Two previous postings
” Debunking the SkyTrain myth……. ” and
” Debunking the SkyTrain myth Part 2 ” has sent the SkyTrain lobby into apologetic fits. The cries of “shock and disbelief“, untrue, and cherry-picked information fill the comments postings, yet the SkyTrain lobby fail to answer one question: “Why after three decades of unprecedented investment in public transit that SkyTrain has been rejected by transit planners around the world, even after an unprecedented sales program including being showcased at Vancouver’s Expo 86?” Despite the hype and hoopla about SkyTrain there are only seven type systems in operation, or nearing completion, sold under three marketing names.
Intermediate Capacity Transit System or ICTS
- The Toronto Transit Commission’s Scarborough ICTS a 6.4 km rail link forced on the TTC by the Ontario provincial government. Currently in operation, it needs major rebuilding and might be converted to light rail. The city of Hamilton rejected SkyTrain, even after the Ontario government was willing to pay for the initial installation.
- The 4.7 km Detroit people mover or locally known as the “Mugger mover“. This single track loop was a demonstration line for a planned ICTS system, but the larger network did not materialize.
Advanced Light Rail Transit/Advanced Light Rapid Transit or ALRT
- Vancouver’s 49.5 km SkyTrain. Forced upon the operating authority instead of originally planned for light rail in 1980 by the provincial government, the First Vancouver to New Westminster Line cost as much as the originally planned for Vancouver to Whally/Lougheed Mall and Vancouver to Richmond LRT. The Millennium Line was again forced onto the operating authority by the provincial government after much planning for LRT. It is interesting to note that there was a slight change to SkyTrain’s name from Advanced Light Rail Transit to Advanced Light Rapid Transit before 1990 reflecting that SkyTrain was not LRT.
Advanced Rapid Transit or ART
- The 13 km JFK airport AirTrain. A private deal between Bombardier Inc., the Port authority, and the Canadian Government, precluded local planning. The AirTrain is funded, in part, with an airport $7.00 departure tax.
- The 29 km Kelana Jaya Line (formerly PUTRA) in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Forced upon the operating authority by senior government, who wanted a ‘show-case’ elevated transit system like a monorail, senior government officials were horrified to find out, even after a prolonged bidding process, that the PUTRA was just another railway and later built a monorail for the city’s third elevated transit line. The first elevated transit line in the city was the STAR elevated LRT line.
- The 27 km Beijing Airport Express. A limited stop, four station, airport transit line.
- The 18.5 km Everline in Yongin, South Korea. another limited stop airport line.
During the same period, over 150 new light rail transit (LRT) lines have been built or are now nearing completion, far too many to list. Many more new LRT lines are being planned. In fact, by 1986, the year of SkyTrain’s debut in Vancouver, it was considered obsolete by transit planners in North America and Europe and like the French VAL system, now seems only to be sold in private deals as a prestigious airport connector.
Modern light-rail, was cheaper to build and operate and far more flexible in use. If one needed to construct a light-metro to cater to high traffic loads, LRT could do the job and carry more customers, yet retain the ability to operate on lesser rights-of-ways, in mixed traffic if need be. Proprietary driverless transit systems, by their very design, can not do. This inherent loss of operating flexibility far outweighed the few positives with light-metro and the fate of proprietary transit systems like ICTS/ALRT/ART and VAL were sealed. As with all proprietary transit systems, the seeds of obsolescence are sold with the product and if the manufacturer were to cease production, the costs for proprietary transit systems increase dramatically! In Seattle, the operators of the ALWEG monorail have great problems finding spares and have to custom make, at great expense, broken parts. It is like getting spare parts for an Edsel!
Except for Vancouver, no other city relies on SkyTrain ALRT/ART solely for rail transportation, which makes Vancouver and TransLink an anomaly. The continued efforts to force more SkyTrain construction is like the past Bre-X scandal (where ore samples were ‘salted’ with gold); with SkyTrain planning being ‘salted’ with questionable studies and invented statistical analysis. Abetted by a complacent media who treat all public transit projects as a “mom and apple pie” issue, never have done the investigative reporting that has been standard with other mega-projects and gave SkyTrain a ‘free pass’. 30 years of SkyTrain indoctrination is clearly evident; a burgeoning TransLink deficit; high transit fares; a rail transit network that a nervous TransLink admits that 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first come from buses; and a largely misinformed SkyTrain lobby. No wonder transit planners from around the world chuckle at Metro Vancouver and TransLink with amusement.
The question that the SkyTrain lobby refuse to answer is again asked; “If SkyTrain is so good, why in an era of unprecedented investment in public transit, it has been rejected by transit planners around the world?“