From the Georgia Straight – TransLink’s Broadway transit gambit condemned



It seems Vancouver’s politicians are not satisfied with one hugely expensive subway, they want a almost $4 billion subway under Broadway to UBC. Indeed, as Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan points out, Vancouver’s politicians are blinkered to the real costs involved with subway construction, especially when the provincial and region taxpayers anted up for the almost $3 billion RAV/Canada Line, which is route woefully short of ridership to support the mode.

Do not Mayor Robertson and the Vision Council understand the ramifications of building expensive metro systems on routes that do not have the ridership to support them? Do they not realize if a subway doesn’t cater to 400,000 passengers a day or more then massive subsidies must be paid to support the subway?  Apparently not as Vancouver and the SkyTrain/light-metro lobby bang the drum for more expensive subways, which the rest of the region, must prostrate themselves to the wishes of Vancouver. It seems, when the premier of the province who was once a mayor of Vancouver and supported by other premiers who were once Vancouver mayors, hugely expensive subways will always be on the menu for Vancouver.

It is certainly enough evidence to support the end of TransLink as we know it and form two transit agencies: 1) For communities with SkyTrain or RAV and 2) those communities without SkyTrain or RAV. Only when the the taxpayers residing in the communities with SkyTrain and RAV light metro feel the full cost of the mode, no rational decision on transit will ever be made in the region.

By Matthew Burrows

October 1,  2009

Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan believes the possible development of rapid transit along Broadway has blinkered Vancouver politicians to the funding constraints facing a regional transit authority he calls “bankrupt”.

“I think that Vancouver very much has seized on the idea that somehow they are going to get a Broadway line out of this and that there is a campaign issue for them [Vision Vancouver],” Corrigan told the Georgia Straight by phone.

Because TransLink is in such a financial crunch, its TransLink 2010 10-Year Plan has laid out a “base plan” along with two supplementary funding options, each with a varying price tag to get out of the hole.

A third option, called “On Track to a Sustainable Region”, would piggyback on the supplementary plan titled “Maintain and Upgrade” and abandon the base plan. It is also the most expensive version. Vision Vancouver—representatives of which occupy all of Vancouver’s six spots on the Metro Vancouver board—has come out in favour of “On Track”, which would require an additional $450 million in annual funding above current levels and would dramatically expand the borrowing limit, to $6.5 billion.

“I think one of the things that happens very clearly is that unless you go to the $450 million [option], there is no discussion of expansion of any rapid transit in Vancouver,” Corrigan said.

He added that he favours a position of “no supplement”, which is the base-plan option. This would require “drastic cuts”, according to TransLink documents. (The remaining option, called “Funding Stabilization”, requires an additional $130 million a year above current levels.)

Provincial legislation requires that TransLink’s mayors’ council—consisting of the region’s 21 mayors as well as Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird—respond to the funding scenarios by October 31. TransLink spokesperson Judy Rudin told the Straight that the mayors’ council will vote October 23.

Neither Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson nor Dianne Watts, Surrey mayor and chair of the mayors’ council, responded to messages by the Straight‘s deadline.

On August 26, Metro senior regional planner Raymond Kan sent a list of recommendations to the regional planning committee. The On Track option presented “the highest level of consistency and support for the Livable Region Strategic Plan”, Kan said. The regional planning committee approved Kan’s list and sent it to the Metro Vancouver board meeting of September 25, where Robertson moved the initial motion before giving an impassioned speech pushing for more funding.

“I think it’s critical that Metro Vancouver directors remain united on the $450 million and that we don’t fold our tents now,” Robertson said at the time, having just stated: “The other [funding] levels are totally inadequate and inappropriate to be suggesting.”

Baird and Corrigan both missed the Metro vote, and Burnaby city councillor Sav Dhaliwal was the only dissenter as the motion passed. Corrigan countered later that Vancouver politicians are pushing for the $450 million because they want to “get back in the queue”.

“And they are desperate to get back in the queue, because, in essence, past councils have completely messed up any opportunity for the line to go along Broadway,” he said. “So they are really the authors of their own misfortune. I’m not blaming Gregor. He wasn’t on council. He inherits a series of decisions from [former Vancouver mayors] Philip Owen through Larry Campbell through Sam Sullivan that have militated against any expansion of the transit system down Broadway.”

The mayors’ council has “no appetite” for approving the $450-million option, Corrigan claimed, partly because TransLink commissioner Martin Crilly’s August 31 report on TransLink’s 2010 10-Year Plan states that this option has a “gap of $175 million [per year] in identified funding”.

“This means that the scenario has no status as a Supplement to be approved or rejected under the Act,” Crilly wrote.

Speaking at the September 25 Metro meeting, Surrey councillor Linda Hepner also expressed concern over the changes to TransLink governance initiated in 2007 under then–B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon. Hepner called it a “dog’s breakfast”, which resonated with Corrigan, who has claimed both at the Metro board and to the Straight that a private, unelected board equates to “taxation without representation”.


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9 Responses to “From the Georgia Straight – TransLink’s Broadway transit gambit condemned”

  1. mezzanine Says:

    As with all politicians, i would take what corrigan has to say with a grain of salt. Corrigan looks after burnaby first, not metro vancoouver, certainly not south of fraser.

    “Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, however, warned TransLink’s plans are unaffordable and argued scarce funding should be used to sustain service to areas with strong existing ridership rather than areas with low transit use if cuts are required.

    “There are significant subisides going into many of the South of Fraser routes that are questionable in terms of business efficiency,” he said.”

    Source:Jeff Nagel,

    Zweisystem replies: Mayor Corrigan, once being Chair of BC Transit, probably knows more about transit issues than other mayors. Quite right that services be cut on weak transit services, we have 5 in South Delta that operate hourly services and carry at best 25 passengers a day in total. To operate such services only shows how incompetent TransLink is! As for subsidies, the current $230m to $240m annual subsidy for SkyTrain (not including RAV) trumps all subsidies.

    You can not operate a public transit service as a social service, it will fail and fail badly.

  2. Richard Says:

    So first you complain about South of the Fraser not receiving their fair share of funding then you complain about routes South of the Fraser not having sufficient ridership. Well, if ridership and revenue were the key considerations for transit expansion, then pretty much all of it would be in Vancouver. Given the lower densities in many places in the valley, the rail routes in the Valley you are proposing would probably require more subsidy per trip than the UBC Line subway.

    I actually crunched the numbers on the Portland street car and the subsidies per trip are similar to what the UBC line would be. For passenger kilometres, the subsidy for the Portland Street car is much higher than the UBC Line.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do support greatly expanded transit service in the Valley and South of the Fraser even if it is greatly subsidized.

    Mobility is a basic human right. Some people have no choice but to use transit. Are you proposing that these people in Delta be stuck at home?

    Zweisystem replies: Quote: “I actually crunched the numbers on the Portland street car and the subsidies per trip are similar to what the UBC line would be. For passenger kilometres, the subsidy for the Portland Street car is much higher than the UBC Line.”

    I’m sorry but that statement is absolutely silly and I’m trying to contain myself. A near $4 billion subway can’t compare with a streetcar line and I don’t know what numbers you crunched but they certainly don’t come close to reality. The only mistake I think you made is that American transit projects tend to be the total cost, including debt servicing, over a 40 to 50 year period, where here we only use direct costs.

    I’m sorry but mobility is not a basic human right, nor is public transit, once we make the public transit system a social transit system, it will fail and fail badly.

  3. John Says:

    Two reasons why light rail transit is a wise investment south of the Fraser, and why there’s a fundamental difference between an initially heavily subsidized rail route vs. bus route:

    1) Light Rail has the ability to attract people who would otherwise use automobiles
    2) There is a permanence regarding a rail line. Businesses and people are comfortable locating along the line, whereas with buses the route can change overnight.

    Regarding low ridership bus routes: In many areas around the Fraser Valley, it would cost less and actually be better for the environment to have a “Cheap Taxi” transit service a person can call, rather than running empty buses.

  4. voony Says:


    I did the same thing withe new Seattle LRT (central link), and I found the subsidirary per trip is more than 10 times higher than on the Canada line.
    …and i take the cost of the Seattle LRT discounting the debt servicing (which I don’t usually see included in US project)…and number could look similar for a UBC subway…

    Zweisystem replies: The costs published for the Seattle hybrid light-rail/metro is the total cost over a 50 year period. As well Seattle’s hybrid light-metro/rail is very poorly planed and hugely over engineered. If you want a apples to apples comparison, use Calgary’s LRT. Voony, one thinks you will say anything to support a SkyTrain subway no matter how questionable the claim is. Again I ask the question: If Skytrain is so good, why has only 7 (yes count’em 7) SkyTrain type systems have been sold in the past 30 years? If subways are so cheap and good, why don’t other cities put their transit underground?

  5. Jim Says:

    I like the idea of a SkyTrain / Rav transit region, and separate region for the other areas. Being in Abbotsford I am lucky to be outside of Translinks reach anyways… However, if that were to happen, and Translink got a smaller tax base, wouldn’t they just increase it by asking for more money from the province?

    Zweisystem replies: Note for Zweisystem – engage brain then write reply. Apologies Jim.

  6. John Says:

    Zwei….. you might want to read that last comment of Jim’s a little more carefully 🙂

    Zweisystem replies: See note.

  7. Jim Says:

    Considering I missed the reply, apology accepted 😛

  8. David Says:

    I think zwei is being too subtle here.

    The Province will NEVER provide more money to make up for a TransLink shortfall. Their entire “business model” is to reduce provincial taxes and force the municipalities to make up the difference with higher property taxes.

  9. ian Says:

    the idea that the broadway corridor is anything but the most ideal place for a new skytrain line is absurd. when you compare the various municipalities in metro vancouver, the city of vancouver, with all of its prime transit destinations (downtown, UBC, broadway corridor) is terribly underserved. obviously the burnaby mayor takes that position, because burnaby is terribly OVERserved with skytrain. until the canada line opened, burnaby had more skytrain stations than vancouver!! does that really make sense? of course not. clearly, skytrain will need to be expanded both down the broadway corridor to UBC, and extended further into surrey. it’s a no-brainer at this point.

    Zweisystem replies: Here is the problem that SkyTrain brings, why pay for a premium priced but obsolete light-metro, when light rail could probably do a better job at a fraction of the cost? For every km. of SkyTrain built, we can build 3 km. to 10 km. of LRT/streetcar.

    In an age of peak oil and global warming, why do planners till tinker with the light-metro model, when just about every other transit authority has rejected it. Despite the hype and hoopla about SkyTrain, in venue service it has proven to cost more to builds and operate; has not proven to attract the motorist from the car; and has reinforced the idea that elevated transit systems are just a bad idea. SkyTrain has been on the market for over 30 years now and it can only be sold in private deals, with the government of Canada being the financial backer.

    To continue with SkyTrain would continue the transit “fools paradise” we live in. For the cost of a SkyTrain extension in Surrey, we can build a deluxe Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban! It is a no-brainer to abandon SkyTrain, now.

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