Global Warming, Copenhagen, & Light Rail – The Solution That Is Ignored


When one looks past the European street theater of riots, the embarrassment of Canada, the intransigence of the USA, China and Russia, what will Copenhagen climate conference accomplish? Probably very little. The world is not ready for global warming and if a few island nations submerge due to rising sea levels, no one will really care.

Much of CO2 contributing to global warming is coming from burning fossil fuels and much of it comes from gas and diesel motors, yet no one seems to think reducing auto and truck use should be a top priority. Premier Campbell points to the newly completed RAV/Canada Line as an example of taking 200,000 car trips off the road per day, but can’t show any believable statistic to support his claim as the RAV Line has yet to show that a modal shift, from car to transit,  has taken place.

Unlike the new Karlsruhe tramtrain service which saw an over 423% increase in ridership in a few short weeks, RAV’s new ridership seems to be elderly Asians from Vancouver shopping in Richmond and older gamblers going to the River Rock Casino to be relieved of their savings; there is absolutely no evidence of the all important modal shift from car to transit. Have we spent almost $3 billion to attract people to malls and casinos?

The SkyTrain light-metro system is force-fed 80% of its riders from the bus system and in almost twenty-five years of operation, BC Transit and now TransLink have never claimed any modal shift from car to transit. This is dismal news, as the taxpayer has now invested over $8 billion in a light-metro system that has failed to attract the motorist from the car. Regional transit planners, abetted by politicians, seem to be doing the same thing over and over again, without achieving a different outcome.

Rapid transit does not reduce congestion or pollution.

It is an ongoing myth that rapid transit reduces traffic congestion and pollution and the cliché’ “Build it and they will come”, is now used to masquerade poorly implemented transit schemes, like Seattle’s Link Light Rail. What does reduce auto congestion and pollution, is a transit system that is designed to suit the needs of customers and what customers want is a ‘seamless’ of no transfer journey from home to destination. Modern light-rail, being much cheaper to build, is better able to achieve the all important seamless journey than much more expensive metro and light-metro. Modern LRT can provide the rail network that can achieve the all important modal shift from car to transit, yet it is largely ignored.

Even though the SkyTrain light-metro system carries a large volumes of customers every day, most (over 80%) are bus passengers forced onto the metro not former car drivers. This certainly makes for impressive ridership numbers and bureaucrats can pat themselves on the back, but in reality, SkyTrain has achieved very little because it hasn’t provided the transit network that will attract the all important motorists. The SkyTrain lobby, of course, continues the myth that the light-metro has reduced congestion and pollution, but ignores that SkyTrain’s ridership has just kept pace with population growth. Too expensive to extend (Langley is said to get SkyTrain by 2030), SkyTrain continues to constrain both public transit policy and public transit development.

With the spectre of ‘Peak Oil’ and ‘Global Warming’ looming, the METRO region will find it difficult to cope with increasing public transit demand and will be forced, kicking and screaming,  to consider much cheaper LRT; in fact, in a few short years the SkyTrain light-metro system will be seen as a combined curse of dated technology and operational philosophy. 

Vancouver and the Fraser Valley needs 300 km to 400 km of ‘rail‘ transit to provide the transportation network that will attract the motorist from the car, thus creating the all important modal shift. The question is do we build with modern LRT, with costs as low as $4 million to $7 million (track sharing) or SkyTrain with starting costs now well over $100 million km. By building with LRT, the region could create a large, user friendly transit network that would go a long way in achieving the all important modal shift. Continuing our present course of only planning for light metro will create financial chaos resulting in a very expensive, disjointed and very user unfriendly transit system.

One has little hope for any successful outcome from the Copenhagen conference and very few people in the METRO region have the foresight to provide the real solutions to mitigate a looming environmental catastrophe. Building modern LRT and creating a large light rail network would go a long way in reducing both auto congestion and CO2 pollution which, strangely, is something local environmental groups seem afraid in endorsing, as they prefer to jet about pretending they are achieving something.

Sadly in BC, it is business as usual, with planning continues for very expensive, politically prestigious light metro built on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them and building highways, in transit starved areas to cater to the auto.

21st century transit planning has never seemed so far away.


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2 Responses to “Global Warming, Copenhagen, & Light Rail – The Solution That Is Ignored”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    “Have we spent almost $3 billion to attract people to malls and casinos?”

    Which in turn leads to more money collected by Government from gambling revenues… Hmmm… Maybe that was the goal.

  2. John Says:

    Regarding local environmental groups, I must point out: the Wilderness Committee is and has been extremely supportive, and local environmental groups such as CAUSS in Abbotsford have campaigned with us and strongly support light rail for the Fraser Valley.

    But it’s true, some groups have held back, for fear of provincial government retribution.

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