Contrary to popular belief, with service optimization reaching its maximum level, TransLink is in need of more funding to address growing overcrowding issues on Metro Vancouver’s public transit system.
In its latest Transit Service Performance Review, TransLink says total journeys and boardings increased by 1.8% and 2.1%, respectively, in 2015 compared to the previous year. Since 2011, total journeys systemwide have grown from 233 million to 239 million while total systemwide boardings have increased from 356 million to 364 million.
Growth has been occurring despite a zero increase in service hours on any transit service, leading the transportation agency to believe factors such as population growth, new developments, rising tourism, and one-zone fares on buses are the root cause.
“TransLink has endeavoured to serve current customers and grow ridership through implementing operational efficiencies and reallocating service hours to where they are best utilized,” reads the report. “This has resulted in serving more customers with limited investments. However, additional investment in revenue service is required in order to achieve more substantial gains in ridership.”
Although it is a more sustainable form of development, new major developments near SkyTrain stations are contributing to the problem when capacity is stagnant. On the Canada Line, for instance, weekday traffic since 2011 has increased by 24% at Templeton Station (next to MacArthur Glen Outlet Centre), 20% at Olympic Village (next to new high-density residential projects in Southeast False Creek), and 15% at Marine Drive Station (next to new mid-rise residential projects). It is estimated that the Marine Gateway residential, office, and retail project next to Marine Drive Station alone has generated 5,000 new daily riders.
Overall weekday, all-day passenger volumes on all three SkyTrain lines have grown by up to 28%, and weekend passenger volumes on the train system are now similar to weekday volumes outside of the peak periods.
The Expo Line’s main section currently has a peak load of 13,250 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd), and this falls to 5,760 pphpd in Surrey after the split at Columbia Station. The peak load of the Millennium Line running from VCC-Clark to Columbia stations is 3,640 pphpd.
With the Canada Line, the peak load is 6,250 pphpd between Waterfront and Bridgeport stations, 2,900 pphpd between Bridgeport and Brighouse stations, and 730 pphpd between Bridgeport and YVR Airport stations.
On the Expo and Millennium line, trains are frequently running at overcapacity conditions from 7:45 am to 8:45 am in the inbound direction and 4:50 pm to 5:50 pm on the outbound direction from Main Street-Science World to Commercial-Broadway stations. Overcrowding is also experienced in the outbound direction in this section from 6:40 pm to 7:40 pm on Sundays and holidays when trains are operating less frequently.
Similar overcapacity conditions are experienced on the Canada Line from 7:55 am to 8:55 am in the inbound direction and 4:40 pm to 5:40 pm in the outbound direction between King Edward and Broadway-City Hall stations and Olympic Village and Yaletown-Roundhouse stations.
Perhaps most troubling for the transit system is how buses are now traveling slower due to both internal and external factors.
The review found that travel speeds for approximately one-third of 196 bus routes surveyed had fallen over the past two years, including a 0.7 km/hour drop for the popular 99 B-Line and 0.9 km/hour drop for the 44. Most of the routes on the downward trend are located within city of Vancouver boundaries.
“While a change in speed may be as little as 0.1 km/h and undetected by most people, consistently decreased speed over time results in negative customer impacts and increased operating costs,” the report continues.
Some potential factors for lower travel speeds include: lane or speed reductions or detours caused by construction along the route; increased vehicle traffic; increased boarding time due to growing passenger volumes; increased traffic calming by municipalities such as speed bumps and lower speed limits; increased municipal street infrastructure such as intersections, traffic signals, and crosswalks.
Bus services were already heavily optimized last year, with TransLink strategically reallocating capacity from low-demand routes to high-demand routes. In total, about 15,000 service hours were reconfigured.
There will be changes to the bus routes in the Northeast sector of the region this December to optimize the system ahead of the opening of the 11-kilometre-long, 6-station Evergreen extension of the Millennium Line. It is anticipated that foot traffic at Commercial-Broadway Station could increase by 25% when the Evergreen Line opens, which could potentially lead to more overcrowding on bus routes like the 99 B-Line.
A $740-million investment is being made between the federal and provincial levels and TransLink over the next few years to acquire 28 additional Mark III cars (seven four-car trains) for the Expo, Millennium, and Evergreen lines to increase capacity by 12%, $88 million for 22 new cars (eleven two-car trains) for the Canada Line to increase capacity by 55%, five new West Coast Express cars, and a third SeaBus ferry vessel to increase frequency from every 15 minutes to 10 minutes during peak hours.