Shaping Transit's Future in British Columbia

Shaping Transit's Future in British Columbia

photo courtesy of: BC Transit

Auditor General Comments

Public transit is an important part of communities in British Columbia and around the world. It can connect citizens to their jobs, schools, hospitals, friends, family and much more. Having an effective and efficient public transit system not only helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it also supports local economies and gives those who might not have other transportation a way to be mobile in their community.

Public transit is a complex subject with multiple stakeholders involved in making decisions. Achieving progress in public transit is also strongly affected by external factors such as economic and demographic change. In 2008, the provincial government launched its Provincial Transit Plan, which laid out projections for funding, ridership growth, and increased service levels. Five years later, it is a good time to reflect upon what has been achieved, what lies ahead and how expectations align with the current transit landscape.

In 2012, my Office released the results of our audit of BC Transit’s ridership growth. As part of this work, we gathered valuable information from a variety of sources that for many reasons, was not included in the report. I felt it important to share this valuable information so I am pleased to release Shaping Transit’s Future in British Columbia, an interactive and informative web-based resource. As with some of our other informational resources (e.g. January 2013’s Health Funding Explained), which are not audits, we produce such work where information may not be publicly available or available in a single and/or easily accessible location. I have also prepared a pdf summary of this report, which is available here.

Because BC Transit has multiple stakeholders across the province and numerous overlapping but not always cohesive guiding documents, we determined that this work would be valuable to legislators, transit planners and British Columbians to understand the challenges involved in achieving sustainable public transit.

In addition to my Office’s 2012 audit of BC Transit, two other independent reports with recommendations for improvement were also published that year: The BC Transit Independent Review Panel’s Modernizing the Partnership and my Office’s Crown Agency Board Governance: BC Transit. As government develops plans to address these recommendations, the information in this resource and the questions for consideration posed throughout should help to maintain focus on key issues. It should also assist municipal governments and other stakeholders as they plan for the future of their transit systems. Not least, the resource will help British Columbians to understand how our transit system functions and how their own choices and actions are shaped by, and in turn help to shape, the province’s transportation future.

Russ Jones, MBA, CA
Auditor General

Response from BC Transit and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

We would like to thank the Office of the Auditor General for developing this summary report. As highlighted in the report, one of the largest challenges facing public transit today involves balancing and meeting stakeholder needs and expectations with regard to service levels, infrastructure investments and financial affordability. To address this challenge and maintain strong support for public transit, it is imperative that BC Transit continue to find ways to maximize the value it provides to customers, taxpayers, and funding partners.

The Provincial Transit Plan, which was developed during a time of higher service investment and expansion, it set goals to double ridership provincially and increase transit mode share in each of Vancouver, Victoria and the rest of the Province. The expectation of the plan was that the three levels of government would continue to partner and provide the necessary financial support to meet the goals of the plan. The results of a recent performance audit completed by the Office of the Auditor General confirms that while BC Transit has made a number of improvements to facilitate increased ridership, there is a shortfall between actual ridership and the targets set in the Provincial Transit Plan. Much of this gap is due to delays in service expansions and infrastructure investments.

Sustainable long-term revenue sources are fundamental to the ability of BC Transit to deliver on its mandate now and in the future. Since more than two thirds of total revenues come from provincial and local government sources, the growth of transit service is directly linked to financial support from these levels of government as well as the Federal government. Maintaining government funding support requires demonstrating the continuing public demand for transit services (as demonstrated through ridership) as well as the cost-effective use of public monies (as demonstrated through operating and administrative efficiency).

BC Transit remains committed to the objectives of the Provincial Transit Plan and will continue to work closely with provincial and local government partners to maximize the efficiency of existing service levels through service reviews, and strategically prioritizing investment to maximize ridership gains.

BC Transit and the Province look forward to working closely with our local government partners to meet the objectives of the Provincial Transit Plan and this report will be a valuable resource as we plan for transit in the future.
 

Introduction

An effective public transportation system plays an important role in meeting economic, social and environmental goals. Good public transit shapes the liveability of communities, connecting people to key amenities such as employment, health care, education and recreation.

In British Columbia, the provincial government has articulated a vision for a significant transformation in the way its citizens travel locally. This vision is intended to reduce automobile usage and increase the use of other forms of transportation, such as public transit, cycling and walking. A key reason for this shift is the provincial government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When the government developed its Climate Action Plan in 2008, it was estimated that transportation accounted for approximately 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in B.C.-  making it the largest contributor to the province’s total emissions. The most recent figures available show a similar trend (37 percent).

Figure 1 - Greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia (click image to enlarge)

The transformative vision is expressed in the Provincial Transit Plan of 2008. The ultimate goals are to:

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as part of the Climate Action Plan;
  • support the economy through more efficient transportation and reduced congestion; and
  • improve transportation options for those with mobility challenges.

To achieve these goals, the government set targets to double transit usage (“ridership”) in British Columbia by 2020  and make a substantial increase in the share of trips British Columbians make by public transit (“mode share”).

Figure 2 - BC Transit ridership baseline 2006/07 and target for 2020 (click to enlarge)

Figure 3 - BC Transit mode share baseline and targets for increase by 2020 (click image to enlarge)

The plan includes targets for public transportation in both the Lower Mainland (TransLink’s area of operation) and in the rest of B.C. (BC Transit’s area of operation). 

Figure 4 -  Communities with BC Transit systems (click image to enlarge and view statistics)

 

This report focuses on BC Transit. TransLink does not fall within the Auditor General’s oversight role, given it is outside of the government reporting entity.

Large-scale shifts of this nature occur over a significant period of time, and generally require changes in at least three main areas, which are the focus of our report:

  • policy and governance;
  • funding; and
  • design of transit services.  

Why we produced this report

During the planning and conducting of our separate Audit of BC Transit's Ridership Growth Since the Launch of the 2008 Transit Plan (released in 2012), the Office of the Auditor General gathered information that was not included in the performance audit report. This valuable information, garnered from a variety of sources and compiled here, can assist legislators, stakeholders and British Columbians to understand the challenges and opportunities involved in achieving sustainable public transit.

This report aims to help the public understand:
  • what the government is trying to achieve with public transit and why
  • what the current responsibilities are for public transit planning and funding
  • what some of the challenges are in achieving the goals of sustainable transit
  • what opportunities could arise from moving public transit in B.C. to a higher level of sustainability
Our report complements several other recent publications on BC Transit, two of which were published by our Office. It also expands the information available to government as it considers how best to address the recommendations made in these other publications.
 
Recent publications include:

 

Overview

This report provides an overview of the three areas that are key in shaping the future of transit: policy and governance, funding and design of transit services. It also includes observations regarding the context in which BC Transit is pursuing this significant growth strategy.

In addition, it contains questions for provincial ministries, BC Transit, and local governments to consider as they work to increase ridership and develop a sustainable transportation system.

The inclusion of the questions to consider DOES NOT imply that the stakeholders are not aware of these issues or that we have judged there to be problems in these areas. The questions are offered to help maintain focus on important issues, many of which are already being addressed by the respective parties.

In this early phase of the transformative plan, the questions we offer are broad and focused on policy-level decisions. As these questions are addressed, the focus can shift to operational-level decisions. Typically, there would be a comprehensive strategic plan at this phase of such a substantial project.

 

 

Shaping the Future: Policy and Governance

photo courtesy of: BC Transit

Good practice in governance suggests that when long-term objectives are clear and key partners work together to achieve these goals, the process is more efficient and the likelihood of success increases.  

Multiple stakeholders

There are three main stakeholder groups in the development and funding of transit services across BC: the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the BC Transit Crown corporation, and the 130+ local governments outside of metro Vancouver that host transit services. The division of roles and responsibilities is complex. Lead roles for stakeholders vary from one decision-making area to the next.

Figure 5 - Transit roles and responsibilities (click image to enlarge)

 

Numerous other agencies also have a role to play in transit development, funding, and/or operations: 
  • federal government
  • transit operating companies
  • other provincial ministries
  • major employers, post-secondary institutions and hospitals (concentrated populations of transit users) 
  • airport authorities
  • BC Ferries

Transit customers’ needs and preferences also influence transit decision-making, and BC Transit solicits input from the public into transit planning.

To consider: Does the current governance model allow for the most efficient and effective allocation of roles and responsibilities to meet the long-term sustainable transportation goals?

 

BC Transit's objectives

The overriding objective behind government’s Provincial Transit Plan is connecting transit growth and development to climate action goals.

The focus of BC Transit’s mandate in the Transit Act, which was set in 1986, is to support regional economic development

Figure 6 - Timeline of BC Transit legislative and policy initiatives (click image to enlarge)

To consider: How should the varying objectives for transit be reflected in legislation?

Several other policy documents contain a wider range of goals and objectives for BC Transit.

To consider: How should all of the various plans that relate to transit fit together?

There is general agreement among stakeholders that increasing transit ridership is an important goal, along with reducing single-occupant vehicle use. There is also widespread support for the ultimate goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. At the same time, stakeholders hold social, environmental and economic goals for transit. Multiple and often conflicting objectives cannot be resourced equally so they must be prioritized.

To consider: When different transit objectives cannot be pursued simultaneously, how should they be prioritized?

 

Decision-making on transit policy

Key policy decisions that affect the likely success of transit are made by a variety of stakeholders at different levels.

To consider: What collaboration is required from each partner to ensure effective implementation of transit plans?

For example:

Land Use

Land use policy and planning is a crucial tool for transforming transit usage in a financially sustainable way; conversely, if land-use planning does not consider transit, it can make it more difficult for transit to be financially viable. Local governments in British Columbia currently make many of the key decisions in land use planning. Provincial government decisions also influence land use and development.

 To consider: How can transit and land use planning processes effectively be integrated?

Transportation

Broader transportation policies such as the location and size of highways and bridges, parking fees, or road regulations also affect transit’s financial and environmental success. Transit services often cross jurisdictional boundaries, and therefore require collaboration between different jurisdictions and levels of government to run smoothly and consistently. For example, the proposed rapid transit project for Victoria would run through five municipalities and on a highway that is under provincial jurisdiction.

To consider: How are transit goals integrated into the overall vision for the overall vision for transportation in B.C.?

Economic

Government economic policies and other decisions beyond the transportation arena can also influence the success and financial viability of transit services—for example, tax policies (such as a carbon tax, or tax deductions for a bus pass)  or regional development policies. Energy policy also has a direct influence on transit; when consumers feel gas prices are low, they may maintain or increase single-occupancy vehicle use rather than choosing more energy efficient transportation such as public transit.

To consider: What are the potential impacts of other government initiatives and activities on the achievement of transit objectives? If these may have a negative impact, how can conflicting priorities be reconciled? 

Other important decisions that influence transit success at the local level include the location, fares and level of transit service to be provided. These choices are closely linked to funding decisions. Many of these decisions are made by local governments, or local governments in partnership with provincial government and/or BC Transit – see Transit roles and responsibilities and the BC Transit funding sources section.

The Provincial Transit Plan provided transit authorities and local governments with a vision that could inspire transportation decisions in support of the above mentioned goals. BC Transit’s ability to implement the goals and objectives of the Provincial Transit Plan are dependent upon how transit decisions are made. As local governments have the responsibility to make decisions regarding transit service levels, BC Transit’s ability to control or influence decisions is limited by the realities of local government affordability and its own local goals and objectives for transit. BC Transit advised us that the world economic crisis which occurred subsequent to the release of the Provincial Transit Plan put further pressure on local governments' ability to achieve and support Provincial Transit Plan goals and objectives, and in many cases simply maintaining current transit service levels has proven to be a challenge.

Organizational structure

Doubling ridership and substantially increasing mode share is likely to require transformational shifts in transit operations. Experience in other jurisdictions suggests that such a shift may require significant change in organizational structure, knowledge, and approach for the main stakeholders involved. In British Columbia, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure created a Transit Branch subsequent to the launch of the Provincial Transit Plan to focus on this aspect of transportation.

To consider: What capacity does each partner require (people, skills, knowledge and resources) to deliver their required contributions and what organizational structure is most appropriate?

Policy and Governance: Questions for key stakeholders to consider

1. Does the current governance model allow for the most efficient and effective allocation of roles and responsibilities to meet the long-term sustainable transportation goals?

2. How should the varying objectives for transit be reflected in legislation?

3. How should all of the various plans that relate to transit fit together?

4. When different transit objectives cannot be pursued simultaneously, how should they be prioritized?

5. Where does B.C. stand in relation to the evolving development of public transit in the Pacific Northwest, in Canada, and worldwide? 

6. What collaboration is required from each partner to ensure effective implementation of transit plans?

7. How can transit and land use planning processes effectively be integrated?

8. How are transit goals integrated into the overall vision for transportation in B.C.? 

9. What are the potential impacts of other government initiatives and activities on the achievement of transit objectives? If these may have a negative impact, how can conflicting priorities be reconciled? 

10. What capacity does each partner require (people, skills, knowledge, and resources) to deliver their required contributions and what organizational structure is most appropriate?
 

 

Shaping the Future: Funding

photo courtesy of: BC Transit

Experiences in the transit industry suggest that major change in transportation behaviour (people switching from cars to transit) and transit systems requires initial substantial investment and takes place over long timelines, such as 20 years. During that period, funding formulas often have to evolve to remain successful and sustainable.

BC Transit funding sources

The two main sources of funding for BC Transit are government (provincial and municipal), and passenger fares. The federal government also contributes funding for capital infrastructure.

  Figure 8 - Sources of funding for BC Transit (click image to enlarge)

 Funding for transit comes from these main sources in most of BC Transit’s service area:

  1. provincial government
  2. municipal government 
  3. passenger fare revenues (plus a small contribution from advertising and investment income)

In the Victoria Regional Transit System, fuel tax is an additional source of funding.

The federal government also contributes to some transit capital projects.

 

Text box H - How transit service levels and budgets are set (click image to enlarge)

Passenger fares offset the amount municipal governments fund. This means that if passenger revenues increase, municipal governments have to cover less of their transit costs through other sources, such as property taxes.

Provincial and municipal funding are tied to each other through a legislated cost-sharing formula.The formula requires that each party pay a specific proportion of transit costs each year; therefore, if one funding partner wishes to expand transit services, the other partner has to pay their portion of the associated costs.

Provincial funding levels are set based on a formula in the Transit Act regulations. The formula requires the following cost-sharing:

  Figure 9 - Transit cost sharing formula (click image to enlarge)

For an explanation of different types of transit, see Text Box A.

Victoria’s conventional transit system receives a lower provincial share because there is a fuel tax that supplements funding for the system.

Over the past five years since the announcement of the Provincial Transit Plan, transit expansion has been impacted by the ability of either the Province or local governments to fund its share of a proposed transit expansion. Overall, the provincial government’s proportion of transit funding has generally increased since 2008.

 Figure 10 - Changes in BC Transit funding sources (click image to enlarge)

 

British Columbia’s provincial government is above the Canadian average in its contributions to transit operating revenues. 

Text box I - Transit funding sources: Comparison of British Columbia to the Canadian average (click to read)

 

Transit funding is fairly complex and varies greatly across the country, making it challenging to develop clear comparisons between transit agencies in different provinces. Nonetheless, some comparisons have been made that can provide insight into differences between provincial approaches.

 

British Columbia’s government is one of five Canadian provinces and territories that provides operating funding for conventional transit. From the chart, we see that the provincial contribution in B.C. is higher than the Canadian average, while the proportion provided by municipal contribution is roughly similar, and the proportion covered by passenger fares is lower in B.C. than the average.

 

Text box I-a - Source of transit operating revenues (click image to enlarge)

  

 

If we look at the funding sources on a per capita basis, however, the figures suggest that British Columbia’s municipalities are among the lowest contributors in Canada. This emphasizes the high level of provincial funding for operating costs in British Columbia.

 

This high level of provincial funding enables BC Transit to provide transit services in a wider range of communities than in much of the rest of Canada, including communities that would normally be considered too small to afford public transit. This wider scope of communities with transit can contribute towards meeting the social goal of improving mobility. But at the same time, passenger fares do not cover transit costs due to lower ridership.

 

To consider: What is the most appropriate funding model for BC Transit to meet long-term transit goals and objectives?

 

Costs and trends of transit funding

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and BC Transit projected that achieving transit growth would require an injection of financial resources for capital projects such as rapid transit infrastructure, new buses and building or expanding transit exchanges, bus garages and maintenance facilities. In addition to the cost of expanding transit to achieve the growth targets, there are substantial capital costs just to maintain existing services. For example, fleet replacement costs were 75 percent of BC Transit’s capital budget during the period from 2007/08 to 2011/12.

Along with capital investment, expanding transit services also entails an increase in operating funds, at least until the time when ridership growth is significant enough that passenger fares cover the costs of transit services.

In 2007, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s estimate was that to achieve their goals of increased transit usage by 2020, capital and operating costs would amount to approximately $2.6 billion. 

This translates to an average annual increase of 4.1  percent.

The provincial government put forward a vision for, and commitment to, public transit in the province in the Provincial Transit Plan, and called upon its government partners at federal and municipal levels to join in the vision. BC Transit has worked towards achieving the goals of the Provincial Transit Plan through its partnerships with local governments, and relies strongly on their support to meet the targets.

Actual total expenditures from 2007/08 to 2012/13 have increased by an annual average of 9 percent. This increase is higher than what the ministry initially projected would be required, but lower than what BC Transit anticipated in its service plans during the first three years after the launch of the Provincial Transit Plan. BC Transit considers that the economic downturn has been a constraint on the availability of funding for transit expansion.

Figure 12 - Expenditure trends for transit provision from 2007/08 (click image to enlarge)

 

 

Total expenditures are comprised of capital and operating expenditures, and the trends have been different for each type. Actual capital expenditures from 2007/08 to 2012/13 are lower than projected, assuming an even distribution to 2020. Operating expenditures are higher than what the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure originally projected would be required to meet their goals for 2020. However, BC Transit’s projection from its service plans anticipated higher operating expenditures than what was actually spent for four of the five years since the plan was launched.

A large proportion of operating expenditures is the delivery of transit service hours— that is, the number of hours the buses are on the road. The number of transit service hours delivered during the period since the Provincial Transit Plan was launched was lower than anticipated.

This is likely related to an increase in the cost of providing transit services.

Therefore, achieving 2020 targets will require even more funding for operating costs than anticipated in the 2008 Provincial Transit Plan.

To consider: Are existing funding commitments and sources sustainable given the long-term objectives and timeframes targeted?

The understanding and estimation of transit development costs is more advanced than the quantification of transit benefits. As the Freiburg example in Text box B has shown, there are real economic benefits, ranging from higher cost recovery in transit operations to reduced health care costs from safer means of mobility, that accrue to society. However, the distribution of transit costs and benefits is not symmetrical. Many of transit’s benefits will accrue to government departments outside transportation (e.g. health and social services departments), while the costs for developing public transportation are concentrated within the transport department’s budget. In addition, the economic benefits from investing in public transportation often lag behind the costs by a decade or more.

Funding challenges of long-term transit planning

In addition to challenges related to annual funding and decision-making, the funding aspect of long-term transit planning can also be difficult. For instance, government budget commitments are made on 12 month cycles, yet it takes approximately 18 months from ordering to receiving a new bus, thereby running costs through multiple financial years. Given the limited production capacity for transit vehicles in North America, if many other transit agencies pursue similar goals of significantly increasing transit ridership, the lag time for acquiring the vehicles and other facilities could grow. BC Transit is working with its partners to develop processes to address some of the challenges related to long-term transit planning.

To consider: What long-term funding commitments are required to facilitate effective and efficient long-term planning?

To consider: What is the capacity of the transit supply industry to produce additional buses or respond to demand for different types of buses to meet transit expansion plans?

Transit funding as a tool to achieve goals

Transportation funding can be used as a tool to achieve the goal of increasing transit use and decreasing vehicle use, if it is designed to send market signals to customers that influence their travel choices.

Currently, BC Transit has a funding source that is directly linked to transportation behaviour for the Victoria regional transit system, which is the gas tax. The gas tax is added to the price of gasoline, which raises the cost for customers at the pump (3.50 cents dedicated motor fuel tax – BC Transit Victoria). Raising the cost of gasoline tends to reduce consumer use, encouraging people to use alternative transportation methods, such as transit. At the same time, the money collected from the gas tax goes directly to fund transit. In the rest of the province, BC Transit’s funding comes from property tax and provincial contributions from income taxes.

To consider: How can transit funding sources be designed to achieve the greatest positive influence on transportation behaviour?

Funding: Questions for key stakeholders to consider

1. What is the most appropriate funding model for BC Transit to meet long-term transit goals and objectives?

2. Are existing funding commitments and sources sustainable given the long-term objectives and timeframes targeted?

3. What long-term funding commitments are required to facilitate effective and efficient long-term planning?

4. What is the capacity of the transit supply industry to produce additional buses or respond to demand for different types of buses to meet transit expansion plans?

5. How can transit funding sources be designed to achieve the greatest positive influence on transportation behaviour?

Shaping the Future: Design of Public Transit Services

photo courtesy of: BC Transit

To attract new customers to switch from cars to transit while maintaining existing customers, public transit systems typically have to understand their potential customers and diversify their services to appeal to different market segments. Measuring and monitoring progress are key aspects of managing the change in the design of transit services.

BC Transit’s measurement and monitoring of progress

Translating government’s environmental, economic and social goals for transit transformation into concrete objectives and then setting measurable targets that allow the public to assess how well the goals have been achieved is challenging. BC Transit is focused on measuring ridership. Monitoring progress toward the mode share goals has been more difficult. 

Given that other stakeholders have different objectives for transit, other measurements of success may be required. For example, municipalities may be interested in monitoring the efficiency of transit service delivery, or access to transit services. 

To consider: What measurements are best suited for monitoring progress toward meeting the government’s ultimate goals for public transit?

 

Transit's performance results

A key performance indicator for BC Transit is ridership levels in each municipality. Combined, they total approximately 50 million rides per year in the province.

In 2008, BC Transit projected that it would achieve the goals of the Provincial Transit Plan for ridership and mode share by 2020. Across the province, they calculated that this would mean an average annual ridership growth of 5 percent– although the expectation was that growth would not be linear. It was expected that new transit initiatives, such as rapid transit, would lead to spikes in ridership. These were not explicitly modelled in the projections, because of lack of certainty regarding when new initiatives would be complete.

In 2012, the Office of the Auditor General completed an Audit of BC Transit's Ridership Growth Since the Launch of the 2008 Provincial Transit Plan. We found that BC Transit’s ridership growth during this period was 27 percent lower than it projected needing to meet the Provincial Transit Plan target by 2020.

In 2012/13 there was a drop in ridership, which BC Transit attributes to service reductions in a number of communities across the province, as well as a labour disruption in Victoria during the last half of the year. This translated to BC Transit’s ridership growth being 40 percent lower than it projected needing to meet the Provincial Transit Plan target by 2020. Moving forward, BC Transit has adjusted their forecasts to anticipate a lower growth trend for the next three years, leaving a gap of 46 percent by 2015.

 Figure 15 - BC Transit ridership targets and forecasts versus actual results (click image to enlarge)

Given the lower forecast for ridership, BC Transit will be challenged to meet the 2020 milestone. As a consequence, it will also take longer to realize the sustainability outcomes associated with a mode share shift from automobile to transit.

While BC Transit is not measuring mode share, the Capital Regional District’s travel survey results show that there was a slight decrease in transit riders between the last survey in 2006 and the most recent one in 2011. Nonetheless, there was an increase in sustainable transportation modes overall, due to an increase in walking, which led to a slight decrease in automobile use.

 Figure 16 - Victoria travel mode shares 2006 and 2011 (click image to enlarge)

To consider: Given that changes in the transport system and travel behaviour take time, have reasonable timelines been set to achieve targets and outcomes? Can the strategies developed to achieve objectives be sustained over time?

Strategies to achieve goals

In order to increase ridership and transit mode share and meet the ultimate goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion, a portion of the population who primarily use an automobile for transportation will need to make alternative travel choices. This target group is referred to as “choice” riders because they have other options for transportation and will only choose to use transit if they see it as a better option than their single-occupant vehicle.

In some communities, ridership will likely increase by expanding transit services into areas where an existing demand for services is not currently being met.

In other communities where transit services largely meet existing demand, more significant change will need to occur to shift people from automobiles to transit. Transit systems will need to be seen as a better alternative to personal vehicles and consumers will need to change their travel behaviour.

Text box Q -  Factors encouraging ridership growth (click image to enlarge)

  • For example, in Victoria, there are plans to introduce rapid transit to achieve a substantial shift in transportation choices for commuters.

In order to attract more people to transit, it is useful for transit systems to understand the key factors that influence peoples’ satisfaction with transit services. In addition, it is important to assess which of these factors the transit agency can influence, and what the potential costs and benefits of addressing each factor would be.

BC Transit has done some analysis of these service satisfaction factors using a “penalty/rewards” framework.

Their research found that the key attributes that affect overall customer satisfaction with transit are:

  • Personal safety while riding the bus
  • Clean and well maintained buses
  • Courteous bus drivers
  • On-time service

In addition, factors such as daytime service frequency and trip duration are classified as strong “linear” attributes. This means that being rated poorly on these attributes will result in overall dissatisfaction, and being rated highly will result in satisfaction. The research states that because of this linear relationship, good customer ratings on these attributes are important.

The frequency of evening service is a strong reward attribute, suggesting it has potential to add value and satisfaction among transit users but may not be a first priority for attracting new riders. Other factors such as overcrowding, reasonable fare prices, and payment options were found to be minor contributors to overall customer satisfaction.

To consider: Do we fully understand the most important factors that influence British Columbians' satisfaction with transit services and their travel mode choices (this may differ by region and community)?

Which of these factors are within the control of BC Transit? The Ministry? Local governments?

Are the benefits greater than the costs of the option(s) being considered to change transportation behaviour?

 

Customer satisfaction with BC Transit services

Overall, customer satisfaction with BC Transit has been fairly stable for the past three years, with about a third of people surveyed rating the service as very good or excellent. Satisfaction is higher in Victoria, but has declined from a peak in 2005/06. The highest satisfaction level with transit among the larger communities (“Tier 1” conventional transit systems) in 2011/12 was in Prince George, though it has been decreasing. In the medium-sized conventional transit systems (“Tier 2”), average satisfaction was slightly lower than the provincial average, while in the smallest conventional transit systems (“Tier 3”), satisfaction was higher than the provincial average. 

  •  Non-riders express lowest satisfaction compared with occasional riders and regular riders.

To consider: If demand increases, as a result of policy disincentives to automobile use or other transit incentives or motivating factors, will the quantity, quality and affordability of transit services be sufficient to meet and sustain demand?

In 2012/13, BC Transit used their customer survey to find out how British Columbians feel about the importance of transit in their communities. The result was very interesting. It shows that while only 33 percent of people used transit in the past year on average, 84 percent of people feel transit is important or very important to their community. This was up to 92 and 93 percent in Victoria and Whistler, respectively. See data on the Figure 4 map for more details.

Design: Questions for key stakeholders to consider

1. What measurements are best suited for monitoring progress toward meeting the government’s ultimate goals for public transit?

2. Given that changes in the transport system and travel behaviour take time, have reasonable timelines been set to achieve targets and outcomes? Can the strategies developed to achieve objectives be sustained over time?

3. Do we fully understand the important factors that influence British Columbians’ satisfaction with transit services and their travel mode choices (this may differ by region and community)?

4. Which of these factors are within the control of BC Transit? The Ministry? Local governments? 

5. Are the benefits greater than the costs of the option(s) being considered to change transportation behaviour?

6. If demand increases, as a result of policy disincentives to automobile use or other transit incentives or motivating factors, will the quantity, quality and affordability of transit services be sufficient to meet and sustain demand?

Looking Ahead

The main stakeholder groups are actively engaged in planning for the future of transit at the local level and provincial levels. The provincial government is in the process of addressing recommendations made in the three recent reports on BC Transit. Local governments are working with BC Transit on developing Transit Future Plans, as well as developing or implementing their Transportation Master Plans and Official Community Plans. Together, these plans set the vision for transportation and sustainability in their communities. BC Transit is working with all partners on performance reporting, long-term budgeting and other items related to recent report recommendations and their own strategic plan vision.

It is important that decision-makers continue to consider the long-term policy questions as they make plans and decisions in the short term, keeping in mind the vision for improved environmental, economic, and social sustainability in the transportation sector.

Our Office may follow up on the progress of the various stakeholders in the future and will follow up in 2014 on the recommendations in our December 2012 summary report on the performance audit of BC Transit’s ridership.

Questions for Key Stakeholders to Consider

Policy and Governance

1. Does the current governance model allow for the most efficient and effective allocation of roles and responsibilities to meet the long-term sustainable transportation goals?

2. How should the varying objectives for transit be reflected in legislation?

3. How should all of the various plans that relate to transit fit together?

4. When different transit objectives cannot be pursued simultaneously, how should they be prioritized?

5. Where does B.C. stand in relation to the evolving development of public transit in the Pacific Northwest, in Canada, and worldwide? 

6. What collaboration is required from each partner to ensure effective implementation of transit plans?

7. How can transit and land use planning processes effectively be integrated?

8. How are transit goals integrated into the overall vision for transportation in B.C.? 

9. What are the potential impacts of other government initiatives and activities on the achievement of transit objectives? If these may have a negative impact, how can conflicting priorities be reconciled? 

10. What capacity does each partner require (people, skills, knowledge, and resources) to deliver their required contributions and what organizational structure is most appropriate?

Funding

1. What is the most appropriate funding model for BC Transit to meet long-term transit goals and objectives?

2. Are existing funding commitments and sources sustainable given the long-term objectives and timeframes targeted?

3. What long-term funding commitments are required to facilitate effective and efficient long-term planning?

4. What is the capacity of the transit supply industry to produce additional buses or respond to demand for different types of buses to meet transit expansion plans?

5. How can transit funding sources be designed to achieve the greatest positive influence on transportation behaviour?

Design

1. What measurements are best suited for monitoring progress toward meeting the government’s ultimate goals for public transit?

2. Given that changes in the transport system and travel behaviour take time, have reasonable timelines been set to achieve targets and outcomes? Can the strategies developed to achieve objectives be sustained over time?

3. Do we fully understand the important factors that influence British Columbians’ satisfaction with transit services and their travel mode choices (this may differ by region and community)?

4. Which of these factors are within the control of BC Transit? The Ministry? Local governments? 

5. Are the benefits greater than the costs of the option(s) being considered to change transportation behaviour?

6. If demand increases, as a result of policy disincentives to automobile use or other transit incentives or motivating factors, will the quantity, quality and affordability of transit services be sufficient to meet and sustain demand?