Prendergast’s parting words on Rail for the Valley

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A couple weeks ago, it was announced that Translink CEO Tom Prendergast was quitting his position, and accepting a job as president of New York City’s Transit Authority. He had only joined Translink in July 2008, and now he has left! I am guessing he didn’t like what he saw.

Prendergast was as positive a force as could be expected in such an organization as Translink, run under the tightest of control of Premier Gordon Campbell.

Here’s an illuminating excerpt, his parting words on the possibilities of light rail for the valley (Surrey Leader, Nov. 24):

Kwantlen Student Association rep Nathan Griffiths said improved transit is needed to serve campuses in Cloverdale and Langley and asked about the potential to extend passenger light rail to the Fraser Valley.

“There’s really no impediment,” Prendergast responded. “It’s overcoming the cultural embracement of SkyTrain that has existed to date.”

He said TransLink is seeking to cut through the pro-SkyTrain “cultural bias” as it embarks on a careful examination of rapid transit technologies for line extensions west along Broadway and south of the Fraser.

Prendergast predicted the first light rail line that comes to the Lower Mainland will lead to much greater appreciation of its potential.

It’s interesting to think about this “cultural bias” towards Skytrain. Who actually has this bias? It isn’t residents or even politicians in the Fraser Valley: Not a single municipal candidate in Surrey the last election supported Skytrain expansion over light rail. Not a single candidate. Not one!

No, it’s the old-guard politicians of Vancouver, who were around for the previous Skytrain expansions and have the most personal stake in continuing to expand the Skytrain money hole. It’s Mike Harcourt, it’s Gordon Campbell, and others involved in Vancouver’s transportation decisions of the last 25 years.

To anyone who wonders why the problems with Skytrain often take centre stage on this blog, Prendergast answers the question.

To get light rail for the valley, we absolutely must cut through the pro-SkyTrain “cultural bias” that exists, not among the populace of the Fraser Valley, but among Vancouver’s political elite, who all-too-often take it upon themselves to make all the decisions for the rest of us.

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8 Responses to “Prendergast’s parting words on Rail for the Valley”

  1. mezzanine Says:

    Zwei probably knows where I stand on skytrain, but I also support LRT for other areas of metro, esp. south of fraser. However, I do not think it is an ‘either-or’ choice, we need more transit, more skytrain, more LRT, more streetcar everywhere.

    Pick the right techology for the right corridor. The SRY ROW is great for LRT/tram, as with Vancouver’s second avenue ROW.

    If anything, the MTA in New York seems to covet Prendergast’s experience with Skytrain:

    “Tom’s work running one of the most technologically sophisticated systems in Vancouver will be invaluable as we take the MTA to the next level in performance and customer service.” = MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder
    http://www.mta.info/mta/news/releases/?en=091105-HQ31

    And if anything, translink’s funding crisis is not from skytrain, it’s from the expansion of bus routes into the suburbs.

    “The majority of the $130 million structural deficit faced by TransLink is a result of factors other than Canada Line, such as the increase in the operational cost of the bus fleet, particularly into lower ridership, geographically sparse areas

    Ridership and associated revenue are lower on these routes, yet the cost of operating a bus is relatively constant. Overall, the growth or expansion in operational expenses exceeded inflation by a multiple of 3.5 times.”

  2. zweisystem Says:

    Dead right John. What is forgotten is that just the two SkyTrain lines are subsidized by over $230 million annually. This money could have been spent on other transit options, but SkyTrain has swallowed up the money like a celestial black-hole – RAV/Canada Line only exacerbates the situation.

    TransLink’s financial woes are not buses South of Fraser, rather light-metro and until the SkyTrain lobby can be made to understand this, TransLink will continue to slide into financial oblivion.

  3. mezzanine Says:

    As per the Comptroller general’s report, translink’s financial woes are from a lack of sustainable ongoing funding and the expansion of bus service. Not that we don’t need it for south fraser, but we need the funding to match that future commitment.

    http://www.fin.gov.bc.ca/OCG/ias/pdf_Docs/transportation_governance.pdf

    “The main culprit for the looming deficit is the large bus expansion program that has been underway the past three years (an expansion that was initially scheduled to occur at TransLink’s inception in 1999, but was halted due to a lack of revenues).

    Growth in operational expenses has recently surpassed ridership growth. This is primarily due to new routes in the suburbs which are not attracting the average ridership levels, and thus requiring major subsidization – money of which TransLink does not have.”
    http://www.paulhillsdon.com/?tag=comptroller-general

    If you have a link to a source for skytrain’s subsidy, feel free to post it.

  4. zweisystem Says:

    Sorry Mezz, the Comptrollers report did not look at metro, nor its costs to the system. Fact be known, Vancouver’s trolley buses are a bigger financial problem than South Fraser buses.

    The Comptroller General was not mandated to do a forensic audit of SkyTrain and RAV, just a superficial look at TransLink and BC Ferries.

    The fact is, there has never been an audit done on the SkyTrain metro system by the Auditor General or comptroller General and for good reason; if the full financial facts were to be known about Vancouver’s light-metro system, there would be no public appetite to build more.

    There is very good reason why only seven of these systems have been sold in the past 30 years and a forensic audit would reveal all.

  5. David Says:

    Seriously zwei, the trolley buses are to blame? You mean the buses with the highest average passenger loads in western Canada are worse than the ones in South Delta that run empty all day?

    Electric buses cost significantly more than diesel buses. That’s a fact, but the drivers aren’t paid any more and 70% of operating costs for a transit system are salaries.

    And if the trolleys are a bad investment from an operational standpoint because they and their overhead wiring are expensive to maintain I still think they’re a good thing from an environmental standpoint. They consume no fossil fuel, emit no exhaust, operate quietly and have better operational performance (particularly on hills) than diesel buses.

    I know you’re trying to make a point here, but you’ve got the wrong target in your sights this time.

  6. zweisystem Says:

    The problem is, Vancouver’s trolleybuses are ill run, which translates into expensive operation.

    The fact is, trolley or electric buses are falling out of favour as they are just too expensive to operate. We know they are environmentally friendly, but when operated indifferently, like in Vancouver, operating costs soar.

    I’m not trying to diss Vancouver’s trolleybuses, but their operating costs are extremely high, compared to diesel buses and do cost TransLink large sums of money to operate.

  7. David Says:

    How about some explanations please zwei.

    Trams and trolley buses are both electric vehicles that use overhead wiring and drivers. The only differences are vehicle size and wheel material. If trams are the most efficient form of public transit how is it that trolley buses are so much worse?

    Please explain how our buses are ill run. I don’t see any significant difference between the trolley routes and the diesel routes. Are you saying all our buses are ill run? How would you fix the problem?

  8. zweisystem Says:

    Trolleybuses become more cost effective when they move large amounts of people, but once one operates diesel buses on trolley routes as TransLink does, the cost effectiveness for trolleybuses diminishes.

    Broadway is a good example: Trolley buses instead of carrying heavy loads are condemned to operate a slower service, while the B – Line buses move the heavy loads.

    If Broadway was operated on the European model, there would be no B-Line service and articulated trolleys would operate at 2 to 3 minute peak hour services with stops every 400m to 500m. Faster acceleration with trolleybuses combined with preemptive signaling (easier with trolleys) would make the service comparable with the current B-Line, with a much cheaper operating cost.

    As a note, Zwei tried to interest BC Transit in operating an European style trolley service from downtown Vancouver to Richmond via Oak St. and the Oak Street Bridge and was rudely laughed at. A few years later a diesel B-Line style bus was operating such a service.

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