A Letter To The Mayor’s 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is held to such high odor by the public, is the apparent incompetence of the organization; it’s blind adherence to an outdated and very expensive transit mode, light-metro; and general user unfriendliness of the transit system.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.
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.
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.
A simple European tram or streetcar can carry upwards of 20,000 pphpd at a much cheaper cost.
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.
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.