Monday, December 21, 2015

TransLink performance results in: SkyTrain doing OK, bus service on the decline

TransLink recently released its third quarter results. Over the past several years, there has been a decline in transit ridership. One of the reasons that I theorize why transit ridership is dropping is due to TransLink’s “Service Optimization” program.

With no new money to invest in transit over the last few years, an increase in transit service on one route usually results in a service reduction on another route. While the first round of “service optimization” had a generally positive impact for transit customers, each successive round of “optimizations” has resulted in exceeding more disruptive impacts.

For example in the next year or so, TransLink is planning to “optimize” the 502 service in the City of Langley. Instead of me being able to walk 2 minutes from my house to board a 502 in the morning, I will now have to walk 12 minutes. This isn’t a big deal to me, but will be for others in the community.

TransLink's official messaging around its drop in ridership is that it was caused by fare increases. It is encouraging to see that TransLink is now official starting to recognize that cutting transit service results in people taking less transit.

When discussing transit ridership, located on page 18, TransLink notes “we are continuing our program of service optimization; however, there are now fewer opportunities to improve our efficiency while still minimizing impacts to customers.”

Speaking about transit service reduction, in the first nine months of 2014, TransLink provided 4,689,291 hours of service for scheduled transit. In the first nine months of 2015, TransLink provided 4,674,062 service hours.

Compared to the first nine month of 2014, there was a 1.3% decrease in bus ridership. Ridership on SkyTrain and West Coast Express were static. Overall ridership in the first nine month of 2014 was 270,815,000. In 2015, it was 268,835,000.

The opening of the Evergreen Line in 2017 should cause an increase in transit ridership, but if the province and the mayors can’t agree on long-term funding for transit, the quality of transit service in Metro Vancouver will continue to decline.

On the topic of transit service quality, there has been a lot of attention focused on SkyTrain reliability since the meltdowns during the summer of 2014. SkyTrain had an on-time performance of 95.4% in the first nine month of 2013. This dropped to 92.8% in the same period in 2014. So far this year, on-time performance has bounced back at 96.1%.

Because of all the media coverage around every single SkyTrain breakdown since the summer of 2014, people actually think the SkyTrain is less reliable than it actually is.

Bus service on the on-the other hand has seen on-time reliability drop. 82.3% of buses in the first nine months of 2014 arrived within 2 minutes of their scheduled time. That number dropped to 81.7% in 2015. “Service Optimization” and increasing road congestion play a large role in deteriorating bus service.

While people spend a lot of time critiquing SkyTrain, the system is actually performing relatively well. That focus needs to shift to how bus service is being paid for and delivered in Metro Vancouver. As I pointed out last week, the backbone of our transit network in Metro Vancouver is the bus network. Declining bus ridership and service quality is not good for the livability of our region.

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