UBC SkyTrain Subway Gaining Steam – Is it An Unstoppable Train?

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For 1 subway line, one can build many LRT/streetcar lines

One year ago, with Cambie Street merchant’s Susan Heyes lawsuit against TransLink fresh in many peoples minds, any thought of a SkyTrain subway under Broadway was quietly ignored. Now, with TransLink teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Vancouver’s political bloggists and mainstream media are gung-ho promoting a SkyTrain subway under Broadway to UBC.

The tired old cliché’s, that helped to sell the Expo, Millennium, and Canada Lines to the public are trotted out as transit fact, while light rail is so belittled, one wonders why anyone would build with it. In recent weeks, radio commentators openly questioned ridership data for the Evergreen Line and intimated that it was not worth the investment, while a UBC SkyTrain subway was. What is so tiresome is that no “real” transit experts are interviewed and specialists in light rail are treated as lepers by the mainstream media; no wonder that so many peoples opinions are warped in the METRO area.

Why then, this mad rush for a $4 billion SkyTrain subway to UBC?

There are many answers to this question, the first is that it will be Vancouver’s ‘last kick at the can’ for large amounts for ‘transit monies’ to be spent in the city. With the population of the City of Surrey soon to overtake Vancouver in city population, Surrey politicians will quite rightly demand a more equitable spending of transit taxes, making sure that Surrey and the rest of the Fraser Valley will get much more for their transit tax dollars.

Vancouver’s residents and politicians have this strange notion that ‘they are the centre of the universe’ and a ‘world class city’. To be a ‘world class city’ Vancouver needs subways, as all ‘world class cities’ have subways and definitely don’t have trams (well almost never). Rapid transit is not for practical use, rather it is built for political prestige, a sort of international bragging rights for being a world class city. With the mainstream media so entrenched in Vancouver’s myopic vision, they also support a SkyTrain subway to UBC, just as the mainstream media supported the hugely expensive Canada line because it serves the airport and as everyone knows, no city can be considered world class until it has a metro to serve the airport.

Vancouver’s former Mayor and City Manager, now Premier and the Premier’s close confident were the driving force behind the RAV/Canada line subway under Cambie St. and so designed the project’s criteria as to not allow modern light rail to be built on the abandoned but existing rapid transit route that bisects Vancouver from the Fraser River to False Creek, the Arbutus Corridor! By doing so, they drove up the cost, from well under $1 billion to over $2.5 billion while at the same time reduced the scope of the subway line to a point that it has less capacity than LRT, if it had been built instead! The same may happen with a Broadway subway; needing billions of dollars more in future upgrades!

There is also the continued clarion call for densification by pseudo transit experts and some academics, yet no one to date, who advocates “higher densities for rapid transit” actually states what density is needed and for what mode. Certainly a light rail option along Broadway would cost at least one fifth to one sixth of that of a SkyTrain subway (a simple streetcar, even less) and it would be logical to deduce that a LRT option would need one fifth to one sixth the density to sustain compared to a subway option. Vancouver’s West End has the highest residential densities in Canada, yet the downtown peninsula is ill served by transit and doesn’t have even a metro station!

The recent Olympics have shown that if you massively restrict parking and close bridges and vehicle access to Vancouver’s CBD, people will use transit. A lot of people used TransLink’s transit system during the the two week Olympic party but many did not pay, rather just hopped on the SkyTrain and Canada Lines at will. It did not snow during the Olympics, so SkyTrain did not show its aversion to snow, by 5 kph operation or 15 minute dwell times at stations.

The Olympic Line was free for all and just using two vehicles, carried over 500,000 customers during its brief operation in Vancouver.

Is there a need for better transit on Broadway? Yes! Do we need to spend over $4 billion to build a subway under Broadway? No! So why then is there a massive push by Vancouver elites, who seldom, if ever use transit, to built a massively expensive subway on a route that could be just as easily served by a much cheaper light rail? Answer that question and then the public would have the answer why Vancouver is the only city in the world that pursues a strictly light-metro option for urban ‘rail’ transit.

Only in Vancouver you say; a great pity for the regional taxpayer.

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17 Responses to “UBC SkyTrain Subway Gaining Steam – Is it An Unstoppable Train?”

  1. mezzanine Says:

    “The tired old cliché’s, that helped to sell the Expo, Millennium, and Canada Lines to the public are trotted out as transit fact, while light rail is so belittled, one wonders why anyone would build with it. ”

    It seems that you are mixing up your arguement. if I may, to clarify the above:

    1) what are the corridors you want to put higher capacity lines?
    2) what will be the mode to use on those lines?

    WRT to question 1, the LRSP has been very clear since the 1990s where we are going to focus on high capacity corridors.

    http://www.metrovancouver.org/about/publications/Publications/LRSP.pdf(page 32)

    Let’s say if the M-line and C-line were built as LRT, would you have any issues about the choice of corridor?

    Zweisystem replies: First, let us forget this corridor nonsense as it was invented to support SkyTrain and not provide better transit. In the real world, ‘rail’ transit is built to suit various ridership levels on a certain transit route, thus if ridership on a transit route exceeds 2,000 pphpd, then LRT is a more affordable long term option than bus. If ridership surpasses 15,000 pphpd, then a metro may fill the bill.

    What we have here is contrived transit planning that is designed to suit SkyTrain light-metro. When one sees through the fog and professional misconduct of our current transit planning, it is easy to see why our regional transit system is:

    1) inefficient
    2) Why Translink is in financial chaos

    Building more SkyTrain on invented criteria will be a financial fiasco.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    sucks to be you skytrain ubc coming soon! it’s quite entertaining how you pseudo transit experts are freaking out and ranting like mad men.

    Zweisystem replies: Ranting? That’s like the pot calling the kettle black.

  3. David Says:

    I’d say a UBC SkyTrain will bankrupt TransLink, but they’re already there. Stand by for huge increases in property tax and massive cuts to bus services that do not feed a metro line. Have fun sitting in traffic all day.

  4. mezzanine Says:

    “First, let us forget this corridor nonsense as it was invented to support SkyTrain and not provide better transit. ”

    As Barrick Obama would say, let’s make this a learning point…

    “Most long-range transit planning takes the form of “corridor studies,” where the question is “should we build a transit project here, and if so what kind and how?” A Network Plan is different; it looks at the whole picture of a city’s needs a decade or two into the future, sees how the individual corridor decisions are part of a larger picture, and tries to describe the key features of that picture that everyone must keep in mind if the city’s goals for itself are to be met.

    A good Network Plan, once adopted, can make corridor studies a little easier. For example, corridor studies have to focus on one part of the city, so they cause difficult debates about which part of a city is the priority right now. An adopted Network Plan helps people focus on how each corridor is just part of a single interconnected network, designed to a consistent standard, that will serve the entire city.”

    http://www.humantransit.org/2009/08/environmentalist-critiques-of-strategic-transit-planning.html#more

    I am unsure of any city that uses LRT which does not use corridor analysis as part of its plans for LRT, let alone other higher intensity modes (metro/BRT).

    “LRT Corridor selection takes place at the beginning of the planning process. The work underway in 2010 will define where the LRT corridor will be located. Once a corridor is defined, steps will be taken to identify how the LRT will best fit within the designated corridor. Selecting the Northwest LRT corridor now helps the City prepare for the future, so when land development proposals are brought forward or new people move to an area, the decision will already have been made.”

    http://edmonton.ca/transportation/NWLRT_RoutesFactSheet.pdf

    So I would repeat my question, if the M-line and c-line were built as LRT, would you have any issues about the choice of corridor?

    Zweisystem replies: In the 1970’s, the plan was to install LRT on the existing interurban lines (Central park and Arbutus Line) to New Westminster and Richmond. What happened is that SkyTrain was parachuted onto the LRT plan to New Westminster, which route was unsuitable for metro. The real thrust for corridors, came with BC Transit’s three rapid transit plans in 1993. The reason for corridors is simple, because SkyTrain/metro is so expensive, planners need a much larger footprint for collecting passengers (over 1 km for metro versus about 300m for LRT) and by planning thus always made LRT to look inferior when compared to expensive metro.

    Just a note about the chap from Human transit, I respect what he says, but I disagree with much of what he says. In North America we have forgotten that transit is to move transit customers, while at the same time not driving the transit agency into bankruptcy. If one actually studies what customer wants, LRT tend to be the winner.

    If you want to win the motorist from the car, you must plan transit on a route basis, not corridor.

  5. Paul Says:

    Actually Zwei the idea of what corridors would have the lines were thought of way back in the early 70’s. Way before skytrain was even available.

    There is an article in the very early 70’s by Harry Rankin the Vancouver city Councillor. In it he asks the questions do we want freeways or metro system of some kind. There is map of what the metro system would look. It isn’t all that much different that what we have today. the only difference is instead of Broadway the northern route was Hasting. There was a route along the Kingsway corridor. Although it didn’t cross into Surrey. And they had the route going into Richmond but it was along Arbutus instead. I believe it even had the route along Broadway itself. At the time the technology was never chosen.

    So to say the corridors were chosen to make skytrain look better is wrong. As the corridors were mostly known before skytrain. The LRSP took the idea of the corridors and started the idea of satellite downtowns. They didn’t want everyone having to go downtown.

    Zweisystem replies: Actually in the 1970’s, the plan was to install LRT on the existing interurban lines (Central park and Arbutus Line) to New Westminster and Richmond. What happened is that SkyTrain was parachuted onto the LRT plan to New Westminster, which route was unsuitable for metro. The real thrust for corridors, came with BC Transit’s three rapid transit plans in 1993. The reason for corridors is simple, because SkyTrain/metro is so expensive, planners need a much larger footprint for collecting passengers (over 1 km for metro versus about 300m for LRT) and by planning thus always made LRT to look inferior when compared to expensive metro.

    As for technology, SkyTrain or metro was never considered until the Bill Bennet Social Credit government forced SkyTrain on the regionin 1979 ; pre-79 there was only one technology – LRT/streetcar-tram.

  6. mezzanine Says:

    “If you want to win the motorist from the car, you must plan transit on a route basis, not corridor.”

    But what does this mean? How does a ‘route’ differ from a ‘corridor’?

    “LRT and greater use of public transit is important to ensuring sustainable growth in Edmonton. However, the development of a new line will have significant impacts on existing businesses, communities, and institutions.
    With this in mind, it is important to recognize that no [B]route[/B] proposal will have unanimous support. The goal is to identify the [B]route[/B] that will provide the greatest benefit for Edmontonians.
    Technical experts with global expertise are conducting an extensive process to evaluate [B]corridors[/B]”

    http://edmonton.ca/transportation/NWLRT_RoutesFactSheet.pdf

    Zweisystem replies: “Technical experts with global expertise are conducting an extensive process to evaluate [B]corridors[/B]” – Ha, ha, ha Good joke Mezz, we don’t hire transit experts, rather we hire engineers and engineers are great for laying rail, not planning transit.

    Again you ignore the reasons why LRT is built and why people take transit. A transit route services both where people live and destinations, thus providing (hopefully) a customer friendly route. A transit corridor is a vast swipe of area, with a metro line running through, where planners hope that the mass of population in the corridor feeds the expensive metro! A corridor seldom services where people live and Richmond is a good example, that by building with RAV vast portions of Richmond’s population is not served by RAV by route, but TransLink can claim that the transportation needs in the corridor are satisfied by metro!

    The key is customer friendly transit and by building metro line after metro line, our transit system grows more and more customer unfriendly. Being customer unfriendly means taking the car is the only option.

  7. mezzanine Says:

    “A transit route services both where people live and destinations, thus providing (hopefully) a customer friendly route. ”

    Sounds like a corridor to me. Google “LRT corridor” and see what you get.

    “Ha, ha, ha Good joke Mezz, we don’t hire transit experts, rather we hire engineers and engineers are great for laying rail, not planning transit.”

    Then better tell edmonton and other LRT cities that they are making a mistake by hiring people with ‘experience’. And better tell Gerald Fox’s opinion is not welcome here, especially as a ‘rail corridor manager’.

    “The following article written by Gerald Fox, former TriMet Rail Corridor Manager, is well worth a read as it gives good insight why Portland opted for modern light rail.”

    https://railforthevalley.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/lrt-versus-buses-why-portland-chose-light-rail-from-the-lrta/

    Zweisystem replies: Actually, if one looks at Portland’s LRT lines they are routes, servicing specific destinations and when looks at future LRT/streetcar proposals, each line services a specific destination and/or urban area to attract ridership. MAX is designed to attract ridership.

    The only way to justify SkyTrain is in broad corridors, where TransLink hopes the ‘mass’ of population uses that one route, if not, then they force every bus rider they can to transfer to the metro to give the impression of high ridership. SkyTrain and RAV are designed not to attract ridership and ridership is force fed by forcing bus riders to transfer to metro.

    As for Gerald Fox, he has never been involved in Vancouver’s transit planning, in fact he has been shunned by Translink!

  8. 5678's Says:

    Yes, it is an unstoppable train. Sorry…

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Better get on or get run over!

    Zweisystem replies: I see that the Premier’s Public Affairs Bureau are busy, no lack of funding there!

  10. David Says:

    Sadly, Anonymous, we’re all going to get run over and have to pay for the “privilege” if this insane project goes ahead.

  11. curious Says:

    For those who says any skytrain/”light metro” extension will bring insane costs, what is your opinion on Portland “poor-ridership” LRT that will have another extension (http://trimet.org/pm/index.htm) for at least same amount of money per miles as Canada Line? is it even more insane?

    Zweisystem replies: The cost per km (we are metric up here) is about $125 million/km NOT INCLUDING DEBT SERVICING. In Portland, I would wager the cost per km is about one third to on half the cost per km including debt servicing. In Vancouver, debt servicing charges have never been added to any SkyTrain cost, while in Portland the voter has approved long tern bonds to finance LRT, thus the full cost of the project is known. No one in Vancouver knows the real cost of SkyTrain and RAV.

  12. curious Says:

    Maybe I should have linked to a direct pdf file for the Portland MAX extension:
    http://trimet.org/pdfs/pm/PMLR_Fact_Sheet_October2009.pdf

    “Highlight” info:
    Cost: $ 1.4 billion (estimation, beware transportation project all over the world would see increasing cost)
    Distance: 7.3 miles
    Stations: 10
    Ridership: 27400 daily by 2030

    Zweisystem replies: Like I said before, that is the total cost of the project over the 50 year (?) span of the bond issue. The RAV/Canada line cost about $2.4 billion in direct costs, but nowhere is a the formula for debt servicing over the lifetime of the government guaranteed loans. This is why SkyTrain is being subsidized by over $230 million annually and with RAV, this figure will increase!

    As well the project includes a rather large and expensive lift span over the Willamette River.

    A accurate comparison would be comparing the $1.4 billion with the real cost of RAV over a 50 year period ($5 mil. to $6 mil.). The ridership issue is completely different as the RAV/Canada line is fed mostly by bus passengers and has not created a modal shift from car to transit.

  13. Other David Says:

    5 km/h in snow mode? More like 60 km/h…. the speedometers are clearly visible on the MK-II’s when they’re running in semi-automatic mode.

    (and Anonymous… give it a rest… juvenile sniping adds nothing to the debate)

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I’m not the same anonymous, but juvenile sniping is apparent in most of zwei’s responses here.

    Debt-servicing costs is a red herring. Cost of the project is the key here. The governments involved in these mega-projects all have excellent credit to secure the few billion needed in financing. How they choose to do it has little relevance on the technology used.

    The Canada Line had 2 waterways to cross and it’s own unique construction costs. There’s no cheap way to get a rapid transit line through downtown Vancouver, that’s for sure.

    Zwei please detail your sources indicating the C-Line will cost $5b over 50 years, in capital costs.

    Zweisystem replies: Sorry, debt servicing is very important as it takes money away from the rest of the transit system. The NDP even admitted this when they forced the Millennium Line on the region. It is no coincidence that the Glen Clark government closed hospitals and schools to divert money to debt servicing for SkyTrain.

    As for sources for debt servicing, there is non because the provincial government refuses to release the information. There has been several FOI requests but the government says that RAV is in private hands and the public are not privileged to know the financial details. Based on other subways the same size, the real cost of RAV will be about $5 billion or more.

    What has been forgotten is the Granville St. Bridge was designed for streetcars and a seismic upgrade some years ago enabled the bridge to take the axle loads of modern light rail. It would be far cheaper using LRT on the Granville Bridge than a bores subway tunnel under False Creek.

  15. Carl Wimmer Says:

    I have ridden rapid transit that is separate from all traffic and rapid transit that is combined with traffic (such as light rail) as well a million buses.

    I would rather pay more for true rapid transit. The ride is predictable d faster, it is always cleaner.

    I am a firm believer in peak oil. That means that cars are going to get more and more expensive, … more expensive in the true sense that you will have to work longer and harder to afford the same 100 mile trip that was so cheap and easy for our grandfathers. More and more people will opt out of owning any car at all once a true rapid transit system has reached critical mass in Vancouver.

    The north shore should be brought into the system, after UBC. The Richmond line should be extended south to Ladner, by passing the Massey tunnel.

    The Evergreen line should, perhaps, be extended to north delta, instead of dead ending at Lougheed.

    The surrey Line could be split and end at Guildford. The existing line could be sent to Langley.

    Buses are local. If you chop out the long distance commutes, they can make many more stops and round trips.

    And to pay for it????

    I drive a car. I have no objection to doubling the Translink tax or tripling it, to ensure the highest quality, city wide rapid transit.

    A last note : this port mann doubling is nonsense in the face of peak oil.

    we can convert to an all electric, highest quality rapid transit and laugh at the oil sellers, blue eyed or otherwise.

    Zweisystem replies: Studies have shown that LRT is slightly more efficient than SkyTrain. Do not confuse a streetcar with LRT, which is a streetcar that operates on a reserved rights-of-ways. You may not object to paying more taxes but we have a petition circulating in BC that has garnered close to 400,000 signatures against the HST. I’m afraid you are in the minority.

  16. David Says:

    The LRT spoken of here is NOT mixed with traffic. The trams are given dedicated space, signals that allow them to move through intersections ahead of and in place of the types of vehicles that will be affected by peak oil.

    Being willing to pay twice as much in transit taxes may help operate the more expensive metros, but unfortunately such systems also download enormous capital costs onto the region. A subway to UBC would cost roughly 6 times as much as LRT to build. I don’t know anyone who wants to see transit taxes go up 600%.

    According to the Comptroller General one of the major reasons why TransLink is in such dire straits is expansion of the bus network in low density suburbs. If an area can’t even support a couple of bus routes what makes you think it can support a grade separated metro system?

    The only way to bring rail to low density suburbs is to use existing rights of way, low cost vehicles and offer low frequency services.

  17. raquel Says:

    Tke Millenium line East is already built, that ship has already sailed. And you want M line clients to switcy to light rail to ride to UBC??

    Sorry, no dice. As someone who currently rides a bus to the M line, then waits at a stop to board a bus to UBC … I can tell you passsengers hate making umpteen transfers to get to their destination.

    The Mline may have been a mistake, but it’s built, so take it to its logical conclusion at UBC please.

    Yes, sometimes future actions ARE dictated by what’s already been built in the past. Sucks, but such is life.

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