TransLink boss maps out transit surge option

Quick relief for crowded buses possible – if Metro Vancouver mayors and B.C. government can make a deal to deliver more money

Chronic overcrowding is a problem not just in Vancouver but on several routes in Surrey

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond is quietly crafting a plan to quickly put many more buses on Metro Vancouver’s heavily congested transit routes – provided area mayors and the province can strike a deal this fall to deliver more money.

Desmond told Black Press a 10 per cent increase in bus service hours could start to flow in as little as five months – early 2017 – if the extra operating money can be found in the next few months.

It would be the fastest-ever service increase in TransLink’s history and it would come by keeping old buses slated for retirement this winter on the road a few years longer and treating the new buses that will soon arrive to replace them as an expansion of the fleet instead.

“If we can figure out a way to get this program funded we can get service out really, really fast,” Desmond said.

He also envisions an even faster increase to off-peak SkyTrain frequency, along with a third SeaBus and another West Coast Express train over the next two to three years.

“My priority is, given the needs of this region, let’s get it out as fast as possible. The big if is what those funding sources would be and when they can come on line.”

Desmond made the comments Wednesday as TransLink released its 2015 Transit Service Performance Review, which paints a stark picture of crowding on transit, with passengers increasingly being passed up as demand outstrips even population growth.

“We are slowly but surely falling behind,” he said.

Desmond declined to spell out more details yet on the cost of the service lift he’s proposing or how it might be funded – citing talks underway between the mayors and the province.

But the new review is likely to increase the pressure on local and provincial politicans to finally solve the funding puzzle.

‘CHRONIC OVERCROWDING’

According to the new report, transit ridership is steadily growing – up 2.1 per cent overall and up five per cent on buses South of the Fraser from 2014 to 2015.

Without new funding sources sought by mayors, transit service hours per capita have fallen steadily since 2010.

One TransLink map (see below) shows bus routes with “chronic overcrowding” on major corridors throughout most of the region. South of the Fraser, the heavily congested routes include Fraser Highway, despite buses running there every six minutes, as well as 104 Avenue and Scott Road in Surrey, the 555 from Langley over the Port Mann Bridge, and the 351 from South Surrey to the Canada Line.

“We need to be adding a bunch of service south of that river,” Desmond said. “That’s where the population growth is and that’s where our network needs to be improved. We’re under-serving that part of the region.”

SkyTrain use has also been steadily growing but TransLink is maxed out for now on the number of cars it can run at peak times until it expands its fleet.

That’s created major bottlenecks around areas like Broadway/Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

Crowding on transit has also worsened at off-peak times, like weekday evenings and weekends.

Intense development around many transit stations such as Marine Gateway is driving much of the growth in transit use, along with a steadily growing population and a strong B.C. economy.

For years, TransLink planners have been “optimizing” service by sacrificing bus frequency on some less-used routes in order to add capacity on the most overcrowded routes and thereby carry more riders.

But Desmond says they’re running out of ability to wring more performance from the system.

“You reach a point where there’s no more low-hanging fruit,” he said. “It’s getting close to the time we need to start putting resources into the system across the board.”

One of the headwinds TransLink has faced is increasing traffic on the roads.

Average bus speeds have declined for three straight years, and that translates into longer trip times, less predictable schedules, more delay for passengers and higher costs to pay drivers.

The opening early next year of the Evergreen Line through Port Moody to Coquitlam will free up buses that now run on a B-Line there but those buses are being kept in the northeast sector to ensure there’s good bus service connecting to the new SkyTrain stations.

DECISION FOR MAYORS

TransLink has been stymied in its search for a new local funding source since the referendum defeat last summer of a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax for transit.

The Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa have pledged to cover half of new transit capital projects instead of the old formula of one-third from each level of government.

That’s helped close the gap, leaving the Metro mayors to raise 17 per cent, assuming the provincial government continues to provide one third of major capital, which would include the proposed light rail lines in Surrey and a Broadway subway in Vancouver.

Reduced fare evasion since SkyTrain faregates closed in April has also helped.

Desmond estimates fare revenue is up eight to nine per cent, which translates into as much as $30 million a year that mayors won’t have to raise through a potential new source like a vehicle levy or higher TransLink property taxes.

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté said many of the regional mayors want to get some more buses on the road next year under an accelerated plan of the sort Desmond is preparing.

But they’re also torn, in part because the federal government is offering its funding in stages, with $370 million available now for capital projects here and more expected at a later date.

Coté predicted some mayors will want to wait for the federal and provincial governments to fully commit to the mayors council’s entire 10-year vision before they okay a new local funding source for the regional share.

“We never wanted to do it in a piecemeal fashion,” Coté said. “The mayors are trying to decide in the meantime do they wait and hold out for that final agreement on the entire plan or do we take any actions to better utilize phase one funding.”

Michelle Babiuk, TransLink’s manager of transit network management, points to routes in Surrey where bus boardings have risen dramatically with new development and increased rider demand.

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Signs at a new COVID-19 testing and collection centre at 14577 66th Ave. in Surrey. It was relocated from an urgent primary care centre near Surrey Memorial Hospital. This new centre allows for up to 800 tests per day, which is 550 more than the previous centre, according to Fraser Health. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s COVID-19 case count exceeds 1,800

About 800 new cases in September

Ivan Scott. (Aaron Hinks photo)
Surrey mayor enters word war with speakers, councillor

McCallum calls brief recess after asking two speakers to leave chambers

Montreal-based writer Michael Foy grew up in the Newton area of Surrey. (submitted photo)
Surrey-raised writer Foy really loves to set his short stories in the city

His latest is published in ‘Canadian Shorts II’ collection

Brandon Nathan Teixeira, arrested last December in California in connection with a fatal 2017 shooting in South Surrey, is next due in court on Nov. 12. (File photos)
Notorious South Surrey fugitive returns to court Nov. 12

Brandon Teixeira was arrested last December in California

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Nine Surrey schools reporting COVID-19 exposures

INTERACTIVE TABLE: Search for schools, organize by exposure dates

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Maple Meadows Station’s new Bike Parkade. TransLink photo
TransLink to remove abandoned or discarded bicycles from bike parkades

Rules at TransLink bike parkades ask customers to use facilities for single day use only

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read