Buying “high capacity” buses does not guarantee high capacity ridership

February 15, 2023by John Ley0

The C-Tran Board of Directors is moving forward with their third Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. It is proposed to travel the highway 99 corridor, from Salmon Creek to downtown Vancouver. At the February board meeting, they received an update on options for various stops and the terminus at WSU.

The new BRT line would replace two primary bus lines and two that connect along the corridor. According to C-Tran, there are currently 1,670 riders on this transit corridor on an average day. Why is there a need for “high capacity” transit service along this (or any) transit corridor?

A public records request indicates they are budgeting the expenditure of $57 million. They hope the federal government would provide $5.85 million. C-Tran expects to spend $51.15 million of its cash reserves. That would appear to be about 1/3 of their cash reserves.

The largest number of “boardings” each day appears to occur at the 99th Street Transit Center.

In evaluating the proposal, citizens should keep in mind multiple facts related to the two BRT lines C-Tran is already creating. The Vine was built for $49.8 million. The federal government contributed $41.7 million, the Washington legislature provided $2.99 million, and C-Tran spent $7.54 million of Clark County residents money.

At the time of it being proposed, C-Tran was had 6,000 average daily boardings on two bus lines that served the Fourth Plain corridor. They promised an increase in ridership to 8,000 to 9,000 by 2035 which has failed to materialize. Ridership dropped to about 4,000 in 2019 before the pandemic, and below 3,000 during the pandemic.

C-Tran is presently in the middle of constructing their second BRT line, from Clark College in east Vancouver traveling Mill Plain to downtown. They have budgeted $49.8 million. The federal government will provide $33.6 million, the state $9 million, and $7.2 million C-Tran funds.

Here are the projected ridership numbers for the original Vine proposal.

Overall, C-Tran system wide ridership peaked over two decades ago, in 1999 at 7.75 million annual boardings. It has been in decline and was just below 6 million boardings in 2019, prior to the pandemic decline of roughly 60 percent.

The C-Tran Board of Directors will make a decision on the Hwy 99 BRT line at their March 28, 2023 meeting.

The following are my remarks at the Feb. 14th board meeting.



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