A Letter To Premier Horgan

The Honourable John Horgan, Premier of BC
Dear Premier Horgan,
The Covid-19 pandemic has made absolutely clear, we cannot go back to normal, as it has forever changed how people behave. Covid-19 is a prelude for great change in BC.
Metro Vancouver’s regional transit system has been greatly affected by the pandemic as thousands of of people stay home, with many either working or studying from home. This has put a massive finical strain on TransLink, which now claims a deficit of at least $75 million a month.
From the onset of “social distancing” TransLink seemed OK operating empty buses, without any hint of a “plan B” for operation during times of emergency. TransLink is now asking the provincial and federal governments for more money to keep empty buses operating and to keep huge executive salaries being paid.
TransLink and the Mayor’s Council on Transit are still proceeding with their pet $4.6 billion, 12.8 km extensions to the Expo and Millennium Lines, despite clear evidence that both projects are nothing more than “gold-plated” prestige projects, designed to further the profits of land speculators and land developers who support many of the mayors at election time. Both projects will only improve transit on paper and nothing more.
The proposed Broadway subway is being built on a route without enough ridership to justify its construction and the flip flop from LRT to light-metro in Surrey, will be again be built on a route where the ridership will not justify construction costs. TransLink has not offered an estimate of the increased operating costs or increased annual subsidies for both projects.
Questionable ridership projections are based on future condo tower development, based on foreign, basically Chinese investment and this is not guaranteed!
The already huge cost does not include the proprietary Movia Automatic Light Metro (erroneously called SkyTrain) cars, nor the inflationary cost increases for cement and specialty steel, needed for subway and viaduct construction.
It is no secret that the often renamed and now called Movia Automatic Light Metro (MALM), as used on the Expo and Millennium Lines is obsolete, as it has been obsolete since the late 1980’s, being more expensive to build, maintain and operate than its chief competitor, light rail. Only seven such systems have been built in the past 40 years and only three are seriously used for urban transit!
Today, modern light-metro systems such as Ottawa and Seattle use light rail vehicles, because of their cost effectiveness and their ability to operate on lesser rights-of-ways, yet because MALM uses Linear Induction Motors, it is impossible to use LRV’s on the proprietary MALM system.
MALM cannot be built cheaply, nor can it be operated and maintained cheaply. The taxpayer pays a first class cost for a second class system and this cannot continue, post Covid-19.
The recent sale of Bombardier to Alstom puts into question the future availability of MALM cars and spare parts! With Covid-19 and a major economic downturn, production of niche transit systems like the proprietary MALM light metro, maybe discontinued. Alstom has already shown that it has little use for proprietary transit systems by discontinuing production of the TVR guided bus used in several European cities, leaving operators scrambling for spare parts.
Vancouver is now the only customer for MALM, as the systems built in Korea and Malaysia have mired Bombardier and SNC Lavalin (the patent holders of the proprietary railway) in legal misadventure, due in part, to healthy “success fees” paid to lobbyists and politicians, to ensure MALM was to be built!
The Broadway subway and the Fleetwood extensions to the SkyTrain light-metro system are grossly overpriced for what they will do as light ridership on both extensions will greatly increase operating costs. The Broadway subway, current peak hour transit customer flows are under 5,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd). The North American standard for building a subway is a transit route with customer flows of at least 15,000 pphpd and operational subsidies increase dramatically with smaller customer flows.
Despite deliberate and misleading statements by TransLink and the City of Vancouver, Broadway is not the busiest transit corridor in Canada, as a representative of TransLink stated in a letter, Broadway was “our region’s most over crowded bus route“.
This sounds like a management issue and not one of needing to be solved by a $3 billion subway.
TransLink and the Mayor’s Council on Transit have never been honest with the long term costs of the project, which over a fifty year period, will have grave implications for the metro Vancouver and BC taxpayers.
According to the Toronto Transit Commission, who have a long experience operating subways, the Broadway subway to Arbutus, alone, will add $40 million annually to TransLink’s operating costs.
The fifty year costs for subways and grade separated transit are staggering, estimated more than $1 billion per km for the subway portion and just under $600 million per km for the elevated sections of the light metro system. Already the original Expo Line desperately needs a minimum $2 billion to rehab (full rehab about $3 billion) the system and increase capacity beyond Transport Canada’s Operating Certificate maximum of 15,000 pphpd.
TransLink has not been up front with these costs, for fear of pointed questions about the massive future costs for the rest of the light-metro system.
The following is the 50 year costs of various transit modes, by Ontario’s MetroLinx.
Spending $4.6 billion for 12.8 km of light-metro pales, when one could instead invest $1 billion on both, the proposed Fraser Valley Rail project reinstating an hourly Vancouver to Chilliwack passenger service and the E&N, reinstating a Victoria to Courtney/Port Alberni passenger service and still have $2.6 billion left over to invest in regional transit projects in Metro Vancouver.
Covid-19 and the current ‘stay at home orders’ means long term financial hardships for taxpayers, not just TransLink. Even though there are generous government support, each month of lock down generates more and more fiscal instability for the taxpayer as future tax increases to pay for the emergency are certain.
The taxpayer will very soon, be in no mood, to fund Vancouver’s and Surrey’s $4.6 billion gold-plated, prestige transit projects, nor will the taxpayer and the transit user be willing to pay higher fares and other taxes for transit that about 85% of the population will not use.
As Premier, you must step in and say “enough” as TransLink and the Mayor’s Council on Transit have isolated themselves from public oversight and ignore public debate.
In 2015, 62% percent of the people voted against TransLink’s demands for money, yet they have done nothing but play the taxpayer and voter for fools by offering virtually the same plan with no real public input. TransLink’s public oversight is nothing but a charade; a smokescreen to carry on with their hugely expensive rapid transit agenda.
In the post Covid world TransLink must plan for affordable transit projects; build user friendly transit projects and refrain from doing the same expensive thing over and over again hoping for different results.
2021 and beyond will be an age of higher taxes, to pay for today’s emergency funding; more people will work at home, thus fewer people will use public transit; social spacing will see different travel routines, again reducing the need for gold-plated transit options.
Then the reality of unintended consequences of today’s reality will come into play and those could prove very expensive.
TransLink needs to rethink its planning; the Mayor’s Council on Transit needs to rethink how transit is provided and funded; and the provincial government must rethink its rubber stamping Metro vancouver’s questionable transit planning.
The taxpayer and the transit customer deserve far better than the current sham planning and complete lack of oversight and failure to correct the current mess maybe felt at the polls in the next election.
Who is not afraid to bell the TransLink and the Mayor’s Council’s “cat”?
After 22 years the taxpayer is still held hostage to expensive light-metro planning.

The SkyTrain roller coaster ride is continuing.

Malcolm Johnston


4 Responses to “A Letter To Premier Horgan”
  1. Zwei says:

    From an email, from a local politician.

    The civic politician forward the original letter to check its veracity and was taken somewhat aback from the response.


    Thanks for your email regarding transit, I am not an authority on transit matters so I took the content of your letter ( Took off your name ) and sent it to some people I respect who know far more about this issue than me and here are their responses. I thought you might appreciate some feedback but I wanted to respect your privacy, if you should want to connect with these folks I can arrange that if not, thanks once again for your valuable input.

    Have a nice day.


    The letter writer is right, but the criticism is misdirected. Translink is entirely a creation of the BC Government. If it was regionally controlled it would be operated by Metro Vancouver. However, the Metro Vancouver Board was originally opposed to building the Canada Line, for the reasons given in the letter. Richmond only changed its vote to support the Canada Line when Gordon Campbell told Richmond we would never get public transit if we didn’t support it. I still voted against it. However Richmonds changed vote in support at Metro Vancouver was enough to get it approved. As a sop to Metro Vancouver BC appointed the “Mayors Council” to advise Translink. The Mayor’s Council does not report to the Metro Vancouver Board, so local governments elected Regional Board and Councils still have no say in the operation of Translink. This leaves Translink open to lobbying by Vancouver and Surrey Mayors for outdated expensive systems at such high cost the rest of us will never get ground level LRT, an LRT tube at Massey Tunnel and LRT to Delta and White Rock. That was planned and approved. It was originally planned by the Barrett Government in 1973 and approved by the Van Der Zalm Government. Translink should be operated by Metro Vancouver but who in their right mind would want it?

    I love riding the Canada line into Vancouver. But the author is right. The cost of these lines is so overbearing that moving around Metro by the buses which are necessary to connect with the skytrains and everywhere these lines dont run is insufficient to the need. So we use cars instead.
    It was predicted but the glam was chosen instead of the mundane practicality of lrt. And, lets face it, it was driven by developers and speculators, plus a political fear of taking a stand and expropriating land needed for lrt routes. Individual landowner interests chosen over collective need.
    So who will be brave enough to change direction?

    Fascinating …. I never knew any of this, XXXXXXX explanation/history of TransLink, …. let alone the detailed information on SkyTrain,(MALM), provided by the mystery letter writer

    I agree with much of what the writer says, and what XXXX says as well.

    I just hope this gets a wider audience. The public deserves to hear this. Unfortunately we no longer have a free press/media in Vancouver, almost everything is censored out, if it doesn’t meet the agenda of the ruling elite.

    The real cost of rides on SkyTrain, (including repayment of the enormous capital cost), are huge, probably 5 X higher than the fares actually charged. The poor old Vancouver taxpayer picks up the bill every year, while the riders go almost free, $1.00 – $2.00 per ride, when the actual, (total), cost is about $ 10.00. I love taking the SkyTrain into Vancouver … who doesn’t like a free ride!

    Now we know why …. This was all about corruption, as usual. The new Massey Bridge (a la Christy Clark), would have been an even worse example, especially if mass transit was added, as some are arguing.

    I’m flabbergasted that none of this has come out before …. Or has it? I just hope that the Broadway line to UBC, etc. doesn’t get built. It will destroy another lovely neighbourhood, just like SkyTrain has done everywhere it has been built.

    Please distribute this letter as widely you can

  2. Evil Eye says:

    Did you get a response from Horgan? If so, please print, I would like to see what he wrote?

  3. Major Hoople says:

    As a former member of the NDP and holding an executive position, the premier will not be allowed to read this letter. His Chief of Staff will not allow this.

    After the Millennium Line decision, I challenged then then premier over the decision and was strongly rebuked by Joy McPhail. It was then I decided that the NDP’s only public transit policy was being dictated by others and the the party was subservient.

    This has carried through the James and Dix era’s and I do not see any change.

    I have left the NDP with a “don’t call me, I’ll call you” message. Horgan is a good man but he is being advised badly and for transit in the Lower Mainland, a few billion spent to win seats in Surrey or retain elected MLA’s in Vancouver is a good bargain.

    It is my belief that this pandemic will change the course the NDP have set for themselves, but again the party is being badly advised by Harcourt and the remnants of the Clark era.

    If I had the power I would force Horgan to read this and he needs to read it.

  4. Nathan Davidowicz says:

    The ridership on the M Line is not high enough, however if and when the UBC Extension is build the ridership will be higher than the Evergreen Extension. If TransLink would have problems with LIM/Tracks/Trains it would blame previous BC Transit.

    However, we still do not have a proper long term transit plan for the Lower Mainland.

    wei replies: Unfortunately modeling for ridership for the proposed subway drops significantly past Granville St. Currently peak hour ridership, on Broadway is well less than 5.000 pphpd, over 10,000 pphpd less than the minimum standard for building a subway.

    The blame resides with the former social Credit government, which cut a political deal with the former Conservative government, purchasing an unsalable light metro from an Ontario Crown corporation, to acquire the then famous or infamous “Blue Machine” to win an election.

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