The Drive’s main bus route, how do we fucking loathe thee? Let us count the ways.
By Denzel Brownlove
Special transit correspondent to The CROWS.
Analysis and Opinion
MAIN POINTS IN BRIEF:
- Even though officially Bus 20 arrives every 10 minutes, on average, in reality it is closer to every 20 minutes because the service is so unreliable due to heavy vehicle traffic and passenger overcrowding.
- Of all the bus routes serving the Greater Downtown Eastside and The Drive, Bus 20 is the busiest, with 25,000 riders per day on average Monday to Friday. It’s the third busiest in Metro Vancouver.
- An internet search for “the worst bus route in Vancouver” brings up Bus 20, with commenters complaining about two or three buses routinely arriving together, and the bus being filled with addicts, alcoholics, “smelly people” and verbally and physically violent passengers.
- Bus 20 is also unreliable due to the high number of very old and physically disabled people boarding via wheelchairs and walkers, each of which slows progress.
- Translink has improved service on 50 routes throughout Metro Vancouver this year, but there has been virtually no improvement in any service in the Vancouver inner city that includes Grandview-Woodlands and the Greater Downtown Eastside.
- THE CROWS proposes the frequency of Bus 20 be improved to arrival every five minutes for much of the day and night, and that the service terminate at Hastings. Passengers can then change to one of four buses – 16, 14, 7 or 4 on either Hastings or Cordova at Commercial. This would make for a far quicker trip from Broadway-Commercial Skytrain station to downtown than currently.
- THE CROWS calls on the new GreeNDP government to improve funding to Translink to allow additional service improvements in addition to those already proposed in the 10-year plan. We urge Vancouver-Mt Pleasant NDP Melanie Mark to speak to her NDP colleague Clare Trevena, Minister of Transportation, and bring the situation re Bus 20 to her attention. It is intolerable and fucking annoying.
- Instead of a bike lane on Commercial, a dedicated lane for buses and HOV vehicles makes better sense. Actually The Drive could host both a two-way bikeway in a single lane and a dedicated bus lane.
ALONG HASTINGS you have buses 14, 16 and 20, so that it is rare to wait longer than five minutes. Along Powell and Cordova you have buses 4 and 7, while on Pender there are buses 19 and 22 in addition to the 4 and 7.
On Main you have the 3 and the 8. Given its location right in the path of access to downtown from the eastern part of Vancouver, and indeed the entire Metro Vancouver area, the Downtown Eastside is, not surprisingly, well served by buses. We even have the 95 Express out to SFU, and a bunch of buses to the North Shore.
But there is one glaring exception to the satisfactory nature of local transit. And that is Bus 20. If simply traveling east-west along Hastings or into downtown, it’s not a factor because there are so many choices of different buses. But for going up and down Commercial Drive, getting to Broadway-Commercial Skytrain, or traveling the “L”-shaped route down The Drive and then along Hastings – the Number 20 is infamous as one of the worst routes in the city (see first-person eye witness accounts from the hallowed internet later in this report).
On paper it (the 20) would not appear to be so bad, though even there it ain’t great. The schedule for the No. 20 is a dog’s breakfast of changing frequencies of which it is difficult to make sense. The rates of arrival range from every six minutes to 12 minutes – no doubt based on ridership patterns as studied by Translink.
What is commonly known throughout the kingdom is that Translink is the least competent government organization in BC, and provokes intense dislike, contempt and even hatred far and wide among Metro Vancouverites. Yes, even more than ICBC. If you want proof make it your business to go through internet archives pertaining to the referendum, in 2015, asking for a regional sales tax increase of 0.5 percent to pay for transit improvements. The full extent of loathing for Translink became abundantly evident throughout that exercise.
EVERY TEN MINUTES ON AVERAGE? IN YOUR DREAMS
On average Bus 20 is on more or less a nine to 10-minute rotation, from Harrison Loop at its southern end near the Fraser River all the way to Richards at Georgia. But that state of affairs is so hypothetical it requires extreme suspension of disbelief to imagine it will pertain in the real world. This is because it is now an article of faith that the Bus 20 does not arrive on time and then two or more arrive back to back. Those are just the facts ma’am!
Given the 20 is the third busiest route in Western Canada, after the 99 and the 41, and it is the only bus up and down The Drive, an average frequency of 10 minutes is really not good enough. For such a busy route a frequency around every five minutes is justified, given the special conditions that apply. Of course if the official frequency was five minutes we would still end up waiting for 10 minutes because two or more would arrive back to back, but that is tolerable. Waiting 10 minutes is just okay, waiting 20 minutes is definitely not okay.
It is fucking infuriating. The Bus 20 provokes a lot of bad language in this town. It is almost certainly a contributing factor to ulcers and dental bruxism – the grinding of teeth. Doctors and dentists love Bus 20 – see how many medical and dental offices are located along its route. Yeah.
The number 20 could in fact refer to the actual frequency of the bus, as in every 20 minutes. That is only if you are not unlucky, in which case waits of a half hour are not unheard of. It should be renamed the Number 30! For an inner-city bus route, the third busiest in the entire system, this is nothing short of an outrage. WTF with bells on!
RATE OF TRAVEL INFURIATINGLY SLOW
And if the lack of punctuality does not get under your skin, then the rate of travel is so slow you may as well take a single horse-drawn milk cart. Cycling is definitely quicker. It often takes fifty minutes from Hastings and Princess to the Broadway-Commercial Skytrain station – this writer does the trip far too frequently and has timed the ride many times while wading through the works of Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dickens while also completing a thesis on daily irritants in Ancient Sumeria.
The ox-drawn cart in 4000BC, in which wheels were made from a solid piece of wood, was at least as comfortable as Bus 20 Victoria-Downtown circa 2017. Six thousand years of technological advance have brought us the rubber wheel and springs but they have also brought us, on Commercial Drive and Hastings, proximity to our fellow citizens that is profoundly unwholesome. Galley slaves get more personal space than Bus 20 riders. It is crowded like commuter rail in Japan. More than 25,000 people ride it per day. And that includes a good number of folk for whom personal hygiene is not a strong suit.
Frankly, there’s a better than even chance the ride will feature some impromptu ‘cabaret’ involving, inter alia, the mentally ill (who deserve better treatment than having to ride this shitshow of a bus), the addicted and the alcoholic. Shouting, profanity, hysteria, violent words and not uncommonly violent behaviour. This writer has witnessed drivers on the No. 20 getting out of their seats and coming down the aisle to get right in the face of belligerent passengers.
WORST BUS ROUTE IN METRO VANCOUVER
Google “the worst bus route in Vancouver” and see what comes up. I’ll save you the trouble. Here it is, word for word: Answering the question “What do you think the worst bus route in the city is?” No. 20 comes up first. We get this from Sonya.D. “The 20. Sometimes in the past I had a lot of spare time to get from Granville station to Commercial station so I ended up taking the bus instead of the train. Every time there would be crazy drug addicts and smelly people. One guy told me about how he was trying to score some heroin followed by asking me to check out his bloody, infected ear. Then he asked me for my number. Tempting, but I declined.”
Nice. Then What the FAQ, who says he (she) is a driver, chimes in: “I’m a driver and have done this route a lot over the years. Sucks for us too.”
Hamischlammengamen jumps in with: “I was gonna say the 20, too. It’s never on time, ever. It’s constantly choked by the ridiculous number of passengers, stacking three, four, and sometimes five buses to be consecutively late. There’s also an hour-long gap in service on the late night runs, where there is no service between 41st to Marine. The worst part for me is that there is no alternative to taking the 20 either, because Translink reduced service on the 29 to next to nothing.”
Leeroy takes up the cudgels with these sentiments: “When it comes to the 20 my expectations are zero. I go to the bus stop on Commercial and I start walking in the direction I want to go until I see one coming and stop at the nearest bus stop. It’s completely unreliable, I’ve gotten to the point where I have accepted my fate when I need that bus and know what to expect, or not to expect.”
Nothing Better has this to say: “Seriously. Screw the 20. There’s never a shortage of creepy drunk people on that bus, and the Victoria is always late. I once gave up on waiting for the Victoria and decided to start walking, figuring that I’d just hop on when it finally caught up. Ninety minutes later, I was home. The bus never passed me.” Quenchiest complains that “It’s also consistently late. I’ve waited 45 minutes for a bus during rush hour before to see three buses come by together.”
I think the claim that sometimes five buses in a row are late might be gilding the lily, but your correspondent rests his case visa-vis the unreliability. In addition to overcrowding it is also true that a disproportionate number of the ‘ridiculous number’ of passengers are also disabled in one way or another.
MANY BUS 20 RIDERS IN WHEELCHAIRS – SLOWING BOARDING FURTHER
Walkers, push wheelchairs, motor wheelchairs and strollers get on at every third stop more or less and slow the process of getting on and off a great deal. One particularly slow person with a walker or wheelchair can literally take five to 10 minutes from time of bus arrival to departure. For this reason the frequency of Bus 20 needs to be improved from every 10 minutes to five minutes or less. It is the old, lame and cripple express!
Further, traffic on The Drive is insane, most all day and night. There are so many shops and restaurants drawing people from throughout the City of Vancouver and beyond this needs to be taken into account re bus frequency. The rate of travel is unacceptable.
Here’s another angle on it all. Let’s consider someone waiting at Cordova and Gore, in the heart of the DTES, waiting for a bus to travel a half kilometer or so in either direction. They would have a choice of either the 4 or the 7, both of which have a rotation of 20 minutes. Given the staggering of the times they arrive the frequency then comes down to every 10 minutes, the same as the No. 20. But fewer people take the 7 and the 4 combined than the No. 20, and the traffic on Cordova and Powell is a fraction of that on The Drive. So then why would they get equal treatment?
Given the crowding on Bus 20, the “socio-economic” nature of many passengers, the increasing density in the Greater Downtown Eastside and Grandview-Woodlands, and points south, and the fact so many disabled people ride this particular bus, the status quo is intolerable.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that bus service on The Drive is so poor because so many of the riders of Bus 20 are low-income. Comparative service on the west side of the city is far better. Bus 20 is slightly more tolerable if you need it only for commuting to work and back – two trips a day, during peak period. But many riders are not in that category, they rely on Bus 20 for regular mobility up and down The Drive for many reasons. These include shopping, visiting people, getting to medical appointments, getting to coffee shops and restaurants etc etc.
Let’s take a theoretical resident who lives at Hastings and Commercial. In a given day he needs to get to the Skytrain station once, and once that is done has another two appointments on The Drive far enough from the Skytrain station to want to take the bus. On each occasion he has the standard 20 minute wait. So that is an hour spent on waiting. The bus is so slow that each trip takes 20 minutes each way, for a total 40-minute round trip. So that’s another 3 x 40 minutes on travel. In a fairly normal day he will have spent up to three hours on Bus 20! This is not a fanciful scenario.
In a time and place where every effort is being made to encourage people not to use their cars, Translink has to do better than this. Fair enough, transit in the outer suburbs is diabolical indeed and it was their time for a boost. But next up should be Bus 20, as of course must be Buses 99 and 41.
INTOLERABLE STATUS QUO NEEDS ADDRESSING –
BETTER SERVICE DEMANDED SOON!
A sensible change would be to limit the 20 to travel up and down Commercial/Victoria only, and turn around at Hastings. Put that on a frequency of every four to five minutes for much of the day and night. Passengers could then change to the 4, 7, 14 or 16 at Hastings or Cordova. This makes far better sense than the current arrangement.
It is very disappointing to see no improvement in service on Bus 20 in any of the three rounds of Translink increases for 2017. I was near certain that Bus 20 would be thrown a bone in the latest round, a huge increase of 105,000 service hours, announced September 4. No fewer than 17 routes were improved and three new ones added. But no, almost all increases have gone to the suburbs where, to be fair, transit is often barely existent, especially outside of peak hours.
Under the previous government, the BC Liberals, improvements of 65,000 hours were added, to 26 routes, in April and 24,000 hours added to 16 routes in June. The improvements all come under the umbrella of the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year vision, which at a cost of $2 billion affects all aspects of transit, including the Skytrain and Seabus etc.
If you are a Bus 20 rider then here, for your frustrated information, is a list of the latest changes. The only bus service affecting the DTES that was improved was the 19, which had extra shuttle service until September 5.
The entire Phase One, 2017, sees an overall 10 percent increase in bus service and 15 percent increase in HandyDART service. As of April this year there, says Translink, there has been more frequent service on 50 different bus routes, including five new B-Line routes: Fraser Highway, Lougheed Highway, Marine Drive, 41st Avenue and Hastings Street – the 95 to replace the old 135. And apparently 171 new buses are on the way, with delivery beginning in 2018.
If I was NDP MLA Melanie Mark, who represents Vancouver-Mt.Pleasant, I would wonder whether the new GreeNDP government intends to increase funding to Translink so it can improve transit above and beyond that already proposed in that 10-year plan. The BC Liberals’ love affair with road infrastructure and the whole auto industry meant that it did too little for transit. Cancelling the 10-lane bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel should make money available for the harried inner-city bus rider.
THE DRIVE SHOULD HOST BOTH DEDICATED BUS LANE AND A BIKEWAY
Further, the prospect of a bike lane on The Drive is still bubbling under. Personally I can see The Drive playing host to both a one-lane bikeway split into two for riders each way, and one other lane dedicated to buses, HOV vehicles and commercial/delivery vehicles. This would mean either removing parking from both sides of the street or not allowing ordinary single user cars on The Drive at all – between 12th Avenue and Venables. Single occupant cars can use Victoria and Clark, both of which are close enough, park and then walk. Build parking garages above and below ground.
The Drive is a unique and special place in Vancouver, Metro and BC, and it deserves special and unique treatment. Much better bus service AND a two-way bike lane both belong there.
Here is the detail, by bus, on the latest improvements.