Monday, August 27, 2012

What is more important, lines on a map or frequent transit service?

Over the summer, I’ve had the chance to chat with transit planners and politicians about transit in the South of Fraser. One of the conversation topics that comes up is, money being constant, should our transit system have more routes with infrequent service or less routes with frequent service? I believe that the key to providing transit service that people will use is to provide a core network of frequent service and not as many routes with infrequent service.

One of the things that I hear is that buses constantly run half-empty in the South of Fraser. While this is not the case for the handful of frequent service bus routes that are constantly overcrowded, the reality is that buses with infrequent service don’t attract people to transit. Planners know this and politicians know this, so why are new low-frequency bus routes still being created and older routes not consolidated to provide more frequent transit service.

Planners say that politicians like “lines on a map” and politician don’t want to be accused of not providing service to everyone, everywhere. The perfect example of what happens with this kind of thinking is the 502 via Salmon River. The 502 between Langley City and Aldergrove runs every 30 minutes, but has two trips a day through Salmon River. Yes there is technically a bus through Salmon River, but is this routing truly useful and the best way to provide transit service?

I have to agree with the TransLink Commissioner when it comes to the Community Shuttle program not being effective. As I live on a Community Shuttle route, it really does feel like token, not-very-useful transit service. I can already hear people say: what about people with disabilities, seniors, and folks that make a lower salary than most? I have a few friends that have physical disabilities and they have nothing good to say about the Community Shuttle program. I know that those people with disabilities who take transit would prefer normal buses and frequent service. Research shows that people will walk further to frequent transit. Frequent transit benefits people with lower salaries as it gives them service that runs more often and longer, giving more work and recreational opportunities. I also know many seniors that prefer more frequent transit service and would be willing to walk 10 minutes to a bus stop instead of 5 minutes. For people that have severe mobility challenges, I believe that funding should be improved for services like the taxi saver program instead of wasting money on buses that run 4 times a day.

While it would not be practical or even necessary to only provide frequent transit service, given the choice between 3 low frequency routes or 1 high frequency route, I’d choose the 1 high frequency route.

1 comment:

OctaviusIII said...

Jarrett Walker advocates for separating out the twin purposes of transit: access (lines on a map) and ridership (frequent service).

You do have to accommodate the captive transit riders, but that shouldn't be a constant drain on the ridership lines. Drawing a clear distinction between the two allows more intelligent budgeting and intelligent planning.

On a regional scale, this goes back to the transit equity you mentioned last week. It would serve far greater ridership to build a subway to UBC than to enhance service on C62 or even the 502.

But that doesn't mean TransLink ought to cut those for the sake of the subway; it just means TransLink has more than one customer base to satisfy.