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A guide to a more frequent, affordable, and accessible transit system for Guelph

The following article contains research from a report prepared by “Functional Transit Winnipeg” called MAKING TRANSIT FUNCTIONAL: A guide to a frequent, affordable, and accessible system in Winnipeg” 

We have modified and edited parts of this source material to include relevant information specific to Guelph.

Essential components of a Transit Trip

The solution to creating an effective transit service begins and ends with overall trip time and service convenience. For this reason, it is important to consider all stages of a trip made on public transit.

In the below report, we provide a break down the components of a transit trip and the needs of transit riders, clarifying the factors that make for a positive transit experience and the process of achieving them. A transit trip is made up of more than just riding the bus.

Transit consultant Jarret Walker divides a transit trip into a series of steps (Source: Walker, J. Human Transit. (Washington: Island Press, 2012): Pg 34-35

1. Understanding the trip: finding and reading the schedule as well as calculating the routes and times necessary to complete the trip
2. Accessing the bus stop: getting to the bus stop
3. Waiting for the bus
4. Boarding and paying
5. Riding the bus
6. Connecting: transferring to a different bus (which could include repeating steps 2-5)
7. Accessing: getting from the stop to the destination

This is a clear structure for calculating how to invest in transit and what types of investments will have the most benefit for transit. Each step of a trip is affected by different factors such as bus stop proximity, bus frequency, payment method, etc.

However, each of these steps is not equal. Time perception differs between each step. The most onerous parts of a trip feel like they take more time while easier parts of a trip feel like they take less time. Walking and waiting is typically the most onerous. Walker cites the Transit Capacity and Quality Service Manual which states that walking and waiting time feels on average twice as long as in-bus time, while time spent between transfers feels 2.5 times longer than in-bus time (Walker, Human Transit: P 36)

A majority of the research out there estimates out-of-bus travel time to feel 1.5-2.3 times longer than in-bus time (Source: Van de Walle, S., and T. Steenberghen. “Space and time-related determinants of public transport use in trip chains”. Transportation Research Part A. 40 no. 2 (2006): Pg 152 ); Isecki et al states that out-of-bus travel time can feel 1.5 to 4.5 times more burdensome than in-vehicle time (Source: Iseki, I., Smart, M., Taylor, B. D., & Yoh, A. 2012. “Thinking Outside the Bus.” Access 40: Pg 9-15)

Given that waiting and walking time feel much longer than in-bus time, getting to the bus stop, waiting for the bus, transferring buses and getting from the stop to the destination should be considered more important in terms of overall service quality for transit riders than bus speed.

Bus frequency improves speed in steps 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7 of a transit trip; it will also make step 5 less stressful. Frequent bus service on our current bus routes means current bus stops remain accessible and waits and transfers are short.

Critical Elements to be considered when investing in Transit

When making a transit investment it is important to remember some very important factors.

These factors all relate to one another.

1. Walkability
Walkability is one of the most important factors to consider when investing in public transit.

This means placing transit stops within an easy walking distance of both riders’ homes and their destinations.

Transit stations must be located in walkable areas – areas where it is easy to get from place to place on foot. Walking and transit go hand in hand (Source: Wey, W.M., and Y.H. Chiu. “Assessing the walkability of the pedestrian environment under the transit-oriented development”. Habitat International. 38 (2013): Pg. 107 )

According to Jarrett Walker, “while there are many ways to get to a transit stop, we plan for one method above all: walking. Sooner or later, everyone is a pedestrian. You may arrive at a stop by connecting transit service or by car or by bike, but unless you take your bike onboard, you’ll still be a pedestrian at your destination.” (Walker, Human Transit: Pg 61)

2. Safety
Safety is often cited by riders as very important (Source: Taylor, B., Haas, P., Boyd, B., Hess, D. B., Iseki, H., & Yoh, A. “Increasing Transit Ridership: Lessons from the Most Successful Transit Systems in the 1990s.” San Jose: Mineta Transportation Institute, 2002: Pg 21). Safety can be improved through a number of measures including bus station patrols, better lighting at stations, surveillance cameras (Guelph Transit buses and Guelph Central Station have them installed for both rider and driver safety). Bus stops and stations can also be placed in pre-existing areas of high activity where “eyes on the street” create both real safety as well as a feeling of safety (Source: Oc, T. and S. Tiesdell. “The Fortress, the panoptic, the regulatory and the animated: planning and urban design approaches to safer city centres”. Landscape Research. 24 no. 3 (1999): Pg 276-277 ) Of all of the options listed above, utilizing “eyes on the streets” is most cost-effective because it creates natural perceptions of safety without having to pay for monitoring.

3. Serving the existing urban form
The existing urban environment is the area which riders travel to and from. This is important for designing successful bus rapid transit corridors and transit investment in general (Source: Ontario Professional Planners Institute. Plain Transit for Planners: Pg 2-3) Urban developments that accommodate transit should be the target of improved transit service. This means that stops must be accessible and near amenities that transit riders already use.

Essentially these areas must make it easy to carry out the seven steps of a transit trip. According to Delbosc and Currie, “integration of BRT design is important to ridership generation. This concerns both integration of BRT routes into the wider transit network and integration of street access into urban development within station catchments.” (Source: Currie, G. and A. Delbosc. “Understanding bus rapid transit route ridership drivers: An empirical study of Australian BRT systems.” Transport Policy 18, no. 5 (2011): Pg 763)

4. Competing with other modes of transportation (i.e. overall trip speed, cost etc.)
Transit improvement is relative, not absolute. The effectiveness of transit investment should be considered in terms of its relative usefulness next to other modes of transportation. Usefulness can be denominated in terms of convenience or overall cost.

While private vehicles have a relatively high financial cost, buses have a relatively high time cost. How people value their time is an important consideration for why transit investment is often aimed at reducing in-bus time relative to a private automobile. Essentially, a car is expensive, while a bus is inconvenient or, alternatively, a car is convenient while a bus is affordable. Making transit relatively more attractive comes in two forms: making cars more expensive or less convenient to use or making taking transit cheaper or more convenient (Source: Chen, C., Varley, D., and Chen, J. “What Affects Transit Ridership? A Dynamic Analysis involving Multiple Factors, Lags and Asymmetric Behaviour.” Urban Studies 48, no. 9 (2011): Pg 1894)

5. What Transit Riders Want
Research on what transit riders prefer tends to fall into two different types: research that directly asks riders what they want and research that uses data on ridership changes as an indicator of whether the investment is meeting riders’ needs. Both sets of research are important.

What Guelphities say they want happens to be exactly what the research says people want: they want higher frequency service, they want improved reliability, they want accessible stops,  and they want affordable fares (Source: Guelph Transit Growth Strategy and Plan and Mobility Services Review – Final Report Pg 61)

Additionally, for public transit to stay relevant, it must provide service to the destinations to which Guelphities are actually going.

6. What do Guelph Transit Riders Say
In consultations with Guelphities, researchers for the Guelph Transit Growth Strategy and Plan and Mobility Services Review and the Guelph-Wellington Transportation Study found that bus frequency and improved reliability were the top 2 priorities for transit named by citizens. (Source: Guelph Transit Growth Strategy and Plan and Mobility Services Review)

Consultations also found that Guelphites wanted to extend service hours on Sundays, expanded routes, and improved frequency on weekends. (Sources: Guelph Transit Growth Strategy and Plan and Mobility Services Review Pg 61 and 2015 Moving Guelph Forward Transit Strategy)

7. What the research says
Research has found that frequency, low fares, safety, and reliability are the factors that have the largest impact on ridership.

In a review of 12 American transit agencies that increased service in the 1990s, Taylor et al. found that increased operating hours had “by far the highest correlation between any [transit service specific] factor and ridership increase.” (Source: Taylor, B., et al. “Increasing Transit Ridership: Lessons from the Most Successful Transit Systems in the 1990s”: Pg. 48)

Taylor et al. also reviewed the research literature on transit, finding that among factors that transit agencies had control over, “increasing the quantity of service (in terms of service coverage and service frequency) and reducing fares are both found to have significant effects on ridership.” (Source: Taylor, B., et al. “Increasing Transit Ridership”: Pg 21)

The direction of causation is important (whether an increase in ridership causes demand for greater service or whether better service led to more people choosing to ride public transit), and demand has been found to follow supply improvements. Taylor et al. are careful to avoid declaring the direction of causality, but in an interview process with transit managers, they found that transit professionals from agencies that increased ridership in the 1990s believed that service improvements were followed by increases in demand. (Source: Taylor, B., et al. “Increasing Transit Ridership”: Pg 107).

Research on service quantity and fare changes has shown that transit improvement is followed by an increase in ridership – albeit with a lag time (Source: Chen, C. et al. “What Affects Transit Ridership? A Dynamic Analysis involving Multiple Factors, Lags and Asymmetric Behaviour”: Pg 1904)
Plain Transit for Planners, from the Ontario Professional Planners Institute, confirms that frequency is important and also emphasizes the importance of accessible urban design:
“Key considerations for transit service include frequency of service, customer service, affordability, and safety. The environment, which incorporates street design, transit access points, and neighbourhood design, must be supportive of transit service. The success of the transit provider is otherwise limited.” (Source: Ontario Professional Planners Institute. Plain Transit for Planners: Pg. 2-3)

Research on bus rapid transit systems has also found that the factors most commonly associated with increased ridership are higher frequency, lower fares, and network comprehensiveness. Statistically significant factors on daily ridership numbers, found by Hensher and Li, are shown below in the order of greatest impact to least. Note, that the top five factors can all be achieved without having an actual BRT system.

1. Fares
2. Frequency of service
3. Length of network
4. A shorter average distance between stations
5. Integration with existing transit routes and network
6. Pre-board fare collection
7. Maintaining a high-quality service level

(Source: Hensher, D. A. and Z. Li. “Ridership Drivers of Bus Rapid Transit Systems.” Transportation 39 no. 6 (2012): Pg. 1218)

Research on BRT in Australia concluded that “All tests, including some tests after accounting for the effects of service levels, suggest that the quantity of services supplied dominates as an influence on ridership.” (Source: Currie and Delbosc. “Understanding bus rapid transit route ridership drivers”: Pg 763)

8. Frequency is Freedom

“Frequency and span are the essence of freedom for a transit passenger. High-frequency, long-span service is there whenever you want to use it, even for spontaneous trips.” (Source: Walker, Human Transit: Pg 85)

Frequent service is the most common factor in high ridership because it is the factor that makes transit convenient. Frequent service means speedy access to a moving vehicle going in the direction that the rider needs or wants to go and it also means speedier transfer times.

When riders need to get to diverse destinations, transfers are necessary. Frequent service makes transfers much less onerous because a rider knows they don’t have to wait long for their connection, and if they do miss their connection, another one is coming soon. Of all the parts of a transit trip, transfers are the part that riders have the least control over – they don’t control where they transfer, how long they have to wait, how many transfers they will have to make and whether their buses will arrive at transfer points on time. Frequent service makes transfer points more flexible and thus more reliable.

Ultimately, bus frequency makes public transit competitive with private automobiles – it makes it available when it is needed – and competitive transit is functional transit. The goal should be having a bus arriving when a rider needs it.

9. Where Guelphities are going

The places that Guelphities are going must also be taken into account. This should be a major consideration for transit investment.

While Downtown and the University does dominate as the main two destinations, the majority of trips made by Guelphities are either within their own neighbourhoods or to work outside these areas. At present, the 99 Mainline and routes with higher frequency (a bus every 20 minutes) during rush hour are well-served, while there is still a major need for buses that serve destinations within neighbourhoods and other areas more frequently.

Additionally, trips made by Guelphites are quite diverse. While trips to work and school are the largest single trip purpose, medical appointments, shopping and leisure trips combined make up an even larger proportion of trips. Our Transit service should reflect these diverse needs. (Source: 2010 Guelph Transit Growth Strategy and Plan and Mobility Services Review – Final Report Pg 89 and 2015 Moving Guelph Forward Transit Strategy Pg 15)