Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Bus Exchange at McTavish Road and Highway #17 - Is it a White Elephant?

With the build of the overpass at McTavish and Highway #17 BC Transit built the McTavish bus exchange and park and ride.  

I have never had to use it for transit, though I have been on the #72 as it passes through there.   What strikes me is how large it is but underused.

There is space for four full sized buses to be here at the same time but one of the spaces is not in use.  The exchange also includes stops on the on/off ramps of the highway making for six spots where buses could stop, this is a large scale transit exchange.  The bus loop part of the exchange takes up close to an acre of land.   The bus loop looks like it was constructed to be able to have five more buses stop there.  

So why is it so big?   There are not that many buses that come through here at any given time.   Right now only six bus routes use this interchange of which four of them use the small community buses.  

Total number of trips of each bus that passes through McTavish Exchange on weekdays
#70 58 total trips - 29 to Swartz Bay, 29 to Downtown
#72 80 total trips - 41 to Swartz Bay, 39 to Downtown
#81 32 total trips - 15 to Saanichton/Brentwood, 17 to Sidney/Swartz Bay
#83 16 total trips - 8 to Sidney 8 to Royal Oak
#86  4 total trips - 2 to Deep Cove, 2 arriving at McTavish
#88 46 total trips - 23 to Sidney, 23 to the Airport

This is a total of 236 buses arriving at the exchange over 18 hours, which is an average of only 13.1 per hour.  What this means is that is very rare for more than one bus to be at the exchange at any given time.   If the exchange was a route end there could be the need for buses to sit there for a longer period as the drivers take their break, but almost all of the buses going through McTavish are on their way to another destination and only stop there long enough to let passengers off and on.

The idea of an exchange is for people to transfer from one bus to another bus.   In the case of the McTavish Exchange I do not see this demand being high.   The community buses only have a maximum capacity of just over 20 passengers.   Even with the low capacity of these community buses these routes have very low use.  Routes #81, #83, #86 and #88 move a total of about 800 people per weekday, that is 400 round trips total.  If all these people were going to McTavish to change to the #70 or #72, this would only represent 9% of the traffic on those routes.   If more realistically half of those people were transferring at McTavish each weekday, this is only about 50 people per peak hour using the exchange.

McTavish has the largest park and ride facility in Greater Victoria which I find very surprising given the much higher population and more transit on the Westshore.  There is space for 177 cars to park there, though according to people I have asked it is not heavily used, half full at best.   With roughly 90 spots used and an average occupancy of 1.1 people per car, this only represents 100 transit passengers a day, just enough to fill one double decker bus.   Why build it so large if the demand is not there?   Where does BC Transit think the demand will come from?   There is no realistic expectation of large population increases on the north end of the peninsula. and if anything the number of commuters is likely to fall over time.

The park and ride facility does not allow you to park there and then take the bus to the airport of the ferry because you are not allowed to park overnight.   Given the very high prices the airport and BC Ferries charge for parking, it would be nice to be able to park somewhere near to them for free.   It would also generate more traffic for BC Transit.   They have the space and it is not being used so why not let people park overnight, they could charge a small fee for overnight parking and limit it to only the back half of the parking lot.   80 spots available for overnight parking that cost $5 a night could bring in $90,000 to $140,000 a year for BC Transit.  The extra bus fares from making this parking available could worth another extra $90,000 to $140,000 a year.   That is enough income to allow for seven to eight more transit service hours per weekday.

The location is not a very useful one because there is no destination there.  Part of the problem is that Highway #17 was not constructed close to the airport terminal or the core of the population in Central Saanich.  The other exchanges in Victoria like UVic, Saanichton, Langford, Western, and Royal Oak all have significant development around them and reasons for people to travel to them.  All McTavish has is the airport but BC Transit has never really embraced the airport as a core destination.  

Now for a digression about transit and the airport:
Few people are going to want to transfer when going to the airport with luggage which means the small community buses that take you to McTavish from the airport are acting as a disincentive to transit use.   I think it should be possible to change the routing of the #70 and #72 into three routes, one being the #70 express from the ferry to downtown, a second being the #72 but only once an hour from the ferry and a third that starts in Sidney but runs via the airport.   Creating this third route would effectively make the #88 redundant.

Is there demand for transit to and from the airport?  Among local people that are flying somewhere there is clearly a demand especially those aged 18 to 30.   You people travelling are seeking a cheaper alternative than a taxi or the tourist airport shuttle.   One only has to look at the high demand for BC Transit service to the ferry.  One nice aspect for transit to and from the airport is that it is not like the ferry where everyone arrives at the same time.  The smaller capacity of airplanes and the constant flow of passenger which means there would be a consistent flow of people going to and from the airport.  

With around 3,000 people per day travelling through YYJ there should be enough demand to fill a regular single deck bus especially if it is a route that services Sidney as well.  This would be augmented by the people using transit to get to the airport for work.   YYJ is a significant sized employer but has not easy connection for commuters to get to work.  I would be very surprised if transit use by people working YYJ was not lower than the average.

Back to the McTavish Exchange, it seems to be much larger than is needed and located where it is not needed.   I think BC Transit made a mistake spending their money on building it.

Here is the list of all 38 buses passing through McTavish Exchange weekdays between 7:00 am and 8:59 am, the busiest time of the day for transit.  Bold are full size buses, red are southbound, underlined are the buses that stop outside of the bus loop at the exchange.
7:00 #70 to Downtown
7:00 #72 to Downtown
7:10 #81 from Keating headed to Sidney
7:12 #83 from Sidney headed to Brentwood and Royal Oak
7:15 #70 to Downtown
7:20 #70 to Swartz Bay
7:21 #86 from Deep Cove terminating at McTavish - normally has only one or two passengers
7:22 #81 from Sidney going to Keating
7:24 #72 to Sidney/Swartz Bay
7:27 #72 to Downtown
7:30 #70 to Downtown
7:38 #88 from Sidney headed to Airport
7:40 #72 to Downtown
7:42 #88 to Sidney (starting at McTavish)
7:44 #72 to Sidney/Swartz Bay starting at Saanichton
7:45 #70 to Downtown
7:47 #81 from Sidney going to West Saanich and Wallace
7:47 #88 from Airport headed to Sidney
7:49 #81 from Keating headed to Sidney
7:51 #72 to Sidney/Swartz Bay
7:53 #70 to Swartz Bay
8:01 #72 to Downtown
8:09 #83 from Sidney headed to Brentwood and Royal Oak
8:13 #88 from Sidney headed to Airport
8:15 #70 to Downtown
8:20 #81 from Sidney headed to Keating
8:22 #88 from Airport terminating at McTavish
8:23 #70 to Swartz Bay
8:24 #81 from West Saanich and Wallace headed to Sidney
8:31 #72 to Downtown
8:32 #88 from Sidney headed to Airport
8:32 #83 from Royal Oak and Brentwood headed to Sidney
8:41 #88 from Airport headed to Sidney
8:45 #70 to Downtown
8:51 #72 to Sidney/Swartz Bay
8:53 #70 to Swartz Bay
8:54 #83 from Royal Oak and Brentwood headed to Sidney

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