British Columbia·Reporter's Notebook

I raced TransLink's new RapidBus to UBC by car — and lost

The new RapidBus lines ensure people can get between SFU and Downtown, Newton and Guildford, Joyce-Collingwood and UBC, or Maple Ridge and Coquitlam a little bit easier — and a little faster — than they could before. 

TransLink's new buses may not be a gamechanger, but the many small improvements will make a big difference

The launch of the RapidBus service for Metro Vancouver in Coquitlam, British Columbia on Monday, January 6, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It was a big day in the history of Metro Vancouver transportation.

At least, that's what TransLink wanted the public to think as they unveiled their RapidBus lines on Monday. 

"World class," "state of the art" and "gamechanger" were some of the words bandied about by an army of politicians in Coquitlam; each level of government patted the other on the back for creating four new RapidBus lines across the region.  

The four new lines don't bring bus service to any new places, mind you. What the RapidBus does is ensure people can get between SFU and Downtown, Newton and Guildford, Joyce-Collingwood and UBC, or Maple Ridge and Coquitlam a little bit easier — and a little faster — than they could before.  

However, for true ease and convenience there's still no substitute for the almighty car, correct? 

It was time to see just how rapid the RapidBus could be. 

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond holds a pair of scissors for a ceremonial ribbon cutting to launch the RapidBus service. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Bus vs. car, Joyce-Collingwood to UBC

The rules were as follows: myself and fellow CBC Vancouver reporter Rafferty Baker would meet at the Joyce-Collingwood SkyTrain station at noon.

After a rock-paper-scissors game, it was determined he would head to UBC on the new R4 RapidBus, which aims to carry many riders from the busy 43 and 49 routes.

I would wait for his bus to leave, before walking to a car parked a block away. Whoever arrived at the UBC bus exchange 19 kilometres away first would get bragging rights.

Multiple TransLink staff expected the bus to be a heavy underdog, particularly with the race happening outside of rush hour, even with dedicated bus lanes and other efforts to streamline travel.

"But I think the main issue ... is it's more reliable, it comes more often so you don't have to wait at the bus stop in the cold in the rain. It's got nicer bus stops, and nicer buses," said TransLink spokesperson Jill Drews.

Still, TransLink promised that the RapidBus would run 20 per cent faster than local bus service. It was time to take that to the test. 

Watch the race to UBC:

Two CBC reporters decide to see just how rapid TransLink's new RapidBuses are in a very unscientific study. 2:55

B-Line 2.0

I asked Baker if there was anything noteworthy about the new buses, but got mostly a shrug in return.

It's important to remember that, for all the bright new colours and fancy name, inside the RapidBus is essentially the same as any B-Line you've ridden for years, albeit with lower overhead handlebars and cushier seats. 

"Rush hour would likely fill the bus up, but my ride was pretty relaxed, with plenty of good seating choices," he said.

"I don't mind driving, but it's nice to be a passenger; you can ignore the stresses of the road and fire off some text messages or check Twitter."

My trips in a car are fairly rare — I walk to work and have never owned a vehicle — but I've used ride-sharing services like Evo and Car2Go enough to be comfortable behind a wheel, and appreciate the speed and efficiency it provides getting from Point A to Point B.

At least, that's what I told myself as I passed Baker and the RapidBus about halfway through the route.

Rafferty Baker lost the rock-paper-scissors challenge and hopped on the R4 RapidBus from Joyce-Collingwood to UBC. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Spoiler alert: I lost

But then a funny thing happened: I had to park.

Finding a space at UBC and the requisite parallel parking took a couple of minutes longer than I thought. So did walking to the transit exchange where we agreed to meet.

And when I arrived at the exchange, there was Baker. He took 37 minutes, and I took 38. 

A photo of me driving a vehicle is exactly as exciting as it sounds. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It turned out that driving a car was still faster than a RapidBus while on the road, but all the extra things you have to do taking your own vehicle add up. On this ride, at least. 

So there you have it. It may not be scientific, but on day one, even at non-peak hours, the RapidBus lived up to its name. 

Or maybe I just need to get better at parallel parking. 

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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