A Great Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth from the SkyTrain lobby – The ignored SkyTrain Subsidy



In 1993, the GVRD (now Metro) and Transport 2021, published the study, “The Cost of Transporting People in the BC Lower Mainland” and for the first time the annual SkyTrain subsidy was mentioned. In 1991, SkyTrain was subsidized to the tune of$157.6 million, more than half of the total subsidy paid for public transit in the Lower Mainland. BC Transit then, as TransLink does today,  ignores this vast sum of taxpayer’s dollars subsidizing the metro and make erroneous statements that SkyTrain pays its operating costs, etc.

The portion of the SkyTrain subsidy is thus:

Gas tax        –      $17.8 mil. out of $47.4 mil. collected

Hydro Levy   –    $4.7 mil. out of $12.6 mil. collected


Property Tax  –  $9 mil. out of $24 mil. collected


Property Tax  –  $5.2 mil. out of $14 mil collected


Government  –  $120.9 mil. out of $196.8 mil. paid

Total        –       $157.6 out of $294.8 paid

With the opening of the Millennium Line, SkyTrain’s annual subsidy increased past $200 million and with the RAV/Canada Line metro, again this subsidy will once again increase.

What is interesting to note, just one years worth of SkyTrain’s annual subsidy could fund a basic Vancouver to Chilliwack Interurban demonstration service; two years worth of SkyTrain’s annual subsidy could fund a hourly or better Vancouver to Chilliwack Interurban service!

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9 Responses to “A Great Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth from the SkyTrain lobby – The ignored SkyTrain Subsidy”

  1. BCPhil Says:

    What’s your point?

    I don’t see what your argument is by saying you can take a subsidy that pays for moving over 270,000 people a day (now more with Canada Line) and redirect two years worth to pay for just the building of a light rail line to move much less than that.

    I’m all for LRT in the Valley, it would be a good fit. But Skytrain is a good fit in Urban Vancouver and DOES move a lot of people around. Just the Canada Line has better ridership numbers than most LRT Systems in North America.

    Zweisystem replies: You miss the point completely, the SkyTrain lobby has never admitted that the metro is subsidized and claims it pays its operating costs, which being subsidized, clearly doesn’t.

    SkyTrain does move a great many people (I’d debate the 270,000 a day) but 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus to the metro, which gives rise to a fundamental question: “Are SkyTrain’s ridership numbers inflated by cascading bus passengers and forcing them to transfer onto the metro to give the appearance of high ridership?” SkyTrain doesn’t move a lot of people around rather it is force fed bus passengers on a linear route, with many of those passengers forced to transfer again to another bus.

    Here are two points to consider:

    1) For the monies invested in SkyTrain, we could have easily had 3 to 5 times more LRT, moving many more transit customers, to more destinations.
    2) Does SkyTrain work in Vancouver? Or does it give an appearance of working, where 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus to the metro and TransLink’s regional mode share has stagnated at about 11% for over a decade and a half.

  2. Jim Says:

    I won tickets from CKNW to the Abbotsford Airshow… I was supposed to pick them up in their offices downtown… To drive there from Abbotsford would have taken me I think it was 38 minutes, to take skytrain from Scott road would have taken longer, and I would have still had to get there… I don’t imagine the gas used would cost anymore then the fare for skytrain and parking at scott road. Skytrain obviously doesn’t work when Translink has to keep digging deeper into the pockets of the tax payer just to maintain current levels of service… Living in Abbotsford all I can say is that I hope Mayor Peary doesn’t get the idea in his head to join up with Translink. I think Abbotsford, Mission, and Chilliwack need to stick together and force ValleyMax to become a good role model for transit with LRT joining our communities and maybe making a stop at the edge of Langley where people can choose to get on Translinks service if they want…

    Zweisystem replies: My hope is that the Southern Railway of BC would run the Valley TramTrain and omit TransLink all together.

  3. mezzanine Says:

    ^an abbotsford to downtown trip via transit versus a personal vehicle is a tough comparison. i would be ready to admit that skytrain isn’t good for all trips and this would be one of them.

    If tram/train along SRY was able to link from abby to scott road the trip would be easy, but a car with easy traffic would still be able to get you there faster.

    If driving or parking closer to vancouver is a problem for you, you could have also driven north to mission and take a WCE train or trainbus. Even greyhound offers regular scheduled service between abby and vancouver directly.

    i would find it challenging to drive from abby to downtown in 38 minutes. If you google-map the trip from the greater vancouver zoo (aldergrove) it’s 56 km by highway 1 (44 mins according to google), not including time for lights, traffic and finding parking.

    Zweisystem replies: First, Tramtrain will not be successful unless it directly connects to Vancouver, not Scott Road SkyTrain station. A TramTrain link from Vancouver to Abbotsford would be 60 to 70 minutes, depending on route.

  4. Jim Says:

    I would be willing to sacrifice time for ease of use also. I am a commercial vehicle driver, but to be honest if it were possible, I would find a job within walking distance of my home or easy access of transit, and give up driving all together (minus motorcycling).

    The WCE is not cheap so it is not a good option, due to their subsidies they have to pay… That is the whole point behind the bring back the interurban, the rail corridor is there, as are the rights to use it… It’s a no-brainer… Unless your in office I suppose that is.

    “Zweisystem replies: My hope is that the Southern Railway of BC would run the Valley TramTrain and omit TransLink all together” That sounds like an excellent plan.!

  5. Chris Says:

    Hi Zweisystem

    I brief caveat up front – I live right near a Millennium line station and totally depend on SkyTrain for my everyday life. I love the service, warts, subsidies and all.

    Now to my point – I agree with both yourself and BCPhil. There is little to be gained in debating exactly how much SkyTrain is subsidized by the public purse nor what ‘could have been’ I think. SkyTrain is here to stay and will continue to be subsidized by the public purse for the next 100-200 years.

    You also mention the SkyTrain lobby has never admitted SkyTrain is subsidized. I daresay they never will. For better or worse, SkyTrain has become part of Vancouver’s identity. I think people support it for emotional not logical reasons. They want to brag about it to their friends who live in other cities and have no problems conveniently ignoring important facts like total cost. This is why it will always be hard to argue for LRT/TramTrain over SkyTrain in Vancouver. That and there is a lot of vested interest in SkyTrain.

  6. Jim Says:

    Chris, I hear what your saying, but in response to the following:

    “There is little to be gained in debating exactly how much SkyTrain is subsidized by the public purse nor what ‘could have been’ ”

    I think the point here is not what could have been, but what can be.

    Zweisystem replies: When we factor the cost of the subsidy into the total cost for SkyTrain and RAV/Canada Line, the light-metro option comes away poorly when compared to light-rail. This is why SkyTrain and its French cousin VAL has failed to find a market as modern LRT offers the same for a fraction of the price of SkyTrain/VAL. If TransLink pursues light-metro for future regional transit, expect short expensive metro lines that one must drive to or take a bus to use it. Again driving the car is just easier. These are lessons the TransLink and provincial transportation planners deliberately ignore.

  7. David Says:

    Brag about SkyTrain? Are you kidding? I ride it every weekday because it’s better than the bus, but that’s not saying much.

    The interior noise level alone is downright embarrassing thanks to the LIM drive system and doors hung on the outside of the cars that let in tons of noise and, on the Mark I cars, bang away against the sides of the train whenever its in motion.

    It’s mind boggling that trains designed for Toronto have doors that let in so much cold air in winter and equally shocking that the drive system can’t cope with an inch of snow.

    What might have been is instructive because it shows people how little value we have received for our money. In place of the Millennium Line we could have had LRT all the way to UBC and built the branch now known as the Evergreen Line. Three times as much track, serving significantly more people, built in the same time and there would have been money left over. That’s what people need to understand. We have an incomplete system because the chosen technology is far too expensive.

  8. Chris Says:

    Well, I never said those who brag about it actually use it.

    My main point is there is an undeniable “coolness” that SkyTrain has. Heck today I even saw a post-card with a SkyTrain featured predominately in the middle. Things like “coolness” often speak louder to people than dollars and statistics. On the Canada Line website, for example, they claim it to be the equivalent of a 10 lane highway. Whether or not figure is accurate or even a fair comparison is irrelevant – the statement conjures up vivid images in peoples minds that stick. Compare that image with the image of a shiny new Rotem Train gliding effortlessly over traffic and which way do you think people will gravitate, never mind the cost of such a thing?

    So you can have as many crystal clear and accurate figures about SkyTrain subsidies and costs as you want and most people still, I believe, wont listen to you. You need to appeal to them at an emotional as well as intellectual level, the same way most car ads attempt to (“zoom-zoom”, “das auto”, etc. etc. the list goes on).

    A final point I might add is it is probably fair to say SkyTrain technology is, by now, widely perceived as “proven” in Vancouver. European-style Tram-Train, on the other hand, isn’t. Winning people over to something new and unproven is always going to be an uphill battle.

    Zweisystem replies: Once the people who have SkyTrain and use SkyTrain, pay the full costs of SkyTrain, the coolness will wear off dramatically. Vancouver has 3 metro lines and its rate payers should be paying 3 times the property tax than say a Delta resident. When the region stops subsidizing SkyTrain for Vancouver, there will be a switch to light rail.

  9. Jim Says:

    Coolness factor? LRT tram train is pretty cool. I don’t think SkyTrain is proven, if it is only used in Vancouver, and Translink can’t pay for it… They are reaching out as far as Lanlgey to collect money to pay for it. We are lucking further east that our municipalities said NO! to Translink. You know what a lot of people would probably find “cool”, is a working transit system that served the need… I bet the people in the Tri-Cities don’t think SkyTrain is proven. It would likely be just as cool to live near LRT as it is for you next to the Millennium line. Of course you love it, it is of direct benefit to you, the population paying for it so you can use it though… And they are still running out of money, they don’t even have the money to continue current levels of services without creating more taxes.

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