Deconstructing Surrey’s LRT survey

Deconstructing Surrey’s LRT survey

EXCLUSIVE - Surrey, BC - February 16, 2016

Some of you might be already familiar with the comments I made through SkyTrain for Surrey on the new LRT survey that was released by the City, claiming 80% of residents are in support of the LRT project. If you aren't, my chief complaint is that only 600 residents were asked, which means that about 0.1% of residents are being asked to represent a City of over 500,000.

This statement has been met with a mixed response: some people agreed that such a small number shouldn't represent the city by any means; others disagreed, telling me that I was going up against a professional organization and that the sample size and margin of error was acceptable.

With that said, I was prompted to look into finding even more answers. After turning to my connections in the community, Ipsos Reid's entire, detailed LRT survey results paper managed to find its way to my e-mail inbox. You can download the results and verify my findings yourself below:

LRT survey screenshot

Download the results

When I opened the PDF document for the first time, the first thing that caught my eyes within the tables and tables of info was the composition of the respondents (this data I am very glad to have collected), followed by the composition of the actual questions. Here are the things that stood out the most to me:

The survey asked only 85 actual transit riders.

A next-generation 96 B-Line bus
A next-generation 96 B-Line bus

Yes, not 85% - 85 out of 600. Out of thousands upon thousands of Surrey transit riders, the surveyors are asking for representation from just 85. All other respondents drive for their commute.

This isn't only low to begin with, but it's also lower than the "weighted" base (i.e. if the amount of transit riders asked is to be in-line with the actual percentage of transit users in the city, then the poll should have asked 111 transit riders). For a poll that's supposed to decide on future transit matters, you'd think that more actual transit riders would be consulted on this - which is sorely disappointing.

Let's put that into another perspective. Surrey's 4 SkyTrain stations service 39,169 passenger boardings per weekday. There are many more transit boardings on buses in Surrey, but if we start with the amount of SkyTrain riders, then approximately just 0.2% of Surrey's transit riders are being asked to decide for all of them on future rapid transit.

I get that there aren't relatively a lot of people in Surrey who ride transit compared to the amount driving, but neglecting transit rider input for a transit project is absolutely ridiculous. If you agree that it's ridiculous, then prepare yourself because this is only where I begin...

Many respondents didn't live near the proposed LRT lines.

LRT survey table 1

The three LRT lines are supposed to travel on 104 Ave, Fraser Highway and King George Blvd. - serving City Centre, Fleetwood, Guildford and Newton. But when compared against the weighted average, the amount of respondents that were from Cloverdale and South Surrey - areas that aren't necessarily near the proposed LRT lines, requiring connections by bus - was significant in contrast to the amount of respondents that actually live near them and would more likely use them. Both of these areas exceeded their "weighted" base.

Concerningly, very few of the respondents (just 89, compared to a weighted base of 147) live in Whalley or City Centre, which is where one would expect most of Surrey's transit ridership to come from - since riders here would have access to all 3 proposed lines, SkyTrain and other buses.

The survey weighs these answers in attempt to gather a fairer perspective from these neighbourhoods; regardless, with these numbers on where the respondents are actually from, I definitely don't feel that accurate information has been collected. The survey neglects people whose lives would actually be affected by the construction and operation of the new LRT lines.

The age of the respondents is out of touch with the city's composition.

LRT survey table 2

I don't mean to pick on seniors for any reason, but there were 270 people aged 55+ who responded to this survey - against a significantly lower weighted base of 186. On top of that, forty-five per cent of this group said they would never use an LRT system. Yes, you heard that right - there were more non-transit users aged 55+, than transit users of any age group, polled in this new Surrey LRT survey. Is that misleading or what?

The thing I'm even more concerned about, however, is that very few of the respondents (120) were aged 18-34. That means that the least responses were collected from the age demographic that is statistically the most likely to use transit.

That these respondents were weighted serves as no excuse. This is completely out of touch with the city's composition, and I would expect the input to be more considerate in its distribution considering that over 25% of the city's population - by that I mean children and youth aged 0-19, many of who will be moving into the 18-34 age bracket by the time of the LRT system's launch - was not included in the survey.

Respondents weren't asked to consider LRT against other alternatives.

For me one the most alarming aspects of this survey is that the question of whether a respondent supports LRT or doesn't was narrowed down to a simplified yes-or-no question, without any chance to weigh LRT against other alternatives (like SkyTrain and Bus Rapid Transit) - and without any consideration of the LRT project's own practicalities.

In some cases (like on 104th Avenue, which is served by both the 96 B-Line and a nonstop frequent #337 bus), the future LRT is not as fast as existing buses. If the questions were modified to reveal the future LRT travel times then the conversation would probably have changed immediately. Instead, we're supposed to rely on answers to vague questions that don't create the opportunity to consider issues with the LRT proposal.

If a survey is going to conclude a support for LRT technology, it must absolutely consider the alternatives and present them to respondents. I've been saying for a long time that the City of Surrey has refused to open a dialogue on LRT benefits/tradeoffs, as well as LRT alternatives, and that it is something that badly needs to be done. Instead, we're supposed to decide the future based on uneducated opinions supplied by a handful of completely misled people.

Was a phone survey even the right idea?

Phone lulz

My professional day job happens to be in the same field as the people who conducted this survey: canvassing people over the phone. As the client manager for a service-oriented company, having phone conversations with people is something I do all the time. And, while I approach this from a business/sales environment rather than that of a polling company seeking opinions, there is one thing I will say in confidence: this kind of survey should not have been done over the phone.

The thing about phone calls is that they're unexpected - people don't want to stay on the phone; they just want to get off it and go back to their day. The telephone is a great place to repeat a written statement, have a quick chat with a friend or land a sale/appointment for your service; but it's a terrible place to expect a well-thought-out, educated answer from a stranger who's expected to provide one with very little thinking, on-the-spot.

As a demonstration of this, when respondents were asked some of the more detailed questions, like: "What would be your main question or concern about building this LRT network?" or "What do you think would be the main benefit of building this LRT network?", most of the answers grouped into specific ones like: "Cost/funding" or "Traffic flow/congestion problems/concerns", but relatively few of the answers were unique answers in the other categories. There are places for phone surveys, but this clearly wasn't one. I hate to say it, but we really shouldn't expect people to spend time and effort thinking about transit issues over the phone.

How many people rejected the survey phone call? Well, the survey numbers I was sent don't even reveal that number. We will never know whether the 600 respondents were 600 out of 1,000, or if they were actually 600 out of 10,000.

What about the other surveys?

By the way, this isn't the City of Surrey's first LRT survey.

Back in the fall of last year, Surrey had an LRT survey done on their internal, online CitySpeaks platform. I took this survey, and in the process made notation on SkyTrain for Surrey of an error in the comparison between rapid buses and the proposed LRT system.

However, the results of this survey were never released. There is mention of the survey on the CitySpeaks page on the City website, but Surrey has never released the survey results or used them anywhere.

It is plausible that the respondents, given room to think (as this was an online survey with no time-limits or on-the-spot pressures), did not respond favourably to the idea of an LRT system. And, it is plausible that this was withheld by the city in favour of paying a pollster to perform another survey with the intention of achieving a favourable result.

In conclusion: The public is being fooled.

Vehicle train collision small header

What in the blazes is going on here?

I can't even think of where I should start but the numbers that I've been given have made it expressly clear that this is a terrible survey. It definitely does not confirm that 80% of Surrey residents support an LRT system, or come to any other conclusion on matters of Surrey transit.

Not only is it unable to effectively conclude that an LRT system would be popular with transit riders (because it doesn't ask them), but it makes no effort to consider the younger residents who will grow up and be stuck with such a system, by neglecting to include them as part of the conversation and favouring responses from non-transit users aged 55+ instead. It is also using the worst possible format to collect this sort of information (over the phone), and that weakness is visible in many places in the survey results.

The end result is nothing short of unacceptable, and that's before you even take into account the fact that the 600 respondents makes up approximately just 0.1% of the actual population of this city - a percentage that will get smaller as the city grows ever larger.

Before we come to a conclusion on surveys like the new Ipsos Reid survey, I would like to see more and different surveys - and I would like to see them done fairly, with a consideration of those who actually ride transit, and with the ability to consider LRT against different alternatives including SkyTrain and Bus Rapid Transit.

Surrey deserves better

Sign my petition to get Surrey's LRT system changed to SkyTrain + BRT!

Sign the petition

Why isn’t the City of Surrey more excited for the new 96 B-Line buses?

Why isn’t the City of Surrey more excited for the new 96 B-Line buses?

96 headerThere are 5 of the new 96 B-Line buses in service today, which has me thinking that by now there should be some excitement in the city regarding this brand-new transit infrastructure. The new buses are absolutely wonderful: they’re smooth and quiet; have more space inside for passengers; and feature security cameras, modern LED lighting and air-conditioning. These are the first hybrid diesel-electric buses in Surrey, and it is the first time that Surrey’s bus depot has received brand new buses (instead of old hand-me-downs) in 17 years.

While great investments like these tend to come with big political photo-ops, only TransLink seems to be bothering with any sort of advertisement about the fact that there are new buses in Surrey.

The City of Surrey’s own Twitter feeds are blank, the Facebook page is blank, and not one Councillor or the Mayor has offered a single word about the new buses. No one from the city had anything to say about the buses during the time before their arrival, and this has continued now that many of them are in service. I thought politicians in this city really cared about transit issues, but it seems that riders are expected to enjoy the new buses without even a single word from their representatives.

As a regular 96 B-Line rider, this leaves me more than a little disappointed. The new buses are a huge step forward in improving the quality of transit in Surrey, and deserve the excitement from City representatives that transit riders will have today.

So what do I think?

Well, the main transit item on the City’s agenda is the replacement of the 96 B-Line with Light Rail Transit, something that was politically deadlocked with an election promise. Perhaps the City of Surrey fears that the appeal of these buses will take attention away from future LRT.

If the City of Surrey were to assist in advertising these buses, it might foil their LRT master-plan by exposing some of its major shortfalls. The expected overall travel time savings on King George Blvd and 104 Ave is only 1 minute over the existing 96 B-Line. In addition, the construction process for the LRT system will require the street to be closed from edge-to-edge and create huge disruptions for transit riders on the 96.

A street-level LRT would be limited to the same speed as on-street traffic and will not bring anything that can’t already be provided by a high-quality bus service. At best, this LRT is years away from opening (due to continued conflicts over transit funds) and I think the City should be proud of the service improvements that TransLink has been able to introduce today. The new buses are hybrid-electric, giving riders the same smooth-and-quiet ride experience that a street-level tram brings and bridging the gap between today’s bus service and LRT. They can also get around accidents and road closures that would close down an LRT service.

However, anything that bridges the gap between existing bus service and future LRT is likely something the City of Surrey doesn’t want. It’s no secret that the business case for the proposed LRT system is extremely questionable, and I’ve already caught the city trying to mislead citizens in a CitySpeaks survey on the difference between bus rapid transit (BRT) and LRT.

As well, in terms of neglecting the 96, the City of Surrey has done that in more ways than refusing to give it deserved attention. While other B-Line bus routes have been introduced with high levels of accompanying investments (such as the median bus lanes on Richmond’s No. 3 Road for the previous 98 B-Line), the City of Surrey has spent little to boost the 96 B-Line, if it has even spent anything at all. Some portions of King George Boulevard have had exclusive bus lanes installed to speed up the 96, but these bus lanes were funded by TransLink. The City could have implemented traffic signal pre-emption to keep B-Line buses moving, last year when it renewed the city-wide traffic management system at a cost of $2.7 million dollars. That also didn’t happen.

96 riders are extremely satisfied with the service.

Regardless of all this, the SOFATP 2015 monitoring report indicated that nine in ten (91%) rate their overall satisfaction with the 96 B‐Line as good‐to‐excellent, with an average rating of 9.0. This was measured before the introduction of these new buses. Is the City of Surrey not interested in addressing its many happy B-Line riders? Or perhaps there are fears that within these riders, there are people who will organize against the City’s plan for LRT?

In any case, I guess the City of Surrey is not interested in taking any credit for this wonderful investment. The new buses have brought as much improvement for 96 riders as a future LRT and perhaps even more. Their loss, and our gain.

Next generation 96 B-Line bus "S15003" at Newton Exchange | Photo by me
Next generation 96 B-Line bus “S15003” at Newton Exchange | Photo by me

TransLink launches next-gen 96 B-Line buses

TransLink launches next-gen 96 B-Line buses

NEW – Read my follow-up: Why isn’t the City of Surrey more excited for the new B-Line buses?

On this rainy day in February, TransLink and Coast Mountain Bus Company debuted the first 2 of 12 new next-generation New Flyer Xcelsior XDE60 articulated buses on the 96 B-Line in Surrey.

I managed to catch the first of the new buses, “S15003”, on a ride home from Newton Exchange and took several pictures. The second bus, “S15002”, entered service later in the day.

(Full-size photos are available on my Flickr)

Back in December of last year I posted the first report on the arrival of these buses. The bus order replaces the 11 existing, old articulated buses (delivered 18 years ago in 1998) with 12 brand new, hybrid-electric buses. As the new buses probably won’t need to be taken out of service as often as the old ones (requiring standard-size bus replacements), these buses will allow every bus running on the 96 to be articulated.

The new buses feature a hybrid diesel-electric transmission to improve energy-efficiency and solve the ride jerky-ness of plain diesel buses. Improved LED lighting is used, there are security cameras, and the seating layout is optimized – accommodating more passengers than the older buses.

As well, these buses are equipped with air-conditioning – meaning more comfortable rides during summer months, and windows that aren’t fogged in the winter.

My experience riding the new buses has been very pleasant: the new buses are fluidly smooth on Surrey’s roads and – owing to the hybrid system – are extremely quiet while they’re running. As most of the buses running in Surrey tend to be older and louder, the difference riding on these buses is like night and day.

(Additional info on the order of 21 new buses in total was posted on The Buzzer!)

With the addition of the new buses, the old existing buses - introduced in 1998 and among the region's first - can now be retired after 18 years of service to the region.
With the addition of the new buses, the old existing buses – introduced in 1998 and among the region’s first ever “bendy buses” – can now be retired after 18 years of service.

Next-generation buses coming to 96 B-Line

I am pleased to announce that I’ve received word through forum networks such as Skyscraperpage and CPTDB that new buses coming to Surrey Transit Centre will be 60-foot hybrid articulated buses for the 96 B-Line.

This newest bus order is being assigned to both Surrey and Burnaby Transit Centres to replace old articulated buses due for retirement, and the first buses will be arriving later this month. They will be similar to the 12000-series Xcelsior XDE60s (pictured above) currently being used on routes in Richmond and Vancouver.

The new buses will feature a hybrid diesel-electric transmission to improve energy-efficiency and solve the ride jerky-ness of plain diesel buses, offering smoother and higher quality rides. LED lighting will be used along with a better-optimized seating layout. Finally, these buses will be air-conditioned, giving Surrey riders a more comfortable experience in warmer summer months.

XDE60
One of the upcoming buses, pictured by Wade B on Flickr; licensed CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
coast_mountain_bus_company_8001-a
96 B-Line waiting to depart Guildford Exchange, pictured by Blue Bus Fan on Flickr

Surrey’s 96 B-Line, linking Newton Exchange with Guildford Town Centre through Surrey Central, was originally made possible with a transfer of 11 of the region’s oldest articulated buses (S8001-8011) to Surrey Transit Centre in late 2013. These buses were the first “B-Line” buses brought to the region to service the #99 B-Line back in 1998.

Due to their age, the old buses aren’t always available; standard-size buses are often used as a substitute when one of the articulated buses is in for repairs or maintenance.

The upcoming XDE60’s will let the old buses be retired, while giving the city 12 of the fleet’s newest articulated buses (one additional bus!). This will ensure that every bus running on the 96 is articulated.

Surrey Plan Full Cleaned Up FINAL CROP BRT MAP
[OPEN TO ENLARGE] Concept of rapid bus service instead of LRT on King George Blvd/104 Ave.
I look forward to the arrivals of S15001-S15012. As a regular 96 B-Line user I’m excited for the new transit experience that these new buses will bring for Surrey transit riders.

I’m also excited for the potential they have in demonstrating BRT (bus rapid transit) as an option for improving transit the city. As some of you know, I have been a strong proponent of a BRT network and SkyTrain expansion over the currently proposed Light Rail Transit network in Surrey.

A Bus Rapid Transit network would reduce transfers by enabling buses to through-run onto corridors like 72nd Ave or continuously down King George Blvd. to White Rock Centre. Riders on the corridor could then use buses for longer-distance commutes with less transferring. This would also cut down on the amount of transfer line-ups that crowd buses and space at transit centres such as Newton Exchange.

It would be less disruptive to build BRT infrastructure compared to LRT infrastructure, with the potential to build gradually and avoid the service disruptions riders would face with edge-to-edge street construction required for an LRT system. A BRT system would also cost less to operate; City officials have still not demonstrated what the plan is to pay for $22 million in annual deficits for operations of the city’s LRT network.

b822206843z-1_20151116110958_000_g0j1j560t-3_gallery
This is an actual photo of LRT construction work in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, and shows the reality that Surrey commuters will have to face if the City moves ahead with an LRT.

96 B-Line Execution proves that TransLink Listens

Surrey transit

Like many other riders and observers of the 96 B-Line, one of the first things I thought when I noticed the new artic buses going down King George Blvd. and 104th Ave, alongside the usual 321 and 320 buses, was that many 96 B buses weren’t as well used as the crowded 320s and 321s.

When I started my classes at KPU this fall, I often found myself going through Surrey Central Station in the mid-day (1:30-2PMish) on a near-empty 96, passing long lineups for both the 320 and the 321. It was something that was being noted by many members of Skyscraperpage – an urban observation forum – in a discussion during its launch.

The whole situation  had me concerned as an early adopter of the 96 B-Line for my commutes and a transit rider in Surrey, and so I brought the following points to the discussion at SSP:

Originally Posted by xd_1771 [LINK]

The 96 is a bit of a special case; with the exception of the 104 Ave corridor (and the 337 will still exist, and is extremely popular), it’s not really replacing any main express services that previously existed. It IS the first express service.

That was different in the case of the other B-Lines. I’m pretty sure that before the #99, there was another express bus of sorts that made its way to Broadway (I think it was the #85). In the case of the #98, it took over many direct-to-Vancouver 400-series express services from Richmond (and some were later reintroduced during peak hours only). The #97 replaced the express bus route #147, and its introduction was aided by the new Millennium Line.

The issue here is that riders are still seeing the #96 as a complement and not as the main service. There’s been a definite need for this B-Line, however, and so this should change as time goes by. People need to be given time to make discoveries of how there are benefits. The 96 will be heftily more reliable than the 321 as the service is far more predictable with less stops. Ridership moving onto the 96 will eventually improve conditions for those who insist on continuing to use 321.

Neither TransLink nor the City of Surrey have done well on the part of marketing. The City of Surrey could have lauded its introduction in a press release of sorts (with a Mayor or Councillor speech maybe) and that would have hugely helped introduce the bus route to the entire city. TransLink could put some signage at the 320 and 321’s major terminals to direct riders onto the 96. Also, destination signs; 96 is labelled as Guildford Exchange/Newton Exchange, and so it might not be immediately clear to 321/320/etc riders that this bus also services riders headed to SkyTrain. Those appear to be the primary issues that are preventing the 96 from gaining huge traction.

Notice the two points I highlighted in bold: wayfinding signage at stations, and desgination signs on the buses.

In mid-September I noticed that the 96 B-Line articulated buses were starting to have “via Surrey Central” signs on the front window of the bus, visible to any riders that might be looking at the bus and thinking that it did not connect with SkyTrain at Surrey Central and King George. About the same time, I noticed one wayfinding sign put up at Surrey Central Station to direct some riders to one of the 96 stops.

Today I was back at Surrey Central heading into Surrey, and noticed a barrage of new 96 B-Line wayfinding signage on the station houses and in places otherwise directly visible to riders. At least one of the signs was inside the main station house, directly visible to exiting SkyTrain riders. Pictures below (click to enlarge):

Whether TransLink was actually having a look at SSP or not and whether I may have unintentionally actually influenced the execution of the 96 B-Line bus route is yet to be actually confirmed. I can, however, report on the effects of this.

I’ve been noticing a number of other things about the 96 B-Line, as a regular rider. Firstly, the buses are indeed being used well and are gaining ridership faster than I had predicted in early September. On September 23rd – after 20 days of 96 B-Line service – I spotted the first full, standing-room-only 96 B-Line bus departing for Newton from Surrey Central. I rushed to take a picture of it with my smartphone, and put that photo on Twitter:

IMG_20130923_173751_016

I think that the adjustments to the execution are really helping.

PHOTO: TransLink testing Surrey B-Line bus

I caught this photo at Surrey Central Station on the way to work today. The front was labelled “NIS – TRAINING BUS”.

(Click the photo to enlarge)

TransLink/Coast Mountain Bus Company D60LF at Surrey Central Station. This bus will serve on the future 96 B-Line.
TransLink/Coast Mountain Bus Company D60LF articulated bus at Surrey Central Station. This bus will serve on the future 96 B-Line.

The 96 B-Line will begin service in fall 2013.