Night Transit, part II

In the previous post, I described the essential nature of night transit, a service bridging the late night hours roughly between 1 and 5 AM when transit service currently stops. The key principles are:

  • Limited routes providing broad coverage; a skeletal system reinforcing the major transit corridors designed to broadly serve the city, while admitting that some walk distances will be further.
  • Basic schedule; longer headways, such as 30 minutes, to keep costs down.
  • Time-coordinated schedule; buses converge on “pulse points” at specific times so that one can transfer between many routes given the limited frequency.
  • Bus operations; limiting costs and preserving the overnight window for rail maintenance.

What might that look like in Calgary? Continue reading


Night Transit, part 1

Taxis are a hot topic in Calgary; a crunch on cabs late at night has had the City proposing strong restrictions, including requiring licensees to keep taxis on the market. Drivers and taxi company owners are protesting some of the proposed restrictions to the point that one owner was removed from a taxi commission meeting due to their strong language.

There is a clear need for additional transportation late at night, especially on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The discussion has been myopically focused on the taxi industry, who seems to have a strong resistance to serving this market. Unsurprisingly, here at the TransitCamp YYC blog, another solution comes to mind…

Calgary is becoming a bigger city every year, and part of becoming a bigger city is being a 24 hour a day city. Calgary Transit needs to cater for overnight travel makers; to people whose work starts or ends in odd hours, to people who are out socializing (or, yes, at a bar) after transit service shuts down.

There a substantial taxi crunch at 2 AM when bars close; this can be smoothed out with transit service. The cost of a cab, or the difficulty in getting one, can deter some people who might choose to drive, even if they’ve had a few. Transit can help keep these potential drunk drivers off the road. In addition to the customers, the hospitality industry has many workers – often lower income – who are getting off the job after 1 AM when the buses and trains have stopped running. Many of Calgary’s other employment nodes, including hospitals and the airport, operate 24 hours.

Overnight transit can also increase transit presence in other ways; someone might be thinking of attending a concert that is supposed to finish around 11:30 PM, and which they would like to take transit to. If the concert runs late, though, they face the choice between walking out before the encore or fighting with everybody else for an expensive taxi – so they drive instead, forgoing both transit trips because of the risk of service ending. If we want to encourage residents to rely on transit, and make the sorts of housing, auto ownership and lifestyle choices that support transit ridership, service needs to be reliable all the time.

New York subways run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but this is hardly a standard we need to (or can afford to) match. Many transit systems of Calgary’s size or larger operate night transit service (“night” here meaning overnight, during the roughly 1 AM – 5 AM time period). Typically, night transit has the following properties:

  • Bus operations; with very few exceptions (New York and Chicago, with London starting next year), night service does not involve trains. This matches the lighter demand to the cheaper vehicle, but more importantly, it preserves the overnight window for rail maintenance. (And a quick tip of the hat to Calgary’s overnight transit workers; the cleaners, mechanics, security officers and track workers out there, working hard at unsung jobs.) For instance, in San Francisco, the All-Nighter service provides bus runs down light rail routes such as the N and T, while across the bay in Oakland, AC Transit provides service to most of the BART subway stations.
  • Limited routes providing broad coverage; only major corridors are served, and walk distances will rise. The Blue Night network in Toronto provides 86% of population within 1250m walking distance of a transit stop. (To compare, Calgary Transit’s daytime coverage goal is 95% of population within 400m walking distance of a transit stop.) This does have the benefit of helping reinforce certain corridors as being primary transit corridors.
  • Basic schedule; instead of the 15 minute or lower headways between primary network buses and trains that are seen during the day, buses run less frequently, meeting the lower demand. In Ottawa, the 97 Airport-Bayshore transitway route runs 24 hours a day, but drops service from 15 minutes in the midday to 30 minutes for overnight service.
  • Time-coordinated schedule; where buses gather at pulse points at the same time. This permits easy transfers, which would otherwise be very inconvenient given the low frequency of service. In Vancouver, 11 of the 12 NightBus routes (shown below) leave the same part of downtown at the same time. To go between suburban destinations like Richmond or UBC, riders can ride downtown and switch between any night bus.

A map showing the routes in the Vancouver night bus network

This basic, skeletal system supporting the needs of overnight riders without unacceptable expense, is something that could be readily applied here in Calgary. The next post will consider what a night transit system might look like.