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?