How auditors get transit wrong: a lesson from Vancouver

Elected officials love to demand “audits.”  Auditing means that you hire high-prestige people who will scrutinize the books of an agency with particular genius, and thus deliver recommendations that resound with authority.

But many of the companies hired to audit transit agencies don’t seem to understand transit.  That’s certainly the evidence of a recently commissioned audit of Vancouver’s TransLink, which discovered $41 million in potential savingsincluding $5.3 million from cutting low-ridership services.  (Extensive detail and media reaction is gathered here.)

Like many audits, this one just assumes that low ridership means “without justfication.”

But low-ridership services are only “low-performing” if ridership is their purpose.  

If you haven’t read my book, or read this blog much, you may be under the impression that the goal of all public transit is high ridership, and that low-ridership services are therefore failing, evidence of waste, and should be cut.  In reality, every transit agency runs service that has a purpose other than ridership. These services, which I call “coverage” services in my own work, have purposes such as: