Public Transit
March 21, 2013

The Rhetorical Mayor Nenshi

The Mayor of Calgary, quoted in The Globe:
Look, I’ll be a rhetorical politician for a minute: Investments in public transit are among the very best investments any government can make.
Think about all the benefits that accrue from that: There are environmental benefits. There are real benefits in congestion savings, which means you’re giving citizens back time that has been stolen from them. Transit is also an investment in social mobility, because if you make it easier to live and work and go to school without needing your own car, suddenly you open up the ability to participate in the economy to far more people.
But I think our provincial and federal governments have often seen transit as being at the bottom of the list.

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From Cllr. Geoff Meggs:
The Broadway Corridor has North America’s busiest bus line through British Columbia’s second largest downtown core leading to our largest university. Thousands of riders are passed up daily, and users report waits of up to five busses to get on board. To keep our economy and our population moving forward, we need better transit solutions for Broadway.
Join Mayor Gregor Robertson and me on Sunday March 10 from 2pm to 4pm at St James Community Hall to discuss how to move forward on our top regional transit priority: a Broadway Subway to UBC.
Mayor Gregor Robertson and I will go over the history of the Broadway transit corridor, our options moving forward and how we can realize a solution. We will then invite questions from the audience so we can begin a dialogue about how to get the Provincial and Federal governments on board with a Broadway Subway.
What: Public Forum on a Subway along Broadway
Where: St James Community Hall – 3214 W 10th Ave
When: Sunday March 10, 2pm-4pm
Sign up today as seating is limited.

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An occasional update on items from the Transit City – The Health Issue.

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HEALTHY TRANSPORT: BRITISH VERSION
There are lots of reports out there on the benefits of active transportation – namely, walking and cycling.  Not so much on transit.
A new report from the British Medical Association takes that on:

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Public transport
Combining active travel and public transport options can help people achieve recommended daily physical activity levels.  And public transport is the most sustainable for longer journeys, yet it can be more expensive and less convenient.  And in rural areas travel infrastructure and public transport present real problems.

Download here.
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HEALTHY TRANSIT: AMERICAN VERSION

Victoria’s Todd Littman does a synthesis for the American Public Transit Association here.

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HEALTHY TRANSIT: CANADIAN VERSION
And the Canadian Urban Transit Association’s short summary:

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BONUS ITEM

A PowerPoint on Journey to Work by Public Transit and Physical Activity in the Neighborhood Quality of Life Study from UBC’s Active Transportation Collaboratory.

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Thanks to Josh van Loon.

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Jonathan Cote, a New Westminster City Councillor and SFU Urban Studies student, is combining work and study – and he needs some advice:

The City of New Westminster recently developed a Frequent Transit Network Walkshed map through its Master Transportation planning process.  The map highlights all properties in the city that are within a five-minute walking distance from a frequent transit bus stop and a 10 minute walking distance from a Skytrain station.

I wrote a small post about this on the Urban Studies blog here.

From a planning perspective the map is interesting because it can easily illustrate which areas of the city have easy access to transit and which places may be more car dependent. This type of map also provides a very clear visual on where cities should consider growth and equally important where cities should limit growth.

So Jonathan asks:

I was wondering if you have any application ideas on how this kind of map could be used?  I think this map could be a very interesting planning tool and it would be great to get any feedback.

And I’m passing the question along to readers.  Any ideas?

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An occasional update on items from the Transit City.

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WHO TAKES TRANSIT – AND WHY

From the Sightline Institute:

Portland has a national reputation as a transit powerhouse—but when it comes to commuting, how does it really stack up?

In the first of two posts on transit use, Clark Williams-Derry reveals that workers in Seattle are far more likely to take transit. But it’s actually not a story about better transit; it’s really about land use.

In the second post, Clark breaks down Census data to reveal that in both cities women, people of color, the young, renters, and low-income earners are more likely to ride transit. Check out the data.

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A TRANSIT MOMENT

Waiting in line for the 9 bus today on Broadway was a guy in a wheelchair. Bus pulls up, the ramp comes down. Wheelchair guy with a big grin says, “Isn’t that fine? It opens up the whole city to me.”

– Dianna Waggoner

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THE FAST LANE AT BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ

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TRANSIT RIOTS IN BOGOTA

From Atlantic Cities:

Earlier this month, protests over service on Bogota’s bus-rapid transit system, the TransMilenio, quickly escalated into riots in Colombia’s capital city. … The protests reportedly began as demonstrations against the TransMilenio’s crowded buses and high fares, and the city’s general lack of public transportation options.

The immediate response to the news was surprise that one of the world’s most celebrated transit systems could spark such widespread anger.  …. The TransMilenio system is so universally praised by city and transit planners that it’s hard to know where to begin describing its achievements.

The fact is, despite this successful record, social dissatisfaction with TransMilenio is nothing new. Public approval of the system began to drop in 2004, with people complaining about crowding and fares. 

The complaints hold real validity, according to a comprehensive review of the TransMilenio system published by Alex Hutchinson at The City Fix last summer. At rush hour, stations are so packed that people can’t get off the bus, let alone on it. The crowding encourages some travelers to return to their cars, which only increases congestion in the city. Meanwhile the fare, at $1, is considered high for a city whose low-income users earn daily salaries only three times that, on average.

The problem is a complicated one, writes Hutchinson, but it boils down to several core sources. The first is the city’s decades-long, unrequited obsession with building a metro system that would cost much more than bus-rapid transit and cover far less of the city. Another is a lack of government subsidies that hampers the system’s ability to expand and address its problems. Last, but certainly not least, the expansions that are being made by the system aren’t being made quickly enough …

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CLIPPING FILE

Lots of interviews this week, collected by SFU Public Affairs:

  • Gordon Price, director of SFU’s The City Program, spoke with The Globe and Mail about the dilemma TransLink faces when it comes to funding. Faced with few options, the transit organization often has no choice but to turn to property taxes as a revenue source. “This has been the pattern,” Price said. “The province says yes, you can have the ability to propose a funding mechanism. Then every time they go to the province to get authorization, almost within hours, the province says no.”

Full story here.

  • Price also commented in a 24 Hours story about fines issued by TransLink and its inability to enforce fare-evasion tickets. He questioned why it’s taken the province so long to give TransLink or ICBC the ability to collect on outstanding fines. “It really is the province that dropped the ball,” Price said in the newspaper.

Full story here.

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Ian Fisher comments on the item – It’s Time to Love the Bus – in Annals of Transit below. 

It’s interesting that the “Love the Bus” thread has been spurred by the unveiling of the sleek new London double-decker.

However, the sad fact in North America is that most transit bus designs here are far behind even standard UK and European bus designs in terms of attractiveness and amenity. Efficient interior layouts, a high degree of transparency (glazing), attractive interiors and refined, smooth styling free of exposed fasteners all need to make it across the Atlantic in a serious way.

You’d think this wouldn’t be too difficult when two of the major North American bus builders are owned by European parents but a low-bid environment and Buy America requirements seem to discourage customer-focused innovation this side of the pond.

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Here’s what that London bus is all about:

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An occasional update on items from the Transit City.

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PRESENT TENSE, PAST

From Governing:

America is experiencing what U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls a “streetcar revival.” Streetcars, also called trolleys or trams, were a common sight in U.S. cities at the beginning of the 20th century. But by the 1960s, they had all but been forgotten, mostly replaced with buses. In 2001, Portland, Ore., revived them by opening a downtown line with brand-new cars. According to BEC transportation sales director Joel McNeil, some 40 cities in the U.S. and Canada are currently exploring or planning new systems. The American Public Transportation Association actually puts that number at more than 80.

Not all of those cities want new trams fresh off the assembly line. A small but growing number are using old-fashioned streetcars as part of their fleet. Retrofitting period streetcars may seem like a frivolous idea, especially with local government budgets so tight. But many city planners disagree.

Full article here.

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IT’S TIME TO LOVE THE BUS

So says Will Doig in Salon, who of course quotes Jarrett Walker: “If you decide that buses don’t merit investment, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to help people get where they’re going, and to expand their sense of freedom of movement, just because you don’t like the vehicle they’re riding…”

Doig:

Making people like the bus when not liking the bus is practically an American pastime essentially means making the bus act and feel more like a train. Trains show up roughly when they’re supposed to. Buses take forever, then arrive two at a time. Trains boast better design, speed, shelters, schedules and easier-to-follow routes. When people say they don’t like the bus but they do like the train, what they really mean is they like those perks the train offers. But there’s no reason bus systems can’t simply incorporate most of them.

How to do that?  Doig explains in the article, and concludes:

The bus suffers from an image problem. But not long ago, so did bicycles. Now bikes are the cool kid’s transport, and all it took was a little investment and some reputation rehab.

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A CLEAN SLATE IN NEW YORK CITY

NY Times columnist Bill Keller explores some transportation possibilities … and a personality:

Samuel I. Schwartz, a transportation engineer and New Yorker to his kishkes, has spent 40 years — half government, half private — trying to make sense of the M.T.A. (New York’s transit authority).   He can tell you how it rewards congestion, keeps subways and buses in a state of decrepitude, and breeds resentment….

Time and again Schwartz has labored over attempted reforms — remember “congestion pricing”? — only to see them shot down because they put all the pain on the outlying car-centric suburbs, or because they ran into an antitax mood, or because people suspected the money would be siphoned off for other purposes.

Over the years he has gradually constructed a plan that is a Brooklyn boy’s gift to his city. (Literally. No client paid for it.) It wipes clean the slate, replaces it with a system of tolls and fares designed as incentives to minimize congestion in the central business district, ease circulation around the region and revive public transit.

Column here. 

For full PowerPoint presentation, go here.

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An occasional update on items from the Transit City.

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GOOD NEWS, IN A WAY

A recent Reason-Rupe poll:

 … of 1,200 adults on landline and mobile phones finds that 12 percent of Americans take public transportation at least a few times a week and 63 percent say they never take public transit.

Correspondingly, 62 percent of Americans prioritize transportation funding for roads and highways over funding for public transit. Nevertheless, 30 percent—substantially more than those who frequently use public transportation—would prioritize funding for public transit. However, it is unclear whether those who do not take public transit but want to prioritize its spending would personally use public transit if expanded or if they would just want others to use it to reduce traffic congestion.

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EVEN BETTER NEWS

In addition to record ridership figures, TransLink has another reason to celebrate:

TransLink Wins Gold For Its Sustainability Performance

TransLink achieves Gold under the American Public Transportation Association Sustainability Commitment

TransLink has received the highest level of recognition ever awarded to any transportation authority in North America for its leadership and innovation in sustainability. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has awarded TransLink Gold Level status for its significant achievements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting energy use, emitting fewer pollutants and increasing ridership.

Gold Level puts TransLink at the top of a list of 77 North American signatories to the Sustainability Commitment …

In 2010, TransLink emitted 4,000 fewer tonnes of greenhouse gases (CO2e) and 58 fewer tonnes of Criteria Air Contaminants than in 2009, even with a 10 per cent increase in ridership. TransLink also curbed energy use in its facilities by 16 per cent (per passenger kilometre) through efficiency measures that included energy retrofits in its bus maintenance facilities and some administrative offices.

TransLink used 1.28 million fewer litres of diesel fuel in 2010 over the previous year. Much of this was due to its “Idle-Free” program at depots and transit exchanges, an effort that was recognized by the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA). Further fuel efficiencies were the result of replacing older diesel buses with hybrid-electric or trolley buses, redeploying diesel buses from urban routes to routes with fewer stops where they achieve better fuel efficiency, and the first full year of service on the new Canada Line, powered by hydro electricity.

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SEATTLE TRANSIT BLOG

David Schraer passes along a recommendation:

I’m writing to introduce you to Ben Schiendelman, one of the founders of Seattle Transit Blog.  Ben is an amazingly intelligent and energetic guy who is launching an effort to build a subway system in Seattle with some other transit enthusiasts …

Another blog!  On transit?  Can it be?

Well, sure – and this looks like a good one:

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An occasional update on items from the Transit City.

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UPS AND DOWNS

From the New York Times:

The economic downturn is playing havoc with the nation’s public transit systems even as ridership remains near record levels: since 2010, 71 percent of the nation’s large systems have cut service, and half have raised fares, according to a survey released Wednesday by the American Public Transportation Association, a transit advocacy group.

And in many cases, those fare increases and service cuts — made necessary by flat or reduced state and local aid — are being implemented on top of similar moves earlier in the downturn.

“It’s compounding,” Art Guzzetti, the vice president for policy at the transportation association, said of the repeated years of service cuts and fare increases. “I’ve been in the business 32 years. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs along the way. That’s been the nature of the business. But notwithstanding that, this is the worst it’s been in my time.”

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THE COLOURFUL BUSES OF SEOUL 

From re:place, by John Calimente:

“Transit systems always want to paint their buses in matching colours so that riders can spot them easily. But what if different bus colours could tell you roughly where they are going? Seoul, Korea has done just that. It takes time to become familiar with a transit system, especially its bus routes. While rail has the advantage of being very legible – one can always see the directions that the rails are headed – buses are another matter. Transit systems try to help by providing route maps at stops, naming routes after their destinations or neighbourhoods they pass through, or through their route numbering system.

In Vancouver, for example, buses with triple-digit route numbers leaving downtown and beginning with 24 are headed for North Vancouver, 25 to West Vancouver, and 13 to Burnaby. Surrey routes start with the number 3 and Richmond routes start with 4. But that’s rather obscure …

“What bus systems really need is way to make their routing easily understandable even to those who have never ridden them before. I recently found out that Seoul, Korea has implemented a system that goes a long way towards solving the bus legibility problem. In 2004 the Seoul Metropolitan Government completely overhauled their city bus system. Instead of replacing the buses themselves, though, they went with a different approach that consisted of 5 key changes:

? Bus routes were simplified

? Route numbers were changed so that they explained both the origin and destination of the route, based on a district numbering system

? Four bus categories were created with a different colour scheme (red, blue, yellow, and green)

More here.

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