Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Translink’s Year in Review

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Ken Hardie has just tweeted “No mayhem, no political fireworks. – TransLink’s evidently-not-newsworthy release of good 2011 results”

So just in case main stream media continues its silence and in case you cannot be bothered to drag yourself over to the Translink web page, here is the entire text of that Press Release unedited and without any comment from me at all.

But don’t let that stop you

To all my readers and frequent commenters (you know who you are) may I wish the very best of luck in 2012 – and a great deal more transit service for every major conurbation, not just ours.

TransLink’s 2011 Year in Review

December 27, 2011

2011: Shifting to a new gear
Upgrades and new funding herald a year of ‘Moving Forward’

It has been, for the most part, a year of consolidation and making the most of what we have, but as 2011 pulls into its terminus, TransLink is looking back on major accomplishments and ahead to another period of growth.

2011 was a year when record numbers of people chose public transit and TransLink’s strategic road improvements drove network efficiencies.  All of this happened while TransLink operated with no overall growth, maximizing services within in a set budget by promoting efficiency and effectiveness.

The Mayors’ Council decision late in the year approving new funding for the long-awaited Evergreen SkyTrain Line to proceed also launched a process the Council will undertake with the province to support the next phase of transportation expansion, set to launch in 2012.

TransLink’s Board of Directors and its management focused the organization on the pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness, both internally and in its service deliveries to the public.  With transit funding outpaced by customer demand, bus services were reallocated from routes and times where they were under-used to address crowding and pass-ups on major routes. Those measures, plus the new funding put TransLink in a position to maintain and improve overall service levels at a time when other agencies around North America were cutting back.

Among the highlights of 2011:

Transit Ridership – proof of the need to increase service in any way possible can be seen in the amazing increase in ridership on the entire TransLink system. From January through October, 2011, the number of revenue rides was 192.1 million – an increase of 5 percent over the same period in 2010, which includes the extraordinary increase associated with the Winter Olympics. The fact that these additional customers have been accommodated without an overall increase in service hours indicates the success of TransLink’s Service Optimization Initiative.  Overall customer satisfaction with transit services remained at a record high 7.7 out of 10 throughout 2011.

Transit Efficiency – Service Optimization plus ever-rising transit ridership has boosted overall efficiency.  To the end of September, TransLink’s cost to move the average passenger one kilometre was 30.5 cents; 11 per cent lower than forecast.  Transit fares are covering 53 per cent of operating costs, a higher-than-expected return.

Sustainability – Both Coast Mountain Bus and BC Rapid Transit (SkyTrain) are active in BC Hydro’s PowerSmart Continuous Optimization Program.  Results to the end of September show projected savings of 3.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity and 11.7 thousand giga-joules of natural gas energy, which equates to $330 thousand in annual utility cost savings at Coast Mountain alone.  The American Public Transportation Association awarded TransLink the only Gold Level award among 77 agencies that have signed a Sustainability Commitment.

Funding breakthrough – the agreement by TransLink’s Mayors’ Council to increase the gasoline levy by 2 cents per litre (bringing the total levy to 17 cents per litre as of April 2012), will bring some immediate relief to crowded routes and help TransLink emerge from a period of “making do” into one of “making more”. The revenue from this tax increase will help launch the Moving Forward plan, covering TransLink’s share of funding to build the Evergreen Line and beginning a number of sorely-needed projects. The mayors also agreed to work with the province of British Columbia to identify new, long-term, sustainable sources of funding.

A less-publicized but innovative financial move in 2011 has already been effective in providing a stable funding stream.  For the second year in a row, TransLink floated a bond issue, bringing in $200 million in 30-year bonds at 4.7 per cent interest. This was helped by two major bond-rating agencies – DBRS and Moody’s — re-affirming a strong credit rating for TransLink with “AA” and “AA2” ratings, respectively: both cited the agency’s flexibility, management strengths and diverse revenue streams as reasons for their confidence.  The bond issues were readily taken up by the financial markets, demonstrating the confidence the business community has in TransLink.

As soon as the gas tax increase had been approved, the province of BC, which has the lead in building the Evergreen Line, let contracts for two “pre-build” projects. At the same time, TransLink and Coast Mountain Bus Company increased service on some heavily-used bus routes outside the regular service adjustments. These routes include two between Langley and Surrey, and a third from New Westminster to Richmond, all of which connect to SkyTrain. Routes serving colleges and universities, where ridership has increased gradually but definitely since the introduction of U-Pass BC, have also received increases, with more slated to come in April 2012.

The coming year promises more service increases – with the majority of the new hours going south of the Fraser River – and an increase in the number of SeaBus trips, extending the periods when two-ferry service (15-minute interval) will run Moving Forward also calls for restoration of $6 million per year in funding for cycling initiatives.

Faregates/Smart Cards – in January, TransLink awarded the contract to Cubic to design, build and operate the Smart Card/Faregate system to be operational in 2013. The $171-million project includes funding support from the provincial and federal governments – $40 and $30 million respectively – and will create a more efficient and secure system, including a one-card solution to travel across the system using the Compass Card (named via public contest in early 2011) Signs of the project became evident through 2011, as construction got underway to prepare the stations for faregate and validator installations at all 49 SkyTrain stations plus the two SeaBus termini.

Among its benefits, the Compass Card will provide TransLink planners with hard data on passenger movements, so resources can be allocated as efficiently as possible. This information will also allow TransLink to restructure its fare zone system, to bring it more into line with the realities of today.

Construction will continue through 2012, including the installation of the first faregates on the system in the spring and initial system testing late in the year. Updates to the public about construction are available through TransLink’s website atwww.translink.ca/Ontrack.

Dude, where’s my bus? – advanced technology played a key role in advancing TransLink’s commitment to customer service, as TransLink rolled out and developed some important tools for helping customers better plan their transit journeys.
• Next Bus now offers a real-time component along with the already-established bus-stop-specific SMS text service, with the mobile site m.translink.ca. Thanks to the growth of GPS bus-location technology – used primarily for the management of bus movements throughout the system – customers can “see” where their buses are.
• Twitter (http://twitter.com/translink) enables customers to interact with Customer Information staff in real time, where answers to service queries can be dealt with and complaints addressed quickly. (It’s also a welcome venue for compliments regarding our front-line staff, too!).  TransLink’s number of ‘followers’ on Twitter burst through the 17,000 mark in 2011.
• The Buzzer Blog and Facebook page continue to keep customers informed and engaged with informative articles, lively discussions and fun contests like the “Transit Pet Peeve Battle”, which allowed customers to vent their feelings about various etiquette offenders on the transit system. (This year’s “winner”: Funky Ferret, a creature for whom nothing is in moderation, in the olfactory sense.)

Silver anniversary makeover – SkyTrain marked its 25th anniversary year with a number of events, including a ceremony, which featured Grace McCarthy, the minister responsible for BC Transit at the time SkyTrain was built, and former solicitor-general Bud Smith, representing former premier Bill Bennett. The anniversary has been a time for looking back over the way SkyTrain shaped the growth of Metro Vancouver, both by making areas like Surrey, Langley and New Westminster “closer” for those living there and commuting to downtown Vancouver, and by encouraging development focused on SkyTrain stations.

SkyTrain’s 25th anniversary is also a time to look ahead, and the OnTrack program, which kicked off in 2011, does just that. Faregate installation is part of OnTrack, and so are other projects, including replacement of running and power rails and the start of installation of a long-awaited new elevator on the west side of Scott Road Station.

Accessibility – the new elevator at Scott Road opened for a trial period in early December, makes it much easier for people with disabilities to transfer from buses to SkyTrain, and in 2011, TransLink’s public transit system achieved full accessibility. The entire fleet – buses, SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express – has been accessible since 2008, but the system itself now meets the criteria set out in the Access Transit Strategy (adopted in 2007) for route accessibility. Those criteria state, among other things, that at least 25% of the stops on each route must be accessible – including the complementary stop in the opposite direction. TransLink and individual municipalities split the cost of upgrades needed to make a bus stop accessible.

Providing alternatives – TransLink has never been just about buses and trains: its mandate to move people and goods efficiently across Metro Vancouver entails finding ways to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles (SOVs) on the roads. 2011 saw the re-launch of TravelSmart, dedicated to sustainable transportation options. Part of the legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics, TravelSmart helps people look for alternatives to “peak of the peak” commuting, such as teleworking, carpooling, cycling and walking. The new website – www.travelsmart.ca – includes tools to help people develop a sustainable commute that fits their own needs.

In a similar vein, TransLink released its Regional Cycling Strategy, a blueprint for cycling’s role in the integrated transportation network.

In 2011, TransLink continued to promote alternative forms of transportation:
• Signing the “Seville Charter” – committing to develop urban bicycling amenities – at Velo-City 2011 (TransLink will host Velo-City 2012)
• Hosting Walk21, the international conference to promote “walkability” in cities
• Supporting International Walk to School Week – providing free transit to schoolchildren during that week, to promote awareness of sustainable transportation choices

Sustainability – by definition, a public transportation agency is supposed to promote sustainability, but how sustainable is the agency itself? Setting a Baseline, the first report on TransLink’s own sustainability, measured everything from air pollutant emissions to vehicle kilometres travelled to the amount of runoff into sanitary sewers from bus washing. Among other things, the results earned TransLink the first-ever Gold Level Status for Sustainability Commitment with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

“Convenient to transit” – Transit has long been a selling point for homes and businesses, and with the growth of ridership – particularly along SkyTrain routes – more and more development is focusing on that feature. In 2011, work progressed on Plaza 88, the region’s first development that fully incorporates a SkyTrain station (New Westminster) among the residential, office and retail components. The Marine Gateway project, focused on Marine Drive Station in Vancouver, and more development near Metrotown Station in Burnaby got the go-ahead from their respective city councils.

The finer things in life … – TransLink has long supported artistic endeavours, such as the annual Poetry in Transit event, in which selections of works by British Columbia poets are displayed on interior advertising cards on buses and SkyTrain cars. In 2011, TransLink and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design launched “Art in Transit,” displaying works by ECUAD students, selected by jury.

A great place to work – for the fifth year in a row, Coast Mountain Bus Company was named to the list of Top Employers in BC. As well, TransLink as a whole was recognized by the “Learning Partnership” for taking part in “Take Your Child To Work Day”, across the entire authority. An increase in funding for service hours can be expected to translate to an increase in job opportunities.

For over 122 years, public transportation has been a catalyst in the growth of Metropolitan Vancouver, getting people and goods from place to place efficiently and effectively. TransLink looks forward to 2012 as a year of truly Moving Forward.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 30, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Posted in transit

5 Responses

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  1. Its disappointing that TransLink did not mention their announcements to cancel the UBE project in New Westminster, their plans to no longer pursue the North Fraser Perimeter Road in New West and the cancellation of funding for the Murray-Clark connector in Port Moody.

    These developments saved taxpayers ~$200million in the near term and possibly $billions over the long term. It was an important realization that they could not build their way out of the congestion problems; they would have simply shifted congestion around backing us into a corner of spending countless more millions on bandaid useless projects which work against almost all of TransLink’s long term goals.

    These were very important and hopeful developments in 2011 and were definitely worth celebrating at year’s end.

    Andrew

    December 30, 2011 at 10:54 pm

  2. Skimming quickly through Hardie’s highlights.. I’d have to say “Dude, where’s my bus?” has been the most useful change in 2011.. Useful when trying to catch a 30 minute interval bus that can be 8-10 minutes late.

    The Other David

    December 31, 2011 at 2:06 am

  3. @Andrew
    UBE was met with well organized local opposition that focused on neighbourhood issues rather than the big picture.
    I’d like to think TransLink is finally realizing that they can’t build their way out of congestion, but the fact that they ever considered putting a 4 lane highway just a few hundred metres from 10 (soon to be 12) existing lanes of highway suggests that decision makers are still having trouble seeing past their collective steering wheel.

    Now I can see some sense in the NFPR from a goods movement standpoint, but without restrictions on what vehicles can use the road and on land use around it the NFPR was destined to clog its surroundings with SOVs.

    If we really want to prioritize goods movement then we need to get serious about it. Move stuff by rail or water or build roads that are exactly 2 lanes wide and open ONLY to commercial vehicles.

    David

    January 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm

  4. I’m going to second the “Next Bus” web site as a real game changer. It gives an instant view of where the buses are with GPS updates directly from the buses themselves that’s no more than a couple of minutes old. I especially like the fact that they implemented it so that you can create a shortcut that takes you directly to the map for the route you use.

    Give it a try! For example, here’s a link to the Robson route: http://nb.translink.ca/Map/Route/005

    Sean Nelson

    January 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm

  5. David, as one of the organizers of local opposition, I can say it was definitely not “focused on neighborhood issues”. There were concerns about local impacts raised, yes, but there was also much discussion of the entire regional context: the relationship to the 10-lane adjacent freeway and the proposed SFPR; the alternatives for Goods Movement from the Port to places like Port Coquitlam and Port Kells; the need to instead invest TransLink time and money on the Evergreen Line; and the overarching idea that the congestion problems we have could not be built out of.

    After it all, we even went to TransLink to respectfully request they continue the process, and bring real ideas about moving goods, very like the ones you raised, into the discussion, even including the other important players, the Port and the Railways. So far, no dice.

    Pat Johnstone

    January 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm


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