“The problem with TransLink is that you can never believe what it says…………”

The problem with TransLink is that you can never believe what it says; TransLink never produces a report based on the same set of assumptions.”

Former West Vancouver Clr. Victor Durman, Chair of the GVRD (now METRO) Finance Committee.

Old habits die hard and with TransLink, old habits never die, they just hire a new manager to reinvent them.

Has anyone at TransLink been directed to investigate improving cost efficiency on heavily used bus routes?


Why not?

Well that would involve modern light rail or variants of modern light rail and that just not agrees with the narrative of being cash strapped that TransLink and its spin doctors want the public and politicians to believe. TransLink just does not plan for cost effective transit solutions.

The cost to provide one hour of service varies, but runs at about $100 for a conventional bus and $959 for SeaBus. On rail, it costs $111 for the Expo and Millennium lines, $563 for the Canada Line ai??i?? which includes payments to the operator of the system ai??i?? and $512 for West Coast Express. (Van. Sun)

The preceding shows the cost per hour per mode, but one important calculation is not there and that is for light-rail. As LRT’s operating costs are about half of a bus on a transit route, it would be safe to assume that the cost per hour for light rail would be cheaper than a bus, but TransLink doesn’t operate LRT and the LRT it is planning has construction costs rivalingAi?? that of SkyTrain. It will be safe to assume there will be no benefit of cheaper operating costs with TransLink’s designed LRT!

Route performance is based on the cost of operating the buses, rail, SeaBus or West Coast Express per passenger. A higher number of people getting on and off transit makes a route more productive. In Vancouver, for instance, the median cost per boarded passenger is $1.05, compared with $1.30 for Burnaby/New Westminster, $2.72 for South Delta and $2.48 for Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows. In the Northeast sector, which includes Coquitlam, the cost is $1.98 per passenger. (Van. Sun)

The preceding regional median calculation is a dishonest calculation used by TransLink to not just confuse the politicians, but to manufacture the case for getting more tax money. Every route should have a cost benefit analysis, including the number of passengers carried and the cost per passenger on the route. This gives transit managers a very good idea on which services are being used, over used or not used. TransLink used to do this sort of calculation annually, but stopped a couple of years before the Canada line opened. Now it does cost by region calculations which do not give any instructive statistics at all, except to bleat poverty.

Since the 2015 plebiscite, which TransLink and the regional mayors soundly lost, there has been no real change at TransLink and it is business as usual.

I am sorry to say, I believe we have now past the point of no return with transit and transportation in the region and now it is going to be a free for all, with billion dollar vanity projects taking the place of good transportation policy.

In BC it has been ever thus.


8 Responses to ““The problem with TransLink is that you can never believe what it says…………””
  1. The Questioner says:

    Is the $111 cost for SkyTrain with or without government subsidy?

    According to TransLink, the Canada Line carries more than half the number of transit users than the Expo and Mil. Lines, yet costs 5 times much to operate, Why?

    Why is the Seabus so expensive to operate?

    I find TransLink extremely deceptive with the financial information they release.

    Zwei replies: Probably does not include the now over $200 million annual subsidy, while the Canada line P-3 includes the TransLink subsidy.

    The money to be made in the Canada Line P-3 was never about passengers carried, rather from operational and maintenance costs. No one in their right mind would ever bid on the Canada line unless a profit stream was included.

    As for the Seabus, it must operate under maritime law which is much much stricter than the rest of the transit system. preventive maintenance must be done and why you never sea a SeaBus wallowing on the waves, broken down.

  2. Rico says:

    Zwei, all the info you claim to want from Translink is published in the bus service effectiveness review (may have the name slightly wrong) this years is out. Also for comparison I looked up the cost per service hour of the Calgary C-train (the most successful North American LRT) and it was $163/hr in 2005. For the record I think cost per trip or per revenue mile are better measures of efficency.

    Zwei replies: Most figures that come from TransLink are pure bullshit, meant for local consumption. It is for the rubes. No one believes them.

    For starters TransLink does not include the $200 million provincial subsidy for the Expo and Millennium Lines (compare with the Canada Line).

    Calgary’s LRT to date has cost taxpayers about one fifth of that of the E & M Lines, Carries about the same number of customers and costs about 40% less to operate, how the hell can it cost more per hour?

    Again, for the buses it is pure bullshit, because TransLink does not do individual routes anymore. The high cost in Delta, for example, is due mainly operating buses that transit customers will not use. Bus service in south Delta has all but collapsed because customers DO NOT WANT TO TRANSFER TO THE CANADA LINE. But because of a side agreement with the consortium operating the millennium Line, that all buses the terminate into downtown Vancouver must force there passengers onto the Canada line to pretend high ridership.

    Translink is both dishonest with its customers and the taxpayer, that is why they lost the plebiscite a year ago.

  3. Rico says:

    A couple of points. Individual routes are evaluated, you must be looking at a summary or something. Apparently ridership in South Delta has increased for the 5th straight year….and as far as I know Calgary’s C train does not cost less to operate (your ‘list of costs’ seems to have accidentally left out a bunch of Calgary costs (like fare enforcement and policing ect) that are in the Vancouver costs).

    Zwei replies: TransLink leaves out the cost of attendants with their cost calculations as well as the transit police. Your myopic defence for the light metro never, never deals with the fact only 7 of these things have been built, not one has ever been allowed to compete against LRT and no one has built a new one (not extending in Kuala Lumpor) in over a decade.

    Look at the title of the blog, it tells the whole story.

    The fact is, SkyTrain costs more to build, operate and maintain than light rail, no one builds with it and we should not either. Get over it!

  4. Haveacow says:


    The cost of operating an LRT line(s) or particular LRV’ types per hour can vary greatly, year to year, even line to line, for many, many reasons far too numerous to mention here. The same can be said for just about any rail based technology good or bad. That’s one of the reasons that particular measure is very rarely used. Just for example, the costs per daily service hour of the TTC’s streetcar lines can vary greatly. The costs on a line by line basis range from as little as $121.97-$216.85/ hour and have a system wide median value of $160.40/hour. The very next year, the same network of lines can vary from as little as $129.85-$204.15/hour and a median value of $148.28/hour. That’s a pretty wide variance in cost year to year and is one of the issues of using per hour costs as a measure of anything.

    Here in Ottawa I found out that our Trillium Line diesel LRT Line (the original O-Train Line) had a great variances in cost. For example during the O-Train pilot project, an individual DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) running the line, costs $143/hour. By 2013-14 it was up to $160/hour most likely due to the heavy use, the aging of the fleet and the fact that the Bombardier BR 643 Talent #1 DMU was no longer in production and been supplanted in European service by the Talent #2 series. The spare parts were now getting more expensive as a result. Unfortunately, the new DMU’s, the Talent #2’s, didn’t use the same gearing in the drive train as the older models, which allowed it to operate in a LRT type operations as well as commuter rail or regional rail operation. (LRT operations have more stops, far closer together thus, needing much better acceleration ability, compared to commuter or regional rail operations) This meant new cars for Ottawa, were going to come from a different design or builder because re-gearing an existing design is really expensive and anything with the O-train has to be cheap, there is no extra money here.

    When Ottawa acquired our new Alstom Cordia Lint 41 DMU’s and were finally able to bring them into service in 2015, the vehicles performed reasonably well and had a cost of $128.15/ hour to operate. The most recent data has an average of about 136/hour ($135.78) a jump, but not a significant one, don’t ask me to explain the variance it could be anything.

    Keep in mind our DMU’s are massively long vehicles compared to most current North American LRV’s although similar in weight to most designs and diesel powered (diesel motors are usually more expensive than electric to operate). The Talents were 48 metres long and the new Coradia Lints about 41 metres. I mention them because our new LRV’s for the Confederation Line will be 48.5-49 metres long each and expandable to 59-60 metres, operating in permanent 2 car consists. This usually blows the doors off any measurement filter with anything like per hour costs, compared to the current standard of LRV’s operating in North American whether they are single units or 4 car consists, which generally vary in length from 27-35 metres per car. I have no doubt that people will churn out these numbers and find something to laud or most likely complain about.

    The data for this was comment complied from TTC accounting records which are not publically available and maintenance data from the logs of the National Capital Railway are publicly available but wow, it’s hard to get, unless you have friends. Thanks guys!

  5. Haveacow says:


    What I said also applies to buses as well as rail based transit.


    As with any cost measure taken in isolation, you have to join it up with some performance standard like passenger capacity or operating conditions. The Sea Bus is expensive to operate not because of Translink ,its because its a ship traveling on water! They carry a hell of a lot more people than buses or trains in a very different and potentially deadly operating environment. The need for ferry like vessels may result in far higher costs per hour but that needs to be compared to the equivalent operating cost of something else that does the same job, in the same operating environment. Like a train and or bus in a tunnel, or over a bridge, over the same distance and over/under the same body of water! Zwei is also very correct, after a career in the RCN I can assure you, marine standards for everything from parts, maintenance and crews require much tougher oversight, especially when passengers are involved.

  6. eric chris says:

    What’s interesting is that the purported O&M costs per service hour of $111 for s-train are greater than the O&M costs per service hour of $100 for the bus. I thought that s-train cut the O&M costs? I guess not.

    Sure, s-train carries more passengers than the bus, to supposedly generate more revenue. With almost all the riders on s-train being recycles or transfers from buses and all the U-pass users paying almost nothing to use s-train, I don’t see how any revenue from s-train offsets the high O&M costs of the expensive s-train compared to the low O&M costs of the inexpensive bus. Basically, the s-trains generate little to no revenue; buses taking passengers to the s-trains are the revenue producers.

    It isn’t clear whether TransLink includes the cost of attendants in the O&M costs per service hour for s-train. Detective Rico, do you know?

    To plan and manage the 50 km of Expo Line and Millennium line, BCRTC employs an astounding 24 union workers per kilometer of route. Wow, wow, wow!!! For 50 km of tram or LRT routes, only 10 people per km of route are required. It looks as if TransLink is burying most of its operating costs for s-train in overhead or other costs.


    The O&M costs per service hour for s-train are more likely about $300 to $500 rather than $111 stated by TransLink when all the costs are included to reflect the two to three times in manpower costs including TransLink police for s-train service relative to the manpower costs of LRT or tram service. Are policing costs part of the O&M costs for s-train?

    “The incident happened just before the SkyTrain service wound down for the night at 2 a.m. Deschutter said the other man – dressed in a Roughriders jersey – hit him once in the left eye while onboard the SkyTrain, then again in the head on the platform at the Edmonds Station.”


    Well, I’m sure, as always; the pig-dogs at TransLink have a perfectly obtuse explanation for s-train service having higher O&M costs than bus service. Maybe they can quantify it for us in a mathematical relationship to make it clearer for us math types who have a very low negativity threshold.


  7. Dondi says:

    There are 6 or 7 appendixes for the 2015 Translink Performance Review that provide detailed definitions of the various measures used, but my quick scan only turned up this meagre definition for annual operating cost:

    “The operating cost of the line per year, provided by TransLink Finance.”

    Very helpful, thank you Translink!

    One footnote indicated that the one-time costs for the Compass system was not included in at least one of the operating costs quoted. I doubt the Transit Police costs are included, as they should not be for comparable data with other jurisdictions. The Sky Cops are a gold-plated way of doing it but police services are provided everywhere.

    But any conventional definition of operating costs would include station attendants. Until there is actual evidence this was not done there is no good basis for claiming that Skytrain operating costs are 3 to 5 times what Translink quotes. We need to move from facts to conclusions, not from conclusions to facts.

    Yes it can be frustrating to have to transfer, but the idea that Skytrain adds no revenue-generating service (that buses could provide that service?) is not reasonable. That light rail could have done it better, well, that is a reasonable argument to have.

    Zwei replies: Sorry Dondi, history has proven that TransLink’s numbers don’t jive. I was told by a CKNW reporter that TransLink refused to give the costs of the attendants and did not include them in the operating costs.

    The problem you have is that you have been bambozzled by TransLink and you refuse to admit to the bamboozle. They are good at it, but consider this, if their accounting was factual and truthful, there would have been a lot more ALRT/ART systems built. They haven’t and under close scrutiny, TransLink’s numbers just don’t add up.

    “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

  8. Dondi says:

    From their 2016 Operating and Capital Budget http://www.translink.ca/-/media/Documents/about_translink/corporate_overview/corporate_reports/business_plan/2016_business_plan_and_operating_and_capital_budget.pdf , p. 18:

    “Rail Division
    Rail Division 2016 operating budget of $263. 1 million is $4. 2 million (1.6 per cent) lower than the 2015 forecast. The decrease is largely due to lower lease payments due to the purchase of West Coast Express rail cars ($13. 2 million) and a reduction in Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) costs ($1. 7 million) associated with the implementation of fare gates offset by: annualization of compensation ($2. 6 million), benefit rate increases ($500 thousand), the introduction of both additional SkyTrain Attendants ($1. 3 million) and the maintenance response team ($600 thousand), inflationary increase in Canada Line performance payments ($1. 8 million), hydro rate increases and tools and training to support staff ($600 thousand), increased fare media ($439 thousand), as well as additional operating costs to invest in state of good repair ($2. 2 million).”

    Note that station attendants are included here (well, at least the increase in their costs so presumably the base costs themselves) and I see no other place in the budget where they could be included.

    A CKNW reporter is not a very convincing source on whether the attendants are included in operating costs (but that Translink would not break out their costs separately, sure).

    I am not excluding that Translink has dirty secrets in their books, but as I think you correctly note in another post, the really dirty secret is how the money is being funnelled to roads and bridges that will fail to resolve traffic congestion. So, again, while not excluding dirty secrets in the books, until there is evidence for this, claims that Translink numbers are underestimated by several orders of magnitude are not serious.

    And pardon my quibbling again, but I dispute that your repeated claim of an ongoing $200 million provincial subsidy of Skytrain (though a couple of weeks ago had you bumped it higher) has a sound factual basis. The number is from the early 1990s, in a non-official report, with a different purpose than how you are using the number, and I am not aware of any other documentation that such a subsidy occurs – unless it relates to funding of capital expenditures, which is a different issue.

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