Wednesday, January 29, 2014

TransLink ain't that bad compared to SEPTA or WMATA

It seems that every day TransLink is in the news for something. The transit agency has become the whipping boy for all that is wrong with transportation in our region. For the last five days, I was in Washington, DC and Philadelphia. While in both cities, I used transit to get around. SEPTA is the name of the largest agency in Philadelphia and WMATA (Metro) is the name of the largest agency in Washington, DC. They are some of the busiest transit agencies in North America. Whenever I come back home, I’m always reminded at how good our transit system is and how well it actually works.

One of the thing that I’ve heard in Metro Vancouver is a call for TransLink to be broken up into smaller agencies. For example, some people are calling for a South of Fraser transit agency. This would be the worst thing possible. One of the things that makes our transit system easy to use is that one monthly pass or single-fare ticket can get you access to the whole system.

Philadelphia is served by three transit agencies: SEPTA, PATCO, and New Jersey Transit. Washington, DC is served by five different transit agencies. On a typical commute, one may need to purchase passes or fare products from multiply agencies. Beyond that, figuring out what to pay and what passes you need within the same agency can be confusing. Even how to pay can be confusing.

Philadelphia’s SEPTA has to have the most arcane fare system of any mayor city in North America. While SEPTA is currently working on introducing a smartcard payment system, it is several years out from going into full service. SEPTA has an eight-panel brochure that outlines the different fare options and pricing.

SEPTA’s transit operations are also very people heavy. Each transit station has a handful of agents that collect cash payments, or punch tickets and passes. Each commuter train has at least two conductors that actually collects cash payment onboard.

Actual ticket received when paying on board a SEPTA regional rail train. Click image to enlarge. And you though TransLink was confusing!

While in Vancouver, we can pay with cash, credit, or debit at transit stations; SEPTA is a cash-only affair expect for a few stations where you can use electronic payment to purchase fare products directly from a fully-staff SEPTA ticket office.

People like to say that TransLink is full of fat, but I suggest they look at other transit agencies throughout North America before making that judgement call.

One of the other things that we take for granted in Metro Vancouver is that when we purchase a ticket, it is good for 90 minutes. A pass is good on all forms of transit in our region. This is not the case in Philadelphia or Washington, DC. A ticket is only good for one ride (though both SEPTA and WMATA offer discounts when transferring). In Washington, DC, you actually need to purchase a separate bus pass and rail pass from WMATA!

One of the reasons that was used to justify the installation of faregates in Metro Vancouver was that they provide more perceived safety. I can tell you this is not the case. In both faregated Philadelphia and Washington, DC, most of the transit stations are poorly lit. In Philadelphia, many of the stations must also be accessed by winding, seemingly endless underground corridors. The combination made me even feel uncomfortable. It certainly is a contrast to the brightly lit, and easily accessible stations on TransLink.

Of course both SEPTA and WMATA do many things right, some of which TransLink should consider implementing. I’ll save that for another post.

TransLink is not without its flaws, but we have a great system and a solid foundation for expansion in the future.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Thanks for the comparison.