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June 2011 bus changes and the service optimization: an interview with TransLink planning director Brian Mills

June 2011 bus changes and the service optimization: an interview with TransLink planning director Brian Mills

If you’ve read the June issue of the Buzzer, you’d know that there are service changes beginning on Monday, June 20th. As part of a year-long TransLink service optimization project, aimed at making sure we’re using our transit resources efficiently and efficiently.

Brian Mills
Brian Mills, Director for Service and Infrastructure Planning

There’s a lot of small adjustments to a number of routes. The overall amount of service hours won’t change, and many more customers will see service increases than service reductions. The area of focus this time around is mostly West Vancouver and the North Shoare, but there are areas in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond, Delta,  and elsewhere being affected. For the complete picture on the changes you’ll want to look at the Summer 2011 service changes page.

Some notable changes include:

  • Granville Mall summer bus detours will be in effect June 24 – September 5 on Friday’s after 9pm, all day Saturdays/Sundays/holidays, and all day Friday July 15 and Friday August 19 for Viva Vancouver events
  • The 19 will feature additional “short-turn” trips between Downtown Vancouver (Cambie at Pender) and Stanley Park for the summer months
  • All 246 trips will travel to/from Vancouver throughout the day, seven days a week. Service to Park Royal discontinued. Customers travelling to Park Royal will need to transfer to the 239 or 255 on Marine Drive near Garden Road.
  • To provide better connections between Downtown Vancouver and Phibbs Exchange during the p.m peak period, existing trips on the 290 and 292 will be converted to operate as 210 and 211 service. The upgraded 210 and 211 will offer consistent combined service leaving from downtown Vancouver to Phibbs Exchange every 7-8 minutes in the weekday p.m. peak. There will be no change to boarding locations as the 210 and 211 use the same stops as existing 292 and 290 services.
  • Due to King Edward overpass construction, the 177 and 791 will detour via Lougheed Highway instead of travelling along the section of United Blvd. located south of Highway #1. Both routes will continue to serve Planet Ice and a temporary 197 Planet Ice/Brigantine Shuttle will provide transit service along the United Blvd. corridor, with the western terminus on Brigantine Dr. at Hartley. A new stop for the 791 will be located on United Blvd. southbound at Golden.

Brian Mills, TransLink’s Director of Service and Infrastructure Planning did an interview with the Buzzer last April about the service optimization. I thought it would be good to sit down with Brian again to give us some perspective on what’s different this time around, and just how TransLink decides which services need to be changed and why. Read on!

What’s your involvement with the June service optimization schedule changes?

As the Director for Service and Infrastructure Planning, my department is responsible for transport network design. Service optimization is an initiative where we look at the best use of our resources. This means we look at the system for services that are crowded and need some relief as well as areas where the service is less productive and not the best use of resources. We identify both of these situations and reallocate our resources to where people need and use the service. We also have a target of improving revenue productivity by two percent.

Do you find in this age of ever-tightening budgets that you have to look for more ways to save money?

Yes, TransLink is committed to being as efficient as possible. We’ve made the commitment to the region to use the resources that they’ve entrusted to us as efficiently as possible. Whether we’re in a constrained economic environment or not, it’s good business practice to always be reviewing services and reviewing targets. We set guidelines to help us assess service, so we’re always monitoring service to check how well they’re doing compared with the guidelines.

So why are some bus routes being affected and some aren’t this time around?

We looked at the profile of travel on each of these routes, and we found that some services need more service. Let me give you an example: We often hear from people that they want better service on the North Shore. There are a lot of people who use Phibbs Exchange on the North Shore to transfer buses, especially during rush hours. We had some routes from Vancouver, that served the exchange and others that bypassed it. The ones that go past generally have some capacity available, but those seats weren’t available for people making trips within the North Shore.  Because the routes were separate, the trips weren’t scheduled to be spaced evenly apart. What we’ve done is to combine the routes so all the buses now go to Phibbs Exchange. They all make connections possible to and from other parts of the North Shore. And now anyone going between North Vancouver and Downtown can use any of these routes, and the combined service is more frequent overall. So even for someone who prefers to commute on the trips that bypass Phibbs Exchange, the new arrangement may be faster overall by reducing the wait downtown.

How do you actually know which routes are being underutilized and which routes need more capacity?

We have data that we collect on the buses. We have automatic passenger counters on 15% of the buses. There is an infrared beam that can tell how many people are on a bus, and how many people get on and off at each stop. One way we analyse service is to construct a profile of a route using our data overlaid on Google Earth (see diagram). We can then compare routes and tell which ones are performing better, if there is a redundancy in service, and so on. This is just one example of the types of analysis we do.

Route 292 average stop activity during PM peak hours
Diagram of route 292. Green bars indicate customers boarding. Red bars indicate customers leaving. Customers board the bus almost exclusively in the Downtown area and disembark at various stops on the North Shore while completely avoiding Phibbs Exchange.
Route 210 average stop activity
Diagram of route 210. Like the 292, the 210 boards customers (green) Downtown, but when it gets to Phibbs Exchange there's a significant turnover of customers - people boarding and getting off (red) at Phibbs Exchange. The 210 also generates both boardings and customers getting off at its stops within North Vancouver. In comparison, the 292 only drops people off.

It seems to be that there are fewer changes this time around compared to April.

Yes, there are fewer changes.

How are these changes different from the ones we saw in April?

In many ways they are the same types of changes. We’ve been evaluating services in the whole region. In April, most of the service changes were in Burnaby, New Westminster, and Coquitlam with some changes in Surrey and Richmond. This time, the changes are mostly on the North Shore with some changes in Vancouver and Richmond. They are the same types of changes as in April: refinements in services, minor adjustments that relieve crowding in certain areas, some revisions to routes to provide more even service to customers and a couple of places where service will run less often because the service was not well used.

In one example (route 246) we are going to increase direct service on the more heavily used portion, simplifying the route at the same time. So this means the route will operate to and from downtown Vancouver all day. Customers travelling on the North Shore will still be well served with frequent service connecting to and from Park Royal. We make seasonal changes as well to provide more service where people ride in the summer months. For example, the City of Vancouver will be running summer programs downtown that will affect Granville Street, resulting in weekend detours. There is also an increase in weekend service to destinations like Stanley Park to reflect summer ridership patterns. The June changes will also serve White Pine Beach in Port Moody.

Is there a reason why these changes are happening in June and not another time in the year?

Communities and needs change over time. We always have service changes four times a year.  That’s because travel patterns chance significantly when school starts in September, at the end of university terms in April, at the summer break, and we make one change around the new year to further refine services.

This is something we will always be doing to make sure the changes are doing what they were intended to do, that we are providing the best value to the community and that resources are available where they are most needed.

Some services are being shortened. Are there other options for people who used a bus at a certain time and can no longer do so?

Our guiding principles for service optimization lead us to seek opportunities where we can  improve productivity while at the same time maintaining basic service for transit dependent customers and minimizing service reductions in areas where there are no other transit alternatives. So we’ve been careful to introduce changes where other trips or other routes provide similar service and where transfers are possible.

What’s the most difficult part of making service changes like these?

There are two parts of it. One is prioritizing where we invest. Identifying the areas with the highest need and the highest opportunity to improve revenue productivity of  the service? And the second, is identifying the areas where we can reduce inefficiencies with the least impact to customers.

Thanks Brian. That was very informative!
Once again, if you want to know about ALL of new schedule changes you’ll want to go here!


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