Traffic signal priority envisioned for RapidBus in the future, says TransLink CEO

Dec 29 2019, 9:04 pm

TransLink 2019 is Daily Hive’s six-part, end-of-year series with Kevin Desmond, the public transit authority’s CEO, on the state and future of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system.

Part 5 discusses TransLink’s ongoing pursuit of speeding up its buses to improve passenger experience, increase ridership, and bring operating costs down.

As of early 2020, Metro Vancouver will have a comprehensive arterial, express, high-frequency bus network through the launch of new RapidBus routes — a next-level B-Line, optimized by bus-only lanes, queue jumpers, new articulated buses, and new special bus stop posts with real-time, next bus, digital display signs.

Moving forward, TransLink intends to take bus priority measures for its RapidBus program much further, with the implementation of traffic signal priority at strategic locations through the cooperation of municipal governments.

A prime example of traffic signal priority for buses in the region is the 2011-installed bus-only signal at the intersection of Marine Drive and Taylor Way in West Vancouver, which has considerably sped up buses past traffic congestion in conjunction with the bus-only lanes.

“For the next round of the RapidBus program, I want to take it a step up with traffic signal priority where we can get extended green time or maybe even signal preemption at key intersections, but you need the buy-in from the city traffic engineers to do that,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond in an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized.

“We can bring the money through the expansion program and say look, ‘we’ll bear the financial risk, but you need to bear the kind of traffic engineering risk, where we can make it work for your city and transit riders.'”

He says the established RapidBus model can also be used for the public transit authority’s continued conversations with municipal governments for improving the speed and reliability of regular buses as well.

A recent report released by TransLink indicates 80% of the region’s buses are now moving slower compared to five years ago due to a lack of bus priority measures and worsening traffic congestion.

For passengers, slowing bus service has resulted in longer and less reliable travel times, as well as longer waits and increased overcrowding from bus bunching.

For the public transit authority, slower bus speeds have led to a $75-million increase in operating costs from the need to schedule in more buses and drivers to meet the established route frequencies. This cost is equivalent to about 700,000 annual bus service hours or 12% of the annual operating costs of the bus fleet.

Desmond is pushing to get these costs on existing services down so that TransLink can redirect more of its resources towards service expansion.

“We could invest a lot of our dollars on infrastructure for priority, and if you are speeding up the buses by 20% that’s money back in our pocket,” he said. “You are saving buses and operating hours, which we can either redistribute to other needs or put more buses on that corridor. So it really becomes a virtuous circle.”

In the meantime, the forthcoming results of the first phase of the RapidBus program will lay the foundation for new ways TransLink can create a well-defined layered bus network, ranging from the community shuttles, regular buses, B-Line (the 99 B-Line will remain for now), suburban express buses, and RapidBus.

Beginning January 6, the R4 41st Avenue will run between UBC and the Expo Line’s Joyce-Collingwood Station, and the R3 Lougheed Highway will run between the Millennium Line’s Coquitlam Central Station and Maple Ridge. Two existing B-Lines will also be converted into the RapidBus brand, with the 95 B-Line on Hastings Street from the Expo Line’s Burrard Station to SFU Burnaby Mountain converted into the R5 Hastings Street, and the 96 B-Line from Guildford Exchange to Newton Exchange converted into the R1 King George Boulevard.

Then sometime between February and April, the R2 Marine Drive on the North Shore, running between Park Royal and Phibbs Exchange with a connection to Lonsdale SeaBus terminal and bus exchange, will launch.

TransLink has plans to roll out at least two additional new RapidBus routes in 2021, including a service from the Canada Line’s Richmond-Brighouse Station to the Expo Line’s Metrotown Station via the Knight Street Bridge, and a service from the Expo Line’s Scott Road Station to Newton Exchange via Scott Road and 72 Avenue.

Other potential RapidBus routes further down the pipeline in the 2020s entail:

  • Lions Gate RapidBus: from downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley neighbourhood via the Lions Gate Bridge
  • Commercial-Victoria Drive RapidBus: from downtown Vancouver to Marine Drive in South Vancouver via Hasting Street, Commercial Drive, and Victoria Drive
  • Ironworkers-Willingdon RapidBus: from Phibbs Exchange to the Millennium Line’s Brentwood Station and Expo Line’s Metrotown Station via the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge and Willingdon Avenue
  • White Rock RapidBus: from Newton Exchange to White Rock via King George Boulevard
  • Coquitlam-Langley RapidBus: from the Millennium Line’s Coquitlam Central Station to Langley Centre via Lougheed Highway, Golden Ears Bridge, and 200 Street

Over the past two decades, arterial express routes have been the precursor to new rail rapid transit lines.

For instance, the Millennium Line replaced a long section of the 99 B-Line that used to run beyond Commercial-Broadway Station and all the way to Lougheed Town Centre, and the recent Evergreen Extension replaced the 97 B-Line from Lougheed Town Centre to Coquitlam Centre.

The Canada Line was also the replacement for the 98 B-Line that operated on Granville Street and No. 3 Road between Waterfront Station and Richmond Centre.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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