Thursday, March 21, 2019

Record ridership drives increased revenue for TransLink, even as fuel tax revenue declines

TransLink is in the process of releasing its year-end reports for 2018. As part of that process, the organization is presenting its 2018 Statutory Annual Report to the TransLink board tomorrow. One of the items in that report is its consolidated statement of operations.

2018 TransLink Consolidated Statement of Operations. Select table to enlarge.

TransLink received about $1.46 billion in revenue from Metro Vancouver via direct taxation and fares in 2018. About 44% of that direct revenue came from fares (and other revenue such as transit advertising.)

There are two things that stand out when it comes to revenue that TransLink received. The first is that fuel tax continues to be an unstable, and slowing declining, source of revenue for the agency. Fuel tax revenue was $7.1 million below what was budgeted in 2018. As noted in the report, “this was as a result of record high fuel prices in the first half of 2018 as a result of a refinery shut down, which caused consumers to look outside the region to purchase fuel.”

Fuel tax will need to be replaced with another revenue stream over the next decade as people continue to drive less due to better walking, cycling, and transit options, due to the cost of fuel, and due to people switching to electric vehicles. The Mayors’ Council and TransLink are studying replacement options.

Due to one of the largest increases in transit service in our region, transit ridership increased a record 7.1% in boardings and 6.0% in journeys between 2017 and 2018*. This delivered an additional $32 million in revenue beyond what was budgeted for 2018 which more than made up for the dip in fuel tax revenue. It seams that if you build it, they will come.

TransLink’s expenditures cover more than just the delivery of bus and rail services, but I wanted to focus on these two items. Rail service usually receives the majority of attention, but it is bus service that is backbone of our transit network. Of the close to $1.03 billion that is invested into delivering transit service, 70% of it is for bus service.

Financially, TransLink had a positive year in 2018.

*a journey represents a complete transit trip and does not count transfers. A boarding is counted every time a passenger enters a fare paid zone, including transfers. More information is available on TransLink’s website.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Transit Update: Bigger buses proposed for Fraser Highway. Expo Line to Langley next steps.

Since the municipal elections last fall, there has been some changes when it comes to the future of public transit along Fraser Highway. Fraser Highway hosts some of the busiest and most overcrowded bus routes in the South of Fraser.

One of the major changes was the switch from building light rail along Fraser Highway, 104th Avenue, and King George Boulevard, to expanding the Expo Line to Langley.

Proposed alignment for Expo Line extension to Langley. Select map to enlarge.

In a recent report to the TransLink board, the following facts about the proposed Expo Line extension were presented:

  • The preliminary cost estimate for a 16-kilometre SkyTrain extension from King George Station to 203 Street in Langley City is $2.9 billion (2017)
  • 14.3 kilometres of the extension will be in Surrey and 1.7 kilometres will be in Langley
  • There will be 8 stations:
    • Two stations between King George Boulevard and the Fleetwood area
    • Two stations in the Fleetwood area
    • Two stations in the Clayton area
    • One station in the Township of Langley (Willowbrook)
    • One station in Langley City
  • There is $1.6 billion available to build SkyTrain to Langley, leaving a gap of $1.3 billion

TransLink is currently projecting that the following work will be completed by the spring of 2020 for the Expo Line extension:

  • Finalize requirements gathering
  • Final reference design
  • Updating capital and operating cost estimates
  • Updating ridership forecasting and other project benefits
  • Confirming the procurement and delivery strategy
  • Confirming scope that can be delivered for approximately $1.6 billion
  • Public and stakeholder engagement
  • Environmental review and studies
  • First Nations reviews
  • Municipal support agreements
  • Business case development

Once these items have been completed, it will allow for the securing of funding approval from the federal and provincial governments, plus the Mayors’ Council. If all goes well, construction of the Expo Line extension could start in 2021/22.

One of the major challenges for the Mayors’ Council will be to secure the additional $1.3 billion to build SkyTrain to Langley.

If timelines don’t slip and funding is secured, SkyTrain to Langley could open in about six years from now. That means that for the next six years, something needs to be done to improve transit along Fraser Highway. Originally, there was going to be a Fraser Highway B-Line. This was cancelled due to the switch to SkyTrain. Even with this cancellation, TransLink and municipalities are looking at ways to address the overcrowding and reliability issues caused by congestion along Fraser Highway.

In Langley City, we are investigating building bus-only lanes along certain sections of Fraser Highway, 203rd Street, and Logan Avenue. I’m hopeful that the same conversation is occurring in Surrey to build some transit priority measures, such as bus-only lanes, along sections of Fraser Highway.

TransLink is also investigating bringing B-Line style buses to Fraser Highway, and improving the current B-Line along King George and 104th Avenue.

As stated in a recent report, “With the recent cancellation of the Fraser Highway B-Line, there will be changes to the roll-out of the new B-Line Program. The 96 B-Line, once slated for cancellation in favour of rail, will now be upgraded. [TransLink] is considering changes to the very busy Route 502 Fraser Highway, including deploying articulated buses.”

We are in exciting times when it comes to building better transit in the South of Fraser. If funding can be secured, we will finally be getting the transit service required to give people a way out of congestion in Surrey and Langley.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Langley Youth and Family Services: A free program to help youth with disruptive behaviour problems

Over the past few months, Langley City council has been receiving presentations from city departments, programs that the city funds, and other non-profit organizations as part of the orientation process of the new council term which runs from the start of November 2018 to the end of October 2022. One of the presentations that we received recently was from Langley Youth and Family Services.

Langley Youth and Family Services is a unique program that is funded jointly by the Township of Langley and Langley City to help young people in our community reduce their interaction with the criminal justice system, and improve their mental health literacy.

The program’s scope is as follows:

  • To provide counselling to children and youth (ages 5 – 17) who are identified by Langley RCMP because of involvement in delinquent or pre-delinquent behaviours.
  • To provide counselling to children and youth (ages 5 – 17) who are identified by Langley community partners because of disruptive behaviour problems.
  • To include parents/guardians in the counselling for the purpose of supporting and assisting their role in creating a positive, responsible lifestyle for the children.
  • To liaise and collaborate with Langley RCMP and Langley community partners in order to enhance and develop crime prevention strategies, policies, and services for the Langleys.

If you or someone you know could benefit from this program, they can be referred via a school counsellor, family doctor or pediatrician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional. People are also referred via the RCMP. Information about the referral process is available online. This free program is only available to people who live in Langley.

The program has been running since 1977. Currently, there are only a handful of communities in British Columbia that have similar programs. Ted Leavitt, who is the program manager, noted that about 80% of the people that go through the program do not show up in the RCMP system within a six-month period. He also mentioned that the Langley program is used by other communities as a reference.

By helping young people early on, this program supports them in becoming more positive and productive members of our community. This is good for that person, society in general, and our municipality as it means less calls for service from the police and other municipal services which ends up saving money.

Monday, March 18, 2019

My experience catching the 562. Improving the customer experience at rural bus stops.

During the course of the year, I board well over 1,000 transit vehicles as I use transit to get to work in Downtown Vancouver from my home in Downtown Langley. Due to the number of times I take transit, sometimes I have a negative experience on transit. These negative experiences as far and few between; I can count them on one hand. Last week, I had a negative experience.

Last Wednesday, I was invited to speak at a meeting in Fort Langley in the evening. I decided to take the 562 which provides transit service between Langley City, Fort Langley, and Walnut Grove. This route is special because it is one of only a few transit routes in Metro Vancouver that isn’t operated by the publicly-owned Coast Mountain Bus Company. Its operation is contracted out by TransLink to First Transit which is a private corporation.

Unlike Coast Mountain Bus Company, the 562 lacks a key feature of other routes, real-time information. Because the 562 is a bus that runs every hour past 6pm, and is known to be inconsistent, there is always a bit of anxiety when the bus doesn’t arrive at its scheduled time. The route’s transit operators also don’t have the full communication system like Coast Mountain Bus Company operated routes.

An example bus stop in the Township of Langley (208th Street at 82nd Avenue.) Select image to enlarge.

I was waiting to catch the 8:11pm 562 at Wright Street and 88th Avenue. The bus was running late, but I didn’t know that because there was no real-time information. This section of 88 Avenue is poorly lit. There was no lighting of any sort at the bus stop. Given that this is the first bus stop after a long stretch of rural road, and due to the lack of lighting, I figured that there would be a high chance that I would be passed up.

When I saw the bus coming down into Fort Langley, I started waving my phone around. The transit operator did pass the stop, but luckily saw me at the last second, and pulled over past the stop to let me board. I was told by the operator, who was not very happy with me, that I wasn’t being visible enough.

This situation shouldn’t have happened. It was the result of design decisions that can be corrected.

Bus stops in rural areas need to be designed differently than bus stops in urban areas which generally have good street lighting. Ideally, there should be lighting at rural bus stops. As a younger, able-bodied male, I felt uncomfortable waiting at a dark bus stop. I told my friend who used to live in Fort Langley about this bus stop, she told me that she would never wait for a bus at night there because she felt unsafe.

If lighting a bus stop is not possible, adding reflective material to the bus stop sign and sign pole would help make the stop more visible. In Seattle, you can press a button at some bus stops which causes a light to flash above the bus stop sign.

If the transit operator had the more advanced communication system like Coast Mountain Bus Company operated routes, they would have been reminded that a bus stop was coming up.

A few changes to rural bus stop design could make for a better customer experience. Waiting for the 562 should not be a harrowing adventure.