BC Transit talks its future

Potential 2035 transit map
Potential 2035 transit map. Credit: BC Transi

With the Victoria Regional Rapid Transit planning coming along and the province-wide 2030 strategic plan just finished, BC Transit held a pair of workshops recently to discuss their latest planning endeavour: The Victoria 2035 “Transit Future” as well as a status update on the rapid transit plan itself. I managed to miss the first meeting at Victoria City Hall on Monday so I was forced to make the trek out to suburban hell (aka the Westshore) to see what the fuss was all about.

It seems I managed to time my visit just right, as I managed to hit a lull in traffic and thus had the nearly undivided attention of several senior BC Transit staff, including the CEO Manuel Achadinha. This also meant I was blissfully free of the “rail ranters” who like to show up to these events and are convinced that the reason Victoria doesn’t have rail is a giant conspiracy theory that can only be solved by ranting at whatever poor transit staff that happens to be in front of them.

With the corridor nailed was nailed down a few months back, the rapid transit planning people were asking for feedback on detailed placement within the alignment (median vs curb-side) and type of vehicle (from buses to rail of all kinds). After those have been made, detailed costing analysis needs to be done. It was stressed to me that this will include capital and operating costs. I can only hope that the marketing and messaging works around this so that the “buses are cheaper” meme doesn’t rear its ugly head. The final report is due by the end of this year or early next, to match the 2011 federal and provincial budget cycles.

Beyond the rapid transit project is the Frequent Transit Network, lacking a catchy title or separate branding, but it “aims to provide a network of all-day, every day routes with a 15 minute minimum service, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week.” The new 15 UVic/Downtown Express (nee Dogwood Line) and the upcoming 16 Express (nee 26A, details can be found in the 2010/11 Service Plan [PDF, pg 2]) are part of this network, as are more traditional buses such as the 6 and 14.

I am glad I braved the six lanes of traffic on the Old Island highway plus being stuck in rush hour traffic on McKenzie to get there. I am cautiously optimistic that something may come of the rapid transit project because of BC Transit’s excellent recent track record with the new express buses and service expansion. However, this work may make me more hopeful than maybe a should be. After all, there are a lot of old, dusty reports listed on this page alone. If you want to add your voice to see such a bright future, check out the Community Consultation page under the June 2010 heading. Maybe some of our voices will be heard at the senior levels of government.

Solutions for empty buses on the 15

Yesterday I talked about some of the teething challenges that the new UVic/Downtown express bus, the 15, nee Dogwood Line, was having. Thankfully a lot of these problems have fairly easy fixes:

  1. New-ness – This will only be solved by time and it will.
  2. Advertising – For BC Transit’s part, they could use some of that empty advertising space, both inside and out, to help promote the new line. Metro in Los Angeles has run some pretty good ads and increased choice ridership by a decent amount as a result. Express buses are loved by choice riders. UVic/Camosun and their respective student societies should work to get people on the ground to pamphlet their bus stops and let people know about the new buses, especially with the separated 15 stop at UVic.
  3. Stops – Most of these are fairly easy fixes as well.
  • UVic – As I mentioned, a lot of UVic students are opportunistic riders, so the riders of the 15 will come from the 4, 7, 11 and 14. As can be seen from the image to the right, there is a massive amount of space between the exchange and the SUB. Given there is no space in the exchange for the 15, kicking out another bus to make room would keep the downtown-bound routes together. A logical route would be the 26, which is one of the busier routes, so would benefit from the extra space in front of the SUB, and its route only overlaps with a short section of McKenzie St. with the 39. Moving an existing bus line with established ridership is hard, but is easier than building up a new ridership if nobody knows the bus exists or is hard to easily find.
  • Placement of bus route stops @ UVic
    Placement of bus route stops @ UVic
  • Fort @ Douglas – The City of Victoria is fairly transit friendly and is likely to be amenable to removal of parking spots to expand the bus stop here. As a bonus, the spots are in front of the Municipal Finance Authority building, who don’t have the same concerns as a storefront retail business with regards to parking.

    Potential expansion of Fort @ Douglas stop
    Potential expansion of Fort @ Douglas stop
  • Fort before Richmond – A much harder stop, because the stop is on an island bounded by two roads, so it can’t be easily expanded. One option would be to have the 11 not stop here, as it stops just after Richmond about 100 m away, where the 15 currently does as well. This would keep the 14 and 15 at the same stop.

    Stop on Fort before Richmond, with two double-deckers superimposed
    Stop on Fort before Richmond, with two double-deckers superimposed
  1. Mistaken schedules – I don’t even know if BC Transit is even aware of this issue up ’til now, but this is a fairly easy fix.

As a last note, I think BC Transit should break out its express routes, the new 15, the 28 Express, the 70, etc. and brand them differently, much like Translink did with the B-Lines.This kind of product differentiation is a great way to attract choice riders, people who could drive but choose to take a bus. Of course, it isn’t news that transit agencies are bad at marketing their own products, a fact which hurts their cause immensely.

(Aerial images are from the CRD Natural Areas atlas, with text and highlighting done with the GIMP and Inkscape)

The empty buses of route 15

Late last year BC Transit introduced a new express route to UVic from downtown, the 15 (previously called the Dogwood Line). While this is only the second week of the new UVic/Camosun term, the buses are very empty, with the 14 still taking the bulk of the passengers along their (mostly) shared route. Why?

  1. The route is new – New services take some time for people to get used to their existence, so early ridership numbers are not usually good indicator of future performance. However, I don’t think this is the only problem.
  2. Confusion of signage – While in the planning stages, BC Transit started the process of adding the new route to the electronic signs on the buses. But most of this early work was undone when the transit commission decided against calling it the Dogwood Line, so only a portion of the buses were tagged with 15 UVic/Downtown Express and the rest had Dogwood Line. By this point this appears to have been fixed.
  3. Advertising – The new route has had zero advertising and barely even got mentioned in any papers. Any notice got shoved alongside the mention of the new 10 route along Bay. There are a bunch of organizations that could have stepped up to the plate for this. First and foremost is BC Transit itself, but the confusion of naming mentioned in the second point didn’t help. UVic Students Society and their Camosun equivalent, plus UVic and Camosun themselves could have gotten involved. So should VIHA, which runs the Royal Jubilee Hospital that lies about half-way along the route.
  4. Stops – 15 is designed as a limited stop bus. Largely due to lack of space, there are a whole bunch of problems with the specific choices for stops:
    • The UVic stop is in front of the SUB, not in the main transit exchange. This is because of lack of space, but better planning could have made this easier. This placement means that the natural ridership of the 15, the current users of the 4, 7, 11 &  14, don’t see the 15 when they are waiting at their usual stops.
    • There are missed stops along the way that make no sense. Two of the biggest stops they miss are Fort @ Douglas and Fort just before Richmond. Both are major boarding points for the 14 and to a lesser extent, the 11.
  5. Mistaken schedules at stops – Some of the downtown stops show the 15 on the printed schedule at the stop but are not actually stops for the 15. This just adds confusion.

None of these are intractable problems and they will be solved, one or another. Tomorrow I will talk about some of the solutions that I see. The addition of the 15 has been a long time in coming and I am glad BC Transit is finally starting to think more about express & limited stop buses.

Late night buses, expanded service coming in January

While many transit organizations are in the middle of financial meltdowns, including the MTA in New York, BC Transit is set to buck the trend and expand bus service here in region (PDF) for the second time in less than six months. This fall brought (PDF) the new 12 and 13 routes out of UVic, some changes in service and more hours, while this January will bring two new routes, late night buses and the balance of the just over 40k more service hours.

The first of the new routes is the cross town 10 route, running from the Jubilee Hospital to Esquimalt Dockyard along Bay St. and Esquimalt Road. This hasn’t been without controversy, as residents along Bay St. expressed concernd about the narrowness of Bay St. and “buses backing up traffic”.

Route 15 map
Route 15 (Dogwood Line) map

Joining the 10 is a new express route from Downtown to UVic. Route 15, nee the Dogwood Line, will shave 3 minutes off the current fastest route to UVic, the 14, with limited stops along the way. One of the challenges of running new buses to UVic is the lack of space in the current exchange, built in 1995, well before UVic’s student population hit nearly 20k, of which nearly 30% of which use the bus. To this end, the old bus exchange will soon become a new bus exchange, although it currently isn’t clear if the 15 will be using that space.

Also coming are late night buses (PDF), an oft-requested service for those of us who actually like to spend time downtown after the sun goes down. This service won’t be cheap, costing BC Transit about $7 for each of the nearly 17,000 estimated riders during the 3 month trial period. Earlier cost estimates (PDF) put each bus at ~$400/hr to run, vs between $60 and $93 usually. This is mostly due to the extra shifts needed in operating and maintaining the fleet. Amongst the future options for payment include a U-pass cost increase, given the expected ridership is mostly students.

Lastly and on the subject of fares, BCTransit has been looking for input on their fare increase plan, set to be implemented in April 2010. Currently they plan on removing the discount cash fare, addition of an off-peak pass and increasing nearly every other pass, ticket and fare. Full details in their press release (PDF). The date for feedback closed on the 15th of Dec and the transit commission will be voting on the plan on January 12th, 2010.

All in all, this is good news for transit riders, although maybe one of these days we might even get some rail transit here in the region, although I suspect it will be a long time before it comes to UVic.

Weekly news roundup

The Times Colonist is running a series of articles called Outlook 2010, covering a vast variety of issues around Victoria. Two today caught my eye:

In other news, everybody’s favourite forestry company property developer Western Forest Products is off selling land again (Times Colonist), this time in the north Island area. This as the CRD has now drafting a new bylaw governing the Juan de Fuca lands that include those WFP is trying to develop.

What really gets me about these removals from the Tree Farm Licenses is that are an explicit violation of the social contract that timber companies signed up to when they took on the TFLs. In return for access to Crown lands for forestry, the companies had to operate local sawmills and manage their private lands “sustainably”. Guess the second two parts of that agreement have kind of been forgotten, as the Times Colonist article says,

Cash-strapped WFP wants to concentrate its forestry operations on Crown land and needs capital to renovate its mills.

This kind of bait and switch isn’t exactly new, as the Dogwood Initiative points when looking at the Dunsmuir land grant for the E&N.

In a slightly better note, they have discovered a use for broom: biomass fuel (Goldstream News Gazette). While that broom is going to other places, I wonder if enough broom could be pulled out of some of the other parks in the region to feed Dockside Green’s biomass plant. As far as I know, they are still looking for biomass to burn, a task made harder by the lack of sawdust and wood chips from the shutdown of many of the mills on Vancouver Island.

Daily news roundup

  • The sewage issue continues to barrel along, with a decision expected by Wednesday. The latest twist is that a proposed plant may straddle the border between the new CRD land and the existing Saanich land. Both the Times Colonist and the News Group aka Oak Bay News have stories on this and if you want to
  • Although both View Royal and Oak Bay continued their composting trial, there is no sign of it spreading to other parts of the region. However, there are plenty of other options, as the Times Colonist pointed out today.
  • Due to a power failure, one of the keynotes at the just-finished Canadian Institute of Planners AGM in Niagara was done by candle-light. Unexpected irony as the theme was coping with climate change.

Transit & Rail

The ridership risk of introducing the 12 Kenmore is not that performance targets for community bus could not be met, but rather than at key school oriented times, community bus capacity would be exceeded requiring the introduction of conventional transit vehicles on this route.

  • Come January there will be a whole pile of new services, including the new Dogwood Line, late night buses and more service hours. See the Transit Commission report (PDF) for more. The Dogwood Line is the first attempt at a B-Line style bus route in Victoria, which is a good thing, especially given just how busy the bus routes to UVic from Downtown are.