in reduce ridership, it means that you shouldn’t cut service further.

2010 – 2013 Bus Service Performance by Sub-Region. Source: TransLink Automated Passenger Counting Data. Select graph to enlarge.

One of the common complaints about TransLink from people in the South of Fraser is that the South of Fraser is paying for Vancouver’s transit system. When looking at the numbers, TransLink has made the heaviest investment in bus transit service in the South of Fraser. Between 2010 and 2013, bus service hours have increased by 11%. While this is an impressive number, the South of Fraser is still playing catch-up when it comes to transit service in the region. Further increases to bus service hours —giving people the transit service they need— will require new long-term funding.

In Vancouver, bus service hours have only increase by 1.2%; bus service hours aren't even keeping up with population growth.

When it comes to overall ridership, the South of Fraser has experienced the highest percent growth in the region. Even while overall transit ridership has dipped, transit ridership in Surrey, White Rock, and Langley actually increased by 2 percent in 2013. In Vancouver, transit ridership dropped by 2 percent.

2010 – 2013 Bus Ridership Trends by Sub Region. Source: TransLink Automated Passenger Counting Data. Select graph to enlarge.

TransLink has good information in its 2013 Bus Service Performance Overview. I suggest you read the full 26 page summary for more information.

*As part of TransLink's service optimization, bus service hours have been shifted around the network to better match demand. For example transit frequency has been increase along Fraser Highway, but bus service to Salmon River Uplands in Langley has been cancelled. Between 2012 and 2013, overall system service hours has decreased by 2 percent.