Debunking the SkyTrain myth A?ai??i??ai??? Part 3 ~ So who operates SkyTrain and why?



Detroit’s ICTS

Two previous postings


“Ai??Ai??Debunking the SkyTrain myth……. “Ai??Ai??and


Debunking the SkyTrain myth Part 2 “Ai??Ai??has sent the SkyTrain lobby into apologetic fits. The cries of “shock and disbelief“, untrue, and cherry-picked information fill the comments postings, yet the SkyTrain lobby fail to answer one question: “Why after three decades of unprecedented investment in public transit that SkyTrain hasAi??Ai??been rejected byAi??Ai??transit planners around the world, even after an unprecedented sales program including beingAi??Ai??showcased atAi??Ai??Vancouver’s Expo 86?” Despite the hype and hoopla about SkyTrain there are only seven type systems in operation, or nearing completion, sold under three marketing names.

Intermediate Capacity Transit System or ICTS

  1. The Toronto Transit Commission’s Scarborough ICTS a 6.4 km rail link forced on the TTC by the Ontario provincial government. Currently in operation, it needs major rebuilding and might be converted to light rail. The city of Hamilton rejected SkyTrain, even after the Ontario government was willing to pay for the initialAi??Ai??installation.
  2. The 4.7 kmAi??Ai??Detroit people mover or locallyAi??Ai??known asAi??Ai??the “Mugger mover“. This single track loop was a demonstration line for a planned ICTS system, butAi??Ai??the larger network did not materialize.

Advanced Light Rail Transit/Advanced Light Rapid Transit or ALRT

  1. Vancouver’s 49.5 km SkyTrain. Forced upon the operating authority instead of originally planned for light railAi??Ai??in 1980 by the provincial government, the First Vancouver to New Westminster Line cost as much as the originally planned for Vancouver to Whally/Lougheed Mall and Vancouver to Richmond LRT. The Millennium Line was again forced onto the operating authority by the provincial government after much planning for LRT. It is interesting to note that there was a slight change to SkyTrain’s name from Advanced Light Rail Transit to Advanced Light Rapid Transit before 1990 reflecting that SkyTrain was not LRT.

Advanced Rapid Transit or ART

  1. Ai??Ai??The 13 kmAi??Ai??Ai??Ai??JFK airport AirTrain. A private deal between Bombardier Inc., the Port authority, and the Canadian Government, precluded local planning. The AirTrain is funded, in part, with an airportAi??Ai??$7.00 departure tax.
  2. Ai??Ai??The 29 km Kelana Jaya Line (formerly PUTRA)Ai??Ai??in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Forced upon the operating authority by senior government, who wanted a ‘show-case’ elevated transit system like a monorail, senior government officials were horrified to find out, even after a prolonged bidding process, that the PUTRA was just another railway and later built a monorail for the city’s thirdAi??Ai??elevated transit line. The first elevated transit line in the city was the STAR elevated LRT line.
  3. The 27 km Beijing Airport Express. A limited stop, four station,Ai??Ai??airport transit line.
  4. The 18.5 km Everline in Yongin, South Korea. another limited stop airport line.

During the same period, over 150 new light rail transit (LRT) lines have been built or are now nearing completion, far too many to list. Many more new LRT lines are being planned. In fact, by 1986, the year of SkyTrain’s debut in Vancouver, it was considered obsolete by transit planners in North America and Europe andAi??Ai??like the French VAL system, now seems only to be sold in private deals as a prestigious airport connector.

What happened?

Modern light-rail, was cheaperAi??Ai??to build and operate andAi??Ai??far more flexible in use. If one needed to construct a light-metro to cater to high traffic loads, LRT could do the job and carry more customers, yet retain the ability to operate on lesser rights-of-ways, in mixed traffic if need be. Proprietary driverless transit systems, by their very design, can not do. This inherent loss of operating flexibility far outweighedAi??Ai??the fewAi??Ai??positives with light-metro and the fate of proprietaryAi??Ai??transit systems like ICTS/ALRT/ART and VAL were sealed. As with all proprietary transit systems, the seeds of obsolescenceAi??Ai??are sold with the product and if the manufacturer were to cease production, the costs forAi??Ai??proprietaryAi??Ai??transit systemsAi??Ai??increase dramatically!Ai??Ai??In Seattle, the operators of the ALWEG monorail have great problems finding spares and have to custom make, at great expense,Ai??Ai??broken parts. It is like getting spare parts for an Edsel!

Except for Vancouver, no other city relies on SkyTrain ALRT/ART solely for rail transportation, which makes Vancouver and TransLink an anomaly. The continued efforts to force more SkyTrain construction is like the past Bre-X scandal (where ore samples were ‘salted’ with gold);Ai??Ai??with SkyTrainAi??Ai??planningAi??Ai??being ‘salted’ withAi??Ai??questionable studies and invented statistical analysis.Ai??Ai??Abetted byAi??Ai??a complacent media who treat all public transit projects as a “mom and apple pie” issue, neverAi??Ai??have doneAi??Ai??the investigative reporting that has beenAi??Ai??standard with other mega-projects and gave SkyTrain a ‘free pass’. 30 years of SkyTrain indoctrinationAi??Ai??is clearly evident; a burgeoning TransLink deficit; high transit fares; a rail transit network that a nervous TransLinkAi??Ai??admitsAi??Ai??that 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first come from buses; and a largely misinformed SkyTrain lobby. No wonder transit planners from around the worldAi??Ai??chuckle atAi??Ai??Metro Vancouver and TransLink with amusement.

The question that the SkyTrain lobby refuse to answer is again asked; “If SkyTrain is so good, why in an era of unprecedented investment in public transit, it has been rejected by transit planners around the world?


10 Responses to “Debunking the SkyTrain myth A?ai??i??ai??? Part 3 ~ So who operates SkyTrain and why?”
  1. jim newell says:

    If SkyTrain can’t take people off from cars, what makes you think LRT would?

    Zweisystem responds: First, you did not answer the question, which is telling.

    Every new light rail system built has created a modal shift from car to rail. That TransLink fails to give any statistic for modal shift is telling – for the cost of the metro, it must be very small. At grade transit systems have proven to attract more new customers, especially motorists, than elevated and underground transit systems. It is called the convenience factor, something that our transit planners ignore completely.

    Extensive studies have shown that there is little benefit in spending huge sums of money on light-metro or subways because it attracts fewer new customers than an at-grade/on-street transit. The French VAL light-metro, has also suffered the same fate as SkyTrain, no benefit for the extra money spent, hence no sales. Here lies the problem: despite strong local support for SkyTrain, there is no benefit for the $3 billion to $4 billion more spent on the light-metro! The result of building SkyTrain is a truncated transit network that is very costly and the operating authority can’t state any real benefit provided by spending the money. As TransLink claims that 80% of SkyTrain’s riders first take a bus to the metro just shows for over $6 billion spent, we are giving bus passengers a very expensive trip that really hasn’t cut down on their commute time. Good reasons for not investing in a hugely expensive proprietary metro system..

  2. Justin Bernard says:

    I used the JF Airtrain, and I actually liked it.
    There is a $7.00 tax added to the airline ticket? I had to pay $5.00 at Jamaica Station to leave the system!

    So the total fare is $12.00!!!!

    Zweisystem replies: Yes, the JFK AirTrain is subsidized by a $7 doll at departure tax (the Wikipedia listing claims a $3.00 departure tax but other sources say this has been increased to $7.00) so the real fare would be USD $12.00. The AirTrain is free for those using the parking garages near the airport. The AirTrain was a private deal between the Port authority, Bombardier Inc. and the Canadian government (which provided the funding) and as most of the land for its rights-of-ways was owned by the P.O., there was little or no federal scrutiny! A vague New York state law forced the AirTrain consortium to build the guide-way in such a way to allow operation by regular MTA subway cars.

  3. wayneson chan says:

    Reading your response from jim’s comment, you said:

    “At grade transit systems have proven to attract more new customers, especially motorists, than elevated and underground transit systems. It is called the convenience factor, something that our transit planners ignore completely.”

    You say that a grade-level transit system would have a convenience factor. For people coming in from Burnaby or the Tri-Cities via the M-Line, it would add in an extra transfer from Skytrain to LRT. If it was Skytrain it could be one continuous journey; making Skytrain more convenient. Also, a LRT line would be slower than Skytrain because of the numerous amount of intersections along Broadway and the speed limit on roads. For that reason alone, I would rather walk an extra few metres underground to catch the Skytrain.

    Zweisystem responds: Most people boarding SkyTrain, 80%, first transfer from a bus to the light-metro and your transfer argument is moot. The question is more fundamental: “When will TransLink stop planning for $100+ million/km. SkyTrain and plan for $20+ million/km. LRT?” If LRT were to be built to UBC, it would also extend to BCIT, thus servicing two major educational institutions, providing a high quality public transit service at a fraction of the cost of a SkyTrain subway.

    Actually intersections do not slow LRT as there would be priority signaling at all intersections. Also as the tram will stop at stations, most located at major intersections, they will be part of the stoplight, greet-red sequence. TransLink has earned an international black eye with their continued nonsense on this issue. What will make LRT somewhat slower is that there will be many more stops, about 500m to 600m apart. It is not speed alone that attracts people to transit, rather the overall ambiance and ease of use and the SPEED OF THE TOTAL COMMUTE that is important not the commercial speed of the transit system. SkyTrain is fast because it has about half the stops per route km. than a comparable LRT line. SkyTrain is fast, but at the expense of being convenient.

    This quote from noted transit expert, Gerald Fox, sums up the problem neatly: “But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous.”

    I think the Rail for the Lobby blog is making the SkyTrain Lobby extremely nervous, for the first time in 30 years, real news, about real transit solutions are able to be presented, without fear of censorship from the mainstream media.

  4. Richard says:

    Funny, even Gerald Fox, the expert that you are always quoting and even the quote you decide to use, seems not to explicitly support LRT to UBC.

    “But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system.”

    This comment was specifically regarding the Evergreen Line, yet you try and use it to argue for LRT on the UBC Line. It is hard to argue that UBC is one of the “lesser corridors” when it is the top or one of the top demand corridors for transit in the region.

    Now, it is possible that he may support LRT on the UBC Line, but don’t twist his comments on the Evergreen Line to mean the same regarding the UBC Line.

    Zweisystem responds: The comment was made in a letter to a Victoria transit group regarding the Evergreen Line’s questionable business case, this specific comment is regarding TransLink and their preoccupation for SkyTrain and/or metro. Again the SkyTrain lobby fails to answer the question posed and by doing so proves that SkyTrain and its kin is obsolete.

    In the great scheme of things, Broadway is indeed a lesser corridor, maybe not from a local view, rather from a transit point of view. LRT/streetcar on Broadway would make a fundamental change on how we view traffic and transit. By converting two traffic lanes to rail, we increase capacity per lane from about 1,400 persons per hour per direction to over 20,000 pphpd; enough capacity to meet transit demands for several generations and at a cost far cheaper than a SkyTrain light-metro subway. The money saved from this project could be then spent on other much needed transit projects such as Rail for the Valley’s quest for the reinstatement of a Vancouver to Chilliwack Interurban.

    Not only is SkyTrain obsolete, the philosophy behind it is obsolete as well.

  5. Justin Bernard says:

    I read the Evergreen Line BC, and my first thought was “BS”. IF they wanted Skytrain tech in the first place. Why waste money building a Business Case using questionable numbers, and stats? At least if you’re going to compare tech, use the same number of stations, route alignment, and headways. Saying that LRT can only achieve 5minute headways is a lie.

  6. David says:

    If, for some whacked out reason, the powers that be are determined to spend $2.8 billion on transit from east Van to UBC, they could put LRT on every major east-west street in the city. Now that would be a system with some amazing people moving capacity. Of course that would be a ridiculous waste of money since demand on most of those streets doesn’t even justify articulated buses, but could be justified under the “shaping growth” mandate of transit and would be no less ridiculous than spending all that money on a single line under Broadway/10th.

    Those who think that putting transit on every street is crazy should consult their history books. Downtown Philadelphia once had a frequent streetcar on EVERY north-south street and more than half the east-west streets. Downtown Vancouver has the reverse shape so that would mean a streetcar on every E-W street from Pacific to Cordova, plus streetcars on half the N-S streets from Stanley Park to BC Place.

    Philadelphia was one of the last holdouts against the destruction of their streetcars so the example is more valid than most other cities.

  7. Richard says:


    Putting trams down every street in the city would not shape grow, it would disperse it throughout the city. The end result would be that nowhere would really have the density to be a walkable neighbourhood for decades.

    The strategy in the Liveable Region Strategic Plan was to provide intermediate capacity transit on a few corridors to shape growth. Having streetcars everywhere would likely create more sprawl.

    Zweisystem replies: I’m sorry, SkyTrain hasn’t shaped growth at all, what has happened is that derelict industrial lands, once served by BC Electric, were rezoned residential for housing, the result has created massive sprawl. When the former tenants relocated in Richmond, Delta, Surrey and Langley, creating massive sprawl, the transit system just can’t service this type of development, resulting in more and heavier car use! Your claim the streetcars would “create more sprawl” is laughable. I would say there is a good case that SkyTrain has created massive sprawl and also gave birth to the massive Gateway highways and bridge project because the light metro is far to expensive to extend where industry has relocated.

    SkyTrain did not, nor has not shaped growth; compliant cities council have by rezoning and up-zoning lands adjacent to light metro lines, giving windfall profits to the landowners! SkyTrain is just the excuse to increase property values.

  8. David says:

    Wow, I include an extreme example from a bygone era and suddenly I’m being accused of wanting trams on every street. That’s not what I said.

    As I’ve said here before I’d rather we build multiple LRT lines across Vancouver than one subway. Examples off the top of my head: UBC-Commercial Drive-Downtown, UBC-BCIT, UBC-Downtown, UBC-Metrotown, Downtown-North Burnaby. There are already multiple bus lines and/or articulated buses serving those routes and demand is only going to rise in the future. Spreading out the traffic heading downtown and to UBC by offering alternatives that involve fewer transfers is a good thing for all of us.

  9. Justin Bernard says:


    That is not correct. Streetcars have been proven to be effective in developing livable neighbourhoods. Many of the great walkable neighbourhoods here in Toronto have been grown along streetcar lines. I bet the same can be said for Vancouver. It’s occuring in Portland, and many US cities are looking to re-instate streetcar line. Surface rail transit is perfect for providing short-trips, which make up the majority of travel in any transit network. Subways, and especially automated metros are poor at developing density. You only build these expensive transit lined if you need a move a lot of people. The skytrain for such a large system does not really move a lot of people.


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