vancouver: the frequent network revealed

Vanc FTN slice
One of North America's most advanced transit agencies, TransLink in Vancouver, has finally published a Frequent Network Map as well as a page explaining why that map is important:

This 15 minute or better service runs until 9 p.m. every day, and starts at 6 a.m. on weekdays, 7 a.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m. on Sundays. This level of service might be provided by one or more types of transit, such as buses or SkyTrain.

People traveling along FTN corridors can expect convenient, reliable, easy-to-use services that are frequent enough that they do not need to refer to a schedule. For municipalities and the development community, the FTN provides a strong organizing framework around which to focus growth and development.

As longtime readers know, I've long advised that high frequency services must stand out from the complexity of a transit map, and be promoted separately, so that people can see the network that's available to people whose time is highly valuable.  Many individuals, and a few agencies, have drawn Frequent Network maps as a result.  For more, see the Frequent Network category.

Meanwhile, this is a hugely important moment for Vancouver, especially because of the way the Frequent Network can organise future land use, and help everyone make better decisions about location.  This map should immediately go up on the wall in every city planner's office, and in the office of every realtor or agent who deals in apartments.  It's far more useful than, say, WalkScore's Transit Score in showing you the actual mobility that will arise from your choice of location, in the terms that matter to you.

16 Responses to vancouver: the frequent network revealed

  1. Alon Levy April 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    The map isn’t very clear. It doesn’t make where the lines go too clear; on a minor level, more distinct colors for the bus lines would help a lot.
    On a more serious level, there are too many lines on this map. What this tells me is that a lot of streets have 15-minute service. But I already knew that Vancouver has good in-city transit; why settle for 15? I already know that Broadway is a higher-value corridor than the other east-west streets (it’s faster and more frequent), and it’s represented with a different color, but the map doesn’t tell me which north-south lines to look for. Why not go for 10?

  2. David M April 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    That is one of the best FTN maps I’ve seen – I love the simplicity of it.
    I like that they’re shown future lines. I also like that they cheated a little on shortening the weekend hours – I think for simplicity it would have been better to have the same FTN times everyday – but the cheat keeps major lines in the suburbs in the FTN (where some early trips were cancelled reducing service to less than 15 minutes at the start of the day on Sunday).
    Interesting that the local service on Broadway is not shown as FTN – it should be, as it is very frequent. I find the Broadway corridor interesting with the 99 line carrying around 50,000 people a day – probably the busiest bus route in North America and busier than many light rail systems. With buses every 2 to 4 minutes all day, that is a very frequent service.

  3. mike0123 April 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    This is great, except that it doesn’t show the actual frequent transit network. The seabus, for example, runs every half hour on Sundays and after 6:45 pm weekdays.
    If you compare the FTN map to the full map, one of the things that stands out is just how poorly designed the bus network is in Richmond and especially Burnaby and New Westminster. Despite the transit system being very well used, mostly because of the Skytrain, most routes are loopy and indirect, and often run slowly on side streets. The result is that few routes can be frequent.

  4. snowystar April 2, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    It says at the bottom-left corner of the map: SeaBus will be part of FTN in 2013.

  5. Alexander Ho April 2, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    Me thinks one reason the FTN map was not implemented is due to the sparse number and distribution of frequent routes in Surrey compared to Vancouver (for obvious reasons related to population density and regional politics in terms of public transit services). Also, this map needs to have bus numbers to go along with the routes, unless TransLink assumes the audience knows them already in heart.

  6. Tom West April 3, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    I ended up producing pretty much this exact for professional reasons (using TransLink’s GTFS data), and I was struck how few frequent routes there outside of Vancouver.
    Hopefully this map will lead to more high-frequency routes.

  7. Chris, Public Transport April 3, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    I agree that 15 minutes, while a laudable goal for most American transit agencies, is not really that frequent by Canadian standard. Consider a 15-min frequency map of Toronto – almost every line would be included.
    I have a question: does anybody think that a frequent network map marginalizes the other routes? Looking at the TransLink 15 minute map there are a lot of spaces with no lines that a member of the public may equate with there being no transit service available in those areas. In Los Angeles, we always have people who say we need transit in an area – ignoring the bus service available – or great, we finally have transit when a rail line opens, again ignoring the bus service available. For many LA residents, bus service = no transit. On a frequent transit map, infrequent bus service = no transit.
    Jarrett wants every planner to put this map up in their office, which is fine, but the full network map would be better. Consider:
    1) The 7 Dunbar meets the criteria except in the early evening and therefore does not exist on this map. Yet it would be good to build an apartment building on the route since it’s good service.
    2) The 601 South Delta does not meet the criteria, but provides express long distance service every 30 minutes or more. Again, a good spot for an apartment building.
    I would like to argue that a map which shows routes differentiated by service span would be more useful than a map showing routes based on an arbitrarily designated “frequent” headway number, because then you could use it to see if service was available when you wanted to travel. After all, waiting an additional 5-10 minutes for an “infrequent” service is better than being stranded.

  8. Eric Doherty April 3, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    This is good news! The map is certainly easy to read. I think the next step should be to produce a full network map with the frequent network presented so it really stands out. The two maps could be presented side by side at major transfer points.
    Of course, some of the explanation is wishful thinking. “People traveling along FTN corridors can expect convenient, reliable, easy-to-use services”. Anyone who rides the #20 knows that “reliable” is an aspiration that TransLink is still working on. Frequent and unreliable does not equal freedom.

  9. 23skidoo April 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Chris, I disagree. The idea is that a 30 minute schedule is not good enough, no matter how long-distance and express the route is. Frequent service is when you can walk up to a stop without checking your watch and have a bus arrive in a reasonable amount of time. You might have to wait 29 minutes for a #601, which is far too long.
    In Calgary I would be happy with even 20 minute service, because I can wait 19 minutes. Sadly only 5 or so routes, plus the train, provide that after 6 PM.

  10. Nikko P April 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    I have to agree with Alon. From the perspective of a transit user unfamiliar with the system, this isn’t much use.

  11. David M April 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Another thing I would change on the map is to show the express portions of routes. For example, the 169 makes very few stops between Braid and Coquitlam stations, yet, looking at the map, it looks liek oyu could pick up that bus anywhere along its route. The same is true for the 351 which is on Hwy 99 from Bridgeport to King George Highway – with two tops (Steveston Hwy and mathews Exchange).
    And yes, love to see it integrated with the network map in soe way.

  12. Zoltán April 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    “What this tells me is that a lot of streets have 15-minute service. But I already knew that Vancouver has good in-city transit; why settle for 15… Why not go for 10?”
    “In Calgary I would be happy with even 20 minute service, because I can wait 19 minutes”
    It’s rather nice to hear people echoing my thoughts on this. As I argue here – – a monolithic 15 minute standard isn’t that helpful. Firstly, it doesn’t reflect truly attractive frequent service, and secondly it excludes a lot of routes that passengers are likely to find just about frequent enough to wait around for. Instead, two clearly differentiated standards of 10 minutes and 20 minutes would be more helpful. As a bonus, services meeting the former standard would probably meet the latter at evenings and weekends, and if so, it would be a helpful thing to publicise.

  13. Zoltán April 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    Also, I’d agree with those saying that the frequent network shouldn’t be shown as a separate map (except possibly where going for a tiny map for a pocket guide or as part of some publication), but should be designed to stand out of a larger network map – preferably taking the opportunity to create a clear, legible map at the same time. That way you avoid, as Chris suggests, the perception that “infrequent bus service = no transit.”, and give passengers all their options, including going to places that they might have to wait for a bus to.
    Ant6n’s Montreal frequent network map – – while not showing the entire bus network, demonstrates ways in which you could do that. It shows the all-day 10 minute network as thick, coloured lines, the peak time 10-minute networks with grey lines (which could instead be used for the 20-minute network), and infrequent commuter rail as dashed grey lines (which could instead be used for less frequent routes).

  14. Alon Levy April 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    When I created my frequent New York bus maps, the standard I used was 7-day service with frequent service in the afternoon off-peak, without a span requirement. The reason is that in cities whose bus schedules are not based on a sharp distinction between frequent and infrequent buses, there will be buses that slip just short of the frequency standard just too early in the evening. Maybe the buses drop from 10 to 12 minutes at 7:30. Maybe the schedule is a bit irregular after the am peak ends and there’s an 11-minute gap in what is really a 10-minute route.
    The upshot is that this models user behavior a bit better. Forgiving slight irregularities in the schedule acknowledges that buses are not precisely on-time and even in cities with good dispatching passengers should expect a 1-2-minute fudge factor in wait times. Not setting an arbitrary span threshold in the evening acknowledges that in cities with decent bus service and timetables that aren’t rigidly clockface, bus frequency peters out over the evening. If a bus offers 10-minute service at noon, it probably offers okay service at 9 pm as well. The opposite implication is not as obvious.

  15. Zoltán April 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Deviations of up to about three minutes occasionally are, to my mind, acceptable within inclusion in a frequent network. That said, it disappoints me when this sort of thing happens, because there’s value in even frequent services having a repeating clockface schedule – for one thing, to make transfers with less frequent services predictable.
    As I said above, hopefully a 10-minute network can match a 20-minute standard in the evening and weekends; if so, it’s more acceptable to be quite lax on how you define the span of high frequency service necessary for inclusion.

  16. Alan Robinson April 4, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    I dissent against the argument that this map needs to show more routes in order to fill gaps, or to show routes that just fail the span criteria.
    This map is meant to show where the gaps in frequent service are! For the purpose of planning, from apartment searches to Surrey politics, this is the map that matters. Use the full system map if you want to know about all routes.