Field Report: King Street Car-Transit Modal Split at Kitchener-Waterloo Border

In a 1999 paper, Weyrich and Lind argue that judging transit in North America by overall transit modal share is misleading, as most of the urban population is either not served by transit or served poorly. They suggest it is more appropriate to consider transit usage on transit-competitive trips. In light of this, I decided to investigate the modal split between transit and private vehicles on a transit-competitive corridor in the Region of Waterloo.

The proportion of overall trips in the Region of Waterloo taken on transit is perhaps 4%. But what about corridors with frequent transit?

There is really only one such corridor in the entire region – King Street in Kitchener-Waterloo. Between the Charles Street Terminal in Kitchener and University Avenue in Waterloo, Route 7 buses can be counted on to appear every 8 minutes or better from morning to evening. In addition to the 7, the iXpress route also runs along the same corridor, with 15 minute service. No other corridor has service better than every 12-15 minutes.

So on the morning of Monday, November 23, I set up on King Street right at the Kitchener-Waterloo border (between Union and Mt. Hope streets) with a clipboard and a video camera, and recorded trips between 7:30 and 8:30 am. It was overcast and foggy, with temperature between 1°C and 4°C. At the time I recorded all non-motor-vehicle trips, and the number of people on each Grand River Transit bus. GRT buses have 35-40 seats, but people rarely use all seats, so a bus with some standees can be expected to have around 35 people. Crush load is around 70-80 people. I used these figures to estimate the number of people on each bus as a multiple of five.

I counted other vehicles afterward on video, with one category for private vehicles (motorcycles, cars, and light trucks that weren’t obviously commercial) and one for all other vehicles. These included work vans, taxis, delivery trucks, transport trucks, dump trucks, and non-GRT buses, with a few one-offs.

Kitchener → Waterloo
Time Private Vehicles Other Vehicles On Route 7 Buses On iXpress Buses Transit Total Active Transportation
7:30 – 7:45 am 61 8 10, 20 15 45 1
7:45 – 8:00 am 101 6 15, 40 25, 35 115 2
8:00 – 8:15 am 127 12 20, 15, 20, 30 40 125 4
8:15 – 8:30 am* 140 11 10, 10 55 75 4
Waterloo → Kitchener
Time Private Vehicles Other Vehicles On Route 7 Buses On iXpress Buses Transit Total Active Transportation
7:30 – 7:45 am 92 8 15, 15 15 45 9
7:45 – 8:00 am 120 12 25, 20 20 65 4
8:00 – 8:15 am 142 5 45, 15 20 80 3
8:15 – 8:30 am* 154 9 10, 40 30 80 7

* The vehicle count for the 8:15 – 8:30 am segment is scaled up from 12 minutes of video, as it took me three minutes to realize that my camera had reached its file size limit and stopped recording.

This section of King Street was freely moving for almost all of the observed time, with occasional queueing from the Union St traffic light between 8:00 and 8:30 am.

The 34 under active transportation consisted of 22 pedestrians, 11 cyclists (four on the sidewalk and seven on the road), and one inline skater. Of the 71 “other vehicles”, 14 were taxis, four were the same Sun Life Financial shuttle bus on a loop, and one was a GO Transit Route 25 bus heading towards Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo with around 20 people on board.

As an interesting aside, while collecting these data I was able to observe six buses on Union St on Route 4 Glasgow, a typical meandering route that goes from downtown Kitchener to Moore Ave, Union St, Park St, Glasgow St, Westwood Dr, and University Ave out to Ira Needles Blvd on the west edge of Kitchener-Waterloo. I saw them near the Sun Life Financial office tower, and three buses were in each direction (30 minute frequency service). By my count, not a single one had more than eight people – while each of the 27 buses I observed on King Street had at least ten.

Restricting comparison to active transportation, local transit, and private vehicles, and assuming 1.2 occupants per private vehicle, we can compute the overall modal split for King Street at the Kitchener-Waterloo border during part of the weekday morning peak.

Modal Split
Traffic Segment Private Vehicle Transit Active Transportation
Overall 63% 35% 2%
7:30 – 8:00 am 61% 37% 2%
8:00 – 8:30 am 64% 34% 2%
Kitchener → Waterloo 58% 41% 1%
Waterloo → Kitchener 67.5% 30% 2.5%

The modal split appears relatively stable — to the extent it can with this amount of data. Active transportation counts are low, which I think is due to me recording on a long and mostly boring stretch of King Street between the two cities. There is a notable discrepancy between the two directions of travel, which I would suggest is the effect of UW and Laurier students and staff heading to campus.

However, 30% transit modal share with no university contribution, and 35% overall is remarkable for an urban area with mostly freely moving roads and without higher-order transit. Though if those people were driving along King Street instead, I don’t think it would be freely moving.

Another important point is that the iXpress carries 40% of the transit ridership in the observed data — almost as much as the local service. Considering it runs only every 15 minutes, this is a strong counterpoint to claims that infrequent stop spacing is a ridership deterrent.

Moral of the story? Reliable, frequent service on a corridor attracts high transit ridership, even in a car-friendly area.