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Bus Service: Keep It Simple, Increase Ridership

Posted on 30 November 2011

rush{hour}rush{hour} by DJHuber


I’m going to take this one as vindication.

The city of Fort St. John has reported a 29.9% increase in ridership over the past year (the highest for BC Transit which serves Prince George, Victoria, and most other major B.C. cities outside Vancouver). The main reason, according to Victor Shopland, Director of Infrastructure and Capital Works?

“The big thing is that we changed the routes and we put the transfer station back down at the Cultural Centre. All the buses now meet together at the same time in half hour routes that are more convenient (emphasis mine).”

Earlier this year I wrote an overly-complicated post that basically says that the number one problem with Prince George’s transit service is it’s just too complicated. Trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B cannot be done quickly or intuitively, in part because there is no main hub, and also because they don’t leave with any consistency– you could be waiting at any given stop for any length of time between 15 minutes and an hour. From that post:

“I’d argue that if you were to worry less about hitting every side street as effectively as possible and instead focus on main roads and more frequent departures, you’d see a big uptick in people using this system…  This might not be the MOST EFFICIENT route to take, but it is the MOST CONSISTENT. It would be easier to understand. If you know which main roads your destination is near, you know, roughly, how to get there. And you know how long you have to wait, transfers and all, because EVERYTHING leaves every fifteen minutes. Or half an hour, if that’s too often for the system to bear. But at least YOU KNOW.”

Fort St. John did this, and they’re seeing results. In fact, my central word (consistent) is attributed to Shopland in the article:

“He pointed out that having the buses all come together at one location creates consistency so people know exactly where and when they can always get on the bus.”

I even had the opportunity to interview Mr. Shopland in preparation for his appearance on CBC, discussing Fort St. John’s success. I asked him whether the increase might be attributed to other factors– more elderly, more students, more temporary workers, less gas money. He said it was possible, but was adamant that the consistent departure times of half-an-hour and central hub were the number one factor, to the point that there was a measurable uptick in use almost from day one these changes were implemented.

I’m glad Fort St. John is having this success. And I truly hope that other cities are paying attention.

See also: What Bus Systems Could Learn From the iPhone

Filed under: Best Of, Prince George, transit

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