Monday, November 30, 2015

Compass Card roll out update, and understanding Compass Card reader messages

Over the last month, TransLink’s Compass Card roll out has been ramping-up. According to recent media reports, about 22% of all monthly pass holders have transitioned to the Compass Card. CNIB clients, U-Pass holders, and people that have a subsidized BC Bus Pass are also using the Compass Card.

December is the last month that people can purchase paper monthly passes, so all pass holders will be switched over to the Compass Card in January 2016. The next phase for TransLink will be the discontinuation of the paper FareSaver tickets likely by the summer of 2016.

As everyone knows, the Compass Card program was delayed because of problems with people tapping on the bus. While there are certainly issues with tapping out due to a lack of readers which impacts people exiting busy buses at a major stops, most of the problems were due to people not knowing how to tap properly.

At the beginning of the month, people where waving, swiping, and doing all sorts of non-tapping things with their Compass Cards, making it hard or impossible for the reader to register their cards. As this month comes to a close, people have gotten used to just holding their card at a reader until a check is displayed.

Speaking about checks, there are a several different messages and icons that appear when presenting a Compass Card at a reader. Besides the general idea that a check plus green was good, and an “x” plus red was bad, I had no idea what some of the messages were as they flashed up so fast.

TransLink recently posted a Compass Card instruction guide to its website. The guide contains an explanation of the different messages that you’ll see when presenting a Compass Card at a reader.

What you'll see if you've upset a Compass Card reader, and/or don't have the right fare to be travelling

What you'll see if you need to top-up your Compass Card.

When everything is great, you'll see these messages on the Compass Card readers.

From a customer perspective, the Compass Card roll-out has been going well. It will be interesting to see how TransLink will deal with people that pay with cash on the bus and received a ticket that won’t open faregates (tickets issued on buses don’t work with faregates), once all the faregates are fully operations along the SkyTrain network.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Riding BC Transit's 66X through the Fraser Valley - Part 3: Abbotsford's Past, Present, and Future

This week, I have been posting about the trip that my friend Paul Hillsdon and I took on the new BC Transit Fraser Valley Express/66X on the weekend. In part 1, we journeyed from the Carvolth Park and Ride to Downtown Chilliwack. We then travelled back to the McCallum Road stop in Abbotsford. In part 2, we meet up with Patrick Oystryk, a planner with the City of Abbotsford who is working on Abbotsforward, and walked along McCallum Road to Historic Downtown Abbotsford where we had lunch. Today is the final installment of this series.

While Paul, Patrick, and I were having lunch in a 100+ year old building in Downtown Abbotsford, we started talking about the history of the area. One of the things that I noticed was that while Downtown Abbotsford has some very old buildings, over the years many have been altered in such a way that you wouldn’t know their age.

Abbotsford has a rich history that predates the arrival of colonizers, and even has an interesting colonial history. For example, the community is home to the oldest existing Sikh temple in North America, the Gur Sikh Temple.

Present day Abbotsford was two municipalities up until 1995: the District of Matsqui and the District Municipality of Abbotsford. The word Matsqui is derived from the Halkomelem language and means a "stretch of higher ground." Abbotsford was named to commemorate a guy named Harry Braithwaite Abbott and some castle in Scotland. I don’t know if I’m reading too deep into this, but it is interesting that Matsqui wasn’t chosen as the name for the merged municipality.

After chatting about the history of Abbotsford, we started talking about growth in Abbotsford. Patrick told us that many people have the assumption that Abbotsford is growing at a fast pace. This was true in the past, but that growth has slowed significantly over the last decade. Another assumption about Abbotsford is that it is a sprawling city. This is actually not the case. As urban Abbotsford is bound by the Agricultural Land Reserve and Sumas Mountains, the only way that Abbotsford can grow is up.

After lunch, we decided to make our way to the High Street mall. Patrick was also really keen on taking us to Oldhand Coffee, a hipster coffee joint, which was along the way. Our plan was to take the 2 Bluejay – Huntingdon, another one of Abbotsford's “frequent” transit routes that runs every 30 minutes. As we were waiting for this bus, and for subsequent buses, it became apparent that the bus schedule was more of a suggested arrival time. Every bus we took in Abbotsford was late by at least 10 minutes.

Nathan, Patrick, and Paul enjoying a coffee at Oldhand Coffee

South Fraser Way is the main east/west commercial road through Abbotsford. It is also in the centre of urban Abbotsford. A large percentage of Abbotsford’s population is about a 15 minute walk from South Fraser Way.

The urban form is a mix of strip malls, regular malls, big box, offices, and even buildings that front the street. I wouldn’t want to walk on that street today, but the road reminded me of pictures I saw of Vancouver’s Broadway back in the 1970s. If Abbotsford is able to transform the built-form of South Fraser Way, it has the potential to create a great transit street like Broadway in Vancouver.

After coffee, we boarded another 2 towards High Street. High Street is a mall at the edge of town, and is a popular destination for both people in Abbotsford and Langley. The traffic jam around the mall was insane. Because there is no bus prioritization in Abbotsford, buses get stuck in traffic. This meant that Paul and I missed our bus back to Langley; we had two hours to kill at High Street. We ended up going to one of the restaurants in the mall after wondering around High Street for a bit. If you want to know my views about High Street, check out an earlier post I did.

Paul and I checking out the Christmas decorations in High Street. Select image to enlarge.

When it came time to catch the 66X back to Langley, Paul and I headed to its bus stop. We waited, and waited, then waited some more. We wondered if the bus was coming. In Metro Vancouver, there is real-time bus information that lets you know exactly where buses are. There is also a customer service department that can help you out. In Abbotsford, there is no real-time bus information, and customer service doesn’t have the best hours.

The bus did come, but it was 30 minutes late. This was due to an accident on Highway 1. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a bus that runs every 2 hours, and having no idea where it is. In Metro Vancouver, we really take for granted all the tech that makes taking TransLink easy.

Looking east from High Street. There is a city in there somewhere. Select image to enlarge.

If I'm heading out to Abbotsford or Chilliwack in the future, I will take the 66X again. It was really great of Patrick to take time out of his schedule to tour us around Abbotsford. For all those Vancouver urbanists that dismiss the Fraser Valley, you should take note. Good things are happening here, but it will take gentle nudges to ensure things move along the path of livability.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Riding BC Transit's 66X through the Fraser Valley - Part 2: An introduction to Abbotsforward

Yesterday, I posted about the first part of the journey that Paul Hillsdon and I took along the Fraser Valley Express/66X on the weekend. After our brief stop in Downtown Chilliwack, Paul and I boarded the 66X back to Abbotsford. We disembarked at the McCallum Road Park and Ride, just south of Highway 1. The journey took around 35 minutes.

Patrick Oystryk, a planner with the City of Abbotsford, met us at the Park and Ride. One of our first orders of business was to catch a local BC Transit bus to Historic Downtown Abbotsford to have lunch.

Patrick and Paul at the 66X bus stop at McCallum Road. Select image to enlarge.

We were going to take the 3 Clearbrook – UFV. This route is marketed as a “frequent” transit route. I say “frequent” because service is every 30 minutes most of the day with every 15 minutes service during weekday peak periods. In Metro Vancouver, we would call this a regular bus route.

True frequent transit is 15 minutes or better service all day, every day. The perfect example is the 502 which I take along Fraser Highway. During peak periods, there is a bus every 5 minutes with off-peak service every 15 minutes.

Interestingly, the number 3 doesn’t stop at the same bus stop as the 66X. One of the other odd things I noticed about Abbotsford’s transit system was that its bus stops are mid-block. They are not at intersections like in Metro Vancouver which helps people transfer between routes, and get to their preferred side of the street safely.

At the McCallum Road interchange, people walking and cycling are forced to share a small sidewalk. Select image to enlarge.

I asked Patrick about Abbotsford’s mid-block bus stop configuration. He told me that this was to done to reduce the delays that buses may cause to people driving their personal automobiles. This is very different to how transportation planning is done in cities like Surrey. As you may imagine, this bus stop configuration causes people to cross roads without using crosswalks.

Unfortunately, we just missed the bus by a few minutes. Missing the 3 foreshowed other challenges we would experience with Abbotsford's transit system throughout the day.

Because we missed the bus, Patrick, Paul, and I decided to walk from the Park and Ride to Downtown Abbotsford.

This was actually a great walk, even if we had to squeeze between utility poles that were installed in the middle of the sidewalk along McCallum, because Patrick was able to tell us about the Abbotsforward Official Community Plan update process.

Most communities that update their Official Community Plan do public outreach as part of the update process. Most of the time, this involves a municipality advertising that people should attend one of their events.

Because Abbotsford wants this plan to truly represent the vision of all people who live in the community, instead of expecting people to come to city events, the City has come to them. Patrick told us that he has been all over the community, reaching out to residents, and getting their feedback about what they would like future Abbotsford to look like. Because the City of Abbotsford has decided to reach out to the community, Patrick told use that the feedback has been amazing.

One of the other cool things about the Abbotsforward plan is that it is based on how the community should look like, and what services should be available, based on certain population targets. Most Official Community Plan are based on year targets.

For example, it makes more sense to plan for an expanded community center when the population increases by 20,000, then to expand a community centre just because it happens to be 2020. It also makes more sense to plan a transportation network based on population as well.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Abbotsforward plan adopted by Abbotsford City Council because I believe it will move Abbotsford forward, along the path of sustainability.

Paul, Nathan, and Patrick: a selfie in Downtown Abbotsford. Select image to enlarge.

After about 20 minutes, Patrick, Paul, and I arrived in Downtown Abbotsford for lunch. Tomorrow, I will be posting about our adventure getting from Downtown to the High Street Mall on the other side of town via BC Transit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Riding BC Transit's 66X through the Fraser Valley - Part 1

Over the past decade, transit service between the Fraser Valley Regional District and Metro Vancouver has greatly improved. Before 2007, there was no public transit available between Langley and Abbotsford, even though there is a large number of people that travel between those two communities.

In the fall of 2007, BC Transit started providing bus service between Aldergrove and Abbotsford. I posted about my experience taking that service back in 2012.

This spring, BC Transit launched the Fraser Valley Express/66X which links the Carvorth Park and Ride in Langley, with Abbotsford and Chilliwack. On Saturday, my good friend Paul Hillsdon and I decided to check out this new service.

Fraser Valley Express route. Select to enlarge.

Along the way, we met up with Patrick Oystryk. He is working on Abbotsforward. Abbotsforward is the name of Abbotsford's Official Community Plan update project.

One of the first things I noticed at Carvolth was the demand for the 66X service. There was a lineup of people waiting to get on the bus.

People waiting to board the 66X at Carvolth Park and Ride. Select image to enlarge.

Metro Vancouver’s, Abbotsford’s, and Chilliwack’s transit systems all have different fares, tickets, and passes. The 66X also has its own fares, tickets, and passes. No transfers are issued on the 66X. If you were a regular user of this service between Abbotsford and Langley, you would have to have a Compass Card, a 66X pass, and an Abbotsford transit pass.

One of the major reasons why regions in Canada and the US switch to smart card systems like the Compass Card is because it allows people to load up passes and an e-purse which can be used on disparate systems. Having the Compass Card as a form of payment on the 66X, and in the future on other Fraser Valley transit systems, would greatly improve the travel experience for all transit users.

One of the first things that Paul noticed was that unlike TransLink which uses highway coaches on long-distance or routes that primarily run on freeways, the 66X is a regular urban transit bus. I told Paul that he was just spoiled with TransLink service, but the truth is that a highway coach would actually be a better fit for the 66X service.

A bus selfie with Paul and me. Select image to enlarge.

When I was a kid, I used to take the Vernon transit system everywhere because my mom refused to drive a car. I guess because she spent her years as a young adult in London and Montreal, she found driving to be uncivilized or something. Anyway, I was a bit surprised to see that the rider guides have not changed in 25 years. I noticed that many people on the 66X didn’t find them the most user-friendly.

Riders confused by the BC Transit Rider Guide timetable. Select image to enlarge.

Paul and I decided to take the 66X all the way to Chilliwack, before heading back to Abbotsford to meet up with Patrick. It took us a little over an hour to get from Carvolth to Downtown Chilliwack.

Paul standing in front of the 66X in Downtown Chilliwack. Select image to enlarge.

Many Vancouver-types believe that the Fraser Valley is nothing but single-family homes and urban sprawl. This isn’t actually the truth. Just like the City of Vancouver, Fraser Valley communities have tracks of single-family housing, but townhouses and apartments are dominant dwelling types throughout Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. I think that even Paul was a bit surprised at the amount of apartments and townhouses in Chilliwack.

While housing in the Fraser Valley is compact, the majority of retail spaces are still very much auto-oriented. The good news is that these auto-oriented retail areas can be turned into mixed-use town centres in the future. If you take the SkyTrain through Burnaby, you can see how shopping malls and strips malls are being transformed into fully-functional town centres.

Paul at Salish Park in Downtown Chilliwack. Select image to enlarge.

Paul and I spent about 20 minutes in Downtown Chilliwack before we boarded the 66X back to Abbotsford.

People boarding the 66X in Downtown Chilliwack. Select image to enlarge.

Tomorrow, I will post about our walking and transit adventure through Abbotsford with Patrick.