Life on transit: transit here and beyond

Life on transit: transit here and beyond

For March/April 2013, we’re spotlighting Life on Transit—observing and illuminating the quirks and habits of daily transit rides around our region!

Ian Fisher, Senior Planner with Infrastructure planning at TransLink
Ian Fisher, Senior Planner, infrastructure Planning at TransLink

As part of this series, we thought it would be nice to talk to one of the people who helps plan our transit system in Metro Vancouver. Ian Fisher has worked on a number of aspects of transit planning for TransLink. He’s also a huge fan of transit. Ian is the guy who wishes he owned a Yamanote Line piggy bank, which we included in our Holiday gift ideas for transit fans. He’s traveled from Portland to Tokyo and all places in between with a eye for transit. So, we thought Ian would be an interesting person to give us perspective on transit here and globally.

Here’s what Ian told us about his life on transit:

What does transit mean to you?

Transit in Metro Vancouver is about providing an attractive, reliable and safe means of getting around that supports the liveability of our region. It’s about making life without owning a car a viable choice in areas where land uses support providing frequent service, and supporting longer trips for people who usually walk or bike when they need to make them.

While it should be cost-effective, it must also make an effort to be something that people can take pride in. It should create positive associations for current users as well as others, to encourage more use and to ensure public support for expansion as needed to meet regional goals.

Are there any transit systems, apart from the one here, that are special to your heart?

The French systems do a really good job of design and marketing. Everything looks so smart and clear. Their wayfinding is really good and their sense of aesthetics that they bring to all their stations and vehicles is really fresh. In Montpellier they have flowers on the liveries [design and branding] of trams which is pretty bold, but makes a statement and provides a real personality to the system.

Montpellier TAM Citadis 302 - photo by Ian Fisher
Montpellier TAM Citadis 302 – photo by Ian Fisher

The German systems are amazing for their functionality. Like in Japan, it’s very easy to get around because of their wayfinding. Actually, German and Japan have a lot of parallels when it comes to transit. They both have a lot of service, precise operation and they make it easy to transfer between modes of transit in terms of wayfinding and coordinated schedules.

Can you list some of the cities you’ve visiting with notable transit systems?

London, Paris, Montpelier, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Freiburg, Bern, Lyon, Lucerne, Zurich, Geneva, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Nuremberg, Leipzig, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Bangkok, Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, Boston, New York, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco, L.A., Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Denver, etc.

Having visited many cities with larger public transit system around the world, is there anything markedly different about our system in Metro Vancouver?

Well, technically we did have the worlds longest automated system for a while. Dubai now holds that title. SeaBus is quite innovative. I don’t know of any other place that has such an efficient ferry service in terms of rapid loading and unloading of passengers for a quick turn around. It’s pretty unique.

One thing that is rather different at TransLink is the extensive electric trolleybus network in the core of the region. While some view trolleybuses as outmoded, these vehicles do what many people want transit to do – move people quietly and with no emissions – and Vancouver is lucky to have them relative to many other cities that dismantled their networks. With Vancouver’s rolling terrain and increasing housing density along arterial routes, trolleybuses are a better fit than ever.

You’ve been to places that have a longer history of public transit than we do in Metro Vancouver. How does the transit culture different than other places you’ve visited?

Well, in places like Japan that have relied on public transit longer than us,  people are well organized in crowds. They know how to seamlessly negotiate other people.

What transit technology has you excited these days?

The one I’ve worked on recently has been the Burnaby Gondola. The notion of a gondola going up Burnaby Mountain and SFU is really an example of thinking outside the box. Whether that project moves ahead or not remains to be seen, but the project itself was a different and interesting one.

I tailored some of my trip to Europe in 2011 to see how urban gondolas work in places like Koblenz, Germany and Bolzano, Italy. Large gondolas are pretty new to the market, but with the Peak2Peak in Whistler, you can see how the technology has really come along and could work in a place like Burnaby Mountain.

The new London double-decker bus is interesting. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, didn’t like the articulated buses in London, which were introduced in the not-too-distant past. Now there are new double-decker buses that have been designed from the bottom up for the service requirements of London. Who knows, maybe we’ll see them elsewhere in the world soon. They make good sense for long routes that don’t have a lot of stops.

Have you seen those personal transportation pods they have at Heathrow Airport?

Yes, I’ve heard about them. Almost every transit debate has this notion of personal rapid transit come into it. It’s a divisive issue and inherently contradictory. At some point, it’s just like having a car, it’s also similar to things like car2go.

If you were to expand something like what they have at Heathrow into a city, you’d have to extend a guideway into such a large area that the cost becomes prohibitive and moving enough people through really high demand corridors with that kind of system verges on the impossible. If we’re moving 15-16,000 people on SkyTrain into downtown Vancouver in an hour, it would be pretty challenging to do that with all these little pods converging across the region going to one place.