April 10, 2015

Two transit experiences: Bay Area and Metro Vancouver

Do you hear stories about how bad a transit system we have for a region of two million?  Try, for comparison, the San Francisco Bay Area – population seven million.

From SPUR San Jose:

We conducted an experiment last year to see how long it would take to travel from UC Berkeley to Stanford on public transit.

The results were telling: the journey required transit service by three different operators, with as many fare systems, confusing connection information between stops and in total took nearly two hours.

We need to do better — but our transit system around the Bay Area is a confusing patchwork of more than two-dozen different agencies. Having so many different transit systems makes it harder for riders to understand and use the services available to them.

Trip 4


From Berkeley to Stanford – Cost: $10.25.  Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.


In Metro Vancouver, for a trip of about the same distance (about 40 miles) from Horseshoe Bay to Langley: one operator and one fare medium.

Trip 3


Cost: $5.50.  Time: 2 hours, 21 minutes.


In the Bay Area, they think this:

We think riders deserve a more seamless and less complicated experience. SPUR’s new report, Seamless Transit, offers 19 recommendations for how to make the Bay Area’s many transit brands and services function more like one system — without relying on agency mergers.

In Metro Vancouver, we already have this.  But many think we should punish TransLink with less resources so it will perform better.  Try explaining that to people in the Bay Area.

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    1. I’m disappointed in the region’s mayors. They are all successful politicians, yet they failed to anticipate this reaction and get out in front of it.

  1. Mr. Price expressing contempt for the public is one thing, but who are you, “Don” and “Agustin?” If you know so much that you can look down your noses, perhaps you should identify yourselves when doing so.

    1. Way to add meaningful dialog…or not. Please try some constructive comments….like I don’t know, maybe some sort of comparison of transit in San Fransisco vs Vancouver?
      For the record I used transit while visiting San Fransisco and found it useful, the service in San Fransico proper was similar to Vancouver. I have only used BART in the suburbs. That said an established city of 7 million should not be similar to Vancouver, it should be better. Another example of how we compare to the wrong things. Transit in Vancouver punches so far above its weight we forget to be realistic in our expectations. We need to remember Metro Vancouver is a young city of 2.5 million people. We need to compare ourselves against similar places, when we do we tend to be so far ahead it is meaningless, so we end up with but our transit is worse than Paris, London or Toronto. How fair is that?

      1. I thought I pretty much captured that with “contempt.” The validity of the test routes in both cities is zilch, each for different reasons, and as comparative analysis goes, you have to have contempt for an audience to think that such random bits of non-evidence are going to influence them to change their minds. If this were advertising, it would qualify as misleading.
        But actually, maybe it sort of is advertising. The public will need to know at some point how much was spent in directly and indirectly employed staff, social media, and consultant time to sway this vote, and this sort of thing could well count.
        And say, what’s your full name, Rico? If you’re going to accuse someone who has identified themselves of not being constructive, then please be constructive enough to identify yourself. And if you have a vested interest in drawing more tax dollars into the public purse, by all means declare it.

        1. I actually find your post to be the poster child of contempt, perhaps mixed with a bit of slime and dirty innuendo. Lots of people have many valid reasons for not posting their full name on random blogs (in fact people who do are a tiny minority). Thankfully I don’t really except my first name is usually enough. I would hope that you review your last post and feel the need to apologize to everyone you tarred with it. Oh, and no vested interest in ‘drawing more tax dollars into the public purse.’ My comment was strictly my person experience while in San Fran versus Vancouver. I could dig up various statistical comparisons of transit in San Fran vs Vancouver but would you bother to look or just come out with more nasty innuendo? For the record Metro San Fransisco has a transit mode share of 10%, Metro Vancouver 16.5%.

  2. In response to Rico (thank you for full name) my first comment was a response to the no vote being called “mob mentality” by Don and the innuendo, if you like that word, in Agustin’s comment that the public’s considered opinion requires, and is amenable to, correction. It was not about the post itself, except obliquely.

    However, the oblique reference was not innuendo, it was critique, and critique is not slimy or contemptuous. It’s necessary, in fact, for useful dialogue, which I irrationally continue to expect of a blog associated with a university and someone who has been an elected official.
    I say irrationally because you may not have observed previous instances where I express a view not popular here (always with my full name) and am responded to with abuse and ridicule, and plenty of innuendo, by people who have no tolerance at all for opposition but often don’t give their names, with no moderator response. So this was a response to previous conversations that you may not have seen – and for that, I apologize that that was not clear.
    I did not respond to nor do I disagree with your comments on SF transit.

    As for vested interests, it may have escaped your attention that massive amounts of public money are being spent by people for whom that money constitutes a paycheque to influence the transit plebiscite outcome toward yes. You may also not have noticed that the Yes lobby consists of almost ONLY such people, whose income is derived from taxation. In my opinion this is such reprehensible behaviour that it will generate a lawsuit at some point, if internal auditing does not catch, capture, and correct that problem on its own. So when the topic is the transit referendum and contempt is so readily expressed for the paying public’s reluctance to pay more, and when that’s done behind a pseudonym, it would be gullible to assume that a vested interest is not involved.

    But if you want to talk about the topic of the blog post, I have this to offer. First, what kind of an assessment can it be to take a trip that probably never gets taken by a transit user in real life? And if you wanted to compare it with Vancouver, why would you not take a precisely comparable trip if available, which it is – going from SFU to UBC. But who does that, in either SF or Vancouver? Transit systems would be, and are, designed or evolve to shuttle people between residential areas and ONE institution, not between two institutions.
    To find something this obtuse quoted with apparent approval on a blog associated with an academic institution is a real disappointment.

    1. If you disagree with my ideas, no problem, but you don’t need to know my last name for that.

      I was saying that I am disappointed that the mayors did not anticipate the type of criticism that captured a lot of people’s imagination in this referendum and is leading those people to support a No vote. The mayors, self-declared Yes supporters and experienced politicians, could and should have anticipated that criticism and had a better response.

      Indeed, I am saying that the mayors should have been better at convincing No voters (and undecided voters) to become Yes voters. I don’t see any malice in that notion.

    2. Hi Karin, I interpreted this post in a very different way than you did.
      For those that are not that familiar with transit governance, Metro Vancouver has a single agency overseeing transit (TransLink) and the Bay Area has over 20 agencies. While the benefits of a single-agency model might not be easily observed, they are substantial. Benefits often include integrated fares, a much more integrated service plan, a much more intuitive customer experience, fewer executive and senior management salaries (at least 18 fewer CEO’s in Vancouver than in the land of efficiency and innovation), and significantly less time & budget spent on cross-agency coordination.

      My interpretation of Gordon’s post was that other regions have advocacy groups (like SPUR in the Bay Area) that are encouraging the type of changes that Vancouver already has in place, and should be proud of. If you weren’t aware of the governance models elsewhere, this probably wasn’t that obvious from Gordon’s post. As for the comparison between Vancouver and SF being ‘misleading’ because of the route choice and size of the region, I would argue you missed the more relevant points of comparison…the differences in regional governance, and the resulting outcomes in terms of fare structures, transit operations and customer experience are very appropriate points of comparison. Perhaps those points seem “academic and obtuse”, but they have very real impacts on the customer experience.

      If you were looking for a relevant counter-point to argue, I would think that the following question would be more constructive to debate: “Does a ‘No’ vote with less funding necessarily lead to a more fractured transit governance model and less integrated services than what Metro Vancouver residents currently benefit from?” It’s a “what-if” question, but could successfully be argued from both sides.

      1. A, thank you very much for taking the dialogue up a notch, with or without a name (the name is only a conspicuous omission when anonymity is used to deliver abuse).

        I appreciate both your interpretation of the post and your defence of single agency, or integrated, management. I don’t disagree with either.
        But as someone who has studied more than one single agency system, the issue is that there is only a very small zone of advantage before some of the disadvantages of monopoly and invulnerability come into play. There is not a simple linear relationship between integration and value, as your question suggests.

        The message of the potential NO vote is that Translink is escaping, or has already escaped, that zone of advantage.

        It should be self-evident that the public is always ahead of the system itself on this assessment. There is no motivation for the system to say “we’ve become too complacent and controlling, so we’re going ramp down and let some diverse inputs gain influence.”

        As someone who has a vested interest only in efficient and good-quality service, the offence I take is to the implication that the public does not know what it knows. If you are familiar with the concept of smart markets in the investment industry, the parallel is that it is as futile to try to “educate the public” about transit as it is to try to “educate the market” to believe that a stock is worth more than its present trading value. The public knows what it needs to know, and furthermore, likely knows some things that the “experts” and the management & political classes do not – because we know how transit realities (and costs) affect how we run our lives every day, as I showed in my “zippers” blog post.

        Suggestions like saying the mayors should “get out in front of it” are therefore inherently disrespectful of the public – maybe not malicious, but disrespectful. Disrespect for the public may well be inherent to the planning function, because people making decisions is reduced to people’s observed and manipulable behaviour, so people are objectified and depersonalized. But when DISCUSSIONS about planning take place, there is no excuse for the latter perspective to be reflected in dialogue – that we are like amoeba who function strictly on a stimulus-response basis. In dialogues about planning, participants must be understood to bring equal humanity and intelligence to the table – unless, of course, the intention is simply to reinforce the pecking order to keep the planning “experts” on top.

        If what the people know is not respected – if it is rather seen as something that the experts have license to manipulate in the same way they manipulate how people use public spaces through design – then the experts are focussed on being on top. And the people know that too.

        The dialogue that has emerged on this thread is a welcome change from the type of discussion that simply applauds anything if it serves the side one is on. Rigorous scrutiny of all information, including what we hope is true, is the way to keep everyone sharp enough to make good decisions and build good systems – and to make continuous improvements as required over time, with or without more expenditures.

  3. On a “pedantry corner” note – wouldn’t the Horseshoe Bay to Langley fare be $11.00 for peak times (the map above is drawn up for a Friday, so the $5.50 fare for Vancouver, which would apply on weekends isn’t in effect here)? The trip of 2 hours and 21 minutes would be well in excess of the 90 minute total for a fare.

    If we’re trying to increase Translink funding, lets not encourage people to evade their fares 😉

    1. Hi Matt, The most you can pay is for 3 zones which is $5.50. During non-peak times, weekends and holidays you are only charged for 1 zone which is $2.75.

      1. I get that – however the trip described trip is a 141 minute trip. Translink single fare tickets are only valid for 90 minutes – so you would therefore need two single fare tickets to complete the described journey.

        Thinking about it, to make the trip most economical, you may be able to get away with a 1 zone from Horseshoe bay to Vancouver, and then activate a 2 zone to go from Vancouver to Surrey to cover the remainder of the trip – in which case you may be able to get away with paying only $6.75 for peak times. If you couldn’t quite squeeze the Vancouver to Langley portion into 90 minutes, then it would be $8, as you would need two $4 two zone single fares.

        That said, I’m being overly pedantic I know – however the $5.50 would only be possible to do for that trip at the weekend (non-peak).

        1. Hmm…I see what you mean. I guess you’re correct but in my experience I have never had a problem transferring within the timeframe. I routinely go from the Westend to White Rock with no problem but your probably right this journey needs too many connections to meet the timeframe, not sure.

        2. Matt’s suggestion to use a single zone followed by a 2-zone doesn’t work because Horseshoe Bay to Vancouver is 2 zones and Vancouver to Surrey is 3.

          My understanding of the time limit was that you could make a final transfer at the 89 minute mark and remain on that vehicle for up to 31 minutes without needing to pay an additional fare, but I’m unable to confirm that using the TransLink website.

          I’m also unable to confirm the concept of a maximum fare for a single trip as suggested by Ron S.

        3. By the time you get to this many zones, it makes sense to buy a day pass at the ticket vending machine. Unlimited zones. Works until the end of the service day. $9.75.

  4. Karen thanks for the clarification. For the record I think you may have a bit of bias in your read on the ‘YES’ lobby which seems to be comprised of a very wide array of voices, of which I include myself. I can also say I have seen posts from Augustin for years on various blogs with a variety of topics so it is pretty unlikely he is part of a conspiracy to burn your tax dollars in a big bonfire.
    As to the comparison of trips between San Fran and Vancouver…any of your suggested comparisons would have been horribly unfare to San Fran as SFU to UBC would be much less painful than the Horseshoe Bay to Langley route….and by the way I suspect you would be surprised at the number of trips between SFU and UBC. I know several people who did it regularily as grad students. I also suspect that route was chosen as an attempt to show the longest most tortuous route realistically used in Metro Vancouver. I would suggest mode share would be a realistic proxy for convenience. If transit is convenient more people will use it…therefore higher mode share.

  5. San Francisco Bay area is a much more complex urban region than the Lower Mainland. If the Lower Mainland was the San Francisco Bay area West Van.North Van, Richmond and Surrey would be dense, complicated mazes of roads, freeways and transit systems instead of simply a few main arteries. There is a lot of state though traffic through the Bay Area making it more congested. It is true there are too many transit departments in the SF.