A review by TransLink has flagged underperforming bus routes that may be targeted for “service optimization” to wring more efficiency from the transit system.
For a couple of years now, transit planners have strategically trimmed hours from some routes at times when buses roll by mostly empty and added more service to routes they think could carry more riders.
Beneficiaries have included the 99 B-Line in Vancouver, where a 10 per cent increase in service has been added to reduce overcrowding.
And an all-new White Rock-Langley route was also created to meet demand from passengers who couldn’t reasonably get between the two cities on transit.
Overall, TransLink says the strategy has helped it increase the number of of transit trips taken by 3.4 per cent while the average cost per trip dropped.
But while the system has gained, there have been winners and losers.
Richmond lost 5.5 per cent of its service hours – a change planners say is due to ongoing right-sizing to reflect the 2010 introduction of the Canada Line.
And the northeast sector lost 2.3 per cent of its bus hours.
The biggest gains were South of the Fraser (excluding south Delta) where 3.5 per cent more hours were added, the North Shore (up 3.4 per cent) and Vancouver (up 1.9 per cent).
According to the review, some of the lowest performing individual bus routes are in south Delta, where the average cost to carry a passenger is $2.67, the highest in the region and nearly double the Metro average of $1.34.
The per passenger cost was $2.13 in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, $1.92 in the Tri-Cities and $1.84 South of Fraser (North Delta-Surrey-Langley-White Rock.)
Vancouver had the lowest costs of $1.08 to carry the average passenger.
Most of the 25 poorest performing suburban bus routes are served with community shuttles, and include two in Ladner, two in Tsawwassen, two in Richmond/Queensborough and one each in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Lions Bay.
The top performing routes are mainly in Vancouver and Burnaby.
According to TransLink planner Peter Klitz, poorly performing routes typically are in lower density areas where residents are more car-dependent and sometimes suffer from circuitous routes or the lack of a strong anchor destination at each end.
There are already plans to make more changes to some of the underperformers in September or December, he said.
Should residents in car-dependent areas with underperforming bus routes expect further frequency reductions, making transit an even worse option?
Klitz said that could happen in some areas but the best solution is working harder to ensure local land-use planning supports transportation.
“We need to organize where we put people and jobs to maximize the effectiveness of the transit network.”
TransLink says its strategy of right-sizing routes to try to serve more riders with the same amount of money has also generated more fare revenue – an increase of $15 million or 3.5 per cent last year.
“Our expectation is we will continue to look for opportunities to optimize our service in the coming years,” Klitz said.
The province has so far refused Metro Vancouver mayors’ requests for more money so TransLink can expand.
But Klitz argued service optimization is a good strategy, whether or not TransLink remains at a funding standstill.