Translink has been undergoing a “service rationalization” process for the past year. This is part of a complete service review the Provincial government has mandated before any consideration is given to approving other revenue streams for Translink. Until now, this has been a fairly abstract concept when it came to transit services on the road, however as we are about to learn, “rationalization” means cuts to basic services in New Westminster.
On the surface the cuts may look fairly benign: reductions in early morning and evening service levels when buses are nearly empty. However, if one views transit as a holistic system, these cuts undermine the overall viability of the public transportation system in New Westminster.
The planned “rationalization” will see several local bus routes reduced to 60-minute service in the off hours (101, 154 and 155, as well as smaller cuts to the 123 and Community Shuttle conversion of half the 112). People who rely on transit to actually get places will tell you instead of reducing to once an hour, you might as well save even more money and not run a bus at all, particularly in a city the size of New Westminster where one could walk clear across the city in that amount of time. You’ve instantly eliminated all the casual trips and relegated bus service to only those who can’t afford any other means of transportation, or are physically unable to walk any distance.
Case in point: the shift worker who is coming home from their job in the evening is now faced with a 60-minute wait if they miss their connection by a minute (and heaven forbid if it’s a woman waiting alone at a dark bus stop for an hour). Given this challenge, this worker is far more likely to drive to work, if they can even afford to do so. Transit, for this worker, is no longer an option. You now have a new driver on the road in the afternoon going to their job, adding to congestion and polluting GHGs in to the air.
Or the couple out for dinner with their friends, trying to be responsible by not driving in light of the potential shared a bottle of wine. With a 60-minute wait on their journey home they are much more likely to elect to drive, again contributing to congestion and putting all road users at risk should they misjudge their wine intake over the evening. Every trip home in the evening by a bus rider is a trip taken to somewhere earlier in the day. And let’s be realistic, with the suburban nature of where these “rationalized” routes go, these are going to be riders on their way home from somewhere.
From a transit planning perspective you can see the rationale: 5 people on a bus every 30 minutes, if you make it every 60 minutes that’s 10 people per bus. That logic may work for busy urban routes with short headways; riders will hardly notice a shift from a bus every 8 minutes to a bus every 10 minutes, and they’ll be packed in a little tighter when the bus does arrive. But when you’re talking anything over 30 minutes service it is completely unrealistic to think you’ll maintain all these passengers. Your ridership will decrease at all times of the days because riders won’t be able to depend on the route whenever they need it, the viability of the whole route will be at risk.
The sad part about these cuts is they’re not even the result of overall system cuts. Instead, there is a shift of service hours from one part of the region to another. We’re taking from Peter to pay Paul, while the appetite of both Peter and Paul are increasing. Rather than build strong transit intergrated and reliable system across the whole region, Translink and the Province have mandated we have a set number of service hours that does not increase with our exploding population and transit usage. We are turning a mediocre transit system across Metro Vancouver into a completely unreliable one for most of the region.
At the same time that Translink is diluting our regional transit services by not keeping up with growing demand, they’re committing hundreds of millions of dollars to boondoggle projects such as the United Boulevard Extension (a road expansion that directly competes with existing transit infrastructure, and a project Translink can’t even afford even if it were approved) and the Golden Ears Bridge (which has failed to meet traffic expectations, and will now cost millions in pay-out to guarantee the profit of the private partner, draining much-needed funds from other operations). Meanwhile, the Evergreen Line remains unfunded and unbuilt nearly two decades after it was first planned.
If Translink is serious about meeting it’s mode shift goals and reducing vehicles on our roads, they, the Board, and the Mayors Council must take a serious look at their priorities. The idea of a zero-growth transit system in a region growing by thousands of residents per month while simultaneously funding unneeded and unaffordable road building mega-projects, is a serious misjudgement. Metro Vancouver deserves better and New Westminster deserves better, and we need our mayor and council to send a strong message that any cuts to New Westminster bus services are unacceptable. We need to be growing public transit, not shrinking and diluting it.