Thursday, August 3, 2017

Bus service speeds are slowing down throughout Metro Vancouver. Find out why the 96 B-Line is not.

Early last month, I posted about TransLink’s 10 Year Plan for transit expansion and transportation improvements throughout our region. This plan is currently being implemented, and there is more bus service today thanks to these improvements which started in earnest last year.

As I noted at the time, about 25% of the new bus service hours being implemented are to combate congestion to ensure that buses can continue to run on-time. Congestion is increasing in our region, but even with this increasing congestion, there are ways to ensure that buses can stay on-time, and service doesn’t slow to a crawl.

When it comes to bus service speed there are a few factors at play. The first is how many stops a bus makes. For regular bus service, the more stops a bus makes, the slower the route becomes. Another factor that impacts bus service speed in how many people board/disembark at each stop. The more people, the longer a bus needs to dwell at a stop. The third factor that impacts bus speed is the number of other vehicles that are using the same lane as a bus; regular old congestion.

What can be done to ensure that bus service speeds don’t slow down? Limited stop service, like the B-Lines, combat the first challenge with stops. The second challenge can be combated with off-bus ticketing. For example, on some routes in Seattle, you can tap in at the bus stop.

An example of off-bus ticketing from Seattle.

Giving buses a way out of congestion takes the help of local governments. For example, TransLink’s data shows that the 96 B-Line which runs along King George Boulevard and 104 Avenue has maintained a consistent service speed of around 23km/h since its introduction in 2013. As shown in the following pictures, Surrey has also invested in bus queue-jumper lanes in key areas to get buses out of congestion.

A bus priority lane along King George Boulevard. Source: https://twitter.com/SkyTrain4Surrey/status/644307139792535552

A bus using a queue jumper lane along King George Boulevard. Source: http://www.surrey.ca/city-services/7585.aspx

The 321 which is a local bus that is subject to all three slow-service factors operates along King George Boulevard. It has maintained its service speed at an average of 27km/h over the years.

The 503 is a limited stop service that runs along Fraser Highway. Its service speed has reduced from an average of 35 km/h in 2014 when the service first started, to an average of 34 km/h in 2016.

The 502 is a local bus that runs along Fraser Highway. Its service speed has reduced from an average of 29 km/h in 2013 to 26 km/h in 2016.

I take the 502 or 503 daily, and can attest that the biggest factor in slow service is congestion along some sections of Fraser Highway. Like Surrey did along King George Boulevard, bus priority lanes in certain sections of Fraser Highway should be built.

Municipalities and TransLink must work together to ensure that buses have a way out of congestion by adding queue jumper lanes, bus lanes, and even off-bus ticketing where required to speed up service. These are all capital costs that will reduce operating costs and help keep buses running on-time.

25% is a big number. Just imagine what service improvements could be implemented if TransLink didn’t have to use precious service hours to deal with congestion.

Note: Bus speed data is from TransLink’s recently released 2016 Transit Service Performance Review.

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