I Wish It Were About Buses

By on April 15, 2015
1280px-Empty_Bus_in_LA

By Vince Dimanno. I would really like this column to be about buses and transit. But its not. Politics seems to be getting in the middle of what should be a simple service provided to the people of this community.

This past week, we have seen a Tale of Two Transit systems. On the one hand, we hear that our ridership and ridership growth is abysmal. Empty buses and the same low usage that we have had for many, many years. We also learn that we are subsidizing each trip to the tune of close to $4.00 each way. That’s right … you and I … as taxpayers, whether we pay through our Municipal taxes, or spread the love by including our Provincial taxes so someone in Trail can help carry the load, we are all contributing to each and every ride.

Hot on the heels of this information, we hear that the opening day of the new Fraser Valley Express was a huge success!

Yeah … successful on the one day it is free. How about day 2 folks? Let’s break these numbers down briefly and then we’ll talk politics.

In the statement made by the FVRD, the buses were full. Yay!

Oh wait … what they meant was that “a couple of hundred riders” used the new route … on the free day. Oh.

Ladies and gentleman … here comes the math.

The bus runs 17 times per day. The bus capacity is far more than 60 riders, but lets use that number. 60 X 17 = 1020. So, 1020 is our total possible ridership and “about 200 people” rode it on the free day. This is less than 20% … and is likely an inflated number.

I hate lies. I hate it when the best case scenario is what our politicians use to justify their ill-conceived ideas.

Welcome to public transit in Abbotsford.

But, is it worth it?

While I am upset at the spin doctoring here, it doesn’t answer the question as to whether or not it is worth it. Many services provided by Government are subsidized by taxpayers, but we happily do so for the better of our community. Healthcare and Education are great examples of this. So, is transit a fit for that model.

My opinion is that it can be.

That is not a wishy-washy, or qualified statement. It is simply based on the presumption that it is a valid expense if the underlying service is properly planned and executed.

In Abbotsford, our bus service is very badly planned and even  more poorly executed.

This is illustrated by the statement made the BC Transit representative who said they were focused on fixing things like staying on schedule. Imagine that folks … we have empty buses that can’t get to their stops on time. Have you ever heard anything more ridiculous than that? I view it as a resounding admission of failure.

I wish that were the only problem though.

Mayor Braun decided to pile on to the stupidity of the situation by saying that the system can be fixed if we just spend another $500,000 a year on it.

Mr. Mayor, you are the 3rd successive Mayor that has said exactly the same thing. Just another half a million and it will all be good. Yet our ridership growth is 2.4% – the lowest in the region.

The only thing you will accomplish by spending $500,000 more each year on transit is that you will spend $500,000 more each year on transit. Nothing else.

We all know what is required. Smaller buses, replacement of empty routes with expanded on-call service like HandyDart (I could write a whole column on this aspect alone), and many other small changes to reduce a bloated system before it becomes our local TransLink.

Finally, we need an admission of the obvious. We are currently a vehicle-centric town. We are too big for good transit coverage. So, instead of trying to be all things to all people, we need to focus on routes to shopping and schools.

If we don’t, the subsidy we pay will continue to grow. It is $4.00 each way. For an $8.00 round trip, we can simply pay for taxi service to get people around.  Think about that please. A round trip subsidy for someone living in Clearbrook and going to work at City Hall, for example, is $8.00 per day. A cab ride is pretty close to the same cost.

With those numbers staring you in the face, we need to rethink transit. We aren’t a city … no matter what we aspire to.  We can’t just shovel another $500,000 per year into a system that is not working and hope for the best. And we can’t lie to ourselves. We can’t lie about ridership, quality of service, or the fact that, if we continue to build it, riders will come. They won’t. We said that about a pro hockey team and no one came. We said that about The Reach and no one came. We’ve said it countless times about our bus service … and no one rides.

It’s time to sing a different tune … one that rings true for a change.

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One Comment

  1. The Editor

    April 8, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    Jim Evans Says:
    Just replace all the buses with smaller buses, eliminate routes and frequency, and that will fix transit? Hmm. First off a big bus, or a small bus still require 1 driver, how much cheaper is the fuel, maintenance and insurance on a small bus vs a regular bus? Is it enough to justify replacing a fleet of buses that were acquired used, with a new fleet of smaller buses (new or used)? Transit isn’t typically a money making venture from my experience, and yes, it could be better… I don’t think your options will do anything except reinforce dependence on private automobiles.

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