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A TransLink bus boarding commuters at UBC Exchange. Photo: Megavarshini G. Somasundaram

TransLink ridership rebounds — and that’s not necessarily good

TransLink says, if the current recovery trends continue, there is a risk that rates of overcrowding on the system will increase

By Megavarshini G. Somasundaram , in City , on November 7, 2023

Isabel Rodrigo started going to her downtown Vancouver bus stop this summer 10 minutes earlier than she ever had before. That’s the only way the third-year nursing student could  get a seat on the bus to the University of B.C. – a big change from what it had been like for two years during the pandemic.

“The buses are packed, and in most instances, particularly in the mornings, the drivers have to skip stops in order to avoid overcrowding the bus,” Rodrigo said.

Rodrigo is experiencing firsthand what statistics are documenting – that the transit system is up to 81.1 per cent of its pre-pandemic loads. B.C.’s urban transit ridership reached 38.6 million trips in August 2023, compared to 43.5 million trips in the same month in 2019.

That means going back to a system that is overcrowded.

Rodrigo’s experiences are reflected in a study conducted by TransLink earlier this summer.

“If current ridership recovery trends from 2022 continue into 2023, there is a risk that rates of overcrowding on the system may continue to increase, and service won’t be able to keep pace with growing communities,.” the study found.

The new, heavy loads are something the TransLink bus operators are noticing as well.

“As far as buses are concerned, they are very busy. I am forced to skip stops and people get really frustrated as they rely on buses to get to classes,” said Timothy Wolshlager, who operates the Number 14 bus between UBC and East Hastings. “I notice overcrowding, especially on this route.”

While Wolshlager said the public transit share in Vancouver is high due to the start of classes in schools, colleges, and universities, experts also attribute it to increasing gasoline prices and fewer concerns about COVID-19. In August, gasoline prices soared to $2.069 a litre.

Robin Lindsey. Photo: UBC Sauder School of Business

“The price of gasoline is higher in Vancouver when compared to the other major Canadian cities, drawing the public to use TransLink and SkyTrain,” said Robin Lindsey, operations and logistics professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “Second, people aren’t as worried about taking the bus, though there are still fluctuations in the COVID-19 cases.”

Statistics show that the urban transit systems in B.C. in August generated $86 million in revenue, excluding subsidies, down five per cent from $91 million in revenue in the same month in 2019. B.C. and territorial urban public transit systems were quicker to rebound than other regions of the country as the pandemic started to wane. Lindsey said this means the service gets further improved and increased.