A Letter To The Mayor’s Council

Ai??The following letter, which has come Zwei’s way, was sent to all mayors and councils in Metro Vancouver.
It seems, that the regional mayors are hell bound to get a positive vote in the coming TransLink referendum and they don’t seem to care about the voters or transit users at all. Yesterday’s Vancouver Province editorial also sums up the problems facing the proponents of upcoming referendum.
To the mayor and or the mayor and council:

My name is (Name withheld) and I have been involved advocating for improved public transit in the region since 1986. I have been a member of the international Light Rail Transit Association since 1984 and being a member in good standing for thirty years, I have had much correspondence and meetings with transit professionals in both North America and Europe. It was my connection with the LRTA, that I was able to secure the funding to engage Leewood Projects of the UK to do a study of the feasibility of once again operating a Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban style rail service, for the Rail for the Valley group.

The Leewood/Rail for the Valley study showed that a Vancouver to Chilliwack TramTrain (a streetcar that can operate on the mainline railway) offering a peak three trip an hour service, could be had for about $1 billion. An hourly Vancouver to Chilliwack service using diesel light rail could be installed for about $750 million.

TransLink was not interested.

Next spring, voters in the Metro Vancouver are going to be asked to vote in a referendum to further fund TransLink by various means of taxation or user fees. It is my opinion that regardless of the question asked, the referendum will fail for many reasons.

The main reasons that TransLink is held to such high odor by the public, is the apparent incompetence of the organization; it’s blind adherence to an outdated and very expensive transit mode, light-metro; and general user unfriendliness of the transit system.

Our SkyTrain system is part of a family of unconventional proprietary transit systems, that were the flavour of the 1970′s and 80′s. In1978, as development of our SkyTrain light-metro progressed, what we now call Light Rail or LRT started a new era of city transport with the opening of Edmonton’s new light rail line. In just over a decade LRT had made light-metro obsolete, as modern LRT could be built to be faster, carry more people, at one quarter to one half the cost of light-metro. LRT could also be built as a light metro, on a fully segregated rights-of-ways at a cheaper cost than SkyTrain ALRT/ART. Fiscally prudent transit authorities rejected Skytrain out of hand and still do today, with Vancouver’s Skytrain being a lesson of doing it wrong.

Since the first SkyTrain was open for operation in late 1985 and ‘show-cased’ at Expo 86 World’s Fair, the world came, they saw, and they built with light rail. No one has copied the ‘Vancouver’ SkyTrain model for urban transport.

Today, over 150 new build light-rail systems have been built and a further 50 are either under construction or have been approve for construction. During the same period, only seven SkyTrain type systems have been built (one to torn down within the next five years) and only three seriously used for urban transit, with the remaining four being a demonstration line, and three theme park/airport people movers. All seven SkyTrain lines built have been financed by secret deals and LRT was never allowed to compete against any of the SkyTrain’s built.

Strange then that TransLink keeps building with SkyTrain?

Not exactly, because the Canada line is not SkyTrain at all but a heavy-rail metro, dumbed down as a light-metro which is not compatible with the rest of the SkyTrain network.

As the Canada Line’s construction costs began to spiral out of control at a pace greater than the decade earlier Fast Ferry fiasco, the scope of the project was greatly reduced. The Canada Line construction was truncated to such an extent that it has 40 metre to 50 metre station platforms that only large enough to accommodate two car trains. The Canada line was at capacity since the day it was built and only gives an illusion of high ridership. The Canada line, as built, has less capacity than a simple streetcar line built at a fraction of the cost.

One must question TransLink’s claims of ridership on the Canada Line, as ridership numbers may not as high as TransLink would have us think.

A Freedom of Information request has shown that in 2012 TransLink paid a SNC Lavalin lead consortium $145 million to operate and maintain the line, which is two to three times higher than comparable transit lines.

This extremely high operating cost is part in due to the line being in a subway in Vancouver.

The UBC Sauder School of Business recently reported that the three light-metro lines have cost the taxpayer over $9 billion dollars to date, yet there is no proof that this $9 billion in investment has taken any cars off the road at all. In fact, the inconvenience of the three light-metro lines may have forced transit customers off transit and back into cars as the mode share for cars in the region has remained at 57%.

Now TransLink has announced two more big projects, the Broadway subway and the Surrey LRT.

A Broadway subway may bankrupt TransLink in the future because there isn’t the ridership today or in the foreseeable future to sustain underground operation. Even TransLink’s own modelling shows rather dismal ridership on a UBC subway, which leads to only one conclusion, massive subsidies must be paid to maintain and operate the subway and by extension taxes and fares must be raised to dizzying heights to pay for and maintain the subway.

Subways tend to be “black holes” for the taxpayer as the expense to just operate a subway with lighting, escalators & elevators, signalling, ventilation, pumps, etc., which cost much more than operating the vehicles themselves. Then there is the structure itself as subways age very poorly and need an ongoing program of expensive preventative maintenance.

These added expenses do not exist with modern light rail.

Subways do not automatically offer higher capacities, as capacity is based on station platform length and the length of train it can accommodate. The Skytrain system stations have platform lengths of 80 metre, which restricts Skytrain present capacity at about 15,000 persons per hour per direction (Please see attachment #1). The capacity of a Broadway subway would be limited to about 15,000 pphpd, unless all of the SkyTrain stations are retrofitted with longer station platforms, which costs are estimated from $2 billion to $3 billion!

A simple European tram or streetcar can carry upwards of 20,000 pphpd at a much cheaper cost.

Will building a Broadway subway leave the taxpayer vulnerable to massive “subway” costs in the future, which will hemorrhage money away from the rest of the transit system?

Surrey’s planned LRT is doomed to failure because TransLink, with no experience planning or building with modern LRT and with no desire to build with the mode has designed the Surrey LRT as a poor-man’s SkyTrain and repeats every transit mistake it has made with SkyTrain. Hugely costly to build, Surrey’s proposed LRT act strictly as a feeder to the SkyTrain line and really doesn’t offer any incentive to use otherwise.

This is not a modal problem, rather a management and design problem and TransLink seems to have a lot of management problems of late.

Also the Mayors Council must ask, “how much does the U-Pass cost the taxpayer?“Has the U-Pass discouraged full fare transit customers, with cheap fare students taking up seats, discouraging full fare customers?In North America, the ability to sit on a seat in a ‘metro’ or tram is paramount in attracting ridership. Question’s concerning the U-Pass must be answered before the referendum, because it is a very strange coincidence that when the U-Pass deep discounted fares were offered, with over 110,000 issued, TransLink started have pangs of financial discomfort.
Another important question must be asked; “Are those who are strongly advocating for a Broadway subway, the same persons who enjoy $1 a day universal U-Passes?” Is our premium priced transit system being designed to cater to those using the cheapest fares?

The regional mayors must reevaluate their support for TransLink’s planning and even for TransLink itself, which its stumbling and fumbling bureaucracy seems only wanting to do the same thing over and over again, ever hoping for different outcomes, all on the taxpayer’s dime.


One Response to “A Letter To The Mayor’s Council”
  1. eric chris says:

    This is a fantastic synopsis on transit. Whether there are enough smart mayors who can understand it is another matter. Certainly, Mayor Gregor Robertson and his side kick, fuzzy faced cretin, Geoff Meggs are too dense to get it.

    Minister Stone has implied that the loons (Gregor and the others) wanting to spend $7.5 billion over 10 years on transportation (more than in the last 30 years for transportation) are out of touch with reality. What he is implying is the following: build tram or LRT lines or go away; the province is only willing to fund about $750 million over the next 10 years for transportation and is broke since the LNG dream which was going to fund transit has fizzled:


    “Stone noted that over the past 30 years of transit investments in Metro, major rapid transit projects like the Canada Line and Expo and Millennium Lines didn’t add up to $7.5 billion in 10 years.

    I’ve said very clearly and publicly as well to the mayors that an ask of $1.5 billion in a 10-year time frame is probably about twice what’s realistic,” Stone told The Vancouver Sun Friday. ”Now this is where I’ve also suggested if they were to stretch out their time frame somewhat, if they were asking for $1.5 billion from the province over a 15- or 20-year time frame, that is likely more doable. But within a 10-year time frame there’s just no chance that will happen.”

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