TransLink’s Ridership Numbers – Can They Be Trusted?


Several local blogs have trumpeted TransLink’s claim that March’s ridership is up over 19% from the same time last year.

Yet ‘Zwei’ has some nagging questions as to how TransLink counts transit ridership, especially on the metro system.

Back in BC Transit days, the transit agency proclaimed in annual news releases; “that ridership on the SkyTrain metro has increased by over 10%“, without giving actual ridership numbers. After a great deal of research, ‘Zwei’ found that the numbers claimed by BC Transit for SkyTrain’s ridership had no basis and in fact, were quite misleading. Unlike Calgary Transit’s light rail system, which counted actual (all) boardings three times a year, BC Transit counted partial boardings and relied mainly on estimating car loadings at key points along the line. Further information revealed that bureaucrats were counting 100 persons per full (MK1) SkyTrain vehicle, instead of the at capacity of 75 persons. Also, after finding some base numbers to work with, if one added 10% increases every year as BC Transit claimed, ridership would be on par with what TransLink claims today!

In conversation with a high ranking BC Transit bureaucrat at the time, I was told that; “No way could BC Transit count actual boardings three times a year, as we don’t have the manpower to do it.

Welcome to 2010.

The SkyTrain metro system is a very expensive operation and needs every cent it can get from TransLink’s farepool, to maintain and operate its ever expanding fleet of vehicles. TransLink has admitted that 80% of SkyTrain customers first use a bus to get to the metro, thus the fare pool share for SkyTrain must take in account this alarming number. Most fares are bought through agents such as grocery and convenience stores, thus revenue collected goes first into a farepool (or whatever you may wish to call it). If the SkyTrain bureaucrats still want to maintain the fairytale that SkyTrain pays its operating costs, it must get an increasing share of the farepool. By overstating ridership on the SkyTrain system, enables bureaucrats to get a larger share of TransLink’s farepool, with the result of robbing the buses of their rightful share of revenue.

TransLink is quite sensitive on the fare evasion issue and the installation of turnstiles; could it be that turnstiles, which are very good at counting ridership, will reveal that TransLink has greatly exaggerated ridership, while at the same time gave a impression of massive fare evasion? It’s too simple, if fare revenue is much less than claimed ridership numbers, then the only assumption is that of massive fare evasion!

Taking a portion of the farepool revenue is called apportioning fares.

With the Seabus, Canadian maritime law demands that exact boarding counts must be made for maritime safety, which was done by having customers pass through turnstiles.

The Canada Line, being a P-3 is even more revenue sensitive than SkyTrain and although it has laser style automatic passenger counters, TransLink doesn’t reveal that if those numbers are indeed the ones claimed for ridership purposes. If the automatic counters are not accurate and if are giving higher than real ridership figures, all is well as the Canada Line will receive more than its fair share from TransLink’s farepool. A nifty trick if you can get away with it.

Before we believe TransLink’s claims of increased ridership, the following questions must be asked:

  1. How is ridership counted on bus, Seabus, and the metro system? Are they full boarding counts?
  2. Is there an independent audit of ridership numbers done on an annual or bi annual basis?
  3. What are the annual fare evasion numbers? What percentage of ridership are they?
  4. What portion of the farepool is apportioned to bus; Seabus; the SkyTrain metro; the Canada line metro?
  5. Why will the provincial government not let BC’s Auditor General audit TransLink’s books?
  6. Are the Canada Line’s automatic passenger counters accurate? Has anyone audited their accuracy?

Before we invest any more money into the regions’ metro and bus system, the taxpayer must be assured that the transit system is giving good value for money. At present, all the public has is TransLink’s word for it and past experience dictate that TransLink’s word is not worth a plugged nickle. Just go and ask Susan Heyes!


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4 Responses to “TransLink’s Ridership Numbers – Can They Be Trusted?”

  1. Carl Wimmer Says:

    I have found that when people want to stop something, they will say anything, accuse anyone, make it up.

    The sky trains are full. Don’t believe me – go to burrard station or go to metrotown (which is the busiest station).

    The more attractive you can make a transit system, the more you attract people to it who have alternatives. Skytrain to UBC is not just a replacement for some existing bus traffic but rather an enticement to change the way lots of people currently get to UBC.

    I have a prediction. Put in a full skytrain system along broadway to UBC and two things will happen.

    1) the amount of car traffic on the west side will drop, perhaps dramatically

    2) and like metrotown, one of the very busiest stations will be cambie and broadway, a non downtown destination.

    Zweisystem replies: Sure the SkyTrain metro is full – at peak hours, just as every other transit system is at peak hours. Off peak, it is a different story. But here’s the rub, you can not operate a transit system economically unless there is a honest annual statistical analysis. If TransLink can’t offer a honest analysis, they they can not operate the transit system economically.

    Carry 6,000 pphpd with train capacity offered at 7,000 pphpd – crowded trains but there is enough space for everyone.
    Carry 6,000 pphpd with train capacity offered at 5,000 pphpd – at capacity trains and customers left behind, give the appearance of more people using the transit system than there really is.

    By the way Bob, despite all the hype and hoopla of TransLink, TransLink has never claimed any modal shift from car to transit.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Zwei, you appear to be accusing Translink of simultaneously running trains that are empty, with trains that are overfull. Your daily rhetoric on Translink’s numbers is tiring. Yet at the same time you are against fare gates.

    Zweisystem replies: I am not accusing TransLink of running empty trains, I do believe that TransLink is overstating ridership. TransLink is not putting in simple turnstiles, rather extremely expensive automated fare gates. I always believed SkyTrain’s stations should have had a turnstile system, as does the Seabus, to gather accurate ridership counts for statistical analysis.

    Zweisystem is asking very important questions that the media never ask and I find the SkyTrain Lobby’s rhetoric equally tiresome. What is done in other countries and should be done here is an annual or biannual independent audit of TransLink and ridership by BC’s Auditor General, to ensure what TransLink claims are indeed true. Now what is so tiresome in that.

  3. David Says:

    After an initial burst of activity counting passengers things on the Canada Line got rather lax. Staff were few and far between and I never saw anyone checking fares.

    However things changed again this week. Staff are frequently seen standing at platform entrances with hand-held counters asking to see tickets/passes. This morning I was able to get on my train without seeing any staff, but there were 7 fare checkers/security people at Waterfront making sure the tourists weren’t trying to pull a fast one.

    Tuesday afternoon I was walking the long tunnel to Waterfront with a group of three 20-somethings. When I reached the platform there was a green jacket asking to see tickets. The three behind me turned around and I heard one say “what are we going to do now?”. Obviously they had counted on being able to ride free.

    All we need to do to stop casual evaders is to have the staff already in the stations ask to see tickets on a fairly regular basis. We don’t need to spend $100M on electronic gates and whatever it costs to keep those gates in good working order.

    If someone is really determined to get a free ride they’ll find a way even with gates and staff.

    Zweisystem replies: Some years ago I took SkyTrain to royal Oak station to conduct some business at a near by establishment. Upon leaving at noon to return I saw not less than 50 students being turned away from the station because they didn’t have tickets.

  4. john Says:

    Interesting post. I’ve been looking for ridership figures per station but can’t seem to find them – do they exist?

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