Is It Time To Rethink SkyTrain Expansion?

As reported, the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic has greatly reduced transit ridership.

A 52% drop in boarding’s from March 19, 2019 to March 19, 2020 is greatly affecting TransLink’s bottom line. With over 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus, the collapse of ridership must be dealing a vast economic blow to TransLink!

The SkyTrain light metro network, because it is driverless, is expensive to operate as the system needs the same amount of employees whether operating at capacity or at minimal service. LRT is different, as it does not need the large technical staff  that the automatic light-metro needs, to keep operating. That’s why LRT operating in major cities can offer all night service on select routes, where demand warrants.

Subways are especially expensive to operate and maintain and they spread disease rapidly because of the piston like action in subway tunnel;s caused by trains pulsing air up and down the line.

Something to think about in the post pandemic world.

Currently, there is $4.6 billion in public spending approved for building a mere 12.8 km of SkyTrain light-metro, including the 5.8 km Broadway subway.

For the same about of money we could build a BCIT to UBC/Stanley park LRT (European tramway style) for under $1.5 billion; an hourly downtown Vancouver to Chilliwack light DMU/TramTrain service for under $1 billion; Rehab the E&N From Victoria to Port Alberni and Courtney using light DMU/TramTrain for under $1 billion and still leave $1 billion and change for improving public transport elsewhere around the province.

With tens of billions of dollars being spent supporting the social fabric furring the current crisis, there will be little or no money for transit projects for the foreseeable future and it is time for all levels of government to rethink transit planning and invest in good transit instead of hugely expensive politically prestigious light metro and subways so favoured as “vote getters” at election time.

Time to think out of the box!


LRT will make a far better investment for regional transit for the future.

COVID-19: TransLink reducing service as ridership declines

Author of the article:

Scott Brown

Publishing date:

March 23, 2020

A significant drop in ridership caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led TransLink to reduce its bus, SeaBus and SkyTrain service.

SeaBus, which has been running between downtown and North Vancouver every 10 minutes during weekday rush hours, will now run every 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, certain bus routes which have excess capacity, including those with empty buses, will see frequencies reduced.

Expo and Millennium Lines will also see slight frequency reductions, with first and last train schedules remaining in place.

“Passenger levels will be carefully monitored in order to balance lower ridership with the need to maintain social distancing,” TransLinks said.

The transit authority advises customers to check its online Trip Planner or Transit Alerts before travelling to ensure their route is not impacted by service reductions.

According to the latest figures from TransLink, ridership is down significantly from this time last year, and the worst plunge took place last past week.

On Thursday, March 12, the boardings were down seven per cent from Thursday, March 14, 2019, but on Tuesday, boardings were down 52 per cent compared to Tuesday, March 19, 2019.


4 Responses to “Is It Time To Rethink SkyTrain Expansion?”
  1. The only way to practice ‘social distancing’ in a train or a bus is to don face masks and gloves!

    ‘Re-thinking’ transit in the post-pandemic world is right on cue. Coming out of the economic doldrums created by imposing a province wide shut-down of schools and work places will be a tricky process to manage.

    The ramp up to normalcy—and beyond—will go a LOT better if we are mindful to plan all transit projects together with a strategy to end the Housing Crisis.

    In a nutshell, transit should be expanded to those places that can support construction of new houses in massive amounts.

    More or less the opposite of the BS line which looks to fill the ‘Broadway Corridor’ with as many towers as the markets will bear. (I must say, I’ve been all over the world and have never stepped into a city and felt, “Oh! This is a wonderful corridor! Must build one of these at home!”)

    The hourly service from Chilliwack to Vancouver can roll past 50 New Tramtowns home to some 250,000 people in something like new 1,500 homes each. Run by new local governments too.

    The E&N might do the same over on the Island.

    The last billion dollars could be used to take the Vancouver-Chilliwack tramtrain into a tunnel under Burrard Inlet connecting Waterfront Station to Londsdale Quay.

    That would make it a truly Inter-Regional Transit Service.

    Hard-wiring Metro and Valley regional districts and providing the kind of service that will make living along a Regional Transit System an attractive choice would make the new towns highly attractive.

    Covenants on title would prevent the new properties from being swallowed up into the frenzy of market speculation. Much like co-op land contracts do today.

    Not all the outcomes from the Covid-19 pandemic will be negative. We will have firmly entrenched over this period the feasibility of working and learning from a distance. That will help to return a finer grain to the distribution of density and population along the two regions.

    It is not just the epidemiology curve that we have to ‘flatten’. The fastest way to build a sustainable urban footprint is to flatten the density cores (the other key failure of the Livable Regions and Regional Growth Strategy plans, along with the Skytrain).

    We must stop building towers outside the downtown peninsula, and start building human-scale urbanism in balance with nature…

    Oh wait… I hear the 11:15 rolling down the line. Better get the kettle on for Martha.

  2. Charles says:

    No rethink is needed. The drop in ridership is only temporary. It will come back when this thing blows away back to China. Skytrain should go all the way to UBC.

    Zwei replies: At best Broadway was seeing a peak hour traffic flows around 4,000 pphpd or about 11,000 pphpd less than the North American standard for building a subway. A rethink, bloody well rights!

  3. zweisystem says:

    By the way there will be no money to extend SkyTrain to UBC or Langley, Covid-19 has taken care of that!

  4. Haveacow says:

    It will take years for our economy to get back to pre virus levels. Currently here in Ontario, we figure it will be late June/early July at the earliest before most non-essential businesses even start to reopen. Unfortunately, in Ontario most small businesses have roughly 5 to 6 weeks left before most are completely insolvent.

    Doing things from a distance (online) is not better, BUT IT IS CHEAPER and doesn’t require anywhere near as many people, that’s what I fear many businesses will learn. Close everything in the real world down and do it online, which sounds good until you figure out that, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of service and retail workers will loose their jobs forever. Online is not better for everything.

    As for those short term we got the money now so lets build an extension to a line, rapid transit project (Zwei’s $4.6 Billion) will probably be done to keep the economy afloat. For example, Phase 2 LRT construction is still going on here in Ottawa ($4.46 Billion worth). But, whatever happens beyond that, good luck if you can figure it out.

    Zwei replies: Good to hear from you in this time.

    I have been told by municipal staff that there will be no events held until the end of July, most annual or semi annual events have been cancelled.

    Traffic is well down and taking transit is almost taboo.

    Time for a rethink on how we do things.

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