After one year of operation, The Vine, the most ambitious project in C-Tran’s history, is beginning to bear fruit.
“I’m not going to say we were shocked by the numbers, but we were very pleasantly surprised when they came to our desk,” said C-Tran spokeswoman Christine Selk.
Comparing October and November of 2016 (when the Fourth Plain corridor was served by Route 4) and October and November 2017 (when The Vine was running) C-Tran saw a 45 percent increase in ridership. In raw numbers, Route 4 had just under 142,000 riders compared to The Vine’s more than 205,000.
“That’s the period we have the most direct comparison to The Vine,” Selk said.
Increased ridership means more people covering the bus’s operating costs. C-Tran said the agency has seen a 21 percent decrease in cost per passenger boarding. They say that the 60-foot buses mean fewer vehicles are needed to operate the route. That means fewer drivers burning less fuel and putting less wear and tear on the vehicles.
“That’s been something we’ve been talking about since The Vine was incepted. That’s something that we knew was going to happen, but these numbers bear that out,” Selk said.
C-Tran also says trip speed and reliability have improved compared to Route 4. Travel times along the corridor dropped by 12 percent. Late departures from the Vancouver Mall Transit Center and Turtle Place in downtown Vancouver dropped by 89 percent.
Bus rapid transit service is designed to be faster and more efficient than traditional bus service.
The Vine runs from downtown Vancouver to Vancouver Mall and replaced Routes 4 and 44. Route 60, which goes from downtown Vancouver to Delta Park, replaced the portions of Routes 4 and 44 which crossed the Columbia River. On weekdays, the big gold Vine buses hit each of their 34 stops every 10 minutes. On weekends, it’s every 15 minutes.
Affordable housing advocates have touted The Vine and its service as a primary reason for building new multifamily housing along the Fourth Plain corridor. The city of Vancouver put its support behind the concept in October when it expanded the Multifamily Tax Exemption program to properties within a quarter-mile of the Vine’s route along Fourth Plain Boulevard just east of Northeast Andresen Road.
But while The Vine is quicker than its predecessor, some passengers have complained about the fact that it has fewer stops along its route. That means longer walks to a stop or destination, which can be a challenge for the elderly or the disabled.
Others C-Tran riders have also lamented having to transfer to another bus to get to Portland, which wasn’t necessary while Routes 4 and 44 were still in operation.
The $53 million bus rapid transit system is the first of its kind in the Portland-Vancouver metro area and far and away the agency’s largest capital project.
The Vine launched in January 2017, just as a substantial snowstorm gripped Southwest Washington. The extra-long buses and the platforms actually had a belated debut because ice and snow forced the agency to employ its regular 40-foot buses and its old Route 4 bus stops.
C-Tran paid about $7.4 million to build the system. Together, federal and state grants covered about 86 percent of project’s cost.
On Tuesday, the agency celebrated the milestone with cake pops and Vine-themed swag to riders at the Vancouver Mall Transit Center and Turtle Place in downtown Vancouver.