TransLink Struggles to Get Public on Board with 10-Year Plan

TransLink’s month-long consultation about the region’s transportation future wraps up today, but despite the online tools designed to make participation in the process easier, a lot of Vancouverites seem dissatisfied.

I rode the 99 from UBC to Broadway Station and back this morning, chatting with fellow transit users about TransLink’s consultations. I found lots of people with strong opinions, but finding people who took the time to share those opinions with TransLink was another matter entirely.

“I didn’t bother getting involved because it wouldn’t have mattered,” Evan Fordham said bluntly. He held on to the bright yellow support bar overhead while he explained, “Everybody knows they need to run more buses more often. If the bus I’m on is a minute or two late, I miss my transfer and sometimes I get stuck waiting twenty minutes for the next bus. Other times, I’m standing at a stop and my bus drives right by because it’s full.”

As he wove his way through the other morning commuters jostling to get off at the Broadway and Granville stop, Fordham asked, “Why should I waste my time telling TransLink what they already know?”

Sherry Masterson didn’t participate in the online consultation either. While waiting for the 99 at Broadway Station, Masterson explained her reasoning.

“I looked at TransLink’s proposals, but the process seemed so artificial that I decided not to get involved.” She glanced at her watch and then down the street in search of the bus she would ride to work. “The only options they gave us were cut services across the board, maintain current service levels everywhere, or spend a lot more to increase all services. There was no option to, say, cut SkyTrain services and then invest those savings in increasing bus services.”

Masterson’s concerns about the consultation process’ limitations were echoed on a TransLink message board by a user identified as ‘screamingslave.’

“This ‘plan’ really only offers you 3 options. Cuts, status quo, huge increase. What I'd like to see is something more interactive,” screamingslave explained. “For example bus service would be from ‘no busses’ to ‘busses every 5 minutes system wide’ with the current service level in the middle. And as you move the slider back and forth the budget line item for ‘bus service’ on the right side of the survey increases or decreases accordingly.

“You could then have sliders like this for all ‘costs’ and all ‘revenue streams’ with the appropriate consequences etc laid out along the slider. This way people could ‘balance the books’ according to their own priorities and see how the reprecussions (sic) play out in real time.”

As screamingslave suggested, TransLink made an effort to construct an online tool that allows users to make choices between cutting, maintaining and improving services. Users can make decisions about service levels and then must decide how to pay for their choices, just as TransLink officials will have have to do in the coming months.

However, the online tool constrains users to the options presented in the three plans TransLink is considering. They can pick and choose pieces from the three plans, but they aren’t able to offer their own ideas. That’s what the message boards are for.

A number of users ended up using the message boards to criticize the consultation process itself. As one user, posting as ‘brunogerussi’ stated, “The engineered ‘choices’ presented on this forum did not enhance TransLink’s reputation.”

At the time of writing, approximately 10,000 visitors had participated in the consultation using the online tool, and several message boards had hosted rigorous debates over the city’s future transit needs.

All feedback received through the consultation process, which ends today, will be incorporated into TransLink’s plans. Those plans will be presented to TransLink’s Board of Directors and the Mayor’s Council in September.

Photo by Brandi Cowen of UBC Bus Loop: Passengers Getting off Bus or Students Getting off Bus
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