TransLink cuts service on 99 B-Line: North America's busiest bus route

Jan 6 2023, 4:00 am

Seasonal changes to Metro Vancouver’s public transit services went into effect earlier this week, reflecting the latest ridership recovery and demand, and winter travel patterns.

This includes increased service on 24 bus routes, adjustments to service on 14 bus routes (such as redistributing the route’s service levels to busier periods), and cuts to service on seven bus routes due to lower demand.

One of the seven bus routes affected by the latter action of cutting service is Metro Vancouver’s busiest bus route, the 99 B-Line between SkyTrain Commercial-Broadway Station and the University of British Columbia (UBC). Prior to the pandemic, it was deemed by TransLink as the busiest bus route in Canada and the United States.

As of this week, 99 B-Line frequencies have decreased for every day of the week, especially on weekdays and Saturdays. Its frequencies are now up to a few minutes lower for all periods between 9 am and 9 pm on weekdays, and for most periods of Saturday.

In an email to Daily Hive Urbanized, TransLink spokesperson Dan Mountain explained the 99 B-Line continues to see lower ridership than prior to the pandemic.

The possible reasons include the rise in remote work trends, with the 99 B-Line directly serving the Central Broadway office district, and acting as a feeder to other transit services into downtown Vancouver’s office districts.

It is also believed some riders who previously used the 99 B-Line have now switched to the 2020-launched R4 41st Avenue RapidBus service, which provides an alternative express east-west option through Vancouver between SkyTrain Joyce-Collingwood Station and the University of British Columbia.

In Fall 2022, the 99 B-Line’s average weekday ridership reached about 36,000 boardings. While this is higher than the average weekday ridership of 29,000 boardings in Fall 2021, when post-secondary students first returned to campus during the pandemic period, it is still well below the pre-pandemic average of 57,200 boardings per weekday in Fall 2019.

R4 RapidBus has quickly become the third busiest bus route in Metro Vancouver out of over 200 bus routes, and the busiest of the five RapidBus routes, with Fall 2021 ridership data showing average boardings of 22,000 per weekday. This ridership figure has grown over the past year.

Data suggests the high ridership seen on the R4 RapidBus is also partially attributed to transplanted ridership from the No. 41 local bus service, which previously operated between Joyce-Collingwood Station and UBC up until the launch of the RapidBus. The No. 41 now sees less service and its route is truncated, ending at Dunbar Loop just east of the University Endowment Lands towards UBC.

R4 RapidBus is effectively a major upgrade of the previous No. 43 express bus service between Joyce-Collingwood Station and UBC. The No. 43 only operated on weekdays, but it still saw very strong ridership, with average boardings of 15,600 per weekday in 2019 — a staggering growth from 10,700 in 2018, and 5,400 in 2015. In 2019, the No. 43 was the 17th busiest bus route in Metro Vancouver.

In 2019, the last full year before the launch of RapidBus and the pandemic, the No. 41 was TransLink’s fifth busiest bus route with over 22,000 boardings per weekday on average.

Mountain notes bus ridership recovery within the Vancouver/UBC sub-area continues to lag compared to the rest of Metro Vancouver, with current ridership recovery hovering at 74% — just slightly ahead of Burnaby/New Westminster at 73%, but behind the Northeast sub-area (Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody) at 77%, Southwest sub-area (Richmond, Delta, and White Rock) at 78%, North Shore sub-area (North Vancouver and West Vancouver) at 81%, Southeast sub-area (Surrey and Langley) at 98%, and Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows at 101% — above pre-pandemic ridership levels.

The strong ridership recovery experienced within Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows sub-area is mostly driven by the 2020-launch of the R3 RapidBus service along Lougheed Highway between SkyTrain Coquitlam Central Station and Haney Place in Maple Ridge. In Fall 2021, the R3 saw an average of 2,000 boardings per weekday.

Based on these ridership recovery trends, 15 of the 24 bus routes that saw increased service starting this week are within the Southeast sub-area of Surrey and Langley. Another three routes are within Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, reaching Haney Place.

Only four bus routes with increased service reach downtown Vancouver, including the N19 NightBus to SkyTrain Surrey Central Station with increased service on weekends, the No. 25 UBC/Brentwood Town Centre Station with increased service on Saturdays, and the No. 23 Main Street Station/Beach serving the downtown Vancouver peninsula with increased service for all days of the week.

Five of the seven routes seeing decreased services are within Vancouver, including the 99 B-Line, as well as No. 3 Main/Downtown, No. 9 Boundary/UBC, No. 10 Granville/Downtown, and No. 20 Victoria/Downtown.

The R1 King George Boulevard RapidBus, previously known as the 96 B-Line up until 2020, has seen its service decreased for most periods each daily.

“TransLink changes bus service every quarter to better reflect changing demand and travel patterns throughout Metro Vancouver, and each change is based on route-specific ridership data and crowding metrics,” said Mountain. Overall, as of earlier this week, bus service hours across the region have increased by 0.4%.

The next seasonal service change for buses is slated for April, when the post-secondary school year ends and adjusting for summer demand.

In late 2023, TransLink will launch the R3 Scott Road RapidBus within Surrey and Delta, running along Scott Road and 72 Avenue between SkyTrain Scott Road Station and Newton bus exchange. The existing No. 319 bus serving running along the same route will remain in place, at a reduced but still frequent all-day local service.

Starting in early 2026, the 99 B-Line’s route will be significantly truncated, running between UBC and SkyTrain Arbutus Station upon the opening of the Millennium Line’s Broadway Extension — a relocation from its existing easternmost terminus of Commercial-Broadway Station.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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