New SkyTrain changes hide drop in service (UPDATE: TransLink to reverse service drop)

New SkyTrain changes hide drop in service (UPDATE: TransLink to reverse service drop)
UPDATE Mon Oct. 3: It appears that TransLink has reversed the drop in service frequencies on the Expo Line as part of the upcoming changes. While retaining the lengthening of Mark I trains to 6 cars, Expo Line passengers will continue to have 6-minute service on each branch during off-peak periods, and peak period service will be increased versus the original proposal. The issues brought up in this blog post were cited by TransLink as having contributed to the decision to reverse the frequency changes.

The following reports have further confirmed the changes:


Original text below:

Yes, you read that headline correctly – this is not a joke, and not some mis-interpretation of the upcoming SkyTrain changes on October 22nd. TransLink is going to reduce Expo Line service frequencies, at all times of day, on October 22nd.

skytrain-oct-22
The SkyTrain as it will operate after October 22nd. The Expo Line is shown in blue.

The Expo Line, the original SkyTrain corridor extending to King George Station in Surrey, is the busiest line on our SkyTrain rapid transit system. After poking around on TransLink’s website along with forumers on discussion boards, I made a startling discovery about the upcoming October 22 SkyTrain changes. It appears that, for no apparent reason, TransLink is sneaking a reduction in service frequencies at all times of day on the Expo Line, and this is not being communicated with the public.

I initially confirmed this when I and some fellow online forumers on SkyscraperPage, CPTDB and others were looking into SkyTrain’s schedule changes. The operating schedules for SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express can be accessed through TransLink’s “bus schedules” page by typing in corresponding numbers in the 900s. The current Expo and Millennium Lines were using numbers 999 and 996, but we discovered that the numbers 992 and 991 were being utilized for a brand new schedule effective starting in October.

This schedule showed that SkyTrain frequencies were clearly being subject to a decrease at basically all times of day – not just the peak service hours. Mid-day and evening service (currently at every 6 minutes) and weekday day-time service (currently at every 7 minutes) would be operated less frequently at every 7.5 minutes. Some parts of the schedule have seen a minor service increase from 10 to 8 minutes, but this is happening at parts of the day where the issue of frequency is not as critical – such as late at night on weekdays and weekends.

skytrain-decrease
Wait times at Surrey SkyTrain stations will be 7-8 minutes after October 22nd, compared to the current 6 minutes, during mid-day periods.

TransLink representatives at a recent media event had commented that passengers would be waiting an “extra 10 seconds at peak times” (see: report by Jeff Nagel on Surrey Leader), although trains would be consolidated into longer consists (i.e. 6-car Mark I, 4-car Mark II or Mark III) make up for this and ensure a high capacity.

However, the actual schedule change I have uncovered shows that the actual increase in wait time is closer to 25 seconds on the Expo main-line inbound from Columbia Station (108 -> 133 seconds), and will be as high as 38 seconds on average on the King George branch in Surrey (162 -> 200 seconds). In addition, in a move that has by far been completely unannounced, passengers will be waiting up to an additional 1.5 minutes on each branch during mid-days and other off-peak periods.

TransLink has never confirmed this explicitly during Q&A sessions for the October 22 changes, but has recently quietly confirmed the change on its SkyTrain schedules page, which are now showing a “Current” and “Oct. 22” schedule that reflects the proposed change on the “bus schedules” page. For more info, see the page:

TransLink > SkyTrain Schedules > Expo Line

Frequencies will change as follows, according to TransLink’s website:

Expo Line – Waterfront to King George
Time of Day Frequency before Oct 22nd Frequency after Oct 22nd
Peak Hours (6-9AM, 3-6PM) 2-4 min. 2-5 min.
Mid-day (9AM-3PM) 6 min. 7-8 min.
Evening (6PM onwards) 6 min. 7-8 min.
Late night 8-10 min. 8 min.
Early Sat/Sun 8-10 min. 8 min.
Sat, Sun/Holidays 7-10 min. 7-8 min.

The changes in service frequencies will mean longer waits for trains at almost all times of day, making the Expo Line less reliable and less versatile to its many riders. It will also result in more overcrowded SkyTrain platforms – as longer waits between trains means each platform will need to service up to 25% more waiting passengers than there are today with higher frequencies. Some of our stations – particularly ones in the middle of reconstruction, such as Metrotown Station – could have trouble having to accommodate for additional waiting passengers.

Today's higher frequencies prevent platform overcrowding because the train arrives sooner to allow passengers to be on their way. The service changes will mean more overcrowded SkyTrain platforms.
Today’s higher frequencies help prevent platform overcrowding because the train arrives sooner to allow passengers to be on their way. The service changes will mean more overcrowded SkyTrain platforms on the Expo Line, as platforms will have to handle as much as 25% more waiting passengers.

While train lengths are increasing, I do see the possibility that overall service capacities will come down as a result of the changes. Going from 6 to 7.5 minute service in the mid-day and on weekends is a substantial 20% reduction in service frequency, and while Mark I trains would be operated in longer 6-car formation, the Mark II trains currently operating in 4-car formation would be essentially the same as they are today.

SkyTrain passengers already swallowed a change in 2013 that saw weekend frequencies on the Expo Line drop from 6 to 7 minutes on each branch, as part of a package of cost reductions implemented throughout the entire system to improve cost-efficiency. This has resulted in substantially increased weekend overcrowding, with Saturday PM volumes between Commercial-Broadway and Main Street-Science World stations now nearly at the line’s practical capacity in both directions (see: 2015 Transit Service Performance Review, Appendix E).

Why this makes absolutely no sense, whatsoever.

mark-ii-broadway
Prior to an expansion order in 2009, Mark II trains in 2-car formation were operated alongside Mark I trains on the Expo Line. SkyTrain had the flexibility to offer higher frequencies with the smaller trains, as opposed to lower frequencies with all of the Mark II trains in a 4-car formation.

One of the big advantages to the driver-less, automatic train control technology we use on our SkyTrain system has always been our ability to maintain high frequencies at any time of day, without high operating costs. On our system, shorter trains at higher frequencies can provide the same capacities as longer trains and lower frequencies typically found on other light and heavy rail systems, but without the higher costs associated with needing extra drivers and conductors.

This has made us a continental leader in providing rail rapid transit services among North American cities. I have previously noted that Metro Vancouver is unmatched in its off-peak rail transit service frequencies, when compared to metro areas of similar sizes – in which off-peak service on the rail network is generally provided every 10 to 15 minutes on individual lines.

SEE EXAMPLE
Portland, Denver, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are other metro areas similar in size to Metro Vancouver with rail transit systems, yet none of them are able to provide the kinds of service frequencies we have on our fully-automated SkyTrain system. Go [HERE] to see a comparison of our service frequencies against these cities’.

What can be done about this

TransLink is dealing with a public credibility problem and this is certainly not going to help their case. The entire service change on October 22nd is being made without a formal public consultation process, which wouldn’t really be so much of a problem if there weren’t going to be major changes in service frequencies on existing lines – but there are. And, there has been no indicated rationale as to why mid-day and weekend service frequencies are also being reduced.

I don’t see any barriers to continuing to provide a 6-minute service off-peak with the longer trains, or utilizing the existing schedule whereby peak service is operated at higher frequencies, with a mix of trains including shorter 4-car Mark I trains.

UPDATE Fri Sept. 23 @ 10:24AM: At the moment, the fabrics of how this decision went through are still unknown to me. However, I am now working on communicating with BCRTC and TransLink’s planning department to get some answers and gauge whether I could push to have this decision reversed.
UPDATE Mon Oct. 3: It appears that TransLink has reversed the drop in service frequencies on the Expo Line as part of the upcoming changes. While retaining the lengthening of Mark I trains to 6 cars, Expo Line passengers will continue to have 6-minute service on each branch during off-peak periods, and peak period service will be increased versus the original proposal. The issues brought up in this blog post were cited by TransLink as having contributed to the decision to reverse the frequency changes.

The following reports have further confirmed the changes:

Montreal’s 67km driverless train system to be third longest in world

Montreal’s 67km driverless train system to be third longest in world

Proposed driverless train network cites Vancouver as model in case study


The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), an institutional investor responsible for financing major transportation projects in Quebec, has proposed the construction of a driverless rapid transit network, similar to our SkyTrain system, to service Greater Montreal.

The Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM; English: Metropolitan Electric Network) will span 4 proposed corridors and 67km. The system will serve several Greater Montreal cities and be the 3rd longest driver-less system in the world after the Dubai Metro and Vancouver’s SkyTrain.

The proposal will double the length of Montreal’s rail rapid transit network, and addresses the need for rapid transit to service areas in Greater Montreal where most commuters are driving to access the inner city, or are putting up with long bus and commuter train rides. The service will address the previously identified need to bring rail rapid transit across the Champlain Bridge, and bring new rapid transit to many areas of western Montreal that do not have any access to rapid transit currently.

Travel time savings and high service frequency were made key focuses in the CDPQ’s proposal, which outlined what kind of travel time savings would be achievable on each of the 4 proposed corridors:

Part of the project would involve the conversion of the existing Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line to integrate with the proposed rapid transit network. Similar to SkyTrain’s Expo Line, an existing rail tunnel will be repurposed in order to service the new rapid transit line (this tunnel currently carries the Deux-Montagnes line’s existing service). In addition to servicing 3 major suburban areas, the proposal includes a branch to the airport that fulfills an earlier proposal to build a Canada Line-like system connecting to the rest of Greater Montreal.

At a cost of $5.5 billion to build, the new line will represent a major investment in Greater Montreal rapid transit that will be the biggest since the Montreal Metro. However, Caisse, which was awarded the responsibility for financing major transportation projects in Quebec in an infrastructure deal last year, has offered to invest $3 billion – just over 50% of the project’s cost – into the REM project. Additional public investment would then be split between senior-level governments.

The massiveness of the CDPQ’s investment commitment shows that it is confident that the project will succeed. The CDPQ’s case study clearly identified the potential to bring serious benefits for transit riders, and its clearly identified rationale for choosing driverless train technology dignifies its success here in Metro Vancouver and around the world.

Download the case study

Significant improvements in transit service

Map of the new system, showing connection points with existing rail transit in Montreal

The new system is expected to have 150,000 riders on opening year (2021), 65,000 higher than currently exist on those corridors.

To fulfill the expectation that the system will raise this ridership, the CDPQ has designed the project with an intense focus on travel time benefits and rider comfort. Focus was placed on making sure trains were accessible all-day, every day, with the project advertising that service will run 7 days a week for 20 hours, and much more frequently than existing commuter rail service. CDPQ also focused on ensuring the system had quality amenities such as a free wi-fi network along the line for all commuters.

SkyTrain cited as inspiration

Montreal benefits
The REM case study cites SkyTrain as an example for development success.

In addition to the improvements in transit service, over $5 billion in economic development is expected to be attracted along the line, with Vancouver and the Canada Line cited as the primary example. The construction process is expected to contribute $3 billion to the GDP, and the reduction in road congestion is expected to reduce economic losses of $1.4 billion per year and 16,800 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

Following the SkyTrain model

Caisse was one of the private investors in the private consortium chosen to build the highly successful Canada Line rapid transit project back in 2009. Caisse’s experience from co-investing in the Canada Line, and then co-experiencing its record ridership numbers well above target while billions in economic growth is spurred along the line, appears to be directly translating into the choices of station spacing, technology and level of investment on the REM.

These choices are remarkably similar to the ones that we have made with transit here in Vancouver – as an example, we also repurposed an existing tunnel for our driverless SkyTrain system – and would suggest that Greater Montreal is on its way to a transit future that is sustainable to maintain and feasible to expand. Here in Vancouver, we’ve managed to expand rail transit faster than every other city in Canada, while our system boasts an exceptional system ridership record that is envied throughout North America by other cities.

Just like our SkyTrain system, the system will make use of shorter trains (2-car trains off-peak, joined to form 4-car trains during peak hours) at a higher frequency, providing the same capacity as longer trains at a lower frequency.

2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line
SkyTrain pioneered driverless train technology. Seen here, a 2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line. By sillygwalio, CC-BY

With 24 stations over 67km, the station spacing means that the REM is a cross between suburban/commuter rail and urban rail.

The new proposal in Montreal looks a lot like the Canada Line of our SkyTrain system.

The spacing is wider, resulting in faster service, in outer areas where rapid transit is competing against commuting by car and localized access is not its main purpose. However, it condenses in inner areas where the line can then double its purpose and act an urban rapid transit link. This is similar to what is done by our SkyTrain system here.

To top things off, the system includes an airport branch which is similar to what was done with our very own Canada Line. This approach to integrating airport service with other nearby urban rapid transit service is different from what was done in Toronto with the construction of its dedicated Union-Pearson Express train, which was heavily criticized for its high fares.

Train technology

REM cars

The concept 2-car trains (which are joined to form 4-car trains during rush hour) look similar to the Bombardier ART and Innovia trains being used here in Metro Vancouver. The system will share the same 80m platform lengths used by our Expo and Millennium Lines.

The project mentions that they will be “electric light metro” cars that use overhead catenary power, presumably to capitalize on the existing commuter rail infrastructure on the Deux-Montagnes line and through the Mount Royal Tunnel. While it’s plausible that the trains will be using conventional propulsion technology, the train size and specs suggest that linear motor train technology as used in our Expo and Millennium Line could be adopted.

A 2-car Tokyo Metro 01-series train now in service in Kumamoto. These trains were outfitted with overhead catenaries for Kumamoto’s railway, after using third-rail power for years on Tokyo’s busiest city subway line. By hyolee2, CC-BY-SA

Bombardier currently offers its Innovia Metro trains (used on our SkyTrain system) with third rail propulsion options, but it would not be difficult to modify the design to take overhead power. Existing third rail trains can be easily modified and outfitted with pantographs.

In Japan, which is home to the world’s most well-built railway and transit networks, this is done regularly when used trains are passed on from big city to smaller-scale transit operators.

As an example, last year a number of Tokyo Metro Series 01 train cars, which were used on the city’s busiest Ginza Line, were transferred to a local railway in Kumamoto, which required the installation of an overhead catenary and other modifications (whereas the previous metro line was a third-rail subway).

See also: Montreal may use SkyTrain technology for Champlain Bridge “LRT”

I have previously commented on how Montreal rail rapid transit projects have specified trains that are similar to those used on our SkyTrain system. This proposal, which actually encompasses many of the same corridors, continues that trend, and it is becoming increasingly likely that a full ALRT adoption is going to be used.

The cost rationale for going driverless

Driverless winning
The total length of automated metro lines is expected to triple by 2025.

Greater Vancouver pioneered driverless rapid transit when SkyTrain was introduced more than 30 years ago, utilizing what was then the latest technology developed by Alcatel and UTDC. Since then, other systems have been built in numerous cities around the world. According to the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), 35 cities around the world operated 52 automated metro lines, spanning over 700km, in 2014. This is expected to increase three-fold to over 2000km by 2021.

Automation brings many operational advantages, in particular, increased safety and flexibility in operation, unrivalled reliability, and more attractive job profiles for the staff on the line. Building on these strengths, metro operating companies can seize on automation as a lever for change at all company levels: operational, maintenance and customer service.
 
(UITP automation report)

One of the more obvious ways that a driver-less system saves money is with the reduction in staffing (no drivers on each of the many trains), headroom is created to operate much more frequent service during less busy weekends and off-peak hours, without incurring an operating cost penalty.

However, the REM’s design choices also show how driver-less train systems can also create the flexibility to save on the project capital cost while maintaining the highest quality of service.

The western proportion of the REM proposal has 3 separate lines that merge into a single lane heading into Montreal City Centre.
The western proportion of the REM proposal has 3 separate lines, which merge into a single line heading into Montreal City Centre.

With service frequencies as high as every 2 minutes in the central portion of the line through Montreal City Centre (and potentially higher as ridership increases), driver-less technology is what fosters the potential to combine the no less than 3 forking lines to the west, each already operating at a high frequency, into a single line heading into the city core.

Traditional, driver-operated commuter railways do not always benefit from the ability to merge lines, as the lower permitted frequencies and longer train sizes make running at such high frequencies prohibitive and infeasible. As an example, in Osaka, Japan, the 3 ‘Hankyu’ commuter train line branches serving the areas north of the main city enter the city core on a wide 6-track right-of-way, including a 6-track bridge over the Umeda River. Each line gets its own set of tracks and is operated separately from one another.

Osaka, Japan's 'Hankyu' commuter train lines have 3 branches that converge for the final segment into the City Centre. Each line gets its own set its tracks, and crosses the Umeda River into the city core on a 6-track bridge. Montreal's REM proposal is using driverless technology to avoid this setup, with 3 forking lines merging into a single line and using driverless technology to travel into the city core at high frequencies.
The Hankyu bridge into Osaka’s Umeda Station. By GORIMON, CC-BY-NC

Montreal’s REM proposal is using driverless technology to avoid this setup, utilizing driverless technology to have trains from 3 different lines travel into the city core at very high frequencies – without the need for separate tracks, additional tunnels and viaducts, and larger infrastructure, meaning costs and land footprint are significantly reduced.

It is clear why CDPQ is choosing a driverless, automated light metro system – the higher frequencies allow for capacities that are comparable or better despite shorter platforms, and compared to an investment in heavy commuter rail, the REM’s choice for driverless train technology could be saving billions upon billions of dollars.

Opening to public in 2020

Concept image of an REM station

One of the marvellous things about the R.E.M. plan is the speed at which the CDPQ wishes to set it up. With a clear business case and clear benefits presenting the opportunity to quickly approve funding from the provincial and federal governments, construction is expected to start in Spring of 2017, approximately 1 year from now.

The line will then open in 2020, with construction sped up by the well-planned re-use of existing rights-of-way and tunnels, and its integration with other projects such as the new Champlain Bridge.

Despite what could be seen as challenges due to the cost, the REM proposal, and the speed at which it will be ready for service, is a showcase of what happens when all parties can come together with a great plan and a great business case. Moreover, driverless train technology, which was pioneered and made extremely successful here in Vancouver, is the basis of this proposal.

See also: The Problem with SkyTrain Critics – Denying the Benefits

I think I am most delighted by the indication that driverless train lines are still worth building and make a lot of sense for urbanized cities. Many of Vancouver’s SkyTrain expansion critics seem to think that isn’t the case.

My guess is that once the REM is complete and its success plays out, its success could very well trigger a rapid transit planning revolution and the mass spread of driverless train systems throughout world cities. Canada will not only be the country that pioneered this technology – but also the world leader in implementing it, with two of the world’s longest driverless systems in Montreal and in Vancouver.

Transit Ideas: Fixing the 407 and 430 (Richmond)

FEATURED PHOTO: A 407 Gilbert bus leaves Bridgeport Station in snowy weather. Photo by Dennis Tsang on Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
FEATURED PHOTO: A 407 Gilbert bus leaves Bridgeport Station in snowy weather. Photo by Dennis Tsang on Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Despite ongoing attempts at service optimizations that fix costly and inefficient oddities in the Metro Vancouver transit system, there remain a number of service oddities at different locations throughout the system.

In Richmond, the 407 and 430 – which primarily service the Gilbert Rd., Garden City Rd. and Bridgeport Rd. corridors are no exception to this. I ride these two routes occassionally on trips from the Metrotown area to Kwantlen University (taking advantage of the at-the-door drop-off) or to Richmond’s night markets and personally find that they could be far more useful than the current arrangement, with a bit of creative tweaking.

Background

The 407 took on its present form in 2002, when it was extended onto Bridgeport Road in lieu of 402 service (before the introduction of the 98 B-Line – the Canada Line’s rapid bus pre-cursor – the 407 serviced the Gilbert corridor only and continued as an express route to Vancouver). Today, it continues to provide a basic local-access service on Richmond’s Gilbert Rd, Garden City and Bridgeport corridors.

The 430 was introduced in late 2004, with 30 minute peak and 60 minute off-peak frequencies, to service a regional travel market between Richmond Centre and Metrotown in Burnaby. The route was cited to “make it easier for commuters to travel between Richmond and Burnaby” and “save travel time for students travelling to the Richmond campus of Kwantlen University College”, according to TransLink’s original press release. The result was a very big improvement in the links between these two centres – as previously, connecting riders would have to take the 98 B-Line to Granville & 49th and take the 49 for the rest of the way to reach Burnaby; while destinations along the current 430 would require multiple routes (i.e. present-day 407, 22, 100) to be reached. Today, the 430 operates with slightly enhanced frequencies of 20/30 (peak/off-peak).

Moving towards today

The Canada Line resulted in significant changes to Richmond transit. Photo credit: Flickr - Richard Eriksson
The Canada Line SkyTrain resulted in significant changes to Richmond transit. Photo credit: Flickr – Richard Eriksson

In recent years, the structure of transit towards and within Richmond has changed significantly. The most significant change was the introduction of the Canada Line (a SkyTrain rapid transit service) in 2009. This created a different way of travelling into Richmond, and required the reorganization of most bus routes. Many routes had their frequencies increased, which included the 430. Routes were reorganized to connect with the SkyTrain station, and some routes that continued express to downtown Vancouver via Granville Street were shortened to terminate at Bridgeport Station, allowing for frequency improvements.

Problems

The unfortunate result of these service changes is a service pattern that’s not necessarily optimized for the Canada Line, nor is it optimized for local travel, on some of Richmond’s bus routes. For example: with the introduction of the Canada Line, it is often more convenient to now use the Canada Line and the 49 for Metrotown-bound trips. The 407 and 430 suffer from issues such as service duplication, different routings, and lack of service simplicity.

(Scroll down to view my proposed solution to fixing the 407 and 430!)

Here are some of the problems I took note of on the two routes:

Confusing service patterns

The current state of routes 407 and 430. Created with TransitMix
The current state of routes 407 and 430. Created with TransitMix

As you can see from my above sketch of the different routes on TransitMix, there are different routings for riders to worry about.

While the 430 has one routing, 407 riders can be dealing with three different trip patterns throughout the day. For example: in the peak hours, the 407 detours via Vulcan Way to service numerous industrial establishments and prioritize linking residents to their jobs. All in all, there are usual 407 trips, peak-hour 407’s via Vulcan Way, and 407’s that only service the Gilbert segment and short turn at Brighouse.

The two routes also don’t necessarily take you to the same place. The 407 uses Cook Road rather than Cooney and Lansdowne to exit Richmond Centre, and additionally detours towards No. 3 Road in the vicinity of Capstan Way.

This is confusing, inconsistent throughout the day and can result in one route being much longer than the other. It’s probably also a rider deterrent – as the job centers being serviced in the northeast are very close to fast, limited-access expressways making driving a very attractive and fast option.

Service duplication: poor off-peak service on Bridgeport/Garden City

Service frequencies on the 407 and 430, by segment
Service frequencies on the 407 and 430, by segment

The actual service is another story. The routes have very varied frequencies, which combines with the confusing service patterns to amplify the issues with the route. None of the service can be considered consistently “frequent” (every 15 minutes or less) and useful in that sense

During some parts of day, the service can be really poor. Interestingly, a half-hourly service is maintained on the 407 during the evenings – this is probably a result of the earlier termination of 430 service at 9:30PM, and transit demand from the International Summer Night Market – but the mid-day services on Bridgeport Rd. are very paltry.

Whereas the 407 generally traverses the entire corridor between Steveston and its northern terminus at the Knight St Bridge, every second trip terminates at Richmond-Brighouse mid-day. This results in a paltry and barely usable hourly service during mid-day weekday and weekend periods on the 407 – which was probably justified as a result of duplication with the route 430, which runs every half-hour. However, as the 430 is an express route, not all stops on Bridgeport and Garden City are served.

If the 407 and 430 service on Bridgeport and Garden City were coordinated – on the same route with the same stops – those corridors could theoretically be enjoying a more useful 20 minute off-peak frequency. Instead, buses come every half-hour or as infrequently as every hour depending on the stop, making it difficult to effectively avail transit service. Contrast that to service on Marine Drive across the Fraser River, or on Cambie Road. Both corridors have only a single bus route (100, 410) – but the service is frequent all-day, every day. Both services are easy to use, popular, and warranted by the ridership figures.

Similar issues: 332 and 335 in Surrey

This was also a problem in my home community of Guildford, Surrey. Until some fairly recent service changes, two different bus routes that were otherwise the same used the 108 Ave corridor: the 335, continuing to Fleetwood, and the 332 (the 332 was the same as the current 335 short-turned at Guildford Exchange, usually interlined with 326 service on 156th Street).

The 335 operated every 20 minutes in the peak hour, whereas the 332 would operate anywhere between 15 and 30 minute service. On the weekends, half-hour 335 service was complimented by duplicate, once-hourly 332 service. All of this proved inefficient and unuseful, so TransLink made some changes in the 2013 service optimization round, with consultations from the community.

A 335 in Surrey, followed by a 337 express to Surrey Central Station.
A 335 in Surrey on 104th Ave, followed by a 337 express to Surrey Central Station.

With the changes, the 108th Ave segment of 335 now enjoys consistent 10-minute peak period frequencies and a frequent 15-minute mid-day weekday service. The service optimization also enabled an extension of the 335 to Newton Exchange. Overall, riding those routes in conjunciton with new 96 B-Line rapid service has been very pleasant for me.

Service duplication: poor service for through Gilbert riders

In addition to the above shortfalls, Gilbert Road 407 riders also have a shortfall with the existing setup. With only every second 407 trip making the entire route during most off-peak periods, this also results in a very poor through service during those periods for Gilbert Road riders headed for destinations on Bridgeport. Riders on 407 trips to Brighouse only could transfer to the 430 express for the remainder of the trip, but the transfer is not a guarantee – and riders who miss their 430 connection could end up waiting 20 minutes for the next bus.

High cost

With a combined service cost approaching $4.4 million, the 407 and 430 service cost is comparable to that of the similarly lengthy, but more frequent 401. Neither route ranks particularly high in terms of service efficiency, and the 407 is dangerously low on the list at 113th of 206 routes in terms of cost per boarded passenger.

See also: TransLink – Transit System Performance

407 Capstan Way detour

#407 Capstan Way detour

The Capstan Way detour on the 407 is an interesting oddity that goes back to the 98 B-Line days, when Bridgeport Station was unbuilt and 407 passengers on Garden City would connect to the 98 B-Line at No. 3 Rd. and Capstan Way. Today, the detour does not connect to any rapid bus route and can add up to 10 minutes for riders on the 407, when combined with the detour to service Bridgeport Station. There’s an improvement in access to some businesses with this routing – however, given the numerous alternatives within very close walking proximity such as the 403 and 410, and the planned opening of a Capstan Way station on the Canada Line, it’s very negligible.

This also becomes a weakness as the 407 can get caught in congestion delays at No. 3 Rd. at Sea Island Way – especially during the evenings when Richmond Night Market is operation, causing buses to reroute and end up avoiding this segment anyway.

If the detour were removed, it could make for a net balance or improvement in access, travel time and service provision.

430: The Usefulness Debate

With the introduction of the Canada Line providing a faster service to Richmond Centre, it has raised some debates in the transit community on the usefulness of the 430.

The rational (sp) for it, is that since the advent of the Canada line, it is always faster to board on the Canada line and transfer along the way toward Metrotown, than to use the 430 from Brighouse. So it is reasonable to retire an “express route” which has been made obsolete by recent transit improvement (which is eventually illustrated by a relatively poor ridership).

See also: A Richmond Transit PlanThe Regional View and The Local View on Voony’s Blog

Voony’s Blog opined that the 430’s usefulness ended with the introduction of the Canada Line, which can be used in conjunction with the existing 49. His Richmond Transit Plan proposal creates a “630” linking Metrotown with Tsawassen Ferry, following the 430’s routing up until the Knight St Bridge – with local service continuing on Bridgeport Road afterwards, and insists that this arrangement would be more useful. I think this would be a bit unfair given the establishment of the 430 with the current ridership, which actually does outperform the 407 and other Richmond routes.

But, indeed, if one were to prioritize a trip between Metrotown and Richmond Centre, a similar travel time could be had with the local 49 service and 430. In the peak hours, the 49 takes about 30 minutes to traverse the segment between Metrotown and Langara, with the Canada Line able to provide for the rest of the way. The 430 also takes about 30 minutes to reach the Canada Line at Bridgeport Station. This is slightly closer to Richmond, but only slightly faster and with the risk of being delayed at the congestion and accident-prone Knight Street Bridge.

The segment between Bridgeport and Brighouse serves few important destinations, (with the only notable one I can think of being Kwantlen Polytechnic University), and most of them are still accessible through other quality transit services.

Defenders of the 430 who may advocate that the existing route be kept at all costs may cite the need to continue servicing heavy demand to access destinations on Bridgeport, including Richmond’s night markets (Magical Candyland and ISNM) as well as IKEA Richmond, nearby retailers and other nearby industrial outlets that are centres for many jobs. Because the current arrangement actually restricts potential service usefulness on the corridor, however, this argument can be effectively nullified. In addition, the earlier end time of 430 service negates the usefulness the route may have to Richmond’s night markets.

A 430 B-Line: transit planning silliness

SEE ALSO: “Rapid Transit Vision” report exposes faults of Surrey LRT proposal on SkyTrain for Surrey

One of the things that caught my attention in the recent Mayors’ Council report was the proposal to convert the 430 into a full, rapid B-Line service. It’s one of the two primary things in this report making me reluctantly ask the question of whether our Mayors can be actually trusted to PLAN transit (the other being the apparent approval of a Light Rail system in Surrey – see my reasons for disapproval at [CLICK HERE]).

Even as a 430 rider myself, who could benefit from the increased frequencies and capacities of such a service, I found myself thinking of the idea and saying to myself, “this is silliness.”

For the busy 49th Avenue corridor, turning the 430 into a B-Line is definitely not the right solution. Every transit planner I can think of would advise TransLink to operate an express B-Line route straight down 49th instead, linking Langara-49th SkyTrain station and Langara College. It would create a more effective, straight route with a faster connection to Canada Line and for Metrotown-Richmond downtown-to-downtown riders, providing improved rapid access where it is needed most on 49th.

I think it’s just so silly to propose to create a B-Line out of an indirect routing – with a very limited business case, as noted by the Mayors’ Council Vision appendices report – that doesn’t even warrant frequent service levels at the moment.

The proposed #430 B-Line in the Mayors' Council report scores low on all performance criteria.
The proposed 430 B-Line in the Mayors’ Council report scores low on all performance criteria.

I understand that a lot of the decisions in this proposal may have had to do with transit-oriented growth-shaping in addition to the transportation element, and that such planning might have the intention of creating such destinations on Bridgeport and south Knight. Howver, not only are there so few destinations of note on the corridor in particular right now – I also seriously doubt the redevelopment potential of the industrial lands on the 430 corridor.

Areas like River Dr, Cambie Road and the Olympic Oval area actually do have higher-density residential or mixed-use developments being planned or even built right now – but those weren’t industrial lands to begin with. Those were empty lands that were much cheaper to develop and build up. With the amount of still-undeveloped land in other areas of Richmond – especially closer to City Centre – I find it doubtful that the redevelopment to create a business case for a 430 B-Line would materialize for years.

My solution

A short-term plan

I used TransitMix to rearrange the services and found that with $4.4 million annually, not only would a much better service plan for all corridors serviced be attained – a new community shuttle route could be introduced, expanding transit service in North Richmond to service and spur new developments.

PROPOSAL - Fix the #407 and #430

SEE TRANSITMIX MAP – CLICK HERE

(I understand that this map can be edited by anyone, so I ask that you do not mess it up, for the sake of other blog viewers! 🙂)

407 on Gilbert, 430 on Bridgeport

Under this plan, the 407 and 430 would be split into two different routes – and service duplication segments would largely be removed:

  • The 407 would continue to operate from Bridgeport Station to Steveston via Brighouse Station. The route would largely assume existing frequencies, but would operate twice as frequently on weekdays between Brighouse and Bridgeport on Garden City Road to replace additional 430 service, serve demand to proposed commercial areas and open up Garden City for higher-density, mixed-use development.
  • The 430 would be shortened to operate between Bridgeport and Metrotown, replacing the 407 on Bridgeport Road.
  • A peak-hour extension of the 407 to Vulcan Way, terminating at Knight & Marine, will continue to operate during peak periods only – doubling service on Bridgeport between Bridgeport Station and No. 5 Rd.

Under my proposal, the 430 ceases to be an express service, serving 5 more stops than currently and providing the bulk of service on Bridgeport Road. At present, the 430 on its limited-stop route does not actually save any significant time over the 407 – with the scheduled time difference being only 1 minute. This may have to do with the low popularity on the 407 – likely a result of paltry off-peak service – resulting in fewer stops being made – and 430 service duplication.

The increased popularity of this setup, resulting from vastly improved frequency, may further slow down the 430 – but for regional through riders between Metrotown and Richmond Centre, this difference would likely be made up anyway if riders use the Canada Line (with a travel time of 6 minutes and a 6-minute frequency – vs. 13 minutes on Garden City via the 430) to complete their journey. All in all, the more frequent and consistent service would likely make up for the shortfall.

These services can be interlined at Bridgeport Station so that 407s continue into 430s, and vice-versa. This would allow the revised routes to operate much like the existing setup, for passenger ease and convenience. For example: during peak hours, 407 runs from Steveston can continue as 407’s extended to Vulcan Way, whereas 407s starting from Brighouse – to provide additional Garden City Rd. service – can interline into the 430’s continuing to Metrotown.

Routes are straightened out and simplified – the Capstan Way detour is removed, and service is not provided on Cooney Rd and Lansdowne Rd. Kwantlen University students will continue to have access to the 407 and 430 by way of a very short, 2-minute walk to Garden City – while riders from Cooney Rd are a very short walk from Lansdowne SkyTrain station.

New C91 community shuttle

C91 River Dr

C91 River Dr map
C91 River Dr map

The second component of this plan involves the introduction of a new community shuttle service: the C91 River Dr.

As a number of medium to high density residential developments rising on River Dr. will soon warrant a transit service, this would be a great opportunity to begin a service to these developments while also bringing expanded, all-day transit options to Vulcan Way corridor industrial and the International Summer Night Market.

Dava Developments' Parc Riviera will add several condominums as well as park amenities to the River Dr corridor northeast of Bridgeport SkyTrain Station.
Dava DevelopmentsParc Riviera will add several condominums as well as park amenities to the River Dr corridor northeast of Bridgeport SkyTrain Station.

The shuttle will run every 30 minutes for most of the day, with enhanced frequencies of 20 minutes during weekday peak periods. On weekdays, the route provides an extension to the northeast end of Crestwood Industrial Park, linking Richmond residents with their jobs.

In conjunction with the existing 407 to Vulcan Way, riders from Bridgeport Station can catch a bus to the Vulcan Way corridor every 10 minutes – significantly improving the transit accessibility of Crestwood Industrial Park. By servicing this market in addition to the market of River Dr. residents riding in the opposite direction to/from Bridgeport Station, the C91 has the potential to be a very cost-effective transit service with high usage in both directions.

The IKEA and Home Depot area around Bridgeport Rd and Sweden Way, where riders can access – among other things – a 24-hour McDonald’s, would also benefit from a 15-minute service or better at any time of day and any day to/from Bridgeport Station, with optimal timing of combination C91 and 430 service.

This shuttle would cost approximately $713,000 annually to operate and could be accomplished within the same budget used for the present 407 and 430, if the two routes are optimized as outlined above.

Further service improvements

Apart from the C91, the plan also incorporates a number of service improvements to both existing route corridors:

  • Late-night service on the 430 is extended to approx. midnight on weekdays & Saturdays.
  • Saturday service on the 430 starts one hour earlier
  • Saturday service on both routes improves to every 20 minutes between 9AM and 6PM
  • All service generally operates at least every 30 minutes at any time

In addition, two key segments will – on the same route or on combinations of two routes – improve to a consistent 10-minute service in the peak hour, as well as a 15-minute mid-day weekday service:

  • Garden City Road between Bridgeport Station and Brighouse Station (407)
  • Bridgeport Road between Bridgeport Station and No. 5 Road (430, 407)

Frequency map - proposed #407, #430 and C91

For a massive service improvement, it would take only the same amount of operating money being put in the 407 and 430 right now – approximately 4.4 million annually – including the cost of additional, 10-15 minute frequency evening shuttle service on the C91 for when the International Summer Night Market is in operation.

A long-term plan

In the long term, the introduction of a frequent, all-day express service on 49th Ave from Metrotown to Langara-49th SkyTrain Station (B-Line or otherwise) can be anticipated. With this, it would be ideal and efficient for the 430 to change.

With the introduction of such a route, the 430 can be cancelled; in place, 22 Knight service is extended beyond the current Knight & Marine terminus to Bridgeport Station, resulting in further increases in frequency on Bridgeport Rd. and through service to Knight St. Riders on the former 430 can now use the 22 in conjunction with the 49 rapid route to maintain a fast connection. Meanwhile, the 407 continues to provide a peak-hour-only extension to Knight & Marine via Vulcan Way.

This would permanently solve an issue where presently, riders must transfer to connect to local Knight Street service – and create new Vancouver-Richmond connection opportunities.

The savings in operating cost would allow the new rapid 49 to be more frequent, improving transit for all people.

What do you think?

Please like, comment and share!

If you like my plan, I encourage you to comment on it below and share it where you can – perhaps re-blog and do a feature on your website! I’m hoping that with the release of TransitMix, I can create “transit ideas” articles like these way more often than I was initially planning – touching on several areas here in Metro Vancouver.

Created with the assistance of TransitMix

Transitmix is what allowed me to visualize this entire article. It’s new and simple way to think about transit in terms of bus requirements and real costs. Map-makers draw a route on a map and plug in span and frequency. The app then calculates a vehicle requirement and cost in both hours and dollars, factoring in an adjustable layover ratio, average speed and dollar cost per service hour.

The Problem with SkyTrain Critics – Denying the Benefits

I think I’ve pretty much seen it all: unfound claims on SkyTrain’s financial burden, claims that entire tram networks could be built at the same cost as a SkyTrain extension (ignoring the impracticalities of trying to conduct such a massive replacement of buses without ever improving transit speed), and other alternate light-rail transit (LRT) proposals that just don’t make any practical sense.

SkyTrain is constantly being challenged, and this contention has had a phenomenal effect in getting people involved with transit planning matters. Some of the biggest names we know in Metro Vancouver transit issues discussions – the ones you might hear about in newspapers; examples include: Paul Hillsdon, Nathan Pachal, Jordan Bateman, John Buker – are or at one point have been motivated by a criticism of SkyTrain rapid transit.

If there were no one to respond to these criticisms and unearth the problems with such a viewpoint – as I am doing so now – the quality of transit planning in Metro Vanouver would deteriorate to the point where perhaps no disagreement would be had on transit projects; and consequently, little progress would be made in changing communities and peoples’ lives for the better.

Denying the Benefits

SkyTrain critics deny SkyTrain’s potential as a high-quality rapid transit system. They don’t even want to see it acknowledged that SkyTrain generates billions of dollars in transportation, developmental and economic benefits. They clutter our blog-feeds, newsletter sections and comments with endlessly varied suggestions to perpetuate the belief that SkyTrain simply isn’t the best option for investment.

They’re often proponents of Light Rail Transit (LRT), an alternative option that could allow rail transit to be built in a somewhat more flexible manner (including at-grade and on-street), who are quick to bring forward the positives of community-building, lower capital cost and less obtrusive (at-grade) infrastructure as upsides when compared to SkyTrain.

Can LRT be an appropriate solution in the transit planning sense? Absolutely. That should be quite obvious: there’s a reason why light rail investments are so popular around the world, with hundreds of proposals to reference at any time. However, the versatility of LRT should not be resulting in the dismissal of SkyTrain as another great – and often better – solution to addressing transportation problems, especially here in Metro Vancouver.

And yet, the critics are relentless in their criticisms. . Worse – they’re ridiculing and, apparently, finding reasons to shame our system and the way we’ve built it. These are the worst kind – the kind that try to deny altogether that building SkyTrain has provided Metro Vancouver with any benefits – and the ones who should arguably be disallowed from participating in public policy debacles, because they seem to have no understanding of what has been happening here in Vancouver for the past 30 years.

Metrotown has been phenomenally influenced by the introduction of SkyTrain. In the past 9 months I have spent living in Burnaby, I have witnessed the growth of at least 6 new high-rises.
Metrotown has been phenomenally influenced positively by the introduction of SkyTrain. During the year I spent living in the Burnaby area, I witnessed the growth of at least 6 new high-rises. You can see many of them in this photo.

Sample contentions by SkyTrain critics that are incorrect

1. SkyTrain hasn’t gotten people out of their cars.

TransLink’s trip diary data is a difficulty: there is little bearing that can be had about the accuracy of the measurements (this is a sample size) and the types of commutes that were recorded (i.e. are they commutes to work, shopping, and at what time of day/day), but nevertheless, it is a valid source. It’s used by TransLink and Metro Vancouver in regional planning matters,  and is and often utilized by SkyTrain critics. As SkyTrain critics have been quick to point out, the 2011 value is only 3% higher than the valule recorded in 1994 – the year SkyTrain was expanded across the Fraser River and into Surrey. It’s tempting, when you look at this, to think that SkyTrain has failed us in serving its original purpose.

The problem with these numbers is that they really don’t tell the whole story.

The trip diary draws data from 22,000 households in the region, and is meant to take a “snapshot” of a day in Metro Vancouver transportation. It is a partial survey – it’s not the same as the much more accurate ‘journey-to-work mode-share’ numbers collected by Stats Canada from every household, which show that transit mode share in Metro Vancouver is a bit higher than that collected in the Trip Diary and – together with walking and cycling – has grown significantly since 1996.

Closer studies have suggested that the biggest impact in transit modal shift is coming from SkyTrain and SkyTrain expansion. The City of Vancouver has also collected more specific numbers [Vancouver Transportation Plan Update – CLICK HERE] that not only show a big increase in transit ridership from outside of the city (i.e. connected by SkyTrain) – but also that the amount of motor vehicle trips actually declined for the past decade, despite population growth.

An even closer 2009 study [Niko Juevic SFU study – LINK HERE] that more closely looked at households within both 400m and 1500m radii of Expo and Millennium SkyTrain stations showed even more significant changes – outpacing transit modal shift across the region. The opening of the Millennium Line SkyTrain had a phenomenal effect on the surrounding area: within a 1500m radius of each station, transit mode-share had nearly doubled 4 years after the line opened – growing at more than 4x the regional average rate.

I compiled a summary of these numbers in the graphic below:

Modal shift in Vancouver - data compiled from Statistics Canada, Metro Vancouver and 2009 study by Niko Juevic

2. 80% of SkyTrain riders are recycled bus riders

South Surrey Park and Ride's Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr
351 buses at Bridgeport Station wait to depart for South Surrey Park & Ride. Photo credit: Flickr – Stephen Rees

While I’ve never really been able to track a definitive source for this statistic (I have seriously only ever heard it from one SkyTrain critic group), I see it repeated in discussion circles and used as justification that SkyTrain is weak at attracting ridership. SkyTrain critics have repeated this number to contend that the majority of riders on the SkyTrain were already taking transit before the line was built, claiming that this is “double the industry standard” – and were extremely vocal in certain situations where SkyTrain expansion replaced one or mutliple bus routes, especially in the case of the Canada Line (which replaced express segments for multiple south-of-Fraser bus routes heading into Vancouver).

Firsty, I have never understood why such a vague 80% number is being portrayed as a weakness. In the City of Calgary, a single centralized high-density core and the most expensive downtown parking in North America combine with free park-and-ride facilities along Light Rail Transit lines to give the Calgary C-Train the majority of its nearly 300,000 daily boardings. The Calgary C-Train is a versatile system and many of its riders have chosen to use transit, but not for their entire commute – the first segment of their trips is more often being done by car than by bus, walk or bike.

If the majority of SkyTrain riders are taking other transit to get there first, then that is at least as much a strength as much as it is a weakness (and, very likely, very much more a strength) – because this kind of transit commute coherency is simply not being replicated by other rail transit systems.

The versatile Calgary C-Train services nearly 300,000 boardings every day - but outside of the city core, Park'n'Rides such as this one contribute the majority of C-Train ridership. Image source: Calgary Transit website
The versatile Calgary C-Train services nearly 300,000 boardings every day – but outside of the city core, Park’n’Rides such as this one contribute the majority of C-Train ridership. Image source: Calgary Transit website

Secondly, this claim – at least in the case of the Canada Line – certainly doesn’t hold up to collected ridership numbers.

Passenger measurements by Canada Line operator ProTransBC collected by the Richmond Review were showing that Canada Line ridership in its first few weeks averaged 77,000 – meaning over 55% of today’s ridership numbers were already on board the Canada Line before September 7th, 2009 – when the 98 B-Line and 490-series express routes were terminated, and the many South-of-Fraser express buses (351, 601, etc) were terminated at Bridgeport rather than continuing to downtown Vancouver.

These bus routes make up only a small percent of the Canada Line’s total ridership – the vast majority were choosing to ride the Canada Line before any of these buses were transferred to terminate at Bridgeport or eliminated. A rider survey conducted in 2011 indicated that 40% of those surveyed were new to the system – that being, they previously drove and did not take transit at all for that commute – and that riders’ biggest vaues for the system were speed, frequency and reliabillity.

With the cancellation of the 98 B-Line and associated peak-hour express routes, it’s true that a number of the Canada Line’s passengers were riders of the previous bus-only system; however, this is something that needs to be expected from all rapid transit projects regardless of technology and alignment. Each and every SkyTrain line, C-Train Line, Portland MAX line, etc. replaced a previous bus service and took in riders from that bus service.

Claims like this also downpay the benefits being provided to any previous bus riders, whose faster commutes are fostering increased productivity, lower stress levels and better comfort. For most of the first month of operation, the 98 B-Line continued its operations alongside the new Canada Line until its termination on September 7th. Riders had the option of continuing to ride the 98 or take the new SkyTrain – and as evidenced by ridership numbers that averaged more than double what the 98 B-Line carried before the new SkyTrain opened, the majority of 98 riders were opting for the faster ride.

The proof is in the ridership

A Canada Line train pulls into Marine Dr Station - photo by Larry Chen, license obtained
A Canada Line train pulls into Marine Dr Station – photo by Larry Chen, license obtained

See also: Surrey’s Next Mayor should Push for SkyTrain – Surrey Leader letter

The Canada Line, which was introduced just 4 years ago, is already a Vancouver icon; a part of this city’s fabric of life. It’s hard to believe that less than 5 years ago, the link between downtown Vancouver and Richmond was a miserable bus trip that took as long as the SkyTrain’s Expo Line took to travel nearly twice the distance to Surrey. As a daily rider of the Canada Line to reach Kwantlen University in Richmond (and again later in the day to go from there to work downtown), the Canada Line’s benefits are evident to me in person. I don’t have to worry about potential traffic issues heading into Vancouver that can make buses (or even light rail trains) late – and neither do the 121,999 others who ride with me each and every day.

Riders, stakeholders and decision makers have been clamouring to build something similar and soon under Broadway between UBC and Commercial-Broadway Station. Support has been near unanimous, because previous experience with SkyTrain has shown us that we can be confident about the expanding the system.

Local mayors who were concerned that the expense of SkyTrain would make TransLink’s assets like electric trolleys “crash” were proved wrong when the Canada Line exceeded ridership expectations well ahead of time.

In walks of transit planning and provision, I have always thought that SkyTrain isn’t getting enough credit for what it does. SkyTrain has been part of why Metro Vancouver has lead North American cities in transit ridership. We rank third in transit trips per person per year, behind only New York and Toronto.  We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C. – cities with full-size metro systems – and far ahead of cities with only LRT systems. This has grown from 4th in 2006.

We are achieving great things because we approved the construction and expansion of the SkyTrain system. Which is why making sure SkyTrain critics who mess up the facts do not get a grip on transit-planning decision makers is my top priority for this year.