Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Time for business cases for bus routes?

Should BC Transit in Victoria be driven by the bottom line and set financial targets for routes?  
Should there be a business case for each route?

I know that BC Transit tracks data on the various routes but we never see a report that shows us which routes make money and which ones need the highest subsidy.    We know that the hourly cost to run a bus in Victoria is just under $100 per hour.  

If 40 cash customers board this bus in one hour the bus is cost effective.   For monthly passes an average commuter will spend 40 to 45 hours on buses in a month for an average of almost $2 revenue per hour of use.   This works out to about $1.75 per trip or 57 monthly pass holder boardings per hour.  With a mix of these two, 1/3 cash and 2/3s monthly pass holders, 51 boardings per hour.

My calculations do not account for the U-Pass program, which costs $78.50 per semester - $19.63 a month.   I do not know how to measure the use of the U-Pass versus the revenues it brings in, but based on the scale of bus traffic to UVic it does seem to be used a lot but there seems to be little interest in offering more service because it would not bring in any extra revenues.

There is also the Youth Pass which costs $35 a month and non-transferable and you have to get it for at least six months.   Their use has an impact on the cost effectiveness of routes.

So back to seeing if the routes are cost effective or not.   If I can get a handle on what it would take for a route to be cost effective, it only makes sense that BC Transit could do the same.   They should have exact data of who is boarding the bus and a measure of where the passengers alight.   They should be able to track if a bus pass holder is transferring or not.  They should be able to assign specific revenues to ever bus run.

It is this data that would allow the Greater Victoria Transit Commission the ability to better plan what routes are the most effective and what routes really do not make sense.   To ask the GVTC to make decisions on levels of service without this sort of data makes no sense.

The reality is that we can not offer unlimited transit to everywhere in the region.  Without good business cases for the routes we are going to spend more for a transit system that offers us less service than we deserve.

1 comment:

Vincent Gornall said...

Transit service is not simply about maximizing revenue or ridership. There are other important values that transit serves, like providing equitable service to people who do not have the ability to use other transportation systems.

Jarrett Walker, a well respected transit planning consultant, has covered this topic extensively on his blog. See http://www.humantransit.org/2009/12/yet-another-transit-isnt-green-because-of-empty-buses-story.html and http://www.humantransit.org/2012/11/eric-morris-on-the-freakonomics-blog-has-fallen-into-the-familiar-trap-to-put-my-remarks-in-context-ive-been-a-trans.html.

You might also check out his book, Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking About Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, which is the best primer on transit planning that I've seen recently.