Transport Action BC has responded to TransLink’s request for a major fare increase in 2013. The following issues were submitted to the TransLink Commissioner for his consideration as part of his review of TransLink’s request.
Our concerns are with the timing of the fare increase and about transit service and ancillary operations. We feel these issues should be addressed as part of the fare review process. We are not, a priori, against fare increases, as long as they are justifiable to maintain and improve service on a system that is already efficiently run.
The 2013 fare increase, if approved, would be implemented just prior to the Compass smart card fare system. Item 15 of the Fares Questions and Answers (Q&A) on the TransLink Commissioner’s web site states TransLink plans significant changes to existing fare media with the Compass card implementation, although no details are presented.
This begs the question of why is TransLink proceeding with the 2013 fare increase when its implementation period may be less than a year? There are costs to implementing a fare increase and similar work will be required as part of the Compass card implementation. This could lead to TransLink being questioned on the efficacy of two fare changes in a short time period. From an outsider’s perspective, it would be seem sensible to bundle all fare changes into the Compass roll-out, eliminating one set of fare change costs and reducing public annoyance over back-to-back fare changes, including a significant fare increase.
2. Transit Service Operations:
TransLink states (Item 4, Q&A), a fare increase is needed to continue existing service levels and maintain the transit system in a state of good repair. However, TransLink should justify that the transit system is currently operating as efficiently as feasible.
Transit system users will notice that TransLink’s vehicles spend large amounts of time parked at route terminals or waiting at timing points along a route. Anecdotal observation suggests this unproductive time is excessive. Examples are short headway routes where 2 – 4 vehicles may be observed at a terminal or twenty minute headway services where a following vehicle arrives at the terminal before the preceding vehicle has left. Layovers may be necessary for service recovery and shoulder period schedule adjustments. They should not be used as a scheduling convenience or de facto method of providing Operator breaks to avoid the rigours of contractual negotiations with the Canadian Autoworkers Union, WorkSafe BC and / or the Ministry of Labour.
By way of comparison, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) allows its Operators to arrive at terminals 2 minutes before the vehicle’s scheduled departure time. Operator breaks are provided as part of the Operator’s schedule, not the vehicle’s schedule. This keeps vehicles moving and picking up passengers.
A transit vehicle is an investment of several hundred thousand dollars. To have such an investment sitting idle for a significant portion of its working day (up to 20 minutes per trip in some cases) is not an efficient use of an expensive resource.
Additionally, as more frequent services are introduced, do lengthy layover times lead to unnecessary vehicle purchases to provide that service? Excessive vehicle requirements increase space needs for terminal layover space and garage and maintenance facilities. Optimising schedules to minimise lengthy layovers could result in capital and operating cost savings through reduced vehicle needs.
TransLink should state that unproductive schedule time is minimised and schedules are optimised for service efficiency and cost effectiveness. This would support its case that the fare increase is needed to maintain the current system in a state of good repair and ensure service expansion is effectively implemented.
Routing inefficiencies in the system should also be validated and justified by TransLink. There are deviations from grid routing that may have been necessary at one time but should be re-evaluated in terms of ridership served, overall route ridership, and impact on route mileage and service hours to ensure they are still viable.
To its credit, TransLink has initiated the Service Optimization project which has led to service adjustments by re-allocating resources from some lightly used services to areas of overcrowding. This initiative is laudable and should be a permanent part of TransLink’s service operations design. However, the optimizing process and analysis should be more transparent to the public and politicians in order to rigorously support changes, particularly service reductions.
A rigorous, robust and transparent service operations design process enables TransLink to resist political expediency in allocating its limited service resources. The South of Fraser area has received significant increases in transit service, possibly due to political pressure resulting from claims that Surrey residents “pay” much more to TransLink than they receive in service. Future increases to transit service, anywhere in TransLink’s service region, must be based on clear evidence that that is the best use of those resources, not the politically convenient one. Any deviation from this policy must have clear lines of responsibility and accountability published.
Once service is established, TransLink and its subsidiaries should ensure that full use of available technology is made to monitor and regulate service. TransLink has a GPS-based AVL which monitors vehicle location and schedule adherence and allows two-way communication between Operators and a central control facility. TransLink should assure the public that the AVL is being effectively used to ensure transit service is operating as close to schedule as feasible. Controllers should be responding to transit service disruptions (delays, off schedule, surge loads, collisions, etc.) by proactively re-routing service, short-turning vehicles and otherwise adjusting the transit system to minimise passenger inconvenience.
3. Ancillary Operations:
The roles and responsibilities of the Transit Police and Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) Transit Security group should be reviewed and clarified to minimise overlap, maximise co-operation and ensure that each group is truly necessary and making effective use of its resources. We have several questions on this topic.
- Is it necessary to have two separate organisations, within TransLink, doing the same function – essentially checking fares?
- Are large, police-special Dodge Chargers an appropriate vehicle for the CMBC Security Group?
- The Transit Police seems to have defaulted to being the SkyTrain Police. What is its role vis-à-vis the rest of TransLink’s facilities and service region?
- Can the public should be assured that the Transit Police are principally engaged in transit-related duties and not acting as a quasi-regional force dealing with matters more appropriately dealt with and funded by municipal forces?
- Where do SkyTrain and Canada Line Attendants fit into the security matrix?
None of these queries should be construed as stating TransLink’s security services are unnecessary, ineffective or wasteful. What is needed is clarity to and visibility around their functions, effectiveness, funding, and resource utilisation.
4. Concluding Remarks:
We believe the above discussion items are valid issues relevant to the four considerations the TransLink Commission will weigh when analyzing TransLink’s proposed 2013 fare increase:
- Maintain TransLink’s financial stability.
- Allow TransLink to provide planned service.
- Encourage TransLink to minimise expenses.
- Keep fares as low as possible.
TransLink will have a more effective and supportable rationale for its proposed fare increase, if it publicly addresses our stated concerns. Openness and transparency can only assist TransLink make its case on a sensitive issue such as a fare increase. Formal public presentations and hearings should be considered.