We have (most of) our bus stops back!

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

Signs went up on bus-stop poles along Dunbar Street this week announcing that TransLink has backed off on plans that would have removed 40 percent of bus stops between 16th and 41st as of January 17th.

“We heard you!” the signs say. “Thank you to everyone that provided feedback on the bus stop balancing program. As a result, this bus stop will not be removed.”

The decision means that all No. 7 stops on Dunbar Street will remain between 27th and 39th, although two stops will be removed between 27th and 16th — one at 26th and one at 16th.

“It’s a big win,” said Vancouver transit advocate Nathan Davidowicz, who has scrutinized and written about TransLink’s every move for years. “Dunbar is the first group in two years to win the battle against TransLink on bus stops. As a group, you managed to get the whole area from 26th to 41st not changed at all.”

Previous attempts to push back on bus-stop cuts haven’t been very successful, he noted. Three routes to undergo earlier rounds of removals saw two stops reinstated on two routes and six on another. However, these numbers are for full routes, while TransLink’s decision to retain seven threatened stops involved only a small section of the No. 7 route.

TransLink’s announcement follows a vigorous campaign against the closures led by the Dunbar Residents’ Association. Residents were encouraged to weigh in on the issue, and there were phone calls, emails, letters and media interviews opposing the cuts. On Dec. 16, DRA board members and seniors’ and business advocates escorted TransLink and City officials on a walkabout of the bus stops to explain their concerns.

DRA president Bruce Gilmour said he thinks the walkabout was an effective way of illustrating first-hand the consequences of cutting stops, especially in a busy, hilly area with a large seniors’ population. It also revealed the deficiencies of the data on which the decisions were based, he said.  While it’s easy to measure such things as frequency of stops and ramp usage, it’s harder to factor in on-the-ground issues like elevation changes, trip duration, trip purpose, and passengers’ ages or levels of impairment.

DRA board member Angus McIntyre, a retired long-time bus driver, welcomed the news about TransLink’s decision. “They heard us!” he said. McIntyre had delivered one of the bluntest messages to the visitors during the walkabout, telling them the cuts were “a slap in the face,” done in a nasty and confrontational way, and that Dunbar is already a “transit desert” given the lack of service in large areas of the community.

The stop closures are part of TransLink’s Bus Balancing Program – a two-year-old initiative to remove or relocate bus stops with the goal of increasing transit speed and reliability. TransLink has said it plans to extend its bus-stop program throughout the region, tackling four to eight routes a year.

The program began with the No. 2 route in the fall of 2020, which cut about 25 percent of the bus stops. In the spring of 2021, TransLink removed or relocated one in six stops on the No. 17 route, and one in eight on the No. 25.  (Two of the planned closures were rescinded on the No. 2 and 25 routes, and six on the No. 17.)

In the fall of 2021, signs went up announcing changes affecting one in four stops on the No. 7 route and one in six on the No. 4.  Davidowicz noted that for the past 70 years, Dunbar has had 25 stops between 16th and 41st, but the latest round of cuts would have left it with only 15 — a 40-percent cut.

For Dunbar residents, who had already been hard hit by the earlier cuts, it was too much. Three No. 7 stops on Dunbar that had been shared with removed No. 25 stops vanished in that earlier round, along with several No. 25 stops on King Edward near the Dunbar intersection, one adjacent to an elementary school.  Residents living between Macdonald and Dunbar were also affected by the cuts to the No. 2 route, which lost 44.4 percent of its bus stops between 16th and 41st.  

Although the signs posted on the Dunbar Street bus stops this week say the stops will not be removed, TransLink’s Jan. 14 announcement of its decision is a little more ambiguous. It refers to the removals being postponed and to more discussion in the future.  “We hope to revisit this conversation with your community later this year,” the statement said. “In partnership with the City of Vancouver and the community, we hope to continue a dialogue about how to achieve shared goals of improving transit service and access, safety, and business activity.”