Toward More Comprehensive and Multimodal Transportation Planning in BC

Cities for Everyone recognizes the importance of affordable transportation options as well as housing options. Although housing is, on average, a larger cost burden, it is also more variable: households in automobile-dependent areas, where every adult owns a personal vehicle, often spent ten times as much on transport as car-free households in walkable urban neighborhoods.

Who is responsible for improving affordable transport options? Local governments are responsible for pedestrian and cycling improvements, and BC Transit is responsible for local transit services, but there is a critical leadership gap for multimodal planning between communities, which makes it difficult for residents to live car-free if they must frequently travel to other areas. Hopefully, this will change.

The new BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure,  MLA Claire Trevena of Northern Vancouver Island, has a mandate to increase affordability and inclusivity, improve rural services, and reduce climate change emissions. The Ministry can do this with more comprehensive and multimodal planning, which recognzies the important roles that walking, cycling and public transit play in an efficient and equitable transportation system.

Below is a letter that I just sent to Minister Trevena, in CfE’s name. Please let us know what you think.

You can send your own letter to:

Honourable Claire Trevena (Minister.Transportation@gov.bc.ca)

Deputy Minister Grant Main (DeputyMinister.Transportation@gov.bc.ca)

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Honourable Claire Trevena

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure

Parliament Buildings Victoria, British Columbia V8V 1X4

15 September 2017

Re: Toward More Comprehensive and Multimodal Transportation Planning in BC

Dear Minister Trevena,

Congratulations on your recent appointment as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.

I am writing to you as a representative of Cities for Everyone, an independent organization that advocates for more inclusive and affordable housing and transportation policies. I want to identify some ways that MoTI planning practices undervalue investments in affordable transportation options, and ways to correct this. These reforms are consistent with your Mandate Letter which highlights the importance of increasing affordability and inclusivity, improving rural services, and reducing climate change emissions.

An efficient and equitable transportation system must be diverse in order to serve diverse demands, including the mobility needs of people who for any reason rely on non-auto modes. In a typical community, 20-40% of residents cannot, should not or prefer not to drive, and will use non-auto modes (walking, cycling and public transit) if they are convenient and attractive. This is good news overall because those modes tend to be space efficient (they reduce traffic and parking congestion), healthy, energy efficient and low-polluting. Credible research indicates that improving non-auto modes increases traffic safety, public health, economic mobility (the chance that a child raised in poverty will become economically successful as an adult), and regional economic productivity.

MoTI planning practices do a poor job of responding to these demands, resulting in inadequate support for walking, cycling and public transportation. This reflects an old, outdated paradigm which evaluated transport system performance primarily from motorists’ perspective, using indicators such as roadway level-of-service, average congestion delay, and distance-based crash rates (e.g., crash casualties per billion vehicle-kilometers). The old paradigm lacks indicators for non-auto travel conditions, and for overall transportation affordability (total transportation costs borne by households).

Other government agencies support multimodal transport planning: local governments support active transport (walking and cycling), and BC Transit supports local public transit services, but there are critical gaps which only the MoTI can fill. Let me offer three specific examples.

  1. Vancouver Island Bus Service. The MoTI has commissioned several studies examining ways to reduce traffic problems on the Malahat highway. Their terms of reference only consider direct traffic impacts on that stretch of roadway, and so only valued public transit improvements to the degree it would benefit motorists; additional benefits, such as downstream congestion and accident reductions, parking cost savings, improved mobility options for non-drivers, consumer savings and affordability where not considered, although they are certainly important to many transportation system users. More comprehensive and multimodal planning would recognize more potential benefits from improving and encouraging public transportation on this corridor.

Public transport services on that corridor are currently limited: four daily BC Transit trips between Duncan and Victoria timed to serve commuters, plus five, relatively expensive Greyhound trips between Nanaimo and Victoria. Greyhound now plans to reduce this service. Yet, a small fraction of proposed investments to expand the Malahat highway , estimated in 2007 to range from $200 million to $1.5 billion, could finance hourly bus service that would provide true convenience and affordability, and attract more travellers out of cars, reducing congestion and accident risk to motorists.

  1. Victoria to Vancouver Public Transit Service Quality. It is possible, but not very convenient, to travel between Victoria and Vancouver by public transportation. This could be improved with a little coordination between BC Transit, BC Ferries and Translink to provide improved user information and wayfinding, integrated fares (one ticket for a bus, ferry and Skytrain trip), transit tickets sold in ferry gift shops, covered bus waiting areas, prepaid fares allowing quick passenger loading, more frequent and less crowded buses with luggage racks, plus express bus service between Skytrain and Tsawwassan terminals.

Let me offer an example. All buses between Skytrain and Tsawwassan terminals stop at the Ladner Exchange. The payment system requires bus drivers to check fares. Due to these delays passengers must line up more than an hour before ferry departures for a trip that could take less than a half-hour. Express bus service could leave 15 minutes later, saving traveler time and reducing stress. In 2012 the MoTI valued travel time at $15.94/hr/person, or about $20 adjusted for inflation, indicating that 15-minute savings for 100 passengers is worth $500, plus bus operating savings. This could provide a high economic return.

Improving transit service on this corridor will require coordination between BC Transit, BC Ferries and Translink. Providing this coordination is a role for MoTI.

  • Rural Public Transport. Comprehensive and multimodal planning recognizes the travel needs of non-drivers, and therefore the importance of providing public transport services in rural communities. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has an important role to play in supporting such services. Other jurisdictions have effective and cost effective programs to do this, as described in the appendix.

More comprehensive and multimodal transportation planning provides many benefits, including direct benefits to people who use the improved non-auto modes, and indirect benefits to motorists who enjoy reduced traffic and parking congestion, increased safety and reduced chauffeuring burdens. Everybody wins!

However, delivering these will require policy and planning reforms to create a more level playing field between different modes. Fortunately, British Columbia is recognized as a world leader of multimodal planning, with excellent examples in Vancouver, Victoria and even Kamloops, but these innovations have not been fully incorporated into the MoTI. We therefore recommend the following actions for your Ministry to implement more comprehensive and multimodal planning:

  • Apply more comprehensive analysis of transportation investments which recognizes the additional direct and indirect benefits that result from active and public transport improvements, including road and parking facility cost savings (including downstream impacts), consumer savings and affordability, improved mobility for non-drivers, increased safety, improved public fitness and healthy, energy conservation, emission reductions and local economic development.
  • Apply least cost planning, so investments in alternative modes and demand management programs are considered equally with roadway capacity expansions, accounting for all impacts.
  • Establish multimodal performance indicators which measure, not only the ease of traveling by automobile, but also the ease of travel by non-auto modes. Use this to identify travel corridors that lack non-auto travel options.
  • Provide leadership, including planning analysis, funding and interagency coordination, to improve non-auto travel options, both in rural areas that currently lack public transport, and along major urban and intercity travel corridors where public transit service quality (convenience, comfort, speed, frequency and integration) could be better.
  • Sponsor conferences to explore how the MoTI can implement more multimodal planning, and support professional development programs involving Ministry staff and contractors to operationalize those policies and practices.

This is an exciting opportunity to provide more inclusive, affordable, resource efficient, safer, healthier, less polluting and more economically efficient transportation options in our province.

Sincerely,

Todd Litman

Cities for Everyone

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Appendix – Examples of Rural Public Transit Services

Travel Washington Intercity Bus Program

For many years, Washington State’s intercity bus service was declining, leaving may rural communities without scheduled public transportation to other towns and cities. In response, Washington State created the Travel Washington Intercity Bus Program which contracts with private companies to provide services to many rural communities. It relies largely on Federal grants and so requires minimal state funds. The State Department of Transportation works with communities to design the program and select service providers. Program Manager, Steve Abernathy, says that this approach has garnered strong community support. “When the Gold Line (northeastern Washington) was announced, communities were falling over each other to see who could bring the most to the ribbon cutting.”

Washington Intercity Bus Network 

Washington State supports an intercity bus network that serves rural areas and smaller towns.

 

The intercity buses connect to local transit services and are catalysts for private investment. Homes, hotels and banks are being developed around transit centers, and their parking lots are sometimes used for farmers’ markets and concerts.  Abernathy describes the program as, “allowing people to stay where they want to live, yet still have the mobility, connections and access to the state, national and international transportation network. It allows older adults to stay in the communities where they have friends, where they raised their children and where they are part of a community.”

Washington State Rural Public Transit

Washington State has several programs to help rural communities plan, coordinate and fund local public transit services. Public transit is provided through government agencies, and community transportation providers which include private non-profit, private for-profit and Tribal organizations. These organizations can access various federal, state and local funds, including voter-approved special taxes. The Washington State Department of Transportation provides administrative and technical assistance to regional transportation planning organizations and public transit service providers.

 

As a result of these resources, most rural counties in Washington State have coordinated public transit services, which provide travel to and within most communities. For example, it is possible to travel around the Olympic Peninsula, visiting many small communities, Indian reservations and tourist destinations, using the Olympic Transit Loop, which consists of six different but coordinated local public transit agencies, as illustrated below.

Olympic Peninsula Public Transportation

It is possible to circle the Olympic Peninsula and visit most communities using integrated local public transit services.

 

Rural and Small Town Transit Service Innovations

Many rural areas and small towns are implementing transit service partnerships and management innovations:

  • Some communities offer TaxiBus service: passengers must reserve a ride, and are carried between numerous fixed stop locations in the community by taxis which can pick up other passengers during the same trip.
  • Some small towns offer once- or twice-a-week bus services to regional centers to allow residents to access healthcare services and stores.
  • Some community transportation organizations provide seasonal or special bus services to recreation activities, such as beaches or ski hills, and to special events such as fairs and festivals.
  • Some small towns support vanpooling or commuter bus service to help residents commute to nearby cities.

 

The Rural Overland Utility Transit

The Rural Overland Utility Transit (TROUT) provides public transport services in eight rural municipalities with approximately 15,000 permanent residents in central Ontario, Canada. It supports various types of transportation services, including scheduled regional routes, door-to-door demand response, special event and charter transport, depending on community needs and resources. The program has a $300,000 total annual budget (about $20 annual per capita), of which $60,000 is generated by fares and $240,000 ($16 per capita) by public subsidies.

 

Idaho

The Community Transportation Association of Idaho (CTAI) is a non-profit organization which supports the development of multi-modal transportation services in Idaho communities, including fixed route, demand response and ridesharing services. CTAI helps distribute federal and state funds. Agencies must have a coordinated plan in order to receive these funds. To meet the requirement, the state is divided into 17 local networks that meet to talk about community needs and implementation strategies. The CTAI employs a full-time mobility manager in each of Idaho’s six transportation districts. These managers facilitate the coordinated planning process and bring together key stakeholders, elected officials and leaders from the senior center or agency on aging. Executive director Heather Wheeler explains, “One of the key things the CTAI is doing is trying to bring mobility options to the rural communities so individuals can maintain their rural lifestyle and have access to health care, work, school or other necessary appointments.”

 

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