Macdonald corridor still needs scheduling coordination

Part 2 of my thoughts on TransLink’s seasonal service changes for summer 2012. Part 1 is here.

Last year at this time, I noted how, despite TransLink’s claims to coordinate schedules for routes 2 and 22 serving the Macdonald/Cornwall corridor between Downtown Vancouver and 16th Avenue, there are still noticeable gaps in the combined departure times. This can mainly be traced with the different frequencies for the two routes during the middle of the day: 15 minutes for the 2, which short-turns at 16th Avenue, and 12 minutes for the 22, which serves the full corridor to 41st Avenue.

This year, there are additional promises of coordination between the 2 and 22, as well as extended hours for the 2 on Saturday. I did the same exercise from last year (putting all departure times on a spreadsheet, merging them, and calculating the difference between buses). Here are some things I noticed, when looking at those differences:

One glaring change can be found in the southbound direction, Monday to Friday after 19:00. Last year, there was some effort in coordination; because both routes operated at 15 minute frequency, the departure times at Burrard and Davie were spaced apart to 7-8 minutes. This year, the departure times for the two routes are almost simultaneous, which results in a gap of as much as 15 minutes before two buses are scheduled to show up.

And on Saturday afternoon, in the southbound direction, the same problem can be found between 16:00 and 18:00, when both routes are operating at 12 minute frequency, but leave Burrard and Davie at the same times. And even though route 2’s service hours were extended to 21:00 on Saturday, its frequency for the early evening period is 20 minutes, but the 22’s is 15 minutes. The combined scheduled is therefore not balanced, just as it is in the midday.

I still think the best way to provide a coordinated schedule for the Macdonald/Cornwall corridor is to increase the midday frequency for route 2 to 12 minutes. I would love to have a chat with a planner at TransLink if this can be done within its current constraints under the service optimization program.

Why TransLink’s new mobile website is a game changer


iPhone screenshot from TransLink's mobile website

TransLink stop 52417

iPhone screenshot from TransLink's mobile website

Same stop info, with map zoomed out.



Earlier this month, TransLink updated its mobile website. While portions of it are in beta mode (which I tested a week before the general release), and with more functionality to come, the big new feature is real-time tracking of buses serving a particular stop.

When you load the next scheduled arrivals at a particular bus stop in a map, the map displays that stop’s location, as well as the location of all the active buses on the route at the moment. In the example above right, you can see there are three buses on route 106 that are about to pass through stop #52417. If I zoomed out the map further, there could be one or two more, going back to the 106’s origin at Metrotown. At the moment, buses update their position every two minutes. A “refresh” button can be tapped to, well, refresh the position of the bus(es).

Knowing where the bus is (within a two-minute delay) is the game changer for me. Before this info was provided by TransLink, I gave myself a leeway of as much as 5 minutes before the bus is scheduled to leave a stop, or 10 minutes from when I leave my place. Now with real-time info, I can track the bus as it approaches my stop and leave my place accordingly. No more unnecessarily long waits at a stop because I didn’t know a particular bus was delayed. It gets more important now that summer is well and truly over, and waiting for a bus in the rain is never a pleasant experience.

Have you viewed TransLink’s new real-time info yet? Has it been helpful so far? Are you looking forward to any new functions from the mobile website?


PS. I have updated this blog’s theme (Clean Home), as part of much-needed house-cleaning. Comments and suggestions welcome!

Time to drop the “C” from TransLink’s shuttle services

TransLink bus R9254 at the Airport South terminus, signed "C92 Bridgeport Stn"

It's hard to read, but the destination sign on this bus reads "C92 Bridgeport Stn".

Buzzer Blog: September service changes and optimization

Thanks to TransLink’s ongoing service optimization, the service changes for the fall are quite modest compared to previous years. This year, they mainly involve frequency changes. One significant update is the change in route number for the Fraser Heights route from C74 back to 337. In addition, a few routes will be using Community Shuttle vehicles during periods of light use, such as in the evenings, or in the case of the peak-period 388, at all times.

When the Community Shuttles were introduced, routes that used them were given numbers that had a “C” prefix. Over time, the distinction between using a shuttle and having a “C” route number diminished greatly. When the old 337 was converted to the C74 in 2004 [PDF], demand on the route remained so high that conventional buses were soon brought back during times of heavy use. Even now, the resurrected 337 will use conventional buses during weekdays, but have the shuttles serving Fraser Heights on weekends.

I was always weary of the use of the “C” prefix on shuttle routes; they brought discontinuity with the other conventional routes that service the same area. (To be fair, at least TransLink/Coast Mountain had some presence of mind to have regional continuity within the shuttle route numbering, such as C6x in Langley or C9x in Richmond.)

As more and more routes with conventional route numbers are beginning to use shuttle vehicles for most or all of the day, I feel it’s time to scrap the “C” convention and re-integrate them with the route numbers they had previously (or within the same range if it’s a new route). I’m hoping re-numbering the C74 back to the 337 is only the start…

(Photo credit: flickr @ Stephen Rees)

TransLink service changes, Summer 2011

Buzzer Blog: June 2011 service changes and optimization

Normally, the summer is not a very busy time for service changes at TransLink, seasonal services exempted, but the sheet effective June 20 has a few interesting items, a lot of it centred on the North Shore:

  • The 239’s frequency has been beefed up to become part of the Frequent Transit Network.
  • The 246 now operates to/from Downtown Vancouver seven days a week.
  • The 290 and 292 have been discontinued, but the 210 and 211 are taking up the slack, with each having 15-minute service in PM peak.
  • Late-night services that operated as 242 now run as N24. The 242 essentially becomes a Sunday early-morning service.

The one that intrigues me most is the improvements to the 2 Macdonald-16th Avenue, particularly the bit where its schedule will be coordinated with the 22 Macdonald. TransLink’s press release indicates that such coordination will only occur during peak hours. I’m more concerned with the not-so-coordinated scheduling that will continue for the 2 and 22 outside peak hours.

On a spreadsheet, I compiled all the departure times for the 2 and 22 during the 2’s hours of service at two locations: northbound Macdonald at Broadway, and southbound Burrard at Davie. I then combined them into a single column and calculated the length of time it requires to wait for the next bus. Focusing outside of peak hours, there is clearly some improvement needed to provide better coordination along the shared corridor between Kitsilano and Downtown Vancouver.

The root cause is the different headways of the two routes: the 2’s is 15 minutes, but the 22’s is 12 minutes. On a very simple level, if two buses are scheduled to depart at 12 noon, then during the hour, buses will appear at 12:12, 12:15, 12:24, 12:30, 12:36, 12:45, 12:48, then two buses appear again at 1:00pm. Not very coordinated, is it? It gets ugly for service to downtown after 5:30pm. The northbound 2 and 22 depart Broadway within 5 minutes of each other, meaning there can be as much as a 14-minute wait between buses at that stop, for two routes each with 15-minute headways.

The same also applies on weekends, in both directions, because the midday frequencies are the same as Monday to Friday. Even when the frequencies match, as on Sunday, southbound, between 4:00 and 5:00pm, the buses leave Burrard at Davie at essentially the same time.

The only reasonable compromise to ensure a coordinated schedule during the midday is to increase the headway of route 2 to 12 minutes, thus guaranteeing 6-minute service along the shared corridors on Macdonald, Cornwall, and Burrard. Given TransLink’s current service optimization program, that might not happen right away. If nothing else, some coordination of the two routes should at least happen when they have the same headways. TransLink has started improving the busy Kitsilano corridor, but it’s far from finished.

Did the bus just pass you? It’s not uncommon in Vancouver.

Vancouver Sun: Documents reveal Coast Mountain buses passed by stops more than 200,000 times in 2010, with accompanying graphic

This is an interesting article about the reality that many bus commuters deal with on a daily basis. Route #49 is certainly a serial offender, and likely deserves its #1 ranking, but the data provided by Coast Mountain, the TransLink subsidiary that operates the buses, reveals that it’s not necessarily the busiest routes that pass up on passengers. The Sun piece noted that the 49 (between Victoria and Cambie), 25 (between Oak and Fraser – see graphic below), and 22 (on Burrard and Cornwall) are among the top 5 pass-up routes.

I think there are some caveats when interpreting this data; as alluded to in the article, one of them is the possibility of understated data, due to drivers not recording passed-up stops when they’re encountered. Another is found in the cartographic interpretation of all the stops of a particular route. The termini of certain routes appear to have inflated numbers for pass-ups. For less busy termini, the data as presented doesn’t make sense. Several examples include the 63rd Avenue loop for the 16, Harrison Loop for the 20, Dunbar Loop and Knight/Marine for the 22, and Brentwood Station for the 25 (eastern terminus in the map below).

Passup chart and map for route #25

I’ll just focus on my favourite whipping-route, the 25 Brentwood Station/UBC (or as I’d like to call it, the 25 King Edward-East 22nd). 4th in the most-passed-up list, the 25 is horrifyingly inconsistent in terms of scheduling, likely contributing to its ranking in the list. Unlike the other routes in the top 5, the 25 is unique in that the volume of pass-ups is consistent for most of the route west of Nanaimo Station, and is heaviest between Oak and Fraser.

I know that in the morning peak, heading west from Nanaimo Station to Granville, the data displayed in the map are consistent with my personal experience. Westbound at Windsor and Fraser are particularly busy stops and pass-ups are common, It only gets worse the further west the bus travels, simply because the bus has already filled by then and passengers are unlikely to disembark.

What makes the 25 interesting compared to the 49 is that even west of Granville, pass-ups are still happening. The Dunbar and 16th Avenue segments are still quite notorious for pass-ups, continuing the trend from my days as a student at UBC. Even the introduction of route 33 doesn’t seem to alleviate the condition.

Despite what the article notes are some short-term solutions, including TransLink’s service optimization, the bottom line is that the bus system is woefully under-serviced to keep up with passenger demand, especially in the “peak of the peak”. Hopefully this article can serve as a wake-up call to senior governments to provide additional funding to public transit in Canada generally, and in Greater Vancouver in particular.

Picture source: Vancouver Sun

What if Doctor Who rode the bus?

I’m always peeved about the many transgressions I’ve encountered during my travels on transit. Here are some from the last week:

  • A gentleman turning up his music player’s volume to the point that I can hear the music spilling out from his earphones.
  • A lady clipping her nails on the SkyTrain.
  • A blatant fare evasion episode; I’m sure this person waited right at the rear doors of the bus just to get on through those doors.

With series 6 of Doctor Who debuting in three weeks (for the first time, a same-day affair for the UK, USA, and Canada), that got me thinking about what the Doctor would do if he rode public transit in Vancouver, and he encountered the same things I did this week.

One thing I could think of is using the sonic screwdriver to change remotely the volume of that music player. Another one could involve using the sonic to create interference to mobile phones, whenever a loud, annoying conversation is taking place.

An idea I’ve always liked involves psychic paper and claiming to be a fare inspector, specifically targeting those who have deliberately entered through the back doors. The Doctor could create enough of a scene and get other passengers to shame the fare evader off the bus. So what else could the Doctor do to stop bad behaviour on transit?

And with Series 6 so close, here are two official trailers, the first from the BBC, the second from BBC America. (Hat-tip to the Doctor Who News Page for getting the excitement started.) Save that date – April 23!

Transit field reports, February 12, 2011

Part of an ongoing series of observations during my frequent forays on transit.

As a follow up on the last field report I did two weeks ago, I boarded a westbound 025 early Saturday afternoon. No surprise: it was seven minutes late from when it was scheduled to depart. That sort of strengthens the theory of the poor running times for this route on Saturdays.

While on the bus, I was sitting across from a cute nerd couple: he’s sporting the stereotypical glasses and bad haircut, her hair was dyed similar to Milla Jovovich à la Fifth Element. There is hope yet for us who are inept in these kinds of things…

The bus did gain some time on its westbound journey along King Edward. Even with a shift change (it was seamless today), it was only three minutes late by the time I disembarked, but just enough that I made my connection with little time to spare.

That bus was ad-wrapped as part of the Canucks’ 40th anniversary celebrations. I’m normally averse to most bus wraps, but I just leave love seeing these on the road. I was lucky enough to board two buses in a row, both of which are ad-wrapped:

Even better are the profiles of some of the more memorable Canucks from the last 40 years that are found inside the buses. Unfortunately, I’m noticing that whenever I board these wrapped buses, I’m seeing less and less of them. I’m hoping the team releases them somehow, as well as models of the ad-wrapped buses; they’d make great collectibles!

Transit field reports, January 29

Bus #9497, signed as 25 Brentwood Station, with bonus ad-wrap for the Canucks' 40th anniversary.

Part of an ongoing series of observations during my frequent forays on transit.

Not one, not two, but three items of note during a single bus ride earlier today (Saturday), onboard a eastbound 025 on King Edward:

  1. It was a cold and damp kind of day. I have no idea why anyone would open one of the bus’ windows. Sitting near the back, the drafts from that open window were obvious. It certainly wasn’t cool to keep all the passengers cool.
  2. King Edward at Granville Street is designated as a location for driver shift changes. Ideally, the shift should be seamless, as the incoming driver simply sits down and drives away. That is, if the new driver is actually there to relieve his colleague. Everyone on the bus today was in a state of confusion when the driver finishing his shift just walked away from the bus. After about two minutes the driver walked back (supposedly from his car), and two minutes after that, the new driver showed up. (A just-as-interesting shift-change story is found here.)
  3. Just as frustrating as not having the shift change done on time is the fact that the bus was already late getting into Granville in the first place. On an observational basis over the last few weeks, and even before that, I can surmise that the scheduling for the 25 on midday Saturdays doesn’t leave enough running time between timing points, especially between the busiest section between Granville and Nanaimo Station. I say a change is needed.

Photo credit: dennistt @ flickr.

Transit field reports, November 10

A couple of items from my weekly foray into Surrey:

1. 22nd Street Station must be crazy in the peak periods. At least everyone has queued up in an orderly fashion from the bus stop pole. For the bus I was taking that day, the 340 Scottsdale, this line actually looped around itself, since it would be encroaching into the next stop in the loop.

Such a line suggests to me that a bus is late. One bus arrived into the loop and pulled into the stop for the 340, but did not board passengers. That’s when another bus went in behind and opened its doors. The orderly queue broke up immediately as those at the back of the line poured into this bus, while the other passengers who were at the head of the line felt cheated.

But wait, there’s more! I boarded the second bus, fine. But it did not leave with a full load. No standing passenger went up the steps to the rear of the bus. There was a big debate in the Buzzer Blog recently, and I concur with one of the commenters that it’s just the aversion of going up those steps. That must have been double frustration for those passengers at the front of the line, most of whom stuck around to wait to board the first bus.

To Waterfront... eventually

2. I go back home by SkyTrain from Surrey Central. In the few weeks I’ve done this, a train has shown up at about the same time, which allows me to make a crucial bus connection at a Vancouver station. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a day before a holiday, but everything went fubar. I might have waited at the platform for about 20 minutes. Not cool. I tweeted @translink about it, but there didn’t seem to be a problem:

As I was already on a train by the time I saw it, I didn’t pursue it further, but replied back that I’ll monitor it next week if it happens again, or if tonight’s experience on the train was just an anomaly.

A few transit-related observations

This is from just three hours running errands after work:

1. I noticed a lot of suitcases at Canada Line’s City Centre Station. That gives me some reassurance that people are willing to take Canada Line to the airport. I hope to try it myself later in the year. Hopefully the additional surcharge to the airport doesn’t scare a lot of people away. Even at $6.25, that’s quite a bargain for direct service from a major city centre to its airport.

2. Canada Line in-train announcements: based on my London Tube experience, I’d like to hear something like this when the train doors open (and it can be applied to outbound Expo/Millennium Lines as well) : “King Edward. This train is for YVR-Airport (or Richmond-Brighouse).” I find it annoying that the destination of the train is made after it’s left the station.

3. A great majority of the 99 B-Lines heading eastbound are signed “BWAY STN”. At the moment, that’s a welcome sight over the epic-fail that is “COMM’L / BDWAY STN”.

4. My final bus to take me home was late. It was so late, it was tag-teaming with the bus that’s actually on time. Needless to say, I wasn’t too pleased with that.