Archive for the ‘public transit’ Category

Open email on 10th Avenue bike improvements, and the Mount Pleasant transportation problem.

I received this when I got home today:




My response:



I received on my door today a notice from an organisation calling itself “The Neighbourhood Stratas” (alternatively “Kingsgate Stratas,” as suggested by their email address), advocating against the proposed improvements to Prince Edward Street, and spreading some misinformation (particularly regarding the number of parking spaces to be removed). I have attached a photo of their cover letter.

As a unit owner and resident at The Uptown, 2788 Prince Edward Street, I would like to make it very clear that this organisation does not speak on behalf of me, and I suspect many of my neighbours would also say the same.  I assume, by virtue of the fact that the notice was left on my door and not my mailbox, that the building’s strata council is participating in this organisation, though we have yet to receive any meeting minutes that suggest as much.  Regardless, residents of the building have absolutely not been consulted on this topic at all. The strata does not have a clear mandate from residents of the building to proceed with lobbying on this matter.

All this said, I’d like to address the concerns highlighted in their flyer, as some of them at least are valid and worth addressing. I apologise in advance for the great length of this message, but I think that there are some very important issues to be addressed, many of which are much, much, bigger than this single project. As such, I’ve copied the mayor-and-council email address on here because there are broader development, planning, and transportation concerns impacting this situation.

First and foremost, I am strongly in favour of the street closure, parking removal, and one-way adjustment proposals as written. As currently designed, this portion of 10th Avenue (and in particular the “jog” at Prince Edward) is dangerous for people travelling by any means – on foot, on bike, or by car. I’ve previously attended open houses at earlier stages of the 10th Avenue improvements consultations and after several discussions with staff I’m convinced that there is no other way to solve this issue other than to change the half-block-jog to bicycle-and-pedestrian-only. As someone who walks, cycles, and drives through this intersection multiple times a day, the current situation is unacceptable.

Specifically with respect to access to my building, we have two parkades. One is a virtually-unused permit-only commercial parkade with access on Prince Edward Street, which I admit will have slightly-more-difficult access, though access via Kingsway-11th-Prince Edward is, frankly, more obvious than via Broadway anyway.  The other is the one used by people who actually live here, and is accessed from the laneway between Prince Edward and Guelph.  This laneway is accessible from 12th Avenue directly, and from 11th Avenue via Kingsway/Prince Edward or via Broadway/Guelph.  The proposals will not affect this access, at all.  If anything, I’d like to suggest that improved access to the laneway from 12th Avenue (especially turning left Eastbound 12th to Northbound laneway) and/or via a full traffic light at Broadway and Guelph might help to alleviate any parking access issues for our building that may be caused by this change to 10th Avenue.

The flyer also raises concerns that residents may have to leave the area via 11th to Kingsway, which would be difficult if doing anything other than turning right (Northbound).  The Kingsway and 11th intersection is, indeed, a disaster. With no signal and no crosswalks, it’s completely impossible to navigate by bike or on foot (this is officially an unmarked crosswalk, but on a six-lane highway, drivers do not respect this), and even by car is still very difficult to navigate – even if only making a right turn onto or off of Kingsway. I’ve personally been in more than a few near-collisions at this intersection.

I’d like to suggest that, rather than backtrack on the proposed plans (which I think are mostly sound), the city consider improvements to the intersection of Kingsway and 11th alongside the changes to 10th Avenue. In previous correspondence with the city, I was informed that I am not the only one to have raised the problem of this intersection, so perhaps the city can take a “two birds with one stone” approach and improve access for everyone by signalising or otherwise better controlling this intersection. In fact, this might give people less reason to drive down Prince Edward in the first place (since it will improve access to major roads other than Broadway), lightening traffic loads across the board.

The other two “concerns” raised by the flyer are with respect to several new developments opening soon in this neighbourhood – concerns that traffic measurements were taken recently without considering the impact of three new buildings currently under construction (presumably The Independent, The Duke, and Vya Living).  First, none of these buildings require access to Prince Edward Street at all – they all face Kingsway. The Independent will have its parkade access via Watson Street, several blocks away, and on the other side of Kingsway, so I don’t think it’s worth considering – given how difficult it is to cross Kingsway, I don’t imagine there’s a lot of risk of people trying to park on the East side of Kingsway for this building. The other two have parkade access from the laneway behind Kingsway, which is unaffected by the plans – there are no changes proposed to the mini-block between Kingsway and the laneway, on either 10th or 11th Avenue, besides the narrowing of 10th for the protected bikeway, but if anything this just moves bikes out of the way of motor vehicles – this block is usually so busy with bikes (in the summer at least) that there isn’t a lot of free space for people to drive anyway.

The two specific concerns with these new buildings were increased traffic volumes and loss of parking in spite of increased residents.  With respect to traffic volumes, it’s clear that the proposals made by the city are to reduce the volume of non-local traffic, since people who actually need to go to these blocks will still drive there anyway, but people who don’t will be frustrated by the traffic-calming (and blocking) measures. If anything, this frees up space on the mini-block between Kingsway and the laneway, because in theory the only people still driving there will be local residents and people going to Buy-Low Foods, as opposed to the current situation where this block regularly attracts rat-runners between Kingsway or Main and Broadway. Paired with the conversion of 10th West of Kingsway to Westbound-only, this will help reduce the volume of people using 10th-> Prince Edward or Prince Edward-> 10th to get between Main Street and Broadway without having to navigate the various no-turn intersections.

With respect to the loss of street parking in combination with the gain of large quantities of new residents, I would normally dismiss such comments since residents generally have in-building parking and visitors can come by other means. Generally speaking, I believe it is the city’s responsibility to encourage active transportation and public transportation use, and not to be concerned about storage of private motor vehicles on public property.

However, in this case this concern does speak to a broader issue of the increase in the number of residents in the neighbourhood. I’m strongly in favour of development and of increased density, generally, but this neighbourhood is about to be hit by a perfect storm of transportation problems. The latest development selling in this neighbourhood (on Broadway at Prince Edward) is marketing itself to be near a “proposed” SkyTrain station which may never come.  Bus service has been decreased consistently in the three years I’ve lived here (particularly on the 19), and buses are only going to get more crowded with the several new developments in the area, plus all the new housing the city is building just North of Broadway on Main.  I realise this is well, well, beyond the scope of the 10th Avenue team (which is why council is copied), but I hope that you could communicate to whoever is capable of addressing this that this neighbourhood badly needs a broader transportation plan, and one that addresses the increased number of residents with real, concrete, improvements.  I must reiterate that I think a AAA bike route, in the form of 10th Avenue (and Broadway, if I’m being greedy), and more bike share stations need to be part of this plan. The plan should also include completing the Millennium Line extension, and improving the pedestrian realm through traffic calming and improved crossings.  In the meantime, I’m living in a neighbourhood that is rapidly being built to Transit-Oriented Development density, without the actual transit to support it.

So to bring this back around to the original point surrounding parking, I can sympathise with concerns about loss of street parking for visitors and for car-sharing vehicles (the latter, frankly, often occupy about 50% of the on-street parking in this area). I think a lot of this could be remedied, on a short-term basis anyway, by negotiating for some space with Kingsgate Mall – there are currently no Car2Go or Evo parking spots in any of their three lots, and of course non-customers are not allowed to park there. However, their lots (particularly the large Buy-Low lot at 10th and Kingsway) are frequently virtually empty.  If even just the Buy-Low lot were opened to paid parking and/or some Car2Go and Evo spots, this could completely offset the loss of 20 (not 30 as implied by the flyer) parking spaces on Prince Edward.  I also wonder if you could clarify for those concerned whether any visitor and/or public parking will be available in Vya Living or The Duke.

To sum up this very long message (apologies again) – 1) the group claiming to represent the stratas in my neighbourhood does not represent me, 2) I encourage you to move forward with the improvements to 10th Avenue, 3) there are several other problem areas in and around the mega-block bounded by 12th, Kingsway, Broadway and Guelph that need to be addressed, the solutions to which I think should be expedited to address some of the concerns raised about the 10th Avenue changes (but these things need to be fixed, regardless), and 4) this neighbourhood badly needs a transportation plan; one that is actually funded and implemented as soon as possible. Further developments should, and I’m sure will, continue to come to this neighbourhood, but we can’t sustain any more until the transportation situation is addressed more broadly, including the completion of the SkyTrain to Main and Broadway.

Thank you for your time,

Neal Jennings


Email to TransLink Commission on the YVR AddFare

I mentioned in a previous post a number of Compass Fare Hikes set to take place with the rollout of the new smart card in the Vancouver area.  At the time, I questioned  TransLink’s legal interpretation of the Commission’s ruling in 2009 about non-cash fares not being subject to the YVR AddFare.

On December 23rd, TransLink quietly applied to the admission to get their approval for this change.  I guess they realised the error in their ways.  If they’d be honest about this for the rest of their fare hikes, that would be wonderful.  Anyways, here is my email to the Commission.


I’m writing with respect to the proposed additional AddFare at YVR stations. I was hoping to refer to your previous decision on this topic, but the commission has conveniently deleted from your website all the relevant documents linked from the page about the decision here: . I will thus go from memory as best possible.

First, I’m thankful TransLink has finally decided to put this issue to the Commission, as their initial communications have all suggested they would simply be implementing this fare increase because they believed they had the right to do so under the original agreement. I believe that TransLink has been incredibly dishonest about this and other fare changes and I almost want to oppose this on principle. The new double-fare for those who pay cash on buses is another example of this. This type of dishonest approach to fares risks losing faith in the transit system that many Lower Mainlanders are very proud of, and the Commission has an opportunity here to show that the public will truly be represented, regardless of poor decisions made by TransLink management.

Next, I must say that the answers provided in the document titled “Information Requested by the Regional Transportation Commission” are wholly unsatisfactory. In many cases, management hasn’t even bothered to answer your questions. It is as if management expect the Commission to simply rubber stamp whatever it asks for, rather than treating this as a serious process of public engagement.

The answer to question c, in particular, doesn’t answer most of the question. What it does say, though, is telling. The AddFare program has been a total failure in coming up with revenue for TransLink, bringing in over $5million less than anticipated. This doesn’t appear to be an effective revenue tool. This could be a result of the Commission denying TransLink the ability to charge the AddFare on FareSavers initially. But adding it to Compass card charges isn’t going to remedy the problem, as demonstrated by the numbers presented by management in question d.

Speaking of question d, I find the rationale fascinating. TransLink has chosen to move forward with Compass cards, which will result in an effective fare increase for those who used FareSavers or cash before due to the discount rates applied to prepaid cards and the problem with transferring from buses to trains. And yet at the same time, TransLink and is complaining that its own decision is going to lose it $1.4 million as a result of it being so successful!! This is illogical for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the effective fare paid by someone with a stored-value card as opposed to a FareSaver will be higher system-wide. Next, people using FareSavers currently at YVR stations are not going to cause losses (since if you decide against this change, we aren’t paying it now and won’t pay it in future). Only people who currently use cash and will eventually use Compass cards will cause a reduction in the AddFare revenues. Why should FareSaver users (who provide significant financing to TransLink through interest-free loans) be punished for this? And is it really plausible that people who are currently paying cash at YVR station will switch to prepaid Compass cards at the same rate as people paying cash elsewhere in the system? Such people are likely to be travellers in town for the first time (who will be unlikely to already have purchased a fare before arriving at the station), or people who use transit so infrequently that they don’t even buy FareSavers. Even if these people have the ability to buy prepaid Compass cards at the airport somewhere before getting to the station, they will be paying $6 just to obtain the card (which can’t be used towards their fare) – which is more than the AddFare!! This will mean a one-way trip into the city for such a person will cost them $6 + $4 x 86% + $5 = $14.44 after applying the 14% discount! I highly doubt such users will “switch” to stored value Compass cards over cash (would would yield a $9 fare, being $4 for two zones plus the $5 AddFare) based on this cost!! Even without the AddFare, it will be cheaper to pay cash of $9 than to pay $9.44 to buy a Compass card with enough value to get them into the city. If anything, this is a great way to encourage people to take taxis, which I suspect is not the goal of the Commission.

Finally, I’ve noticed that none of management’s answers to your questions come with any sort of backup or support. For example, they say “most” travelers from YVR will be air travelers, without any studies to support this. They have provided no explanation for how much administration of this new “exemption” program will cost, and whether it will even come close to being paid for by the nominal amount of additional revenue this whole scheme is trying to earn. If this increase is to be approved, the public should be able to see a logical and evidence-based analysis to support it.

If TransLink is trying to encourage people to take public transport to and from the airport, and is trying to encourage people to use the Compass card, then I strongly believe this is not the way to do it. Applying the AddFare to day passes and stored value cards gives visitors and residents alike a disincentive for taking transit. For many visitors, the Canada Line is the first experience of transit they have in our city – if that experience is marred by perceived gouging, they may choose not to take transit in the rest of their stay. I think this would be a terrible result, and I strongly oppose this proposal.


Neal Jennings


Open letter to TransLink on Compass Fare Hikes

Dear TransLink,

I’m writing about what I’ve decided to call the Compass Fare Hikes.  You don’t call them that, but more on that in a moment.

It’s come to light over the last couple of months that with the full implementation of Compass a number of changes will also come to the way we will pay our fares.  Specifically:

  • To obtain a Compass Card, which you have suggested will be the primary method of fare payment, users have to pay $6 in exchange for only $5.50 of credit, meaning riders will be incurring an extra 50 cents on each card purchase.
  • This will entitle users to a 14% discount on fares, which is significantly less than the FareSavers currently offer.
  • The elimination of FareSavers also eliminates the ability of anyone without a monthly pass to prepay to avoid the AddFare at the YVR stations, since your questionable interpretation of the Commission’s ruling suggests you think Compass is NOT “non-cash fare media.”
  • Bus riders who currently pay cash and subsequently transfer to SkyTrain or SeaBus will be forced to pay twice to continue their trip.  TransLink Police recently confirmed this isn’t just because of faregates, and that bus tickets will be completely invalid within the system (presumably even if the gates are open).
  • This is all in addition to the Tariff Changes announced last month, made under the guise of what “makes sense” and a suggestion that TransLink has too many riders.  These changes affect those who used Employer Passes, monthly passholders with family who ride with them, and West Coast Express riders.

Call these things what you like, but for anyone who uses these fare media or routes, these are fare increases.  Anyone who buys a Compass Card is paying more for their ride than we would have before.   Casual riders who use FareSavers will pay more than we would have before, both in general and at YVR stations.  Bus riders who transfer to SkyTrain after paying cash will pay more than they would have before.  These changes undoubtedly increase the amount of money riders are paying and, in turn, the amount of money received by TransLink on account of fares.

Some of these things have come as a surprise to many – such as the policy change on the YVR AddFare and the bus transfer issue.  They haven’t been announced clearly or publicised, at best hidden stealthily in texts about how great Compass cards will be.  And when they do surface, you have told half-truths about the alternatives (insisting the cost of allowing bus transfers was $25M when the cheapest alternative was only $9M) in order to distract from the fact that you are effectively increasing fares.

I worry about what other surprises TransLink has in store for us.

I’ve heard the arguments about these things affecting a small number of riders, though I question whether that’s still true after you add up all of the people affected by these things.  I’ve also heard all the spin that suggests these are just making things make “more sense” or that they are meant to encourage Compass use.  But at the end of the day, these things are fare hikes for a lot of people.

I love that we are upgrading to a smart card system – it’s about time. I want Compass to succeed.  This is why this frustrates me so much – if Compass is blamed for all of these fare hikes, you will only continue to build public opposition to it, and the data you so covet will be less useful to you.  You are also putting at risk what I think is a very positive reputation in the community – of all the cities I’ve lived in, I’ve never known one where most people look at the transit authority and say “yeah, they’re pretty good” the way people in the Lower Mainland (particularly in the city of Vancouver) do.  Your planning, quality, and customer service are phenomenal compared to other transit agencies.

So I ask of you: be honest with us.  It’s so blatantly obvious to me and other transit users that these changes are intended to increase funds flowing from riders to TransLink.  We know you have budget issues – we can’t escape this news.  So tell us the truth and call these changes what they are: fare increases.  Tell us that you’re sorry you have to do it, but that you have no other choice but to make up for budget shortfalls.  We might not like it, we might not sing your praises for it, but we’ll appreciate your honesty.  And, eventually, we’ll accept it.  Stop the lies, and stop the distractions.

Tell the public the truth and maybe some people will be on your side.  Until then, I will continue to find it hard to believe the sincerity of your statements on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Neal Jennings

On cycling infrastructure (an update)

A couple years ago, in a series of entries I wrote about my time in Australia, I wrote an entry about cycling infrastructure in Australia and Canada.  At the time, it had been ages since I’d actually owned and used a bike as a regular mode of transit – many observations were based on what I saw, and not necessarily what I actually made use of. That’s changed a lot in the last year and a bit that I’ve been in Vancouver.  In the last year, I’ve cycled quite a bit more in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Sydney, and Melbourne.  I figured it would be appropriate to update my thoughts.

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Ontario’s public transit fare systems

I’m a little tired of blogging about Ontario now that I no longer live there.  But this is about public transport, which is interesting to me, and relevant since I’ll be travelling there in June.  And while public transit here in BC has its issues, none of them are ever significant enough to blog about.

Bless their hearts, the Ontario transit systems are, whether they like it or not, slowly integrating their fares.  It’s sort of an improvement.  I guess.  But it’s being done so poorly I wonder what the point is.

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Whistler, without a car.

Well that was a waste of two hours.

I made reservations to spend two nights in Whistler for a mini getaway. I booked into the Lost Lake Lodge using the Whistler resort reservations page. The lodge is near the top of the road that leads into the Upper Village, which is not that far from the main part of the resort but mostly uphill on an icy road with no sidewalk. Fortunately there’s a bus.

Which provides this with a bit of a back story. Yesterday I went online to figure out exactly how I was getting to the hotel. Multiple websites, including that of the accommodation and that of the resort, reference a “free shuttle bus.” None of them provide information on where or when this bus runs. Some also mention other local transit options and point to the BC Transit website. The BC Transit site, in turn, makes no reference to any of its services in Whistler being free. If you figure out to open the PDF version of the route map of bus #5 or #4, then you will see mentioned in the title that they’re free. This info took me an hour or more to assemble last night.

So I arrived in Whistler today knowing where my accommodation was and how to get there. That part was surprisingly easy – it was about a five minute walk from the Greyhound stop to the #5 bus stop, and a five minute ride from there to the Lost Lake Lodge.

EDIT: I almost forgot it wasn’t as easy as all that. There are no stop announcements on the bus so you either need to ask the driver to announce for you or follow along on your GPS. I chose the latter fortunately without incident.

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On Public Transit / Public Transport

We all know that public transit is a pet obsession of mine.  I even have an entire Flickr photo set dedicated to it.  I’m going to share what little knowledge I have of transit in the places I’ve been in the last year or so, and what’s really worked and what really hasn’t… This entry is massive so I’ll attempt to bookmark it to let you click to whatever you want to see.  A note on terminology: I use “public transit” and “public transport” interchangeably as the terms have the same meaning (the former being Canadian, the latter Australian).  I also use these terms loosely to include “mass transit” that is not actually owned/operated by the public sector.

If you just want the executive summary, click through to the “summary” at the very end.

Canadian cities:

Australian cities:


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