Ridership on the SeaBus ferry service between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver may have dropped significantly beginning in the fourth quarter of 2015, right at the same time one-zone fares were introduced across all bus services in the Metro Vancouver region.
According to TransLink’s 2015 Fourth Quarter Customer Service Survey, conducted by Ipsos Reid, SeaBus passengers made 4.3 one-way trips per week on public transit during the period – down from 5.2 trips in the previous quarter and 6.9 trips in the same quarter in 2014.
The survey report called the quarter’s results for the ferry service an “all-time low” and explained that it “may have been influenced by the implementation of one-zone bus fare diverting riders from the two-zone SeaBus.”
Using the Compass Card’s stored value, SeaBus is $3.15 while the bus is $2.10. This increases to $4.00 and $2.75, respectively, when cash is used.
Less than four weeks after the one-zone bus travel policy came into force, North Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to request TransLink to temporarily make SeaBus a one-zone service. City Council heeded to concerns from its staff that transit users might avoid taking SeaBus and instead use the cheaper, already overcrowded buses, even if it takes longer to get to their final destination.
SeaBus is one of TransLink’s most reliable services and runs every 15 minutes during most hours of the day, with each crossing taking just 15 minutes. In contrast, bus routes that cross the Lions Gate Bridge are subject to being delayed by accidents on the narrow bridge deck and heavy congestion along the route, although this has somewhat improved since 2011 when bus lanes and signal prioritization were installed on the north end of the bridge approach.
There are 15 bus routes that cross Burrard Inlet from the North Shore, including nine routes that take the Lions Gate Bridge and six routes on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge. On the Lions Gate Bridge specifically, four bus routes are from the North Vancouver side of the North Shore.
However, TransLink says the results of the Customer Service Survey does not provide a complete and accurate picture of ridership levels because it has a small sample size.
“As one-zone fare was introduced in October, the few months’ worth of data we have so far is not enough to provide a proper analysis of the impact of one-zone fare on SeaBus and should not be interpreted as cause and effect,” Cheryl Ziola, Manager of Media Relations for TransLink, told Vancity Buzz. “A whole year’s worth of analysis would be a more accurate yardstick which we’ll be sharing in future.”
“We know that we had 229 million boarded passengers on our buses in 2014, but beyond that we don’t have specific data on passenger behaviour that can enable us to accurately predict the actual financial impact of the change to One Zone Bus Anywhere. We will be in a better position to report on revenue impacts later in 2016. Today, 80 per cent of our bus routes travel within a single zone.”
In early-October 2015, the transit authority implemented the one-zone bus travel policy to allow the Compass Card program to proceed. This was in response to the reliability performance of the initial testing phases: There were latency issues with the tap-out function on the bus card readers, which was one of the main reasons for the delays in launching the Compass Card.
As well, many transit users forgot to tap-out before disembarking from the bus, resulting in charges for three zones instead of the one or two zones traveled.
The one-zone bus policy is intended to be a temporary measure until the reliability and speed of the tap-out function is increased to acceptable levels. A comprehensive 18-month review of the existing fare structure, scheduled to begin this year after fare gates are closed, could lead to the abolishment of the 3-zone fare system and the introduction of a distance-based fare.
In 2013, SeaBus had an average daily ridership of 16,600 people per day. Bus routes that crossed the Lions Gate Bridge had a combined ridership of approximately 30,000 per day, including about 13,000 from North Vancouver.
Note: Commentary from Cheryl Ziola, Manager of Media Relations for Vancity Buzz, has been added to the article.