Ridership increases stress the necessity of transit improvements

TransLink needs to assess passenger numbers and arrival consistency in its service improvement plans

Riders are suffering under TransLink’s ridership numbers success. Photo: Peak Archives

By: Kelly Grounds, SFU Student

Commutes from heck are a common experience in the Lower Mainland, especially for students like myself who don’t drive. We rely on TransLink services to help us get around, and so we need our transit system to do better than the subpar service it currently offers. 

Let me paint a picture for you. I started working at a co-op over winter semester that begins every day at 8:30 a.m. It took 25 minutes to get there from my nearest SkyTrain station. So one would naturally think that I left the house at 7:50 at the earliest. Except no. Before I moved, every single day, Monday to Friday, I had to leave at 7:10 a.m. to catch a bus that only ran once an hour in order to reach the train. If I missed that bus it would have been an hour-long walk. On the first day of my co-op, I already knew that this bus was going to be the bane of my existence. 

Aside from the frustration of early alarms and stumbling to the bus stop half-awake while it was still dark out, the bus had serious consistency issues. Some mornings it would come super early or super late and I would have to cab to the train station. When I did make the bus, I would usually find myself squished against a window by other passengers. Since the bus only came once per hour, it meant that there was an hour’s worth of passengers on that one bus. It was uncomfortable. 

Ironically, part of the problem with the existing transit system is how popular it is. Ridership numbers broke records in 2018 with a rise of 7% over the previous year. Increases in service have not been able to match this pace, however.

The City of Vancouver has put forward plans to address public transportation over the long term through infrastructure improvements. However, the city does not have direct control over buses and trains. TransLink itself needs to put out a clear proposal on how it intends to address its inability to deal with increased ridership and bus consistency issues.

Unfortunately, federal funding gaps mean that TransLink is limited in what it can accomplish. However, despite these funding problems, TransLink could prioritize ensuring that current transit vehicles are consistent and arrive on time to avoid passenger build-up along the rest of the system. This short-term goal is critical because having even one bus arrive late or not arrive at all during peak hours or on busy lines can result in denial of service for hundreds of passengers, straining the already choked system.

Transiting students know what it’s like to be mashed into a jammed-full 145 or 95 bus when afternoon classes let out. Going forward, TransLink needs to evaluate how ridership increases are exacerbating the effects of passenger build-up. It’s one thing to have several more passengers getting on at a stop after a bus never shows up, but it is another issue when there are twice as many passengers already waiting for that bus. If TransLink does not start factoring in how the increased usage affects transit services, no other changes will be effective.