Critics say redistributing TransLink bus service won’t help
TransLink says it will deliver extra buses where they are truly needed with its “service optimization” plan. But not everyone is onboard: critics say some commuters are going to be left behind.
The regional transportation authority is wrapping up consultations on the plan it will roll out starting in mid to late 2013. That’s months after transit fares increase by 10 percent.
“The guiding principles for optimization are twofold, so it’s about making better use of transit resources and putting service where it’s needed the most,” Marisa Espinosa, TransLink senior planning manager, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
According to Espinosa, a total of 25,000 service hours are being redistributed across Metro Vancouver to “generate higher ridership and address overcrowding”.
TransLink’s plan covers 33 Coast Mountain Bus Company routes. Nine of those are in Coquitlam, where long-time CMBC operator Brent Asmundson serves as a city councillor.
“You’re robbing Paul to pay Peter, basically,” Asmundson told the Straight by phone. “You’re creating service in another area but taking service out of other areas. It doesn’t improve overall service.”
In Coquitlam, five buses will be rerouted. Three others will be discontinued and their loads shared between one existing route and a new bus service. “We’re a growing community in Coquitlam, and we don’t need to lose service in any area,” Asmundson said.
TransLink started the process of bus-service optimization in 2010. According to its overall base plan for 2013, the transportation body will have reallocated 170,000 hours, or 3.4 percent of its total bus-service hours, by the end of 2012. The document 2013 Base Plan and Outlook notes that as a result of optimization and population growth, “capacity utilization has increased from 84 per cent in 2009 to 88 per cent in 2011, boardings per revenue hour have increased from 54 to 58 over the same period, and fare revenue increased by 5 per cent ($21 million)”.
With bus-service optimization, leveraging of real-estate assets, and a rate hike at its park-and-ride lots, TransLink expects to raise $24 million in extra revenues next year. This figure does not include revenue from the 10-percent increase in transit fares that starts on January 1, 2013.
In Vancouver, two regular bus and two community shuttle services are included in the optimization. The changes will include a service reduction for the number 22 bus in the area south of Kingsway, where TransLink says ridership is low.
Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs noted that service optimization will hit small municipalities harder.
“It’s hard for them to build ridership when the service times are too far apart,” Meggs told the Straight over the phone. “It’s going to impose significant hardship on riders. Suburban riders are going to be even harder up.”
Meggs, the vice chair of Vancouver’s committee on planning, transportation, and environment, stressed that the bus fleet isn’t growing in size in 2013.
“They’re shuffling the standing room on the TransLink buses,” Meggs said.
TransLink added 48 bus-service hours as of April 2012. However, because of funding constraints in 2013, another 306,000 bus-service hours will not be added, even though it had previously been committed by the regional transporation authority.
East Vancouver transportation researcher and activist Eric Doherty told the Straight that the changes are not going to enhance overall service. He maintained that TransLink is “shuffling the chairs on the deck of a sinking Titanic”.
Meanwhile, TransLink spokesperson Drew Snider explained that service reduction in low-demand areas is justified because “it’s just not getting used”.
“We’re not trying to stifle transit growth in a rural area,” Snider told the Straight by phone. “It’s a situation where we’re trying to make the best use of what we’ve got right now.”
TransLink’s most recent quarterly report revealed that even though expenditures were $25.6 million less than budgeted, it still had to draw down $11 million from its reserves to maintain service.
The regional transportation authority’s fuel-tax revenue in 2013 and beyond is anticipated to be “significantly below the 2012 Strategic Plan’s forecasts”.
TransLink has hosted seven of 10 scheduled open houses about its optimization plan. The last three of these consultations will be held in Maple Ridge (December 6), West Vancouver (December 11), and Burnaby (December 12).