How to Fix Transit Immediately
Here are a few ways that any cities with transit services can improve efficiency with a low-budget or few changes to existing infrastructure. The City of Edmonton transportation department and city council have been looking at large ways to improve transit in elaborate plans decades down the road. While planning for the future is important, there are immediate low-cost ways to improve transit service for cities struggling with balancing budgets and resources. If some or all of these recommendations are made to Edmonton Transit, we may not even need to build the Valley Line, as it will prove to be much slower than an expedient bus service or a true separated-grade mass rail.
All their boarding on buses is already use around the world in fact if you really think about it in Edmonton we are already using all go boarding with our LRT system the TTC found that nearly 20% of commute time was spent servicing streetcar stops, and San Francisco found that up to 50%, yes half, of bus commute time was spent on boarding and alighting. If there are 2-3 doors on a bus, why not open all the doors for commuters to get on and off?
Many cities around the world especially ones in Europe more space and congestion are huge issues have already used all door boarding for many years. In cities in Italy where up to 100 people maybe on board one bus at a time, all door boarding is a necessity and the only way to keep the city moving.
In all cities where all door boarding are in operation such as San Francisco, there has been no impact on revenue due to fare evasion. In places like Portland the streetcar even has a payment method within the car so commuters can pay on the go and reduce the fare machines needed along the route. There’s already a transit service in Edmonton which already relies on this honour system: the LRT. If there was an impact in revenue, there would be turnstiles at every LRT station.
Increase Standing Space
Although Edmonton transit buses and trains are not as congested as those in Europe or Japan it does require changes to improve issues with overcrowdedness on board. An immediate solution to this issue is to remove seats near entrances and exits. The obvious examples are on trains where boarding and alighting are actually delaying trains that are overcrowded. Passengers do not have the space necessary to move in and out of the train with ease both from human barriers and built-in seats. The Hong Kong MTR has improved this issue by only having seats along the sides of the train, allowing the best passenger flow possible with more walking and standing space. Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci airport’s passenger rail have next to no seats for travelers for the 5 minute journey to efficiently board and alight without extra wait time. Not having the option to sit also means there are less items left on the train.
While trains are the obvious example of increasing standing space by reducing seats, doing so on buses is a key solution to Edmonton’s overcrowded transit system. It’s not a rare occurrence FOT regular midday buses to leave behind passengers (including special needs and mothers with babies) because the bus is beyond capacity. Removing seats by the rear doors would allow more passengers to fit on the bus, while also improving boarding time as the centre aside is blocked.
While the thought of standing on the bus may seem uncomfortable or a measure which doesn’t attract more riders, most riders actually spend less time on a bus journey than on the train. As well, if a transit service is working to move people, riders are much more likely to trade in comfort for efficiency.
This bus in Florence is an excellent example of trading comfort for efficiency. With over 80-100 people on this bus, there are few seats and distant stops. Buses like these are all over Italy. In Britain and Hong Kong where double-decker buses are popular, the lower level is also primarily standing space only, as are the double-decker buses of Strathcona Country Transit.
If ETS had chosen double-decker buses instead of articulated ‘bendy’ buses, it would have been much more efficient for commuters as end-of-line passengers would be sitting on the upper deck while local passengers would stand and wait to alight on the lower deck. The reality is that that’s not the case and we are stuck with a system running regular and articulated buses.
Any student I’m physics would know that objects with large mass would require more time to accelerate and decelerate. So why would ETS use articulated buses on local routes like the 8, and use regular buses on congested express routes like route 15? When both the 8 and 15 arrive at the same time, most will opt for the 15 unless it is full.
Route 15 is one of the most consistently crowded buses on the system running North and South as a route alongside route 8. Route 100, which is a super express with no stops between downtown and West Edmonton Mall. Both of these congested buses use regular buses. If these two express routes swapped to articulated buses, it would allow more passengers to take the express route, while at the same time reduce travel time for the main routes as the shorter buses would allow quicker stop and go than the current articulated buses.
Let’s face it, timed transfers at transit stations served Edmonton well from the 80s through to today. However, as traffic congestion increases without solutions for new arterials, it’s especially worse for buses traveling to and from downtown.
The construction through the Bonnie Doon traffic circle is only a preview of what’s to come as the Valley Line cuts through the traffic circle. If that line were to shut down for any reason, it would be a nightmare for all travelers on and off the road.
While the Valley Line will replace bus service from downtown to Mill Woods, other parts of the city don’t have that luxury as suburbia swells past the Henday Ring Road. Increased traffic means more delayed main routes. The routes 8 and 9 are rarely on time during rush hour, yet the current scheduling for timed transfers at transit centres only allow around 2 minutes for passengers to transfer. Besides having your transfer bus leave as you approach the transit centre, persons with reduced mobility sometimes don’t have the time to run across to catch feeder routes even when the bus is on time arriving.
To resolve this, staggering the timed transfers between main and feeder routes ensures most connections are made for commuters. If feeder buses are on 15 minute frequency and the main route arrivals are offset by 7 minutes, it gives time for traffic delays and persons with reduced mobility a much greater service by ensuring bus connections are made.
Reduce Mid-Journey Timing Points
No commuter wants to wait on a bus or train going nowhere in the middle of the journey. Metro Line users know this, and so do people who live in Mill Woods. Between Millgate and Mill Woods, there is currently a timing point at Bonnie Doon. Even during rush hour when there are lots of buses, operators will stop here for several minutes before heading downtown. No one gets on or gets off most of the time. It’s a stop that should be removed from the journey, especially for express routes.
Passengers will hop on a 15 from Millgate and depart thinking they are ahead. But the bus will then stop at Bonnie Doon for 4 minutes because it’s early. Then while they pull out, the 8 local will pass ahead. It happens daily and mid-journey timing points are more frustrating than they are of any benefit on main bus routes. They’re understandable and necessary at transit centres and for feeder routes, but not for mid-journey main routes, especially if the other points on this list are implemented.
Route Simplifications Using Suffixes
Edmonton’s route numbering system has become unnecessarily complex. If it weren’t so, this recommendation would be a lot smaller. Buses traveling same and similar routes may have over 10 different route numbers to the same destination. The complex numbering system results in many missed opportunities for passengers to reach their destinations faster. For example, there are 11 routes which travel between downtown 100st stop and Millgate. With the exception of 81 and 87 the other 9 routes all travel the exact same path. Other than route 8, the 15, 60, 61, 64, 65, 66, 68, and 69 are also all express buses. So why do people continue to stuff themselves onto the 8 and 15 during rush hour? Because if they happen to hop on the 62 or 63 (which are also the same route), they’re in for the long detour to Mill Woods transit centre. If you’ve ever taken those by accident, you become extremely cautious of all the other 60s buses.
And that’s where the system needs simplicity. There are other examples of this route overlap in the city, but none as extreme as the case to Millgate. Even though 8 routes take the same path, with an additional 2 routes which bypass congestion on Connors arriving within a 5 minute gap, the complexity of the route numbers psychologically makes those 60s routes undesirable. During rush hour, every 8 and 15 are standing room only, and you can see here, that time after time, after time, after time, that those 60s routes on the same route all have seats available (picture showing this will be uploaded soon). ETS has more than enough buses to bring people from downtown to Millgate without congestion, but because of the number on the front, unnecessary overcrowding is a daily issue.
To solve this, you just need to look at the example set by the some other bus services in the world. Rather than the countless numbers 8, 15, 60, 61, 64, 65, 66, 68, and 69, reduce all that to 8 and 8x between downtown and Millgate. Route 8 would be a local route and route 8x the express. The buses may continue to follow current scheduling, just switching back to feeders at Millgate. The immediate transport out of the central core would also greatly increase people’s chances of making their connections at Millgate. When the system has buses nearly every 1-2 minutes like this, they will be willing to again sacrifice the extra walk off the main route to get on their feeder.
The side effect of having more frequent express buses as the same route number is that there would be quicker boarding at stops along the way, and decrease travel time for all buses along the road. Instead of boarding 30 people at 100st, the frequency would mean the buses would board 3 people and be on the way when the next one arrives. There would not be a need for drivers to wait for the person running to get to the stop when the next one is approaching.
Currently for the morning rush hour, a feeder bus would arrive at Millgate, wait a few minutes, and leave with the 8 other buses timed to leave at the exact same minute. The result is a bus traffic jam where they all have to leapfrog around the 8, but during rush hour, passing is not possible for a bus.
The number reassignment also works for the morning rush hour, and would work very well to get commuters to work and school fast. When a feeder arrives at Millgate, they simply transition to become the 8x. They can stay until the bus is full or when the next 8x pulls into the station, in both cases leaving before their scheduled time because there are so many 8x routes in the system. This again spreads out the passengers on the buses reduce overcrowdedness.
Secondly with route numbering and commuter psychology, the same thing can be done with evening and off-peak routes. Rather than the 61, and 361, etc, just add an N for night route, making it 61N. On evening routes covering 2 daytime routes like the 360 covering 60 and 61, the bus could display both 60N and 61N so commuters don’t have to remember extra unfamiliar numbers, especially visitors to the city.
Another example is the 81 and 87. During the deviation between the two routes is that one travels on 99st until 76av, and the other travels on 96st until 76av. The 3 block difference based on the two numbers 81 and 87 means that someone who lives on 100st (no houses there, but it’s an example) would never dare to take the 87 even though it’s a 4 block distance for them (about 5 minutes walk). Again, using commuter psychology, those two routes could be changed to 81 and 81P since the current 87 is a peak hour version of the 81. By the way, it makes no sense that the 87 is the peak hour bus because it goes through a residential community, while the 81 goes down 99st bordered by an industrial zone.
Also at the same bus stop, route 90 is basically the express for route 83. Again, they could be changed to route 83 and 83x (or 90/90x to distinguish it from the other 80s which tend to travel to Capilano or Hazeldean), so if people miss the express, they could hop on the local to get to their destination.
Last note, in Hong Kong, the suffix goes further in that all buses linking to the subway have a M behind the route number for MTR system. In Edmonton, the route 9 could be 9L to indicate it connects to the LRT.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but in the last two decades, only two notable bus lanes have been added in the city (one along Fox Drive to South Campus station, and one on the permanent detour of downtown buses along 102Aav). There are 5 other places in Edmonton with bus lanes: 100st, 104st, 109st, 97st, Jasper Ave (Oliver), and Stony Plain Rd. There are dedicated busways on 104st, 114av, and 132Aav.
Since 2011, the City of Edmonton added 8km of bike lanes (note also 3.3km of LRT), with a 20 year plan for 500km of on-street cycling. Surely getting more people moving on buses using bus lanes should be at least equal or more of a priority than bicycles. When a pedestrian can walk from St Joseph’s Basilica (113st) to ATB Place (100st) and beat the bus during rush hour, you know that the Jasper Av rehabilitation project missed a huge opportunity to add transit infrastructure by opting for wider sidewalks instead of bus lanes.
Transit-Priority Construction Planning
The city fails transit during each construction season. Connors Road for the past couple years is a huge example where transit-priority is important. Buses were left to flow with one lane traffic during rush hour, making every route in Southeast Edmonton delayed, as rush hour buses change to feeder routes upon arrival at Millgate.
There are real solutions to the Connors Road construction and we only need to look at the example set by our hamlet to the east. That’s right, Strathcona County Transit already has live route changes dependent on traffic levels. During the peak of the traffic chaos along Connors, their buses detoured around the mess by taking 95av to 85st through Strathearn. Why couldn’t Edmonton Transit do the same thing? After all, it’s the same route that Valley Line LRT will be taking when complete. To ensure other drivers didn’t take the same detour, the city could have set a temporary bus trap or a manned passing gate to only allow transit and residents through. There are two bus traps in Edmonton, and several in Calgary. That would not only test the path of Valley Line, but keep transit flowing rather than delaying the entire system.
Transit-priority not only means bus right-of-way, but it also means that when stops are relocated during construction, that persons with mobility needs are able to access the stop. At Bonnie Doon, a bus stop was placed in the middle of the median as a temporary stop while the road was in maintenance. It is unacceptable for the transit system with 100% handicap accessible vehicles to not have proper access to them during construction changes.
Rail Line Interchange
Commuters who take the LRT daily will know that since Metro Line opened, there have been some major capacity and frequency issues. Since the Metro Line can only take 3 car trains, why should that be forced onto the entire system? During morning peak hours, commuters are asked to step off the train if not heading to the Metro Line destinations and wait for a 5-car Capital Line train. Essentially, this is no different than running a separate dedicated connection like most cities with mass rail services.
Besides cities the same size as Edmonton (Portland and Calgary), very few large cities runs several train routes on the same track (New York). Rather than making the longest-served commuters on the original 1978 track suffer by reducing their service, the city should really reconsider the long term efficiency of running Metro Line trains on the stub track down to Health Sciences where there isn’t even a transit centre for people to interchange.
To solve passenger congestion issues to the LRT, the Metro line should be reduced to a line running between NAIT and Churchill Station. Churchill Station can be used as an interchange station as it already is for passengers on the northeast leg of the Capital Line. This way, only those passengers going towards NAIT will get on the train, removing the need to ask people to get off midway on their journey. 5-car trains may continue to run along the entire stretch of the Capital Line without a 10 minute gap in between.
A train usually takes about 30 seconds to enter and leave a station for boarding. This means a stop point before Churchill isn’t really necessary as long as the Metro Line trains are timed in between the gaps when a Capital Line train is running. The in-out Churchill interchange is the best solution to the LRT woes. The Metro Line could essentially be served by only two or three trains operating back and forth as a shuttle between the 4 stations. This also reduces confusion of what line goes where, and the awkward end at Health Sciences station if you’re heading to South Campus and Southgate for a bus transfer.
If this carries forward, renovations could be made to Churchill for a truly separated platform for passengers to make the changeover, which would put an end to timing the two lines on the same track. Frequency and capacity for the entire LRT system would greatly be improved. Again, this may seem like a hassle to get off, but not only do half the riders on Capital line already do this, but most places where subways exist. People are willing to trade the hassle for a system that works.
Train Door Syncing
The light rail service in our city has been forced to become a mass rail system. With that comes the need to have consistent station stop times. Requiring passengers to open and close doors is antiquated on a commuter rail system. Doors on trains need to open and close at the same time. Even trains that have ability to open all doors at once are intermittently doing so based on the driver (rumour has it even the old train fleet can do open all doors at once as well). Opening all at once removes the idle time and the stop time. Currently if the train stops for 10 seconds and someone presses the button on the last second, the train is there to wait for someone to board and add time to the journey.
The current door warning system is in fact not a door warning system but one notifying passengers of anything between doors will be closing soon, to the train is about to attempt to depart for the 3rd time in a row. All door syncing will mean the audible signal is a clear warning that doors are closing now, and not a few seconds from now if no one comes on board or blocking the door. All door syncing in mass transit around the world ignore the users and close the door whether someone is in the way or running towards the train. Of course there are fail-safes if someone does happen to be in the way, but the big factor is it doesn’t wait around delaying the entire system. Door syncing is used in all subways around the world.
Designated queues have become more effective in subway systems with high capacity, allowing passengers to know exactly where the doors will open, and where alighting passengers will be directed. London’s Victoria Line, as well as Hong Kong’s entire MTR system, have the locations painted on the ground for where to wait. It also allows passengers to queue up for the next train arriving in 2 minutes when the train is full. This isn’t only for high capacity, but in times of low traffic as well. The designation means trains do not have to wait longer for passengers to guess where the doors will be when the train stops. Edmonton LRT already does this with handicap passenger door designation. With the 5 car trains having to stop end to end on the platforms, this could easily be implemented.
There are different ways to designate human flow for boarding. One is the way the MTR does this with queues on either side of the door so alighting passengers may depart directly forward. The second method is the way the old Hong Kong Kowloon-Canton Rail does this, with the queue spaced away from the platform to allow alighting passengers to flow to the sides. The third method is done by a few services, where the flow is the same as vehicular traffic, board on the right, alight on the left.
Open More Exits
On the New York MTA subway, emergency exits also serve as regular and handicap accessible entrances. While the older station designs didn’t exactly prepare the Big Apple for the ridership today, what New York does can teach us a valuable lesson in adapting to increased ridership. Take Century Park as an example. The narrow pedway and stairwell of the one exit that serves the station to the bus station and parking lot was not designed for peak hour capacity. In fact, the oft broken escalator actually serves as a blessing in disguise to ease pedestrian traffic.
Looking at the map of Century Park, there are solutions which only require minor tweaking. Currently there is only exit A for access to the bus station and parking lot. This could change if the emergency exits at the ends of the platform were open to allow pedestrians to cross the tracks and road by foot, like the new stations of the Metro Line. As a terminus station, the south end of the platform would not even need crossing arms, and only need to add a pedestrian light in sync with the current bus crossing already present. This option would also be an alternative handicap accessible entrance should either elevator on the platform or at the bus station be under maintenance.
At Southgate station, the stairwell to the eastbound buses is only one person wide. Being built in 2010, both of the stations of the south LRT had huge oversight in design for pedestrian traffic flow. This is not simply an issue of capacity, but also one for safety. It could become a huge liability were an emergency situation were to happen during rush down the pedway or stairs. In defence of the poor design at Southgate though, it appears that the missing pedway to the mall would explain the access to the station.
Using Existing Technology
We have the technology to know when a bus is early, on time, or running late. This information is even on Google maps transit planning in real time. Using this technology, drivers from feeder routes can use or be notified when a main route is running a few minutes late.
During peak periods, up to 5 main route buses could leave downtown within the same 5 minute span. The same happens at transit centres. Oftentimes next-to-empty community routes will be departing the transit centre just as several main routes arrive. If operators are aware that their bus is aware of this and hold – up to 5 minutes – for main routes, it would increase efficiency and decrease commute time. It would also reduce a delays for the next feeder route which then has twice the load to stop and go on the route.
Wayfinding Made Simple
There’s a whole separate article about simplifying the wayfinding model in LRT stations. They not only improve user experience and social interaction, but save money in the long term because signs do not need to be changed over time when businesses move or destination names change. Exit letters can be added easily and clear up a lot of over signage. See this article for more.
The above recommendations should not brushed off lightly by Edmonton Transit, or any transit service wishing to improve service. These are low cost changes which could be implemented within a couple months. While medium-sized cities like Edmonton continue to hire management and evaluations by non-transit users, it’s time for transit services to start looking at recommendations by riders of the system especially when they make sense both in cost and benefit. Any changes individually or together as a whole would not only improve the transit system, but save money and impact future-proofing the system. Stay tuned for coverage of future-proofing transit in urban planning and design.