Perils of a Proprietary Pailway

Perils of a Proprietary railway.

TransLink, the Mayors council on Transit and the provincial NDP have tried to whitewash the fact that the Movia Automatic Light Metro, used on the Expo and Millennium Lines is not a proprietary railway. TransLink has deliberately mislead local politicians that SkyTrain is not a proprietary railway and in the past threatened a hint of legal action if RftV continue to claim that  MALM is.

The following photo from a recent Mayor’s Council meeting certainly tells the tale that MALM is a proprietary railway and that past warning of supply issues increase as the system ages, especially if very few actually operate.

Only six of the seven MALM systems are still in operation, with one more soon to be consigned to the history books (Detroit) bodes ill for the proprietary system.

Please read the last line as it sums up the problems associated with proprietary railways.



Vanity Project Reality Check – The SFU Gondola

The realities of a gondola going to SFU are beginning to hit home.

Simple fact is, there is no need for a gondola to SFU and the project is a “quid pro quo” for Burnaby’s support for Vancouver’s subway project and the now former mayor of Surrey’s flip flop from light rail to MALM. It is also a reward to Simon Fraser university for their continued support endorsing TransLink’s questionable projects.

Contrary to the hype and hoopla, the SFU gondola will cost in excess of $300 million and will be a maintenance hog.

But, what does cost mean when the gondola will make such a nice backdrop for photo-ops and ten second sound bytes for the evening news, with the expected provincial election next year.

Hopefully the “hacksaw terrorist” doesn’t live near!

The gondola will not take cars off the road and will reduce on-pavement transit services in the region.

The last sentence in this article; “The next step for this project is the business case, which is currently under development.“, is more farce than anything else.

In BC business cases are politcal documents masquerading as technical one.


Proposed SFU gondola popular, but not among some who’d live under it

Getting up and down to Simon Fraser University can be a real slog, and the proposed Burnaby Mountain gondola is being sold in some quarters as a fun solution to the traffic and transit challenges in that area.

But with public engagement underway, some people who live in the city’s Forest Grove neighbourhood are pushing back.

Jim Bowen is worried about a gondola going over his home — he’s concerned about the potential of tree removal and what it could mean for the value of his property.

He’s part of a group called Stop SFU Gondola and says the group has more than 150 members.

“The emotional toll it can take on you — after 14 years of having this literally hanging over your head, with these people pushing it through,” Bowen said, referencing earlier proposals for a gondola over the years.

“The gondola would go directly over our houses. Not beside them. Not close to them. Over them.”

In recent weeks, TransLink has held a series of meetings with people in Forest Grove and UniverCity — the neighbourhood on top of Burnaby Mountain beside SFU.

“That meeting — there were 35 of us … I admit to being opinionated, it didn’t go that well for them,” Bowen said, referencing a public engagement meeting on November 23. “They were a little bit surprised by things, and how hostile we were.”

TransLink says the feedback provided by people at those meetings will be included in what it calls an “engagement summary.”

In a statement to CityNews, it notes the project is not currently funded, but is included in TransLink’s ten-year Access for Everyone plan.

“This is the third engagement that’s been conducted for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola project and we’ve found that the project has broad support from the region — with more than 83% of respondents supportive or very supportive of the gondola in the first two rounds of engagement,” a TransLink spokesperson wrote when requested for comment on this story. “The engagements included direct consultation with residents of Forest Grove and UniverCity and all engagement results will reflect their unique interests in the project.”

The proposed route would see the gondola’s lower terminal placed beside the Production Way-University SkyTrain Station, running up to the vicinity of the SFU Transit Exchange.

Getting up the mountain on buses now can be highly unpredictable, with people often complaining about full buses passing them by.

If built, the gondola would get people up to the top in about seven minutes, in contrast to the 15 to 45-minute trip TransLink suggests people usually endure. In terms of capacity, the gondola could transport as many as 3,000 people per hour.

The next step for this project is the business case, which is currently under development.

Number One Highway Constructions Costs Climbing

This bodes ill for the Expo Line extension to Langley.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming attributes the delays to soil and geotechnical issues.

These are the same geotechnical issues that the Langley extension also must face.

The following quote is also of interest:

This is in addition to the previously approved budget of $2.34 billion for widening work on this stretch of the highway, between 264 Street and Mount Lehman Road.

For under $2 billion, we could have a 130 km Vancouver (Marpole) to Chilliwack regional railway also know as the Leewood study.

As always in BC, blacktop political trumps good public transport.


Highway 1 widening project delayed, costs continue to climb

The cost of the Highway 1 widening project in B.C.’s Fraser Valley is climbing, and with it, come substantial delays.

According to a new sign that sits along the highway, the project will now cost an extra $140 million and won’t be complete until 2026.

This is in addition to the previously approved budget of $2.34 billion for widening work on this stretch of the highway, between 264 Street and Mount Lehman Road.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming attributes the delays to soil and geotechnical issues. He adds there is a lot to complete within the project, including adding designated transit lanes.

“We’re getting a lot out of this highway, especially for the commercial trucking community,” Fleming said. “Better rest stops… brand new interchanges that will allow for more housing, mixed-use development, industrial land strategies and things that bring economic benefits to it.”

The project’s goal is to relieve traffic congestion and accomodate sustainable transportation options in the valley.

The province says a new HOV lane will be one of several upgrades made to the highway, which is currently only two lanes in both directions through this stretch.

The B.C. government says more than 80,000 drivers use Highway 1 between Langley and Abbotsford, and through the Sumas Prairie and Chilliwack, daily. It adds more than $65 billion worth of goods is transported on this stretch each year.

Snap Election Coming? The $4.01 Billion Lie

One wonders if Premier Eby is going to call a snap election in January or February?

Surrey will be hotly contested as the police, flip-flop, issue is hurting the NDP MLA’s there.

Nothing like “good news everyone” photo ops and 10 second sound bytes for the evening news, to try to steer the voter away from the police issue.

I still see TransLink and the provincial NDP are still deliberately misinforming the public about the cost of the project, by quoting, “………the line is expected to be around $4 billion, the province says.”

I think not.

The cost of the guideway is now $4.01 billion for 16 km. of line, but wait, that estimate was from a few years back and the cost of cement and structural steel have been badly affected by inflation.

So here are the current costs associated with the Langley extension.

  1. Cost of guideway, estimated in 2021 – $4.o1 billion, funded by TransLink, the provincial and federal governments.
  2. Resignalling of the Expo and Millennium Lines, needed to operate the Langley extension – contract for $1.47 billion, signed with Thales.
  3. UNFUNDED – The Operations and Maintenance Centre #5 needed before the Langley extension opens. Estimated cost $500 million to $1 Billion.
  4. UNFUNDED – The electrical rehab of the E & M Lines, needed before the Langley extension opens. Estimated cost $1.5 Billion to $2 Billion.
  5. UNFUNDED – All switches on the Expo Line need to be replaced with high speed switches, before the opening of the Langley extension, which also requires structural rebuilding. Cost is piecemeal and not included in the finding package. Estimated cost $800 million to $1 billion.
  6. NOT INCLUDED – The fleet renewal which includes a minimum of five 5-car train-sets. Cost @ $3 million/car – $75 million.
  7. NOT INCLUDED – Station rehab, cost unknown.

Added up the true cost of the 16 km Langley extension and the 5.7 km Broadway subway, pegged at $2.7 billion, will be around $11 billion to $12 billion! And that is for a mere 21.7 km extension to the Expo and Millennium Lines!

Where is the money coming from?

Well, Premier Eby and TransLink are not saying, especially before a snap election. Announcements of tax increases do not win elections.

Well you know the old politcal saying; “If a politician repeats a lie often enough, the media and the public will tend to believe the it”.


Surrey-Langley SkyTrain station names, locations announced

We’re getting closer to the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension project becoming a reality, as eight new station names were announced Friday.

The SkyTrain to Langley is part of the province’s plan to extend the Expo Line from King George Station in Surrey to the city.

Once complete, it will be the first rapid expansion south of the Fraser River in 30 years, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure adds. Commuters will be able to travel on transit from Langley city to downtown Vancouver in just over one hour.

The eight stations along the 16-kilometre track will include:

  • Green Timbers Station (140 Street and Fraser Highway)
  • 152 Street Station (152 Street and Fraser Highway)
  • Fleetwood Station (160 Street and Fraser Highway)
  • Bakerview-166 Street Station (166 Street and Fraser Highway)
  • Hillcrest-184 Street Station (184 Street and Fraser Highway)
  • Clayton Station (190 Street and Fraser Highway)
  • Willowbrook Station (196 Street and Fraser Highway)
  • Langley City Centre Station (203 Street and Fraser Highway)

The ministry notes over 50,000 new residents are expected to move into Metro Vancouver every single year. It says this project aims to help with the increase in population.

In addition to the new stations, there will be more bus exchanges, park-and-ride spaces, 30 more SkyTrain cars, an operations and maintenance centre, and system upgrades.

“Once complete, this extension will connect people to jobs, to friends to businesses and to opportunities throughout the south of the Fraser region and beyond,” said John Aldag, member of parliament for Cloverdale-Langley City.

The cost to build the line is expected to be around $4 billion, the province says.

“This is another important step in moving this project forward from concept to reality,” said Rob Fleming, minister of transportation and infrastructure. “The stations we are naming today will become community landmarks and will be recognized for decades to come.”

He says this project will mark a 27-per-cent expansion to the original SkyTrain network.

“That’s huge. That is unprecedented in Canada right now to make those kinds of investments in public transit — 16 kilometers, the new alignment. And it will bring incredible opportunities.”

Construction on the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project is expected to begin in 2024, with a slated opening of 2028.

Provincial Government Wants On the Towers-and-Skytrain Milk Train

I welcome guest author Lewis N. Villegas.

Lewis N. Villegas has over 35 years of experience working as an urban design specialist in Canada and the U.S. He completed revitalization projects in British Columbia, and New Urbanism projects in California, Utah, Oregon and Alaska. In Vancouver he designed Chinatown Square, and provided the Concept Plan for the Olympic Village pro bono to the City. Lewis is working on a book detailing how to end housing crises by building human scale urbanism, out next spring, “The Death and Life of Human Scale Urbanism.”

Just a note: The name SkyTrain came from a radio contest before the Expo line was opened and was not the name of the proprietary transit system was marketed by.  MK.1 cars were the UTDC’s ICTS/ALRT cars and the MK.2 were Bombardier’s rebuild using their Innovia bodyshell. Mk. 3 and Mk.5 cars are Translink’s in-house name for the trains to pretend they are a new design; they are not as the basic Innovia design goes back to the late 1990’s.

When Alstom bought Bombardier’s rail division, they were known as Movia Automatic Light Metro.
Both Bombardier and Alstom cannot use the SkyTrain name for the cars because that trademark is owned by a Brazilian company with their SkyTrain system which is not related to Vancouver’s. In fact there are several proprietary and non proprietary transit systems that use the name SkyTrain.


Provincial Government Wants On the Towers-and-Skytrain Milk Train

The provincial legislature is voting on a bill to give developers the right-to-build-towers inside a 10-minute walking radius from every Skytrain station.
It’s just so Vancouver. We build a 5 km tunnel, and call it a ‘subway’. We pass blanket approval for spec buildings, and call it ‘good urbanism.’ Thegovernment of non-elected Premier David Eby, a lawyer from Point Grey, is about to vote on this wacky proposal: Pre-approve at the provincial legislature in Victoria—sight unseen —building towers at each of 69 Skytrain stations on the Lower Mainland.

Worse yet, even if the towers build, and real people move in—which is typically not the case, 50% of tower product is dark, or empty—they won’t be able to ride the Skytrain, no matter how close they live to the station.

Reason? The Skytrain is full

The system is operating at maximum capacity. It cannot take on any new riders because it cannot add any more trains, or any more cars. Five car (Mk. 5) trains are the limit—Period. Because there is no space on the Skytrain Loop to support Langley trains crossing the Fraser River, the Langley extension will be built with crossover track switches allowing turn backsat Surrey

Here’s the provincial proposal:

• 20-storey towers within a 3 minute walking distance of any Skytrian station;
• 12-storey towers within a 5 minute walking radius; and
• 8-storey towers within a 10-minute walk

Ultimately, this means towers will build next door to single family bungalows. Meanwhile, adding more product risks exerting upward pressure on house prices, rather than fixing the problem.

Here is even more wackiness: The 10-minute walking radius describes an area measuring 500 acres, or 2 square kilometers. A footprint equal to…
• Vancouver’s West End (bounded by Georgia , Burrard, Stanley Park and English Bay), or
• Half the size of Stanley Park (1,000 acres).

In other words, Eby is looking to fund his government, and purportedly End the Housing Crisis, by building 69 more Vancouver West Ends. To understand this madness we must enter the Skytrain-and-Towers rabbit hole.

Speaking at an audience microphone, at an SFU Housing Affordability lecture, Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart put it this way: “What was [it] that was causing this challenge that we are facing now? Is it a shortage of land? I don’t think so. I think it is actually a shortage of Skytrain stations.”
[SFU Continuing Studies, April 21, 2017, Housing Affordability Redux Lecture Series, at 1 hr 41 mins. watch?v=mRexc_XABqw].
Stewart would solve the Housing Crisis by building more towers. Yet, the real reason the mayors want skytrain stations is to “extract” revenues from tower developers using Community Amenity Charges (in Vancouver), or Development Cost Charges (in Metro).

In 2012, the City of Vancouver ‘extracted’ $5.4 million from the 21-storey Rize tower at Broadway and Main. It became the basis for the new Broadway Corridor Plan: A tower zone 5-miles long, and 1 mile wide, stretched over the Broadway Skytrain tunnel. The plan’s sole purpose is to attract towers and extract revenues. Community making cannot be found on its pages.

In the Bizzarro world of Skytrain-and-Towers urbanism, revenues flowing to government are driving the trains. This would appear now to the case in Victoria—where all other considerations will be given short shrift.

What if the Skytrain turned out to be the less optimal transportation choice? For example, modern Streetcar|LRT—demonstrated during the 2010 Olympics—is now operating in Kitchener-Waterloo and Edmonton. Costing 13-times less than the Broadway tunnel, its passenger capacity is double:

Broadway Tunnel • $600 million per km • 6,852 pphpd.[1]

Langley Extension • $300 million per km • 7,538 pphpd.[1]

Skytrain upgrade • cost unknown • 26,880 pphpd (5-car train set).[1][2]

Flexity Streetcar|LRT • $54 million per km (Kitchener-Waterloo) • 71,400 pphpd (Edmonton, 5-car).[3]

Above, the most expensive systems top of the list, while the greatest passenger capacity obtains at the bottom. Represented is the total inversion of transit goals and social values.

Priced 10-times over a median income household’s ability to finance, houses in Vancouver are now beyond the reach of most Canadians. Meanwhile, the Skytrain reaches less than 9% of Metro:
• 49,900 pphpd—combined passenger capacity of the Expo, Millennium, Canada Line, WCE and Langley extension.
• 21,600 pphpd—total passenger capacity exiting the Lower Mainland on 10 highway lanes and one HOV lane.
• 71,500—total mobility per hour, in-or-out of the regional core.
The bitter lesson learned after 45 years of building the Skytrain is this: Restricting the reach of transit has the effect of constricting the land supply, thus triggering land price inflation.

Economists agree: Ending the housing crisis lies in the opposite direction—expanding supply by extending the reach of transit. It’s ‘good urbanism’ 101.

Given overheated markets, adding product around Skytrain stations won’t lower prices, yet risks having the opposite effect. According Canada’s banker, CMHC: “[T]he only way to ensure that units retain affordability over time” is to restrict resale values by putting contracts on title.

Essentially, we apply the co-op formula to individual houses, row houses, courtyard houses, and walk-ups. The units sell, rather than rent, as ‘guaranteed affordable houses in perpetuity (GAHP).’ With the condo developer—the middle man—out of the picture, prices will normalize:

Without contracts on title limiting resale values, “The first purchaser; having bought affordably, receives a financial lift on resale. Without [resale] price restrictions, the benefit of an affordable unit to the community is lost.”

A Guide for Canadian Municipalities for the Development of a Housing Action Plan, CMHC 2011, p. 16.

The choice between Streetcar|LRT and Skytrain is crystal clear: in one, exorbitant costs restrict operations inside a constricted area of service, triggering crises in housing affordability; in the other, GAHP doors build in sufficient quantity to meet or exceed demand, crises in housing affordability end as neighborhoods infill, and new tram-towns build along 200 km commuter corridors—every new GAHP door hardwired to the regional core.

Here are three possible Streetcar|LRT lines delivering 3 million GAHP doors:
(1) Horse Shoe Bay to Hope (197 km) • $8.9 billion • 1 million GAHP supported;
(2) North Shore to Chilliwack (136 km), including a Burrard Street subway, and a Burrard Inlet tunnel) • $9.3 billion • 1 million GAHP supported;
(3) YVR to Whistler (120 km) • cost hinges on track lease/use from the province(!) • $1 million GAHP supported • GAHP Winter Olympics supported.
In the new math, adding supply increases ridership, putting downward pressure on prices. Furthermore, significant economic synergies result from hardwiring three regions, and 3 million Canadians:
• Squamish-Lillooet Regional District • 6,300 sq. mi. • 51,000 population
• Fraser Valley RD • 5,150 sq. mi. • 296,000 population
• Metro Vancouver RD • 2,880 sq. mi. • 2,643,000 population

Today, the Skytrain has reached optimum capacity, and will continue to serve as a world-class People Mover inside the regional core. However, moving forward, all efforts at extending the Skytrain will cost billions. That treasure will be better spent elsewhere. Streetcar|LRT is by far the better option for adding local trips (Streetcar), and regional capacity (LRT). Expect ballooning ridership as GAHP inventories rise, and house prices fall. Packing Canadians like sardines into ill-conceived Skytrain station precincts is inhuman, anti-social, and much less productive.

[1] Surrey Langley SkyTrain Business Case Update—Ridership Report—Revision#2, 15 Mar 2022, p. 19.
[2] All about SkyTrain expansion: Interview with TransLink’s head of SkyTrain. Kenneth Chan, Urbanized, Sep 27 2023, 6:50 pm.
[3] Flexity Freedom Brochure. Bombardier, 2011

Those Who Do Not Read Transit History…………….

A more grist for the mill.

There is a belief in North America that subways are the great panacea for urban transit.

This poses a question, what is exactly meant as a subway in North America?

Generally, the term subway is used to denote heavy or light metro traveling in a tunnel under the city, with stops every km or so apart.

This is both very expensive and not user-friendly.

Today, in Europe, subways are only considered if traffic flows on a transit (tram) route exceed 20,000 persons per hour per direction. It is the last resort in catering to transit customers.

Last resort?

Yes, because Europe had a post war subway craze, especially in Germany, where it was though subways were the answer to congestion and provide bomb shelters in case of war.

Problems arose, including the high costs of subway construction, which meant smaller transit networks and studies showed that a subway would become a vast “charnel house” in a nuclear war.

Then the mid life rehabs happened, bankrupting many local transit authorities that opted for subways, which in turn degrade transit services.

Metro Vancouver taxpayers are being kept in the dark with the Expo and millennium Line’s mid life rehabs as the signalling, electrical and track rehabs will cost over $4 billion. Not to mention the replacement of the ALRT cars with ART/MALM cars costing $717.5 million.

Added to the $2.7 billion subway under Broadway and the $4.1 billion Expo Line extension to Langley (and let us not forget the $500 to $1 billion Operations and Maintenance Centre #5) the real cost to the taxpayer to extend the SkyTrain Light Metro line a mere 21.7 km is a staggering $12 billion+!

Why does America have such terrible transit?

Simple answer is, the politicians what gold plated transit systems costing billions of dollars more to build than cheaper, yet more effected transit options. The result: it is too expensive to build a full network, making the very expensive ‘rapid transit’ line to cumbersome to use.

Soon, politicians and planners on this side of the pond will soon discover the lessons of bloated, over built transit projects, that were taught to  their European counterparts 40 years ago.

Those who do not read transit history are doomed to repeat the very same expensive mistakes.


‘Unique in the world’: why does America have such terrible public transit?

A new book looks back at the mass transit histories of 23 major cities in both the US and Canada, detailing the routes to where we are today

Tue 14 Nov 2023

Last modified on Tue 14 Nov 2023 18.01 GMT

“North America really is unique in the world in the lack of good public transit,” the author Jake Berman told me while discussing his new book, The Lost Subways of North America. The oversize, map-laden volume is a slickly designed deep dive into the mass transit stories of 23 major cities in the US and Canada. Packed with fascinating histories and tons of absorbing information – ever wonder why elevated trains went out of style, or why monorails just don’t work? – the book is a lively and compelling examination of how mass transit has succeeded and failed across the continent.

A lone commuter rides a normally packed, San Francisco-bound Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) train in 2020. The subway and overground train service has struggled to rebound to pre-pandemic levels, prompting fears of a financial death spiral.
The last stop: what happens when a US city’s subway starts to die?

“European cities never decided to build the kind of copy-and-paste suburbs that we built in North America,” said Berman, explaining why transit has fared so much better across the Atlantic. “The other part of that is, American cities do not make particularly good use of the land near their transit systems. For instance, many stops on [the Bay Area’s Bay Area Rapid Transit] Bart is surrounded mostly by strip malls, or single-family homes or gigantic parking lots.”

While talking with Berman, the misuse of land around transit hubs was a recurrent topic, a common pitfall that undermined the design of subways, light rail and streetcars in many major cities. In one of multiple examples, Berman shared that Dallas’s many miles of light rail doesn’t necessary equal a valuable transit system. “It’s crazy to think that Dallas has about as many miles of rail as Barcelona,” he told me. “The difference is, there’s not a whole lot near Dallas’s rail stations, whereas in Barcelona there’s apartments, there’s stores, there’s businesses, there’s churches – basically everything that you need for daily life.”

Surprising winners emerged from Berman’s research for Lost Subways of North America. While Dallas may conform to stereotypes about gas-guzzling Texans and their lack of good mass transit, the neighboring city of Houston proved to be one of the locations that is doing transit right. As Berman explains, Houston’s light rail within the city’s core took advantage of reforms in laws reducing mandatory parking lots and increasing housing density – the result is that transit in the city’s core functions far better than similar light rail in places like Dallas and Los Angeles, which don’t give access to major infrastructure and employment hubs, and which don’t supply adequate housing.

Metrorail train with Houston skyline


Metrorail train with Houston skyline. Photograph: Stephen Finn/Alamy

In addition to commenting on contemporary situations, Berman’s book is also a rewarding look into the history that informs our contemporary transit mess. For instance, he does an apt job of retelling the oft-told defeat of Los Angeles’s streetcar system by freeway – including a strange moment in which an LA monorail almost took hold. This retelling makes for the perfect prologue to Berman’s discussion of LA’s decades-long pursuit of a viable light rail system, which continues to this day. The idea of such a venture took hold because of a rivalry with San Francisco’s Bart in the 1960s. “It really is an interesting thing seeing how municipal rivalries played out in the transit space,” he said. “LA put a subway system on the ballot in 68 because the Bay Area had approved Bart six years prior.”

LA’s light rail would remain a dream for decades, but eventually that city did come to develop about 110 miles of track (favorably comparing to the Bart’s current 131 miles). Unfortunately, Berman laments that all those Southland metro miles are for naught, as the city still conceives of itself as “a horizontal city, not a vertical one”. With the failure of LA to pursue high-rise housing developments around metro hubs, Berman argues the city’s mass transit system will remain unsuccessful.

While LA is widely talked about as a mass transit hard case, lesser known is Berman’s treatment of Rochester, New York, at 211,000 inhabitants the “smallest city to ever build a subway” and “the only city in the world to build and operate a full-blown subway system, then abandon it entirely”. Completed in 1927, the problem with Rochester’s subway was that, in the words of a city newspaper, “it starts nowhere and goes nowhere”. After some successful years, the system fell into insolvency after the second world war, eventually entering a ridership death spiral that saw it shut down in 1956, making way for freeways.

Whether it’s Rochester or Los Angeles, Berman argues that making a successful mass transit system isn’t overly complicated, as most successful systems are so for the same reasons. “There’s that line from Anna Karenina,” he said, “all happy families are alike, and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. And the adage definitely applies to transit. There are a whole lot of things that cities with good transit systems do correctly, and most of those things need to come into place for the system to work.” That would include building apartments and businesses around stations, as well as other kinds of amenities that people would be willing to ride transit to reach. “There’s been a sort of forgetting that transit doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” he said.

San Francisco Muni Metro trains sit parked at the Curtis E Green Light Rail Center.
San Francisco Muni Metro trains sit parked at the Curtis E Green Light Rail Center.
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If there are common factors in mass transit success, there is also at least one common factor in mass transit fails – bureaucracy, which often prevents the creation of transit routes, as well as the creation of the necessary amenities to make said routes thrive. Berman writes that in San Francisco, along the major transit corridor Geary Street, “it took from 2000 to 2011 to replace the bankrupt Coronet Theater with rent-controlled senior apartments … All the while, San Francisco keeps adding more jobs.” Berman argues that the continued creation of jobs throughout the Bay Area – without a similar rise in housing stock – is one of the key drivers of the homelessness crisis.

He contrasts the current failure to create housing in a timely manner to the can-do attitude that originally made San Francisco’s Muni bus system develop many key routes quickly and efficiently. “A lot of what I talk about in the book is related to very deep questions about transit planning and why cities can’t build infrastructure quickly,” Berman said. “The Geary Boulevard subway in San Francisco has been planned since the 1930s. It’s very hard to get things done these days like they could in the old days. When Muni built the Geary Boulevard streetcar in 1912, it took six months to do it. There is a lot to be talked about regarding making the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Although Berman sees much to critique in contemporary transit, he remains hopeful that a book demonstrating everything that was once done right – and those things that still are being done correctly – might inspire a transit turnaround. One of the reasons he wrote Lost Subways of North America is to share his belief that it’s not too late for cities across this continent to get with the program. “I would hope that people have a certain sense of optimism that we were able to do this once and we can do it again. Back in the day it was normal for people to build apartment buildings near train stations. We can do this. Providing perspective of the past is what I hope to give to the reader.”

  • The Lost Subways of North America is out now

The mayor’s Council on Transit – Lotus land’s Ship of fools

Like children playing with their Christmas morning train sets, the Mayors council on transit blunders on wanting more and more, without any care as to the cost.

Not one of the mayors has any knowledge about public transit, nor seems to care about the onerous tax burden TransLink’s user-unfriendly service has become.

If any of the mayors had any moral fibre they would ask for a fully independent review of TransLink to see if the taxpayer is getting good value for their money.

I would wish that the mayors would contact the Baltimore MTA about their former and now TransLink’s CEO. I did and here is what I received in a Email.

you are about to get a new CEO of Translink in the person of Kevin Quinn.  this is a good news/bad news situation.   good news is we are rid of him, bad news you are getting him.

Mr Quinn may be the nicest yes man you will ever meet.  he is very personable and friendly but have yet to actually see him in 6yrs have an opinion of his own.   and if he has any use for light rail he has kept it well hidden.

hopefully you will have better luck than Baltimore, ridership is off (before pandemic) 2% year over year since he took over.

Hardly reassuring!

Like most Canadian politicians, the regional mayors think the taxpayer has deep pockets and will keep on paying for mediocre planning and even more mediocre transit service.

The lesson of the 2015 transit plebiscite, which showed that 61.7% of the regional population rejected TransLink’s transit planning and tax increases, has been ignored.

With the next round of civic elections  in 2026, just in time for new taxes being loaded on the already over taxed taxpayer, the Mayor’s Council on Transit, “Lotus Land’s Ship of Fools”, may find themselves clinging to a sinking ship, with their politcal fortunes sinking with them.

Addendum: Trying to find out what the Mayor’s council on transit get paid for attending meetings. After 15 minutes of perusing Google, no can find.

In my book it is money poorly spent.

money down the drain

TransLink Mayors’ Council unveils funding wish list for transit improvements

Local politicians are hoping the federal government plays Santa.

The TransLink Mayors’ Council detailed its wish list Thursday for federal funding to help pay for a litany of transit improvements across Metro Vancouver.

The funding requests include supporting the building of new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects, giving $375 million for an expanded bus fleet, $1.4 million for additional bus depot capacity, $70 million for active transportation and road safety projects, as well as $120 million for the Golden Ears Way BRT readiness project.

“Transit-oriented development is a key component of the province’s and region’s plan to respond to the housing affordability crisis, but without federal financial support and a sustainable funding model to help deliver additional transit into the future, we won’t be successful,” said Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, chair of the Mayors’ Council.

He adds that this funding is important as Metro Vancouver’s transit services are “essentially frozen at 2019 levels even as the region’s population has grown by almost 200,000 between 2019 and 2023.”

The announcement came a week after TransLink unveiled plans for three new BRT routes in Metro Vancouver. The “priority corridors” will be King George Boulevard from Surrey Centre to White Rock, Langley Centre to Haney Place, and Metrotown to the North Shore.

The timeline, however, isn’t as quick as some might hope. TransLink says potential services on these routes could roll out in 2027.

The ask from the council also came before work on the multi-billion dollar Surrey Langley SkyTrain is set to begin in 2024. The province previously said it expected to start awarding contracts in the first few months of the year.

Earlier this month, the Mayors’ Council pushed for an injection of cash for local transit projects after the B.C. government announced it had tabled legislation to densify housing near transit hubs.

“The fact is, you can’t have transit-oriented development without transit, and TransLink’s current system is unable to keep up with growing public demand for services across this region,” said West.

“With transit in Metro Vancouver currently frozen at 2019 levels, we need to see both the provincial and federal governments commit funding to dramatically expand public transit service. This legislation represents one of the most significant changes to land use and zoning policy that we’ve ever seen in this province, but it won’t succeed unless our three levels of government work together to deliver better transit in this region.”

Edomonton’s Valley Line Southeast LRT Officially Opens

Edmonton Valley Line

Edmonton Valley Line

News from Edmonton.

The $1.8 billion and delivered on budget,  Valley Line is a low-floor urban light rail line in Edmonton, Alberta. The 13.1-kilometre (8.1 mi) line runs southeast from downtown at 102 Street stop to Mill Woods Town Centre at Mill Woods stop, and connecting to the Capital and Metro lines at Churchill station in downtown.

Even with inflation applied to the LRT cost which included the yard and LRV’s, this line is half the cost of the Langley Extension. This is just using the $4.1 Billion cost without, the new cars  (5 – 5 car trains) needed or the OMC #5 and without the expected cost increase due to post Covid & Ukraine war inflation.

Oh yes, LRT operates in snow as it has done in Edmonton since 1978, something our balky MALM system has a problem with.


Long-awaited Valley Line Southeast LRT officially opens to passengers

City officials, excited residents gathered to witness the inaugural ride

Listen To The Experts

Mr. Havacow is, what I call, a transit expert. He has worked in the field for decades and has a wealth of knowledge on all forms of transit.

Cutting through the hype and hoopla of politcal and bureaucratic promises, claims, and what can be best called, propaganda, Mr.Cow calls it as it is.

Why is he anonymous?

Simple, in Canada and the USA, telling the truth can get one or one’s company blacklisted, thus if one wants the truth to be known, they post under pseudonym. Mr. Cow, the Major, Cardinal Fang and a few more can comment without fear of retribution from provincial, federal or corporate entities.

The following is in answer to a chap who uses the moniker of Legoman, which by his posts, is associated with TransLink.

The following comment by Mr. Cow, deserves a post of its own because of the vast amount of misinformation presented by politicians and bureaucrats, who, quite frankly, don’t give a damn about transit, and only invest in transit to win elections.

BRT bus-jam in Brisbane, Australia.

BRT bus-jam in Brisbane, Australia.

@Legoman0320 in North America you are never going to see fully enclosed BRT stations anymore, they are just too expensive unless you have winters like Ottawa. The same for off board fare payment, this means expensive fare gate devices in each station, most likely unmanned stations (absolute waste of time). You do that in China, or South America with their truly gigantic passenger numbers. In a European or North American context, that’s just too much like a light metro (Skytrain) or a heavy metro (Toronto subway, Montreal Metro). Remember, politicians build real BRT to try and save capital and operating costs, compared to rail based operating technologies.

Lastly Bi-articulated buses still aren’t road legal in North America (Canada,USA). Ottawa tried in the 1990’s and Transport Canada & MTO (Ministry of Transportation Ontario) were forcing O.C.Transpo to jump through multiple hoops to allow them. This is a transit agency with the most extensive heavy BRT system in North America and by far the most experience in running BRT and still they were forcing limitations on them that would have made even basic operations with Bi-articulated buses difficult.

Bi-articulated buses are difficult to maneuver in anything but absolutely clear roads, Ottawa’s Transitways were very busy making maneuvering difficult. Like standard articulated buses, they are easily humbled by moderate amounts of snow or ice. Most models still have hill climbing issues on wet or icy roads.

Bi-articulated buses are twice as expensive as standard articulated buses, currently no North American companies produce a model, this means foreign suppliers with wickedly expensive part packages. Even Nova Bus, the Quebec based but mostly Volvo owned company, uses GM parts for its North American vehicles, due to the fact that even their own European Volvo parts are far more expensive than GM and GM look alike parts. Bi-articulated buses have far more non standard parts and components, like their entire engine and drive train system, braking systems and transmission. Non standard systems and components means higher maintenance and training costs. They also don’t last any longer than standard articulated buses, sometimes appreciably less than standard buses, although that is design dependant.

Even Ottawa is moving away from articulated buses and switching to the newer North American friendly double decked buses. They hold more passengers, more stable on hills, they are not humbled by just 10-12 cm of snow, their easier to maintain and most important, they won’t spontaneously fish tail like articulated buses can.

Although double-deckers have their own serious issues it seems the industry has turned away from articulated buses in general lately, we will see. Ultimately though, the main issue with BRT is still its perceived savings in operations vs. actual savings in operations. BRT works as long as passenger numbers are below a certain level. That level changes with each new system and it’s own operating and physical characteristics. Generally, at what level does adding another bus to carry more passengers stops saving money and starts costing extra money to operate. BRT has some interesting issues:

1. At some level of passenger demand the BRT infrastructure needed to handle greater passenger demand, more and larger buses, forces said infrastructure to be more robust and or physically larger, thus more expensive, than the infrastructure needed to move the same number of passengers with rail based technology. At their core, buses don’t always make great rapid transit vehicles compared to rail based ones.

2.BRT works best in environments where people costs are low and infrastructure costs are high. This limits their effectiveness in first world countries. At higher passenger levels, the operating costs of BRT get higher than rail because you can’t connect the vehicles together into a train, all with one operator. Buses also require more mechanical equipment and staff for maintenance, than rail based vehicles.

3. BRT is not like a rail line with buses. If your so called experts spout this more than once, run for the hills. BRT and Rail operations are fundamentally different. Good BRT design can do things that rail just can’t or more precisely, shouldn’t do and or even attempt to do. Many things that BRT supporters claim that BRT can do as well as rail technology end up as spoiled opportunities because buses can’t generally operate in the same way, especially economically efficiently, as a train.

I could go for days on this last point, entire volumes of books have been written on this issue. You will just have to trust me on this. 30 years of working in this industry and 30 years as a BRT passenger in Ottawa teaches you a few things. I would suspect that, many long time Ottawa transit passengers know and understand a lot more about the advantages and disadvantages of BRT operations than many of your B.C. based experts do.

TransLink’s Hype and Hoopla About BRT Is Just Another Wet Squibb!

When is Bus Rapid Transit just a an express bus route? When TransLink claims an express bus route is BRT

Real BRT operates on a fully dedicated Rights-of-Ways, with priority signalling at intersections, offering headway’s in the 2 minute to 5 minute ranges.

BRT operating on dedicated R-o-W. Not happening in Vancouver.

BRT operating on dedicated R-o-W. Not happening in Vancouver.

What TransLink is palming off onto the public is a tarted up bus service like the Broadway B-99, with some HOV lanes to create the illusion and with our extremely gullible media, will be an easy sell to the public.

Here is the core issue, TransLink just cannot tell the truth; it cannot be straight with the public.

But what would one expect when the CEO is an American spin doctor selling snake oil to the rubes!

The real insult to both the transit customer and the taxpayer is that the real cost of real BRT, is only slightly less s than at-grade light rail, which has a far bigger bang for the taxpayers buck.

The following graph from Ontario’s MetroLink tells the tale of the real costs involved.

Cost comparisonSad to say, TransLink and the Mayors council on Transit are again deceiving the public with fake news about the regional transit system and it seems the premier and the provincial NDP government are in full agreement with this.

Shame on TransLink. Shame on The Mayors Council. Shame on Premier Eby!

Screenshot 2023-11-16 at 15-32-00 TransLink unveils first 3 planned new Bus Rapid Transit routes - BC

TransLink unveils three new bus rapid transit routes in Metro Vancouver

TransLink has identified the first three bus rapid transit routes coming to Metro Vancouver.

According to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, the three new “priority corridors” will be King George Boulevard from Surrey Centre to White Rock, Langley Centre to Haney Place, and Metrotown to the North Shore.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) “is a high-frequency rapid transit service with dedicated bus lanes and rail-like stations.”

Mayors’ Council Chair Brad West says the three new corridors are part of the first phase of the 10-year Access for Everyone Plan.

“The three new corridors being announced today had been selected to maximize people’s access to rapid transit based on ridership potential, future housing and population growth projections, as well as strong support from mayors to bring these projects to their communities. Simply put, these rapid transit projects … will help us unlock housing potential and keep up with record-setting population growth,” he said Thursday.

West says the B.C. government’s plan to densify housing near transit hubs across the province “underscores the urgency to expand our transit system.”

“From a regional standpoint, each of these corridors will provide major improvements to residents in need of better transit,” West said.

BRT corridor timeline

The Mayors’ Council says it will now be “stepping up” engagement with municipalities to “nail down a concept design.”

“From there, we’ll start to do engagement with the public in the spring, summer of 2024. As we get into 2024, we’ll start to engage the public as we have that alignment, to really discuss and get their feedback. It’s so important to us to get public feedback to understand how this will impact people’s lives, right? This transit expansion is going to be such a game changer for the region, I think it’s going to help a lot of people,” explained TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn.

“From there, we’ll in 2025 likely move, once we have an agreement on that pending funding, we’d moved to procurement stage and then likely construction, potential service rolling out in 2027.”

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming says the BRT plan comes “at an incredibly good time for TransLink,” adding these BRT corridors and other future plans will help the province deliver on its housing goals.

“We also want to anchor the BRT plan that is under discussion today to new legislation that we passed as a government around transit-oriented development. We have to make smart investments in our transportation network that also meets the goals of providing more affordable housing choices for people in this region and that’s what we aim to do,” he said.

səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) Chief Jen Thomas says “safe, quick, and reliable transit” is critical to the Tsleil-Waututh community, “to keep us connected to the wider community and to transport us to and from work and school.”

Squamish Nation Chairperson Khelsilem echoed the importance of transit, noting BRT through the North Shore “presents a unique chance to enhance the quality of life for all residents, including the Squamish People, who have been an integral part of this region for nearly 400 generations.”

“Establishing a dedicated Bus Rapid Transit link from Park Royal to Metrotown promises improved accessibility to essential services, job opportunities, and community resources while alleviating congestion,” Khelsilem said. “The long-awaited prioritization of the North Shore is a welcome development, and the Squamish Nation looks forward to collaborating with local, regional, provincial, and federal governments to work together to create shared benefits for all our communities.”