A Vancouver Sun $8.5 Billion Puff Piece

The Vancouver Sun, as always, has embarrassedAi?? itself with another transit “Puff Piece”.

Nathan Pachall is not a transit expert, rather a politician and a seemingly TransLink apologist.

Zwei would never dare to do a report card on transit because there are so many variables involved. No one has copied Merto Vancouver’s TransLink, nor it’s use of the now obsolete proprietary ALRT/ART mini-metro, which by its operating certificate with Transport Canada, has a limited capacity of 15,000 pphpd.

Cost to increase capacity – $3 billion.

Real transit stories would be the grossly expensive, proposed $3 billion Broadway SkyTrain subway, planned a route with less than one third the ridership deemed necessary for subway construction. Or, the $2.5 billion Surrey LRT, where two thirds of the cost is subsidizing land developers and land speculators building along its route!

Nor even a mention of the capacity constipated Canada Line with its 40 metre long station platforms, effectively giving the line a little more than half the capacity of the other mini-metro lines.

Where is Pachal’s research on these important stories, which will cost the taxpayer at least $8.5 billion?

By the way, where is the Vancouver Sun on theses important $8.5 billion stories?

If this report card was done by the likes of Ron Stromberg, Gerald Fox or even Glen Leicester, I might take note, but Nathon who, I just laugh.

Metro Vancouver has the second bestAi??transit system in the nation, according to a transit report card that rates services in six major Canadian regions.

The report card gave Metro Vancouver an overall score of A+, tying the region with Greater Calgary for the second-best grade behind Montrealai??i??s A+++.

Nathan Pachal ai??i?? a transit researcher, founder of South Fraser OnTrax and Langley City councillor ai??i?? wrote the report card,Ai??which reviewed 23 transit authorities in Greater Calgary, Greater Edmonton, Greater Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton, Metro Vancouver and National Capital (Ottawa/Gatineau). It uses data from 2015, which is the most recent available. This is the third year Pachal has released a transit report card.

ai???It really brings visibility on how things actually are, because whether you think the service is fantastic or itai??i??s performing subpar itai??i??s good to have that real information that you can use to compare it to the rest of the nation and see how transit service in Canada and Vancouver is doing,ai??? said Pachal.

Metro Vancouver, which has TransLink as its transit authority, moved from an A to an A+ grade this year.

All metrics stayed the same except for operating cost per service hour, which improved from a C to a B. TransLink still has the highest operating cost per service hour ($186.29), but other regionai??i??s operating costs have increased at a faster rate than in Metro Vancouver, closing the gap.

The region continues to have the best revenue kilometres per service hour ai??i?? meaning transit service is slightly faster than in other regions ai??i?? though the metric has slowly declined over the past three years.

It also has the highest passenger trip intensity grade of all regions measured. Regions with a high score in this area have transit systems that align more closely with transit service demand, meaning they are more efficient.

ai???Interestingly, TransLink has the highest efficiency score in the nation,ai??? said Pachal.

Only Toronto and Hamilton region has better fare box recovery numbers. In Metro Vancouver, 53 per cent of direct operating expenses are covered by transit usersai??i?? fares, versus 64 per cent in Toronto and Hamilton.

Pachal said it will be interesting to see how the grades change when the information from 2016 is available. Thatai??i??s because the federal government, as well as many provincial governments, began investing last year in projects such as Metro Vancouverai??i??s 10-year plan for transit and transportation.

ai???This (2015) was sort of the last year of the TransLink-with-no-new-money metrics,ai??? Pachal said. ai???Next yearai??i??s data will show what itai??i??s like since they started to expand service with the approval of the 10 year plan.ai???



10 Responses to “A Vancouver Sun $8.5 Billion Puff Piece”
  1. Dondi says:

    Zwei has embarrassed himself with another “only my facts, none of your facts” puff piece against Skytrain and Translink.

    Now, it is true that his subject of contempt, Pachal’s ‘report card’, is biased.

    It is biased by “grade inflation”. How can Pachal award transit agencies “A” or “B” grades (much less A+ or A+++) when they have ALL FAILED in terms of what should be the number one basis for evaluation – increasing transit ridership per capita?

    But notice – they all failed, not just Vancouver, so this failure is not due to Translink or Skytrain, and in fact Vancouver’s failure is less bad than in some other regions.

    But Zwei repeats the same tired ‘facts’ about Translink and Skytrain instead of addressing Pachal’s CUTA-sourced, relatively objective facts and informative range of metrics for comparison.

    Oh, ‘Zwei the Pure’ would “never dare to do a report card on transit agencies because there are so many variables involved.”

    But notice that does not stop him from regularly posting the “cost per revenue passenger” graph from the Shirocca report which just happens to be the one metric most unfavourable to Translink.

    (See Shirocca’s report at https://www.translink.ca/-/media/Documents/about_translink/governance_and_board/commissioner_archive/efficiency_review_march_2012.pdf?la=en&hash=7D565405CA0016097E041860C752934488A639B1).

    One reason this metric is unfavourable towards Translink is that Shirocca’s Toronto only includes the TTC’s service area. It is hard to believe anyone got paid for submitting such a simplistic and misleading basis for comparison!

    Pachal at least makes the effort to take into consideration – however imperfectly – that comparisons should be “apples to apples”, that is, they should use data for the whole metro region in question, not just its oldest/most urbanized sections. For Vancouver that is basically the Translink service area; for other metros like Toronto and Montreal several transit agencies must be aggregated together to get a reasonable basis for comparison.

    Yes, Zwei, true, none of Pachal’s metrics address (nor do they claim to address) your own hobby horse, namely the very high cost of building and expanding Skytrain. They all focus on operating costs, not capital costs.

    But please do the public a favour and climb off your hobby horse for a minute. So you can focus on ripping apart his CUTA data on operating costs. Where is it wrong? What is misleading?

    Or are you satisfied with just writing another puff piece?

    Zwei replies: Sorry to burst your bubble, but Pachall is not a transit expert, not even close and to do a report card by cherry picking certain details and forgetting others, does not a report card make.

    Did he factor in the U-Pass? No? Because the U-Pass skews the numbers, especially with 130,000 issued.

    Everyone is transit researcher these days, the problem is, they are selective researchers and in Pachall’s place it is probably for political reasons.

  2. Haveacow says:

    Wow were to start! Always be weary of these types of ‘Transit Report Cards” they are very poorly thought out and constructed.

    1. Get the regions right! The Area of Greater Toronto and Hamilton isn’t even the whole Toronto Area Commuting zone. If you are going to use GO Transit as this study does, as one of the area’s transit agencies it draws data from then,you should use the area it actually covers and all the local transit agencies it connects with. Luckily, the government of Ontario has already an official legally defined planning area FOR THIS EXACT PURPOSE, its called the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region. This region has 9.7 million people, GO Transit and 30 local and or single tier transit agencies, (soon to be reduced to around 24 because of the amalgamation of 6 local and one inter regional transit agency into one single tier Niagara Regional Transit Agency). This region is the basis for provincial funding boundaries and covers the an area of 11,000+sq km. which happens to be, the area currently and soon to be served by GO Transit and its connections to local transit agencies. It centers on Toronto but stretches from Kitchener-Waterloo in the west, Georgian Bay-Barrie area in the north,
    Peterborough-Lindsay Area in the north-east and Northumberland County in the east, Brantford in the south-west and Niagara Region in the south. I have no idea why a good responsible researcher would not use this area, CUTA even has all the data for it, through the Ontario Urban Transit Fact Book, which is produced yearly.

    The author also got Greater Montreal wrong by not using all the transit agencies inside the Greater Montreal Region. First there are 14 transit agencies inside it, not 4. It covers an area of over 3900 sq km and has an area population in 2015 (the date year of the data used in this report) of 4.14 million. One agency used, the AMT (Agencie Metroploitane de’Transport) which was responsible for the Montreal area Commuter Rail system and regional transit planning coordination doesn’t even exist anymore but did in 2015.

    The covering of the National Capital Region might be improved if the 5 to 7 (i’d have to check) suburban private transit agencies were also included that move people from the more rural areas of Ottawa (who’s total land area is actually 90% rural).

    2. If an area is only represented by a single transit agency or a very small number of agencies dominated by a single very large transit agency, it is far more likely mathematically that, these regions will score higher given the very limited group of data points that were used, compared to larger regions with more varied array of transit agencies.

    3. Data interpretation is tricky! The study uses fair box recovery of operating costs as a comparative metric, the higher the better. That is not always so! In Toronto the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) has had very high fair box recovery for a very long time. In fact, throughout individual years in the early 1970’s, the TTC was actually operating at a profit. For financial conservatives this is considered a positive result. But compared to other regions and transit agencies operating throughout North America this means that, Toronto receives actually far less support for its operating costs than most North American Transit Agencies. What financial conservatives consider positive, most senior transit officials at the TTC have nightmares about. This means that the TTC is far more sensitive to changes in ridership than most agencies elsewhere. So if ridership goes down because the economy is sluggish either the City of Toronto has to fork over more money or the TTC has to cut service. The TTC hasn’t made an error. Something out of its control has severely effected its ridership, more than most agencies, the TTC now has some very hard choices to make.. But this report card considers this a positive result.

    I could go on for many individual points about these types of reports but I trust my point is clear. These types of reports are designed to grab headlines and aren’t really that useful, professionally speaking and just give ammunition for people in each of these areas to bash their local agencies, governments and provincial governments. But in the real sense are nearly meaningless and useless when trying to improve transit. So take the time, do it right, don’t bother with useless regional comparisons which are overly superficial and have little depth to them.

    Zwei replies: This is why I would never attempt to do one and why Pachall should not have done.

  3. Dondi says:

    Zwei, as is usually the case, your response is to change the subject when it is inconvenient for you.

    I never suggested Pachal is an expert.

    You are hypocritical for complaining that Pachal selects some details and ignores others. I illustrated this with your repetitive use of one ‘detail’ from the Schirocca report while refusing to address the range of metrics that Pachal reports.

    Mr, Cow makes the point that getting the regions right is important.

    So stop citing a figure that compares the Toronto Transit Commission to Translink, as if this provides a reasonable comparison. Or at least note the apples-to-oranges nature of this data when citing it. And recognize that the higher (operating) costs that it reports for Vancouver are substantially due to the high cost of providing bus service in the suburban areas around the City of Vancouver (more of which are under Translink than in the agencies in other metros) and NOT the operating costs of Skytrain, as you like to imply.

    The UPass is a total red herring here. Other metros in Canada also have UPass programs (although I believe less universal than in BC). But Upass riders are transit riders and should be included in all metrics – e.g., in the farebox recovery rate.

    Face the facts. Yes, criticize their construction and note the issues involved, but face the facts.

    Zwei replies: Dondi, you are not the one facing facts. If one wants to include fare box recovery rates, one must omit the U-Pass program because they greatly skew the numbers.

  4. Dondi says:

    Mr. Cow, I agree entirely about getting the regions right.

    That is precisely why Zwei is wrong to constantly cite the Schriocca graph where Toronto is represented by the TTC alone.

    As the official transit expert here please let Zwei know this is a poor comparison that should be appropriately qualified when quoted.

    I have no particular brief for Pachal’s definition of regions.

    But if he did expand Toronto as you suggest I question whether that would provide a fairer inter-metro comparison, for most purposes.

    Expanding Toronto this way would inflate its cost metrics and deflate the usage metrics, because, I am sure you would confirm, transit is more costly to provide and is less used outside of the urban cores.

    I would be immediately suspicious of comparison based on such a very large area, wondering if its purpose was to make Vancouver’s Translink look better and Toronto’s alphabet soup of agencies worse.

    By your logic, if there is a bias here by Pachal it is against Translink, nor for it, like Zwei suggests.

    On your point No. 2, if anything, the single data point from one large agency is probably better constructed than by aggregating the many different data points collected using different methodologies, etc. from many agencies – unless you think there is fraud or systematic error, which, as a transit professional, I doubt is what you think.

    Yes, Pachal has the farebox metric upside-down! The metric should be from the public user’s point of view, not the managers’ view. Transit should be free or nearly free.

    But please don’t raise false hopes for Mr Zwei’s anti-Translink campaign by raising this issue. It does not look like Vancouver’s A+ grade was much affected by its slightly-higher-than-median farebox recovery rate.

    Yes, of course, such report cards are inevitably superficial, and not very useful for serious professional or managerial decision-making. Pachal did not say they were useful for the latter.

    But they provide SOME information, in this case, making available to the public the best data source there is, from CUTA (and however imperfect, Pachal’s regions are better than Zwei’s zero effort to engage with this issue). It is very hard for non transit professionals to access CUTA data because they charge $$$$ for it.

    And this SOME information shows that Zwei’s hysterically anti-Translink campaign is just not justified by the available facts. Vancouver is not the huge outlier among Canadian metros that he regularly portrays.

    Mr Cow, instead of reinforcing the narrowly anti-Skytrain identity of this Rail for the Valley’s blog, why not help it become more pro-transit, a little more grounded in the facts! More rail for the valley, less HATE of Skytrain.

    Even if Skytrain is a lemon we should still talk about how to make (better) lemonade!

    Zwei replies: Not wrong Dondi, because the facts don’t suite, you cry. This has been the tactic of the SkyTrain Lobby for over 30 years, winge moan and weep, yet despite all this, no one buys SkyTrain and no one copies Vancouver. Think about that sunshine.

    By the way the Schriocca report done for TransLink, by a former Translink senior planner and it confirmed that SkyTrain is very expensive for what it does and is hobbling the rest of the transit system, as is reflected in the various graphs.

    You don’t think TransLink understands this, but their hands are tied by BC politicians, who for cheap politics demand more SkyTrain is built. This has left metro Vancouver in a precarious situation as financially, the region cannot continue building SkyTrain or LRT designed as a SkyTrain.

    I have been told by a retired TransLink exec. that financially, TransLink will ultimately fail within 10 years as there will not be the tax money to both subsidize and expand the system.

  5. Dondi says:


    Your characterization of what the Schirocca report says is false.

    Contrary to what you suggest, there is not a single graph in the Schirocca report that reports on Skytrain separately from the other divisions in Translink, or that compares Skytrain to rail in other metros.

    Nowhere does he “confirm[ed] that Skytrain…is hobbling the rest of the transit system.”

    If UPass revenue and UPass ridership were both excluded from the farebox recovery metric then you would have a point. But do you have any evidence this is the case in Vancouver, and not true in other metros? Or just more conspiracy theories about Translink?

    All transit agencies in Canada are ‘failing’ financially, or this is their easily projected future – Translink is not exceptional.

    Zwei replies: Oh Dondi, take your soap box elsewhere. You manipulate and fudge figures to suit your agenda. You whine on and on about Zwei’s take on SkyTrain. Here is a fact, every out of province transit expert I have talked to has said; “The real problem with your regional transit system is SkyTrain. it costs more to build maintain and operate than conventional systems and because of this it truncates the regional transit system as money earmarked for transit is spent on the metro.”

    You never answer the question: “Why, after being on the market for almost 40 years, only seven systems have been built and only three are seriously used for public transit?”

    I add this other question: “Why has SkyTrain never been allowed to compete against LRT? As decisions to build with SkyTrain are made in secret with no public oversight.

    I believe that Pachell was tapped on the shoulder by a TransLink type to cobble together a good news story to speed up the NDP’s dolling out of transit money. The Vancouver Sun never writes an honest story about transit was probably eager to print it as transit is seen as ‘good news’.

    TransLink knows what the problem is, but instead of fixing it, they rely on questionable facts and puff stories and fire those who want to build with light rail.

    If you want a proper study, hire the UK’s National Audit Office, who have good experience with public transit.

  6. Haveacow says:

    Dondi, my point is regional comparisons like this shouldn’t be done at all. Unless, there is a clear logical way to give marks or comparative useful criticism’s that can show good or better policy directions. Pick lines and services that are similar in the way they service the community and how they function inside their particular network. The differences in the operating environment and how the government funds and regulates them also makes comparison’s difficult. . Comparing one single total agency to another is even more difficult for all these reasons and even more than I have already mentioned.

    Its far more useful to compare for example, the Bloor Subway Line in Toronto to the Millennium Line in Vancouver. Both are Metro or Light Metro lines, both are tangential axis rapid transit routes (compared to either community’s central area) and both serve similar functions in their rapid transit networks.

    But the TTC as an agency is a single tier municipally represented transit service, where Translink is a Regional Super-Agency represented and funded by regional and local taxes, with some provincial funding but is essentially lorded over by the province. A regional committee of mayors functions a pseudo management and steering committee but has no power. It does local transit, regional transit and rapid transit but also funds regional roads, bridges and highways. These 2 agencies are not exactly the same thing!

  7. Haveacow says:

    It’s not that high fair box recovery is a good or bad as any other metric. The point is that comparing city or urban regions that have varying populations which mean different meanings for different transit agencies, located in vastly different government and regulatory regimes is not a great or very accurate way to get any good info about your region transit wise. Shortcomings in study design and research compound the problem. What is needed is a clearer way of studying the issues you want to compare.

    There is no point comparing Translink to the TTC in Toronto or the combination of all the 30 other Greater Golden Horseshoe Region’s transit agencies as a whole because as agencies, they are very, very different operations. How each agency is funded, which levels of government pay for that or represent that funding, what their responsibilities are make this “Transit Report Card” nearly meaningless. Many of those metrics aren’t even considered in the smaller Ontario Transit agencies in the Toronto area because the policies/decisions regarding their transit operations in general are biased to just providing basic service. They will work on fare box recovery later. The basics of having enough resources to operate is enough of a challenge for many of them.

    For example, Barrie Transit barely had more than 20 buses 10 years ago, now they are responsible for a fleet of 60-80 buses and are providing regional transit links throughout Simcoe County (which they are a lower tier municipality located inside of) to other area communities like Collingwood, Orillia and possibly even Owen Sound. If their fare box recovery is even 25% for those link routes I would be astonished.

    What needs to be done is take things that are similar and compare them and get useful answers out of those comparisons. I have children to put to bed , so more later.

  8. Haveacow says:

    Oh good my original comment got through my computer to the website, here it was telling me it didn’t go through at all.

  9. Haveacow says:

    I know Zwei can over do it but I have been in his wheelhouse before. Whether it was O.C. Transpo here in Ottawa desperately trying to convince everyone up to about 2005 that, the Central Transitway (the main portion of busway network now being converted to LRT) was still cheaper and easier to operate than a rail based rapid transit system. Then, slowly admitting over time that they had known that the central portion of our Transitway network had been in an almost crisis operating condition since the early to mid 1990’s and that conversion to rail should have started much earlier than 2013.

    Or Translink continuing to build with a rapid transit operating technology that I know as person who used to work for Bombardier that, has some very serious operating issues right now, to which Translink is just not admitting to. Specifically that, its very expensive to build for what you actually get and the way Translink has Skytrain currently configured operationally, the Skytrain has ultimately less passenger carrying capacity than other rail based systems like LRT operating technology.

    What Translink is also not saying is that its not as cheap to operate as it once was compared to other rail based operating technologies. Many of its celebrated inherent technologies, like its Linear Induction Drive technology is part of the problem. Could they improve Skytrain, yes they could! But it will require a great tear-down of the existing Expo Line line and modification of its operating technology. Followed by a very expensive rebuild. Neither Translink or anyone at Bombardier will ever publicly admit to that. So stop asking me for sources, they just won’t talk. Too many people have been involved for too long a time, with way to much money being spent. I know it sounds like a crazy grand conspiracy but I have seen this silence game before, it has way too many similarities between the actions of Translink now and so many years ago in Ottawa at O.C. Transpo, and its main operating partner McCormick-Rankin. Sorry people, more than likely, as crazy as it sounds, Zwei maybe right. Translink has a big Skytrain problem.

    I don’t think its as bad as Zwei thinks it is but they are hiding some serious Skytrain’s issues. Does Zwei’s Tram-Train operating technology have issues as well, Oh yes it does! However, Tram-Train’s issues for a North American operation can be fairly easily dealt with, mostly by simple political will and few locally derived clever Vancouver based operating solutions. Skytrain’s issues not only require political will but a massive amount of money to solve. Far more money than a Tram-Train will ever cost.

    I have said this before, ultimately like Montreal’s Metro and Toronto’s Subway network, there is one issue that Translink’s Light Metro Skytrain just can’t beat and that’s the operating limit of geographic scale and its inherent complexities it causes rapid transit operators. These lines can only be so long. Extending the Skytrain down the Trans Canada to places like Langley for example (the proposals by Skytrain for Surrey) will fail to attract enough of the ideal transit rider the people at Translink are trying to get, due to the time it will require to travel anywhere from that extension. As well as it being really expensive to build! Not to mention how much more problematic the Expo
    Line will now be to operate.

  10. Dondi says:


    Please relax your fixation on Skytrain, which is so extreme that you project pro-Skytrain sentiments on anyone who raises an issue with any statement you make.

    OK, I don’t know why I should have to do this, but I’ll bite. “Why have so few SkyTrain systems been installed?”

    Because it is so expensive to build! Because it has not proven itself in the transit marketplace. Because prospective purchasers have found better alternatives.

    There – happy?

    I responded to your false characterization of the Schirocca report as blaming transit woes in Vancouver on the Skytrain system. You were not able to correct me, so you changed the subject, again.

    And if “every” transit expert outside of Vancouver that you have been in touch with places the main blame on Skytrain then it is obvious that you are in touch with a ridiculously small percentage of experts. I challenge you to cite more than one or two such experts who have made such comments in their professional writing.

    Zwei replies: The report was for TransLink’s internal use and if you read it, it points to SkyTrain, but you and the rest of the LRT deniers, you are like climate change deniers and it is all wrong fake news, very sad.

    So I add a few comments of experts of the day had to say about SkyTrain:

    1) Bob Abrams, in 1983 a consultant to the US Urban Mass Transit Administration; “SkyTrain is terribly complicated and not really well designed>”
    2) Edgar Horwood, former professor of civil engineering and urban planning, U of W: “SkyTrain is enormously expensive thing for what it will do.”
    3)Gerald Fox, engineer, formerly with Tri-Met: “I think in Vancouver you are being sold a bill of goods.”
    4) Norman Thompson, English transit consultant and builder of worlds busiest subway; “Vancouver is adopting a non-commercial approach……. I hope they have lots of money.

    Comments from today, really there is none because real experts don’t care because SkyTrain is obsolete.

    Finally, from my notes:

    While everyone was glad handing SkyTrain as being cheap to operate, cheaper to operate than those Luddites and their LRT, the 1988/89 operating budget for SkyTrain showed that the operations, maintenance and administration costs were $27,658,799.00. In 1990, the same costs for the Calgary C-Train, which at the time ad about equal ridership, was $15,335,000.00 or $12,323,799.00 cheaper to operate than SkyTrain.

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