Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's about frequncy and speed, stupid

One of the great questions in transit service delivery is do you build a network that is smaller, but provides more frequent service; or do you build a network that covers a larger area, but has lower frequency service? Most transit agencies in North America try to strike a balance, but it seems that most skew to the larger area, less frequency service side of things.

One of the main reasons for this is politics. As all transit agencies are subsidized with some form of tax, the logic to providing a large coverage area is to show that all taxpayers have access to some (even if not practical) form of transit service. Another reason is to provide minimal transit service for captive riders (those people who can’t drive, walk, or cycling to where they need to go.) While I understand the reasons for choosing coverage over frequency, I believe that we need skew transit service delivery toward providing a more frequent, smaller network. But does providing a more frequent network mean that coverage has to suffer as well? In residential areas with ¼ acres or large lots, coverage may suffer, but most urban areas in Metro Vancouver are more compact; we can have the best of both worlds.

I had a friend that went to South Korea over a decade ago, and I remember him telling me that transit stops were spaced much further apart, but service was more frequent. Because the service was more frequent, people were willing to walk further distances to the stops. At the time, I didn’t really thing much about this, but I see this in my life as well.

My apartment is right next to 2 community shuttle routes that run every 30 minutes. I almost never take the community shuttles, but will walk about 10 minutes to the Langley Centre Bus Loop where frequency transit service is available. Providing frequent transit is the key, and as I posted about in the past, the frequency of transit service can play a greater role than density in attracting transit riders. This is why seemingly lower density corridors like Fraser Highway supports multiply frequent transit routes.

While frequency is important, I’m also starting to believe that spacing stop further apart is important too. Each bus stop adds delay to transit service and makes it less competitive to automobile travel. As each bus stop adds delay, it also adds more cost to transit delivery as more buses are required to service the same area.

I was talking to some planners the other day, and we started chatting about how TransLink should focus on rationalizing the bus network on corridors that are served with multiply bus routes, and especially on corridors that have local and express (B-Line) service.

When TransLink introduced the 96 B-Line in Surrey, it keep the 320 (which duplicates some of the 96 B-Line's route) frequent as well. As people are willing to walk greater distances to faster, more frequent service, the 320 service could be reduced or eliminated in the areas that have access to the 96 B-Line. The service hours from the 320 could be reinvested into the 96 B-Line to provide even more frequent service that would attract more riders. This change could actually serve more people than the current 320/96 service.

Another example is the upcoming express bus service that will be introduced along Fraser Highway between Aldergrove and Surrey Centre. The new express service will run every 30 minutes while local service will still be every 15 minutes or better. As with the 320/96, this should be flipped with the express bus service having more frequency.

Building a more frequency transit network with less routes will actually make transit more useful to more people than building a large network with less frequent service.

Interestingly enough, Auckland Transport in New Zealand is reducing the number of bus routes in favour providing less, but more frequent bus service in its region.

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