TransLink’s seven ‘deadly sins’

The reverberations of TransLink’s double SkyTrain fiasco continues to echo in Metro Vancouver.

I think transit customers can understand system wide shutdowns, but when the captain and crew leave the passengers to fend for themselves, then very pointed questions will be asked.

Jordan Bateman has become a serious thorn in the side of regional bureaucrats, exposing waste, but I wish Mr. Batemen dig a little deeper with SkyTrain’s largesse, but that, I think, will expose Mr. Bateman’s Liberal friends. He digs, but doesn’t dig deep.

TransLink’s seven ‘deadly sins’: Art installation and Compass Card snafu just a couple of its dubious spending decisions

 By Michael Smyth, The ProvinceJuly 26, 2014

What do stranded commuters trudging wearily along the SkyTrain tracks and a giant porcelain poodle sitting on top of an eight-metre-high pole have in common?

Both are examples of a Metro Vancouver transit system that has lost its way and gone to the dogs.

The commuters who abandoned their crippled SkyTrain cars were among thousands inconvenienced by a rash of SkyTrain breakdowns.

The giant porcelain poodle was part of a recent $100,000 public art project TransLink sponsored.

The point: Maybe if TransLink spent more of your money on an efficient, safe transit system instead of on dog statues, people wouldn’t have to risk their lives to escape broken-down SkyTrain cars.

An unfair comparison? TransLink thinks so. But the uproar over “poodles on pogo sticks” is just one example of dubious TransLink spending and mismanagement that upsets critics like Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“There are so many examples — I call them the ‘deadly sins of TransLink,’” said Bateman.

Since no one was accidentally electrocuted during last week’s train-tracks exodus, maybe “deadly” is too strong a word.

But there’s little doubt TransLink’s record is a spotty one. Consider:

Compass Card capers: The smart-card fare-gate system was supposed to stop freeloading fare cheats and offer greater convenience for the public.

It still might. But the system is already well behind schedule and $23 million over budget — more than the cost of a backup computer system that might have prevented last week’s SkyTrain snafus.

Executive feeding frenzy: TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis made $394,730 in 2012 — more than Premier Christy Clark and even more than Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

More significant, Jarvis made $88,000 more than Toronto’s transit CEO and $97,000 more than Montreal’s. The comparisons get uglier south of the border. Jarvis made $203,000 more than the King County transit boss in Washington state, and $166,000 more than the transit CEO in Portland.

Sunday is payday for SkyTrain cops: The budget for TransLink’s independent police force was $27 million last year and is set to rise steadily.

Among the cost drivers: a contract that pays officers a 25-per-cent bonus if they work Sundays. Try finding a deal like that in the real world.

Wasted space: TransLink has been paying $60,000 a month to rent a Burnaby warehouse where it planned to restore aging SkyTrain cars.

But the union representing SkyTrain workers complained in March that much of the building is sitting empty.

“The top floor is totally vacant and the warehouse is totally vacant,” Bill Magri, president of CUPE Local 7000, told the Burnaby Now newspaper.

“What bothers me is the outright waste and the poor financial decisions made by TransLink.”

Directors multiplying like rabbits: Why have just one board of directors when you can have six?

TransLink has its own a board of directors, of course. But so does the Transit Police. And the B.C. Rapid Transit Company, which operates the Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines. And the Coast Mountain Bus Company. And the West Coast Express. And then there are the 23 members of the TransLink Mayors Council.

Salaries for all the members of all those boards in 2012: $751,589.

The too-short sound wall: After years of pressure from Pitt Meadows residents, TransLink decided last year to tear down a sound-blocking wall meant to shield residents from the noisy Golden Ears Bridge.

The problem? The first sound-blocking wall was shorter than the trucks rumbling noisily over the bridge, driving neighbours nuts.

The solution? Rip the wall down and build a new one that’s one-and-a-half metres taller.

“It’s just, ‘Roll the windows down and throw the money out of the window and we’ll build a new one,’” lamented Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters.

“It’s very frustrating, especially when we talk about finding funding for TransLink.”

The cost of the taller wall: $817,000.

Public art: Which brings us back to those porcelain poodles on pogo sticks. Despite controversy over that Main Street installation, TransLink plans to spend more on public art.

TransLink approved spending $615,000 on public installations at three SkyTrain stations last year, despite complaints the money would be better spent on actual transit improvements.

“The TransLink people are always crying for money from local government,” Delta Mayor Lois Jackson told the Burnaby News Leader. “But, on the other hand, they’re spending money as if it comes from a bottomless pit.”

Here’s the biggest problem for TransLink: Public confidence has been eroded by this stuff at the same time that TransLink wants more money from the public.

“Why should anyone trust TransLink with $500 million more a year in taxes when they can’t manage the $1.4 billion they already get?” asks Bateman, TransLink’s fiercest critic.

It brings a fierce response from TransLink.

“We do not have the resources to investigate each one of his (Bateman’s) claims, nor is the public purse well served by going down such dirt trails when we have important operations and communications matters to pursue,” said Cheryl Ziola, TransLink’s manager of media relations.

If we ever get that referendum on TransLink funding, taxpayers may get the last word.

SkyTrain Fizzles Again! Passengers Abandon SkyTrain Like Rats leaving a Sinking Ship!

Oops, SkyTrain fizzles again with scores of passengers abandoning the Skytrain and walking down the tracks to escape the damned thing.

It certainly looks like transit customers are completely fed up with SkyTrain and TransLink wants to build more?

‘Computer glitch’ shuts down SkyTrain again; some passengers walking on tracks to stations

July 21, 2014 2:32 PM

TransLink is warning passengers to make other transportation arrangements after SkyTrain has been shut down on the Expo and Millennium lines, due to a technical problem.

Photograph by: @myzrahi, Twitter

METRO VANCOUVER — TransLink is advising passengers to make alternate arrangements to get home this afternoon following a system-wide shutdown on the Expo and Millennium lines for the second time in a week.

Media spokeswoman Jiana Ling said TransLink has no idea when the system will be up and running again, after a communication glitch shut down all the trains on the system, leaving many passengers stranded in trains on the tracks, starting at 12:30 p.m.

TransLink has added enough buses for about four hours to service the entire SkyTrain system.

“We advise them not to take SkyTrain today,” she said. “They should use the existing bus network to get home.”

TransLink did not provide details on the cause of the shutdown but was evacuating all the stations along the two SkyTrain lines. The problem also means TransLink can’t communicate with passengers in the trains on the platform.

Droves of passengers could be seen carrying everything from babies to boxes walking along the trains near Main and Stadium stations. At 1:30 p.m., TransLink asked “anyone inside the trains to stay put for safety, noting SkyTrain attendants will be driving trains back to stations asap.”

“Due to at the high-voltage tracks and risk of injury or death, passengers should stay in the trains,” said a statement issued by TransLink. “We are still encountering passengers illegally leaving the trains mid-station which compromises the situation.”

Ling said Transit police and security are trying to manage the problem of people forcing the doors open. “We know it’s unfortunate and inconvenient but it’s much safer. It’s life-threatening really.”

This is the second time in a week that service was halted on the Expo and Millennium lines.

Last Thursday, a computer problem caused a similar delay on the system, prompting many passengers to force open the doors of the cars. TransLink warned passengers not to leave the cars without an attendant.

The problem does not affect the Canada Line.

TransLink is asking passengers to use its online trip planner and select the drop down menu option “DO NOT USE SKYTRAIN” to get the alternate bus route home.

“We appreciate your patience as our technicians attempt to get the system functional again,” TransLink said. “Further updates will be available as we know more.”

Remembering Edson L. Tennyson, icon of rail public transport advocacy and development

Zwei belongs to the LRPPro blog and soon began to know that a one Ed Tennyson was someone to listen to as he was a walking encyclopedia of transit knowledge.

Probably no one in Metro Vancouver has ever heard of Mr. Tennyson, but his influence has certainly been felt in Canada. In the short time I have been a member of the LRPPro blog, I have respected Mr. Tennyson’s well researched comments, even though I disagreed on some of his thoughts, he was a giant in the industry and a giant promoting light rail.

Remembering Edson L. Tennyson, icon of rail public transport advocacy and development

Edson L. Tennyson, 1922-2014. Photo: Tennyson family.

With profound sorrow we have learned of the loss of our close colleague, the renowned transit industry icon Edson L. Tennyson.

Shortly after his 92nd birthday, Ed, senior technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, passed away at his home near Washington, DC on 14 July 2014 following a valiant struggle with cancer. He intrepidly had continued to post his insights and analysis of transit issues on the LRPPro listserve, to the benefit of hundreds of colleagues belonging to younger generations of rail transit advocates and professionals.

Two of Ed’s daughters, Marilyn Tennyson and Marjorie Tennyson, were with him in his final days. He is also survived by another daughter, Connie McCarthy, and by his wife of 70 years, Shirley Forward Tennyson.

Services will be held on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 at 2:00 PM at the Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia.

Ed Tennyson was perhaps the most prominent U.S. public transport expert, still professionally active, who had actually worked for the original interurban and urban electric railway industry, and who also, in the words of Greg Thompson — Chair of the Light Rail Transit Committee of the U.S. Transportation Research Board (TRB) — “understood the fundamentals of successful transit.”

In postings on the LRPPro listserve, Ed often cited his youthful experience riding the once-extensive electric trolley system of New Jersey Public Service, mainly in northern New Jersey. He also drew upon lessons from his stint as a station employee for Greyhound.

After completing two management engineering degrees, Ed began his main public transport career at Pittsburgh Railways, subsequently moving to a management position with Milwaukee Rapid Transit. There, as described by Lawrence Lovejoy, a Senior Supervising Engineer for Parsons Brinckerhoff, Ed was particularly involved with developing the Speedrail system, an effort to reorganize remnants of the Milwaukee region’s once-extensive interurban system into a suburban rapid transit service.

Ed Tennyson stepping from a Speedrail electric interurban car, c. 1950. Photo via Lawrence Lovejoy.Ed Tennyson stepping from a Speedrail electric interurban car, c. 1950. Photo via Lawrence Lovejoy.

While Ed’s formative experience was gained in the course of a largely unsuccessful struggle to retain electric rail and trolleybus operations during the U.S. Transit Devastation era, his understanding and insights have proved invaluable to colleagues, and influential in the revival of electric surface railways over the past four decades.

In 1951 Ed was appointed City Transit Commissioner for Youngstown, Ohio, championing the city’s electric trolleybus system which remained in operation until 1959. He served Youngstown until 1956, when he became the Chief Transit Engineer and Deputy Commissioner of Transportation in Philadelphia.

According to Tom Hickey, Chief Development Officer of Virginia Railway Express and chairman of the Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Subcommittee for the American Public Transportation Association, Ed helped helped “reimagine” Philadelphia’s Center City “as we know it today”, with “Penn Center and Market East and Independence Mall redeveloped into open urban spaces centered around transit, not the automobile.”

Tom adds the following about Ed’s achievements in this period:

When other cities were ripping up street railways and building urban highways, Ed was key to crafting Philadelphia’s policy to eschew the temptation of cheap federal dollars for roadways and focus on preserving rail transit through what we today accept as public-private partnerships with the railroads and then-private transit companies. He is one reason … that Philadelphia is still by far the largest street railway operation in the US. He extended the light rail “Subway-Surface” tunnels under the Schuylkill River lines and University City to their present portals.

In rail rapid transit, he extended the Market-Frankford El to 46th Street at the same time as the Subway-Surface extension. The “Almond Joy” el cars were purchased under his watch as well. He led the extension of the Broad Street Subway to the Sports Complex in South Philadelphia. He was highly influential in the creation of PATCO [Port Authority Transit Corporation] — both in extending the predecessor Bridge Line under the streets of Philadelphia from 8th & Market to 16th & Locust and in splitting the Lindenwold High Speed and Broad Street Lines into the configuration we know today.

As for commuter rail, Ed formed the Passenger Service Improvement Corporation in the late 50s with the then-unheard of proposition of giving public money to private corporations (the Pennsy and Reading) as reimbursement for the losses incurred in commuter rail service, as well as providing new rolling stock to do so (Silverliners I, II and IIIs plus RDCs for the Reading diesel lines). He was the force behind linking Philadelphia’s two commuter rail networks through the Center City Commuter Connection, as well as the Fox Chase electrification, Airport High Speed Line and retention of the PRR Norristown Line as far as the City limits (Ivy Ridge).

Finishing in Philadelphia as Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Property for Transit Engineering, in 1972 Ed was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp to the position of Deputy Secretary for Local and Area Transportation in the state’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT), where he served for seven years. It was in that position that he helped steer Pittsburgh away from totally eliminating what remained of its former streetcar system and toward converting the most important lines into a modern light rail transit system. As Greg Thompson relates, Ed was influenced by similar developments in Europe:

He grasped immediately the idea that German light rail, which evolved from streetcars in Germany, was a new transit mode faster, higher capacity, and more productive than both buses and traditional streetcars. He understood that for those reasons light rail could be configured as the backbone of regional multimodal transit systems that attracted high ridership and were productive.

Energized by those developments, recalls Greg,

Ed tirelessly advocated the potential of Pittsburgh’s streetcar system, fighting not just against its abandonment, but for its reconfiguration into trunk lines. What has remained would not have remained had Ed not carried on the good fight. He also researched the relative performance of busways in that city, revealing the chasm between what they promised and what they actually delivered.

High among Ed’s other achievements in his Deputy Secretary position was to improve intercity rail service — particularly “resuscitating Keystone corridor rail service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia”, according to Greg.

When his term with PennDOT expired in 1979, Ed moved on to a role as consultant for the new San Diego Trolley project, helping to guide startup operations there, and with several other transit entities. Then, in 1983 he was appointed Public Works Planning Coordinator for Arlington County, helping to complete the Metro Orange Line to Vienna, Virginia.

Following that, in 1992 he retired — nominally. But in reality, Ed stayed very active as an advocate and advisor to others pursuing important public transport projects, especially rail. In 2000, he was one of the original members of the Light Rail Progress Professional (LRPPro) listserve, an online forum where his analysis and advice have been of enormous value to other professionals and advocates striving to develop and improve rail public transportation. In recent years, he served on the Fairfax County Transportation Advisory Commission, and as an emeritus member of the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council. Until a few weeks before his death, Ed was working with engineering consultant (and LRPPro member) Alan Drake on a proposal for expansion of Washington’s Metro system.

Ed’s legacy rests not just with his many direct achievements in the physical development, improvement, and operation of public transport systems, but especially with the vast influence he has had within the industry and in the thinking of other professionals. Tom Hickey emphasizes that

Ed was a determined, tireless, and often effective advocate of doing things right. He was eternally generous with his opinions (even when unsolicited…) and always challenged those around him to extend their reach.

Tom also cites the Biblical passage, “You shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16.)

A flurry of condolences and eulogies has been posted to the LRPPro listserve, on which Ed had been so active and influential for 14 years. Bob Reuter, a dedicated rail transit advocate in the Baltimore-Washington area and a transportation engineering consultant, posted the following:

My deepest condolences, and he already has left a hole in the fabric of the transit community.

I knew Ed professionally and as a friend for well over 25 years and he was never anything but the consummate gentleman.

I have saved every one the 5459 messages he sent to this list. I hope to be able to bring order to his posts and maybe repost them at a future time. His wit and wisdom will be greatly missed

Again my deepest condolences to the family; you will all be in my prayers.

Expressing profound sadness, Lyndon Henry, founder of the Texas Association for Public Transportation (TAPT), technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, and a contributing editor to the Light Rail Now website and blog, noted that

Ed has been my most influential mentor. I will miss his advice, wisdom, and inspiration more than I can express.

In a message of condolence to the Tennyson family, Dave Dobbs, TAPT Executive Director and publisher of Light Rail Now, wrote the following:

Edson Tennyson was a great friend and mentor for the last 23 years. He was foremost among those who sought to bring back a rational transportation system to America, the professor emeritus of public transit, and in that effort he inspired the rest of us to make the world a better place in every way.

I will miss his sage advice, his insights and his careful analysis of the all important numbers that he so enjoyed presenting to the world. LRPPro, started by Lyndon Henry, grew out of our website, LightRailNow! (, which Ed inspired with his charts, graphs and commentary that he presented at the Dallas Rail-Volution in 1999. I had the honor of converting those incredible materials into electronic format, which, in 2000, became a website that now has thousands of pages and numerous articles by Edson Tennyson and is used by many in the transit industry for information.

Lyndon Henry, Roger Baker and I and others here at TAPT offer our condolences. Please know that while your personal loss is immeasurable, our loss and the loss to the transit industry is shared with you in a very keen way. Ed was one of the greatest generation; a soldier right up to the end, he continued to give to his country and the world. May he rest in peace and may you find peace in knowing how much Ed meant to others.

And Greg Thompson’s eulogy undoubtedly expresses succinctly the feelings of most of us that knew Ed Tennyson well:

I shall miss him, but I also am comforted in the fact that his work is responsible for the industry being on a plane higher than it would have been without him.

SkyTrain Fizzles Again

The problem with driverless transit systems is that when there is a problem, there is no driver to drive the damn thing if things go wrong.

As SkyTrain ages, stoppages like this will become more common.

Computer problems cause major SkyTrain disruptions

Crews are working to fix the problem, but it could take a while

News1130 Staff July 17, 2014


BURNABY (NEWS1130) – If you know someone taking SkyTrain home this evening, they may be late.

The trains are not running east of Metrotown because of a computer problem.

Commuters are warned to expect major delays, Jiana Ling with Translink says crews are working to fix the problem, but she says there will be delays until at least 9 p.m.

The Millennium line is down between Braid and Sapperton and the Expo line is stopped between Royal Oak and King George. There is limited service from Waterfront to Metrotown station as well as Lougheed to VCC-Clark station.

A bus bridge is in place between Metrotown and King George where there is no service. Ling says they are advising customers to use the existing bus network as the bus bridge might not be as reliable.

She says the company understands the severity of the situation, and are thanking people their patience and are apologizing for the inconvenience.


Major SkyTrain delays snarl afternoon commute

By Staff Reporter, The Province July 17, 2014
Major SkyTrain delays snarl afternoon commute

The crowd at the Scott Road SkyTrain Station.

Photograph by: Jennifer Saltman , @jensaltman

An apparent computer glitch has prompted a system-wide hold on the Expo and Millennium Line SkyTrains on Thursday, stranding hundreds of passengers for hours and delaying transit service across the region.

Delays first began around 4:45 p.m. with intermittent service on various sections of the Expo and Millenium Lines.

Several trains carrying passengers were stopped on various parts of the system and had to be manually driven into stations to let passengers out.

At least one impatient passenger on board an Expo Line train car, halted between Columbia and Scott Road stations, pried open the train’s doors in order to walk along the track back toward the station, according to a witness on board.

Two hours after issues first arose, the Expo Line was up and running between Waterfront and Metrotown stations, but did not continue to King George. The Millennium Line was also running between Waterfront and Metrotown, and between VCC-Clarke to Lougheed stations, but not between Royal Oak and Braid.

Just after 6 p.m., SkyTrain attendants at Scott Road station also told some passengers it would be five hours before problems were resolved at the problem sections, while Fred Cumming, president and general manager of B.C. Rapid Transit Company, tweeted that a resolution would take two hours.

Many stations along the problem section appeared out of service for the remainder of the day, with gates closed.

Commuters were advised to make alternate travel plans or to take existing bus routes.

It remains unclear what prompted the initial hold, but passengers reported announcements at stations that said it was an electrical issue of some type and that delays could be long-term.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Send in the clowns – Urban Land Institute’s Governor’s Advisory Panel

Really, one tires of this nonsense that Broadway needs a subway.

If the truth were to be told, the Vancouver city fathers want a subway under Broadway because they feel it would make Vancouver a “world class city” and the current political party in power want to reward its developer friends with windfall profits up-zoning properties to allow densification.

As mentioned many times before on this blog, there isn’t the ridership to justify a subway under Broadway and with current planning not reducing auto capacity on Broadway, transit ridership will increase very little, yet the cost of operating transit on Broadway will greatly increase, with now a subway to maintain and operate on top of the cost of the buses operating above. There are no cost savings with a subway, unless there is a mass of ridership to sustain it and current ridership on Broadway falls way below this mark.

So send in the clowns with the Urban Land Institute’s Governor’s Advisory Panel, with all the usual talking heads and self proclaimed experts to bleat for a SkyTrain subway.

I think the the Vancouver Sun and the city of Vancouver should realize by now that the public have caught on with your little con game and all the infomercials you print will not change that.

Advisory report suggests building Broadway transit line in phases

 By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun July 13, 2014

VANCOUVER — The City of Vancouver should consider building a new transit line along Broadway in phases, while restricting high density to the busy commercial core to preserve the city’s character in the neighbourhoods along the route, according to a new report.

Issued by the Urban Land Institute’s Governor’s Advisory Panel, the report suggests the public should also be consulted, noting Vancouver “did not balance zoning changes with economic potential and community livability” when it built other mass transit projects — specifically the SkyTrain ahead of Expo 86 and the Canada Line for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“Invariably, stakeholders perceived that neighbourhood impacts were overlooked or under-represented in order to fast-track major transportation projects. ‘Blanket up-zones’ were applied at transit hubs, leading to rampant speculation and dislocation of residents and businesses,” said the panel, which included experts from across North America.

“Although the panel recognizes that the market may ultimately dictate a lot of development decisions that accompany the growth in population and the increased opportunities that a mass transit line brings, it also recognizes that the local neighbourhoods and districts give Vancouver much of its charm.”

Vancouver has long been pushing for a subway line from Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station to the University of B.C., maintaining it is one of the busiest transportation corridors in North America. TransLink has cited the line, along with light rail in Surrey, among its top priorities, but the projects are stalled as regional mayors attempt to come up with new funding sources, such as a carbon tax or vehicle levy, to pay for them.

The panel noted that “existing transit along the Broadway corridor is a failure under current conditions,” with 49 per cent of all westbound rapid bus passengers headed for Central Broadway, including Vancouver General Hospital, and 38 per cent continuing on to UBC, according to the report. Transit on the corridor is at capacity.

Even with conventional bus services running every two to three minutes, more than 2,000 passengers are left behind at the Commercial-Broadway Station every morning.

Zwei comments: These passengers are not left behind, rather they have to wait for another bus. This demonstrates very bad management, but if an extra 3 or 4 B-Line buses were to operate on this route or if the trolley bus line had stops every 400 metres to 500 metres (as in Europe) instead of every 200 metres, offering faster journey times, maybe the pass-ups would disappear. Bad management has more to do with pass-ups, than the need for a subway.

Here is something else to think about.  If buses were operating at one minute frequencies or less during peak hours, then you have the ridership that would demand LRT. If you have trams operating at one minute frequencies or less (keeping in mind one tram is as efficient as 3 to 5 buses), they you have the ridership that would demand a subway!

The “Gelbe” or yellow wall of trams in Karlsruhe, Germany

which necessitated the need for a subway.

But the development of the line should be done slowly, the report urges, noting a “one size fits all” rezoning across the Broadway corridor is not appropriate for economic or residential vitality.

The panel noted new development along the Broadway corridor should be concentrated in existing commercial zones, which are only about 60 per cent built out in the corridor’s central core. It also suggests that institutional entities within the corridor such as the University of B.C. and Vancouver General Hospital participate actively in the planning of station locations and phasing, and “if at all possible, would provide financing contributions.”

The report’s recommendations come as many municipalities face public opposition in their quest to densify regional town centres in a bid to contain growth in urban centres and protect agricultural and industrial areas ahead of another one million more people coming here by 2040. Residents in Vancouver’s Marpole, for instance, had complained the city was trying to shove density on them, as part of a pitch to connect two developments along the Cambie corridor, which will each add more than 4,000 people. City council has since revised the plan.

For those who dispute the ridership numbers along Broadway, the following should dispel any notion that there is sufficient ridership on Broadway to justify a metro. Depite, what the SkyTrain and subway want you to think, in 2012 there were only 31,650 transit trips along Broadway from the 9 Broadway; 14/N7 Broadway; and the 99 B-Line buses. A SkyTrain subway would need four or five times the number of trips to justify construction, something the clown car won’t tell.

In Search of the Light Rail Renaissance

A little history.

On April 22, 1978, the city of Edmonton heralded  a new era of what we now call light rail transit, with the opening of its first 6.9 km, LRT line.

Using the now venerable Siemens U-2 vehicle, which was designed for the Frankfurt U-Bahn metro system. Edmonton’s new LRT line set the standard for modern LRT in North America.

In Europe, it was a different story, where tramways were being abandoned in the 1960′s and 70′s in favour of subway construction and/or gadgetbahnen, like the VAL mini-metro. Huge construction costs combined with large debt servicing and disappointing ridership, made subways extremely expensive to not only build, but to operate. As the subway costs increased the level of service on non subway services diminished.

The burdensome cost of heavy-rail metros, either in subways or on viaducts, encouraged the mini-metro, like VAL, which were somewhat successful in operation, yet their own high costs and lack of operational flexibility prevented wide spread expansion.

In France, where auto congestion was reaching new heights, the central government was planning major expenditures in public transit, but focused on the VAL mini-metro, then owned and produced by MATRA, France’s chief arms manufacturer.

The first major VAL installation, opened in 1983 in Lille France and today the 45 km. VAL network comprises of two lines, providing quality public transport for almost 100 million customers annually, but there was a problem, the VAL was both expensive to build and expensive to operate.

So expensive was VAL, that it was far cheaper to completely refurbish, with new tracks and cars, a worn out metre gauge interurban line, locally known as the Mongy.

Many French cities contemplating building with the VAL light metro took note.

The French government offered to underwrite the first VAL Line (it was thought that a lack of confidence in VAL, meant a lack of confidence with MATRA, the French arms manufacturer), with the operating authority paying for extensions. Though the offer tempted some cities to build with VAL, prudent city fathers foresaw the ruinous costs to extend the initial small VAL Line and opted to build with modern LRT or the “tram” as light rail is called in Europe.

In France, as of 2013, there are 25 operational tram systems, with three under construction and many more in various stages of planning. Only six VAL mini-metros have been built, including Lille, with two being airport people movers.

The same is true of VAL’s competition in North America, with the Canadian ICTS/ALRT/ART proprietary transit system, locally called SkyTrain, with only two being built in Canada (two SkyTrain’s have been built in the USA, with one being an airport people mover and the other a single track loop demonstration line) despite the federal government trying to force SkyTrain on various operators.

VAL in France

 Low-floor cars and the reserved rights-of-way

In Germany, until the early 80′s, it was thought the city tram would be all but extinct by the year 2000, replaced mainly by  S-Bahn’s and U-Bahns. As U-bahn or subway costs soared and ridership on the new subways were at very disappointing levels and S-Bahns mainly used larger articulated tram stock operating on existing railways, planners in Germany and elsewhere once again looked at the tram.

To make trams faster and carry more people, trams had to be designed to be cheaper and faster.

To make trams faster, tram designers reinvented the low-floor tram, permitting shorter dwell times and reinvented the 1930′s concept of the ‘reserved rights-of way’ (R-R-o-W) or a R-o-W reserved for the exclusive use of the tram. The combination of the two, plus priority signalling at intersections, gave the tram and operating capability that was on par or better than the proprietary mini-metros on the market, at a much cheaper price.

The unintended consequence of the low-floor tram was that it was ideal for the mobility impaired transit customer, giving him or her complete access to the tram system without cumbersome and expensive wheelchair lifts, hoists and ramps. So popular was the low-floor tram that a new category of mobility impairment was created and that was babies in prams and their caregivers. Cities investing in new low-floor trams saw a dramatic rise with mothers and fathers with infants and small children as the low-floor car made travel by public transit that much easier.

It was found that just 40% of a tam line operating on R-R-o-W’s could permit a tram to compete against mini-metros and the more RRoW on a tram line the faster the commercial speed and the ability to compete against all but the largest metro lines.

Today in Europe, the modern tram line operates mostly longer modular cars on mostly R-R-o-W’s many lawned throughout making the tram line a linear park, a vital part of the cityscape.

This is what we call the Light Rail Renaissance.

 Classic lawned R-o-W in Grenoble, France

North America

LRT construction in North America was and still is strong, but the evolution of LRT has not progressed very far, with light rail seen as a interurban, being completely different than a streetcar, with LRT and streetcar lines being segregated. Propelled by both political intrigue and planning hubris, the positive effects of modern LRT has been retarded. There are exceptions such as Calgary, which carries more customers than any other new build LRT line and Portland, where planners have the foresight (and political backing) to plan for 20 or 30 years from now, giving Portland the LRT network it needs to attract the motorist from the car. Portland was also the first North American city to order low-floor cars.

On the same theme, Toronto will be operating the first modular low-floor cars in North America, soon to be followed by Ottawa, yet the economics of modular cars are poorly understood on the North American continent. In fact, several transit professionals in the USA still cling to the venerable PCC car and remain blind deaf and dumb, with events in Europe. Equally misunderstood is the concept of the R-R-0-W, one of the hallmarks of the light rail Renaissance, where hugely expensive grade separations, either on viaduct or in a subway, hold sway.

The current hubris with the Light Rail Renaissance has made it possible for proprietary mini-metros to compete against LRT, as LRT projects with major grade separations, either in viaduct and or subway has made the cost of light rail almost as dear as subway construction. There are many reasons for this, including the concept that new transit construction not interfere with road capacity; planners who receive in payment a percentage of the cost of a new transit system, thus giving no incentive to build cheaply; politicians who use new transit systems as an election ploy and spare no cost to make the transit look good to encourage voters; and a North American arrogance that they are better in providing good public transit and ignore or pooh-pooh European transit developments.

Many US planners pine for the venerable PCC

Canada Again

It is in Canada, where modern LRT was first operated, the Light Rail Renaissance is beginning to take hold.

Toronto is replacing its aging tram fleet with European style low-floor modular cars, greatly increasing capacity and reducing operating costs and in Ottawa, classic low-floor modular cars, built by Alstom are the feature of the city’s new light rail line.

With the low-floor modular cars, also is the concept of the reserved rights-of-way, though many city planners have yet to understand the difference (or lack of difference) of a R-R-o-W and full grade separation, or that a R-R-o-W is much cheaper, yet gives the same effect of a subway or viaduct operation.

The lawned or grassed R-o-W is also a new concept that is greatly misunderstood and in Toronto, the fire department nixed the idea of lawned R-o-W’s for fear their fire appliances would get bogged down on them, despite the fact there are measures in place to prevent this.

The modern low-floor modular car in Toronto.

 Slowly, ever slowly the Light Rail Renaissance is reaching our shores and more and more planners are embracing what modern LRT can achieve. There are nay-sayers; there are Luddites, who don’t want to change, but as a new generation of public transit planners are taking over, the old ways and the old concepts are slowly becoming a thing of the past and hopefully soon, all transit planners in North America will embrace the Light Rail Renaissance, just like another Renaissance four to five hundred years before.

The future is modern light rail and the future is very friendly!

Trams save operating costs!

Confirming what Zwei has been saying for the past few decades, on modern streetcar or tram is as efficient as four to six buses.

The key statement from TTC Chair Councillor Maria Augimeri; “………for every streetcar removed from the downtown core, they would have to be replaced with 3-5 buses.”, confirms what Zwei has been saying has more than  shred of truth. Of, for every tram or bus operated, one needs over 4 people to drive, maintain, and manage them. What TTC Chair Councillor Maria Augimeri is really saying, to switch from trams to buses will cost a lot more to operate on an annual basis and that on top of the $2 billion lost for the cost of the trams and track refurbishments.

TTC Chair warns of cost of getting rid of streetcars

Augimeri says it would cost the city $2 billion

The head of the TTC says if Rob Ford phases out streetcar service it would put the city in a costly hole – funded by taxpayers.It’s a vow the mayor has made if he’s re-elected in October.

TTC Chair Councillor Maria Augimeri says the the city would lose $2 billion dollars – those of the new streetcar fleet and related track renovations.

She says they would have to be sold. Augimeri stresses not only would the new streetcars be considered used vehicles but they would need costly modifications to be sold to other cities, since they were tailor-made for Toronto.

Augimeri says the city can’t afford that.

She adds for every streetcar removed from the downtown core, they would have to be replaced with 3-5 buses. She says that would increase traffic, making life “intolerable” for residents. -

Taking public transit kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Though Zwei is not a fan of Jarrett Walker, our Ottawa friend, Haveacow, recommended this post from his blog.
It seems that transit improvements, especially light rail, have been hamstrung by ensuring that traffic flows are not reduced, which is the cornerstone of the light rail Renaissance, emanating from Europe.

So, our American friends are waking up to the fact that at-grade transit, which will reduce auto traffic is a good thing and is far cheaper than hideously expensive grade separated transit systems like SkyTrain or subways. The monies one saves by building at-grade, can be spent enlarging the system, attracting more transit customers by serving more destinations.

One wonders how soon this revolutionary thinking will take to reach Vancouver?


Liz James takes on TransLink

Liz James understands the problems that beset TransLink as she is one of the few columnists in the region who has taken the time to study the issue.

More and more, the City of Vancouver sounds like a spoiled child having a temper tantrum, wanting a $2 billion plus  subway under Broadway. Plus because the subway is now another truncated rapid transit project which will stop many kilometres short of UBC at Arbutus, needing many billions more to complete.

There is a lot wrong with TransLink and it is as good as time as any to try to repair the flaws or discard the authority altogether.

TransLink funding model needs closer look
Elizabeth James – North Shore News – July 9, 2014

“The purposes and objects of the authority are (a) to plan, acquire, construct or cause to be constructed public passenger transportation systems and rail transit systems that support regional growth strategies, official community plans and the economic development of the transit service areas…” – Chapter 38, Section 3(1) BC Transit Act (1996)

The South Coast Transportation Authority Act (TransLink) was surgically removed from the BC Transit Act (BCT) in 1998 and the two agencies are governed by separate legislation to this day.

Until recently, I had not compared the updated wording of some important sections of the two documents – purpose/responsibilities and funding.

I did so following the June 12 release of the latest Mayors’ Council $7.5-billion 10 Year Plan/30-Year Outlook because, yet again, the report recommends increased SeaBus service – presumably to appease North Shore taxpayers who have received little for the dollars they’ve poured into TransLink.

Now, I was curious to see whether BCT has experienced the same lack of provincial funding as has plagued TransLink for the past 16 years.

Although I still don’t have that answer, my efforts were rewarded by some interesting information.

First, although the BCT legislation is noted to be “Current to May 21, 2014,” it still makes reference to BCT’s responsibilities as “an agent of the government” with respect to “RTP 2000″ – a project better known as the SkyTrain Millennium Line which, at a minimum, became the 40 per cent responsibility of TransLink in 1998.

Next, when you compare the tightly drawn responsibilities BCT has for the “purposes and objects” described in the BCTA with those loaded onto TransLink and regional taxpayers, it’s no wonder Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan suggested TransLink should be returned to provincial jurisdiction.

Why should the operating budget of TransLink cover development and administration of programs for “certifying motor vehicle compliance with Section 50 of the Motor Vehicle Act”? Why must TransLink “establish exhaust emission standards”; or determine and “specify the maximum levels of air contaminants that motor vehicles may emit into the outside atmosphere”?

Surely, items like those are better managed under the umbrella of ICBC, the agency from which the Liberals suck an annual $250 million in taxes and so-called “excess revenue” that we pay as our everincreasing insurance premiums.

Putting that in perspective for North Shore taxpayers, the 2013 quarterbillion alone could have purchased four SeaBuses and still had $150 million left over for other projects throughout B.C. More importantly, if we want to confine this discussion to transportation needs in the TransLink region, $400 million could buy outright approximately 14 kilometres of modern light-rail trams along the Broadway corridor and still have dollars available for a greenway along the route. Why so cheap? Well, as it happens, much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place for that option. To emphasize – international experience has proven that at-grade, “hop-on-hop-off” transit attracts ridership and thus is also good for business.

But Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson knows better. Deaf to the voices of Broadway business-owners and international experts, he wants a vastly more expensive underground tunnelling project. Is he hoping that another disruptive TransLink project would assume the costs of associated upgrades to City of Vancouver utilities? If so, are North Shore taxpayers content to subsidize that?

Meanwhile, District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton and the Mayor’s Council he chairs continue to carry out their mandate.

With little encouragement from Victoria, they have presented years of reports and recommendations to a succession of ministers. Their support for the $7.5-billion recommendations carried with only one dissenting vote.

Corrigan opposed the overwhelming will of his colleagues, not because he thinks the transit options are unnecessary, but because the council has no control over how the projects are to be funded, prioritized or carried out.

So what was the reaction from the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Todd Stone?

Well, after receiving the report from people in the best position to understand the up-to-date knowledge of regional transit issues, Stone wants you to decide how you want your ox to be gored to pay for it all.

He’s tasked the mayors with wording a referendum question that covers a widely disparate bundle of recommendations.

How can you vote Yes/No to a $7.5-billion levy/tax if you support only a few of the 17 “visions” in the bundle?

If we allow Stone to get away with it and we make an uninformed decision, then he can shrug and say, “Wasn’t my idea; you folks wanted it that way, now pay up.”

So, given the profligate history of TransLink, will you stay aboard for the ride? Or, like me, will you say, “Not a penny more for the black hole that is TransLink, until we can see the results of an arms-length evaluation of all major decisions by the entire operation”?

© North Shore News

A Broadway subway: Do the numbers add up?

An interesting read from Toronto.

Two items of interest:

  1. Contrary to North American thought, 14,000 persons per hour per direction is not near the upper limit of modern LRT. In 2014, the upper limit for LRT is about 25,000 pphpd. Unfortunately, Toronto’s transit gurus still live in the land of non articulated cars.
  2. “An old ridership projection pegged peak one-direction usage at 9,500 passengers per hour, barely enough to justify a subway extension.” Again, in 2014, the ridership deemed necessary for subway construction is almost double than the Toronto figure, is about 15,000 pphpd.

What is of interest is that in Toronto, the bare minimum ridership needed on a transit route to justify construction is about 10,000 pphpd, which is more than double the present Broadway’s peak hour ridership of around 4,000 pphpd.

Even by Canadian standards, TransLink is planning for a subway on a transit route that in no way has the ridership needed to justify a subway.

The result: Massive subsidies will be needed to keep TransLink afloat. Massive subsidies = huge tax increases.

How many more hospitals must be closed and how much more can we reduce educational spending, to satisfy Vision Vancouver’s SkyTrain subway mania? It seems both the BC Liberals and regional Mayors think not enough by approving spending for a Broadway subway!


A Scarborough subway: Do the numbers add up?

Oliver Moore

The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Jul. 04 2014

When Toronto dug its first subway, the long lines of streetcars on Yonge were proof of a ready-made ridership.

More recently, though, subway boosters have needed to weigh potential demand when making the case for the expensive form of transit. Which is why the city planning department’s new and higher Scarborough ridership projection last year was so pivotal, and so controversial.

An old ridership projection pegged peak one-direction usage at 9,500 passengers per hour, barely enough to justify a subway extension. The new one – which appeared as the transit debates rose to their crescendo – boosted peak ridership to 14,000, almost beyond the capacity of light rail.

In a stroke, the case for a subway was much stronger.

Amid political squabbles, good projections can help cut through the debate and offer the closest thing to an impartial assessment of a subway line’s worth. But if they’re wrong, they can help lumber a city with an expensive white elephant such as the under-used Sheppard subway.

The problems on Sheppard – where ridership is about one-third the original projection, forcing heavy subsidies – speak to the dilemma with forecasting. Planners looking to the future have to make assumptions that could, with the benefit of hindsight, prove unwise.

In the case of the Scarborough extension, the bulk of the nearly 50-per-cent increase in projected ridership is based on two decisions that raise questions. Planners assumed a train frequency that does not appear budgeted for and they assumed that transit projects that today are unfunded lines on the map will be completed.

But these assumptions are not cast in stone. Although pro-subway politicians like to declare the project irrevocable, the planners who produced the Scarborough projection are the first to stress that their work is preliminary. Even though all three levels of government have committed big dollars to the project, much more analysis needs to be done and a more accurate ridership figure has yet to be determined.

Councillor Josh Matlow, who continues to advocate for a light-rail line in Scarborough, views the latest number with skepticism, He still recalls how frustrated he was at council trying to determine the basis and validity for the increased ridership figure that emerged at such a pivotal moment.

“Right now it’s still clear that there’s different numbers that are competing with each other,” he said recently. “It’s not like we just didn’t happen to have the information. I clearly asked for the information… that information never came to the floor of council… and council decided nonetheless just to move forward, regardless.”

With the debate about Scarborough continuing to reverberate through the mayoral election – as recently as late June, Premier Kathleen Wynne had a chance in a press conference to state definitively that the province’s funding for transit in that part of Toronto would be for a subway only and chose not to do so – The Globe took a close look at the math.

More trains
Although subway boosters have argued for years in favour of more underground transit in Scarborough, the numbers undermined their case.

But there were signs of hope in 2013, when the transit debate heated up again and city planning staff produced new data showing peak ridership of 14,000 per direction per hour by 2031. This represented a huge rise over the previous projection, done in 2006, which pegged peak ridership by 2031 at 9,500 people an hour, easily within the capacity of an LRT.

Mike Wehkind, program manager with the Transportation Section of the city’s Planning Department, said that the “lion’s share” of the jump was because the model they were using to project ridership assumed an increased frequency of trains in the subway extension.

The model back in 2006 assumed that half the Bloor-Danforth trains would go only as far as Kennedy and then turn back, with the remainder carrying on to the final station. The new model – based on current TTC service levels – assumes every train will continue on to the end of the line.   …………..continued.

For continued reading: