From Charlie Smith & The Georgia Straight – Canada Line subsidy will be felt for years to come



Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight is probably the regions best reporter on transit issues as he has researched SkyTrain and all other transit issues for almost two decades and his insight to RAV and SkyTrain issues clearly demonstrate this. What is not mentioned is that RAV will drain money away from the bus system, simply because TransLink will skim bus fares as RAV fares. In the real world of transit operations, when transit customers transfer from bus to metro or LRT, the fare is apportioned between the modes. Example if a $4.00 fare is paid and the transit customer uses bus then transfers to metro/LRT, the $4.00 fare is apportioned $2.00 for bus and $2.00 for metro/LRT. If the transit customer transfers once again tom a bus the apportioned fare should be $2.66 for buses and $1.34 for metro.

TransLink doesn’t apportion fares but collects fares in one pot and will give RAV the full fare, leaving the buses short. The same trick is used on SkyTrain, where 80% of SkyTrain ridership first take a bus to the metro, and has hobbled the bus system, creating large deficits, while at the same time TransLink makes the claim that SkyTrain fares are covering operating costs. One wonders how a subsidized metro system can claim that it pays its operating costs, when in fact it is subsidized?

The present SkyTrain system is subsidized by over $200 million annually and no doubt the RAV line will also be subsidized for the lifetime of the metro system.

Canada Line subsidy will be felt for years to come

By Charlie Smith

The 19-kiliometre Canada Line will open with great political fanfare on Monday (August 17).

The public will be allowed to ride for free from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the line, which runs from Waterfront Station to Richmond Centre and to the airport.

But that’s when the free ride will end. TransLink has already acknowledged that it might take until 2013 before the Canada Line generates 100,000 riders per day.

And that could be bad news for taxpayers and transit riders.

InTransit B.C. Limited Partnership, which is the private operator, has signed a 35-year deal with TransLink. And TransLink has guaranteed to subsidize Canada Line ridership shortfalls of less than 100,000 per day.

If TransLink, as a publicly funded body, wants to maintain public trust, it should report this subsidy on a quarterly basis.

TransLink is seeking an additional $450 million per year to enhance the transportation system. If it gets its wish, there will be new vehicle-registration charges as well as tolls on Metro Vancouver bridges, including those connecting Vancouver to the North Shore.

TransLink had better hope that the peak-oil theorists are wrong. Because if they’re correct, it will hit the transportation authority in three ways:

* Airport traffic will diminish, reducing ridership on the Canada Line.

* Rising fuel prices will cause people to curtail driving, which will reduce the amount of fuel taxes (12 cents a litre) rolling into TransLink’s coffers.

* Fewer people will be driving over tolled bridges including the Golden Ears Bridge. In the latter case, TransLink will have to offset this by providing greater subsidies to the private operator, just like it will do with the Canada Line if airport traffic diminishes.

The Canada Line is a primary reason why TransLink is in a financial pinch. I can recall two municipal politicians–Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie and former North Vancouver City mayor Barbara Sharp–voting in favour of the line in 2004 after a motion passed calling for a $1.35-billion cap on public financing.

The $1.35-billion figure is obvious fiction after the operating subsidies are included in the equation.

Louie and Sharp caved in the face of pressure from the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Vancouver Sun editorial board, the Vancouver Airport Authority, and the provincial and federal governments, which all wanted the line built.

If drivers, homeowners, and transit riders all end up paying a great deal more in the coming years, they can lay part of the blame on Louie and Sharp.

But they weren’t the only TransLink directors responsible. Senator Larry Campbell, former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, Surrey councillor Marvin Hunt, former Langley City mayor Marlene Grinnell, Richmond mayor Malcom Brodie, and former Coquitlam mayor Jon Kingsbury all voted in favour of the Canada Line. 

It’s worth noting that Larry Campbell’s friend, SFU criminologist Neil Boyd, cast the deciding vote at the regional board in favour of a $4-billion plan that helped finance TransLink’s contribution. At the time, Boyd represented Bowen Island on the regional board.

If the Bowen Island council had left the then-mayor Lisa Barrett on the board, the transportation plan likely would never have been passed because Barrett was a staunch opponent of building the Canada Line as a P3 project. Barrett, now a Bowen Island councillor, also didn’t believe the early forecasts that 100,000 people would be riding the Canada Line in 2009.

Because of a seemingly insignificant decision–replacing a regional board director in a tiny island municipality that had one vote at Metro Vancouver–the public might end up paying much higher transportation costs in the future.


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3 Responses to “From Charlie Smith & The Georgia Straight – Canada Line subsidy will be felt for years to come”

  1. John Says:

    I’m sure the government will find a bunch of money somewhere (try the $1.6 billion HST “transition fund”) to keep Translink afloat!


    I’ve lived in vancouver for many years now, and while I was initially a supporter of Skytrain, that was before I thought about how much it costs, and before I compared it with other possibilities.

    At-grade LRT makes sense on SO MANY LEVELS. Not only is it far cheaper to build, it is much more accessible, not only for the elderly and handicapped but for anyone who lacks some athletic prowess. It’s something that as a 20-somethinger I didn’t think a lot about, racing up and down those incredible flights of stairs all the time. But many of the population do not relish the time and energy spent on the stairs. And the NOISE! I’ve just kind of gotten used to it, but if you want a relaxing ride Skytrain is NOT AT ALL where it’s at.

    FURTHERMORE, those huge concrete pillars with the deafening noise above them are a pure dead-zone for livability anywhere you look, and a hindrance to small-businesses, whereas at-grade light rail actually attracts people and helps the local economy.

    We need progressive leadership on this. Where does Gregor Robertson stand on the UBC-line?

    Someday we will be able to ride between UBC to as far out as Chilliwack or even Hope, without a transfer, without a car. What a great day that will be! We need to push our politicians as hard as we can in this direction, and away from the losing ideology of Skytrain.

  2. David Says:

    This could hurt for far more than just 4 years. I don’t see where the ridership is going to come from.

    I recall very clearly that either Kevin Falcon or Gordon Campbell, on being questioned about the 100,000 trips figure, said that the majority would be in Vancouver. That means the city itself is going to have to find a minimum of 50,001 riders for this new line. Cambie itself has never generated more than 600 transit passengers per hour in the peak direction and significantly fewer the other way. Other parallel routes to downtown won’t see much cannibalization because of the high level of hassle and lost time involved in transferring to a cross town bus. The cross town routes themselves are primarily used to reach destinations outside the downtown core and thus don’t carry more than a handful of passengers interested in the Canada Line. I simply don’t see the city itself generating 50,001 passengers along Cambie any time in the forseeable future.

    So that means the majority of trips will have to cross the Fraser, but South Delta and South Surrey residents are buying cars to avoid the “new and improved” transfer at Bridgeport and it’s unlikely that many YVR passengers will think hauling their luggage to a Canada Line station and then paying $5 per person is much of a bargain. That leaves Richmond to come up with as many as 50,000 new north bound transit riders in just 4 years. Anyone who believes that’s going to happen should send $10,000 to me and I’ll arrange to get them their winnings from the foreign lottery they just won.

    Zweisystem replies: Dead right! Two problems face RAV 1) Geography, 2) Forced transfers.

    Trouble with RAV is that YVR is very accessible from Vancouver and the cost of a taxi or Limousine service is not prohibitive. Businessmen on expense accounts will take a taxi or Limo and parties of two or more will find taking a taxi or Limo affordable, compares to a RAV fare+ taxi fare to ones hotel. If anyone drive to ‘Casino Junction’ to transfer to RAV, the temptation, especially off-peak, will be to drive to Vancouver. I just can’t see South Surrey & South Delta residents driving to ‘Casino Junction” then parking, then transferring to RAV to complete their journey, taking the car to town will be just more convenient.

    It is well known that one can lose upwards of 70% of potential ridership per transfer and those who had just one transfer before RAV, will now have two.

  3. Justin Bernard Says:

    The sad thing is, Skytrain suppoter will STILL push for automated metro along Broadway even though it’s clear that these lines are not attracting riders. It’s time that supporters of these expensive systems realize the futility in building a system that focuses solely on regional travel, when it is LOCAL travel that attracts riders.

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