SkyTrain – Eight myths and the facts – “Oh what tangled webs we weave, when we first practice to deceive!”

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Since 1980, when SkyTrain was imposed on the region, the SkyTrain lobby abetted by politicians, bureaucrats, and the media, have created a grand SkyTrain myth which is now taken as fact. Lenin’s quote, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth“, is certainly true of the SkyTrain lobby, when defending their beloved light-metro system. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the SkyTrain light-metro system has found a very expensive niche in the ‘Metro Vancouver’ culture and with TransLink and the Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon, championing more SkyTrain construction for the region, let us now explore eight SkyTrain myths. A general warning must be issued: the following maybe harmful to the SkyTrain lobby.

Myth #1 – SkyTrain is faster than LRT.

Not true. LRT tram-trains, with speeds in excess of 100 kph, edge out SkyTrain for being faster mode. What is true is that most LRT lines have many more stops per route km., thus having lower commercial speeds than light-metro. Streetcar systems of course have low commercial speeds because they run in mixed traffic because of this, many streetcars or trams have smaller (cheaper) motors for such operation. An identical LRT/SkyTrain line, having identical stops, would have identical commercial speeds. The St. Louis LRT system actually has a higher commercial speed than SkyTrain.

Myth #2 – Speed of SkyTrain, alone, attracts people to transit.

Not true. The speed of the transit system is not as important as the SkyTrain lobby would have you think. What is true, if the total travel time (doorstep to doorstep) using transit, is equal to or even slightly more than alternatives, then public transit will attract customers. The actual speed of SkyTrain or LRT trip is only part of the complete ‘transit’ trip package, which would include walking time or taking a bus (if need be) and transfers. Recent studies (Hass-Klau) have concluded that even ‘speed’ is not as important as the over all ambiance of the transit system, ease of use, and ease of ticketing, for attracting customers, especially the motorist from the car.

Myth #3 – SkyTrain is safer than LRT.

Not true. Though this contentious topic sends many of the SkyTrain lobby into fits of apoplexy, the facts are completely opposite. The death rate on SkyTrain is about twice of that of Calgary’s LRT (both transit systems carry high volumes of traffic), yet TransLink and others would have us think differently. The SkyTrain lobby wrongly assumes that all deaths on SkyTrain are suicides and all deaths on LRT is not. Why suicides are supposed to be ignored and other deaths are not, is a sad reflection on those wanting to build with the light metro. According to the Light Rail Transit Association modern LRT/tram is the safest public transit mode in the world.

Myth #4 – SkyTrain attracts more customers than LRT.

Not true. There is no study comparing SkyTrain and LRT, that shows that ‘rail’ mode (light metro/light rail) alone is a determining factor in attracting transit customers. Calgary’s LRT has consistently attracted more customers than SkyTrain. What is true that all ‘rail’ transit modes are far better attracting new customers than buses.

Myth #5 – SkyTrain costs less to operate than LRT.

Not true. This old saw is repeated so often that it has been ingrained as a fact. Early on, it has been found that SkyTrain light-metro, despite being automatic and having no drivers, was much more expensive to operate than LRT systems the same size. As far back as 1990, it was found that SkyTrain cost over 80% more to operate than Calgary’s LRT system, despite the fact Calgary’s C-Train carried more people. Today the figure has dropped to about 60% more to operate.

Myth #6 – SkyTrain has a higher capacity than LRT.

Not true. The capacity game has been far overplayed by the SkyTrain lobby as capacity is a “function of headway“. Any dual tracked LRT/streetcar/tram line can carry over 20,000 persons per hour per direction, as true for SkyTrain. Studies, including Gerald Fox’s A Comparison of AGT and LRT Systems and the Toronto Transit Commission’s ART Study, have found that the capacities for SkyTrain and LRT are about the same.

Myth #7 – LRT delays traffic at intersections.

Not true. TransLink and the SkyTrain lobby become hysterical with the myth that LRT delays traffic at intersections. The fact is, there is less delay than a regular light controlled intersection and no delay for LRT. The logic is troublesome for if LRT delays traffic to such an extent, why don’t other light controlled intersections cause traffic chaos? Shall we ban all light controlled intersections because they delay traffic?

Myth #8 – SkyTrain pays its operating costs.

Not true. TransLink trots out this little gem every once in a while for some positive spin when things go wrong on SkyTrain. TransLink and the SkyTrain lobby quietly forgets that SkyTrain is subsidized by the provincial government at over $200 million annually! In the United States, where many transit initiatives are passed by referendum, the total cost of the project is told, as well as financing options. Example: Seattle’s LRT is said to cost over $10 billion, but that is the total cost of the project including debt servicing! To date, the taxpayer does not not know the total cost of SkyTrain or even RAV, nor how it is financed. The $200 million plus annual subsidy has now put the cost of SkyTrain at over $6 billion dollars. If SkyTrain was really paying its operating costs, it would not need a $200 million subsidy! Note: Dublin’s and Nottingham’s new LRT lines operate at a profit after paying their annual debt servicing charges.

All what Rail for the Valley wants is a ‘level playing field’ when planning for region ‘rail’ transit and not TransLink inspired pro SkyTrain nonsense. Isn’t it odd, that after being on the market for over 30 years, SkyTrain has failed to find a market in North America and Europe and that the owners of the proprietary SkyTrain have forbidden the system to compete in an open bidding process against modern light-rail. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

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