New measures needed to speed up buses stuck in worsening congestion: TransLink

Feb 25 2023, 12:51 am

Ahead of its push to establish a network of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes across Metro Vancouver, TransLink is making a renewed point on the impact of traffic congestion on its existing bus services.

In a report released today, the public transit authority states traffic congestion has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and it’s increasing the operating costs of running the buses.

The added operating costs for bus delays reached $80 million in 2021 — up from $75 million just before the pandemic, when TransLink last shared its first report on these same issues in detail with the public.

The 2021 cost figure is equivalent to about 15% of the operating costs of TransLink subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC).

The pace of operating growth slowed down over the last few years due to the pandemic, but it is expected to accelerate over the coming years with the pandemic now in the rearview. It is anticipated the operating budget will require to grow $2 million to $7 million each year just to account for traffic.

These costs come from the added buses and drivers that are required to maintain bus schedules, frequencies, and capacities when buses are forced to travel slower due to congestion.

TransLink estimates the cumulative cost of bus delays between 2014 and 2022 is over $155 million.

In addition to traffic-related costs, TransLink says 19% of CMBC’s operating cost is due to the necessary recovery buffer time at the end of the route to provide bus drivers with adequate rest and washroom breaks between bus trips. This was a major sticking point for the union representing bus drivers in the 2019 labour dispute.

“This buffer is not defined as ‘delay’ in this report, but when bus travel times become longer and more irregular, recovery time must also be increased to ensure on-time departures. It adds further to the costs of delay,” reads the report.

TransLink notes it has identified 20 problematic road corridors for bus delays — where improvements need to be made to speed up buses. It should be noted that TransLink does not control the design, management, and operation of roads, which are under the jurisdiction of municipal governments (except for provincial highways).

translink bus congestion problem corridors

Problematic road corridors for bus delays. (TransLink)

translink bus corridors congestion

Person-hours of bus delays. (TransLink)

Besides worsening traffic congestion, other factors that contribute to bus delays include the number of traffic signals, closely spaced bus stops, curbside parking, and the lack of dedicated turning lanes to prevent thru-traffic from being held up at intersections. For these reasons, half of the problematic road corridors are located within the city of Vancouver.

Ahead of the 2020 launch of the region’s first five RapidBus-branded bus routes, TransLink worked with municipal governments to perform various bus priority measure upgrades on these problematic corridors. Such measures to speed up buses and improve reliability include bus lanes, queue jumps, bus bulbs, and traffic signal improvements.

Under TransLink’s Transport 2050 priorities for the first 10 years through the early 2030s, the public transit authority is proposing a “bus-first” approach with the rollout of nine new BRT routes, 11 new additional RapidBus routes, and seven new Express bus routes. Overall,

The BRT routes will be established by a combination of upgrading existing RapidBus routes and creating brand new additional routes on other corridors. TransLink previously suggested bus priority measures for BRT will be particularly extensive, including physically separating general traffic from dedicated bus lanes — more than just the current practice of lane line paint and signage — and traffic signal priority for buses arriving at intersections.

To illustrate the capacity differences from street use design changes, TransLink used the six-lane width of Hastings Street near Gilmore Avenue as a theoretical example.

translink bus priority measure hastings gilmore

Road capacity comparison with and without bus lanes on Hastings Street near Gilmore Avenue. (TransLink)

The existing configuration with one curbside parking lane, one mixed traffic lane, three travel lanes, and one HOV lane provides a capacity for up to 4,900 people per hour during the afternoon rush hour, including 2,600 for buses and 3,200 for general vehicles. In contrast, if both curbside lanes were dedicated as bus lanes and the four remaining lanes became travel lanes, the capacity would reach up to 11,000 people per hour during the afternoon rush hour, including 5,800 in buses and 5,200 in general vehicles. TransLink states bus passengers can account for up to 60% of road users on some corridors.

Later this year, TransLink will release additional reports outlining its proposed type of bus priority infrastructure measures and areas for such measures.

translink roads bus mode share

Percentages of people who use the road by taking the bus. (TransLink)

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