Bafflegab From TransLink – The Never Ending Story

The real story here is not about replacing the expansion joints on the Sky Bridge, it is what TransLink’s new CEO Kevin Quinn (remember the chap worked for Baltimore’s MTA, which saw a 2% decrease in ridership every year Quinn worked there)  said, revealing ridership numbers.

For that week, total system-wide boarding’s were 48. 2 per cent of pre-COVID ridership levels.

48.2% of what?

TransLink is infamous of not revealing actual ridership numbers, but uses percentages mostly to confuse people. TransLink just gives what ever ridership numbers they see fit.

 “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.

How many of that 48.2% are using the U-Pass?

Here is the ridership problem in a nutshell; there is no independent audit of ridership on the SkyTrain light-metro system and no one in charge wants an independent audit of ridership on the SkyTrain light-metro system, thus TransLink can claim any number they want and if the numbers are not impressive, they use percentages which are absolutely meaningless.

In Europe and the USA, there are agencies who conduct independent audits of ridership to keep the operating agencies honest as subsidies, as well as future planning in many jurisdiction is based on accurate ridership numbers.

Not so in BC.



SkyTrain in Surrey. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)SkyTrain in Surrey. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

SkyBridge being single-tracked for maintenance as ridership increasing

Service from July 31 to August 7, August 14 to August 21 single-tracked between Columbia and Scott Road stations

The SkyTrain bridge connecting Surrey with New Westminster is being single-tracked for upgrades during the biggest bump-up in ridership since the beginning of the pandemic.

Service from July 31 to August 7 and August 14 to August 21 will be single-tracked between Columbia Station and Scott Road Station as construction crews replace expansion joints that are more than 30 years old. TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn told the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation on Thursday that the joints have reached the end of their useful lives.

“We’re going to keep customers moving as quickly as possible between stations,” Quinn said. “We’ll have trains crossing two at a time in each direction providing 15-minute service during peak periods and at other times one train will cross in each direction providing 12-minute service. And of course we’ll have SkyTrain staff out there on-site to assist customers at the affected stations in Surrey and New Westminster, and to monitor service levels.”

This is happening as ridership is increasing along the line during weekdays and weekends.

“The week of July 12 was actually the highest week of ridership since the start of the pandemic nearly 18 months ago,” Quinn said. “For that week, total system-wide boardings were 48. 2 per cent of pre-COVID ridership levels. As you can imagine this jump in ridership is very welcome news, and certainly a move in the right direction.”

Since the summer of 2020 SkyTrain ridership levels plateaued at 40 per cent of pre-COVID levels, Quinn noted, “so we’re so pleased to see more customers returning to the system this summer and we certainly expect to see ridership continue to increase in the weeks ahead as more of the provincial health officer’s restrictions are lifted.”

Quinn addressed the council just six days into his job, coming from Baltimore where he was CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration.

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, chairman of the mayors’ council, remarked that it’s “encouraging to see some life starting to come back in ridership increase.”

“I was recently taking the SkyTrain and I didn’t get a seat for the first time in probably well over a year and a half,” he said. “I’m going to take that as a positive sign for our system and I think we know we still have a long way to go and we need to make sure people feel comfortable and safe on our system but we do need to get our riders back, it’s critically important to our transportation system and our public transit system.”


21 Responses to “Bafflegab From TransLink – The Never Ending Story”
  1. Nathan says:

    Translink does publish ridership data. It is not hard to dig for the data.

    They publish annual, monthly boardings and by service type. There is also annual and monthly journeys.

    In 2019, there was 451 million boardings and 271 million journeys. So more than one boarding per journey.

    “total system-wide boarding’s were 48. 2 per cent of pre-COVID ridership levels.”

    451 x 0.482 = 217.382 million boardings.

    There you go, 2020 boardings were 217.382 million.

    That is a big drop in ridership.

    Zwei replies: Boarding’s is the most inaccurate way of counting ridership, especially with the proliferation of the U-Pass. TransLink has crafted well how to manipulate boarding’s to seem higher than actual ridership. Without an independent audit, their numbers are just that, numbers.

    Historically, Translink has overstated ridership on the light metro system by as much as 15%.

  2. Nathan says:

    How we Define Ridership

    Two metrics are reported on:

    Boarding: every time a passenger enters a fare paid zone using Compass fare media or proof of payment. Transfers are counted as additional boardings.

    Journey: a complete transit trip using Compass fare media or proof of payment, regardless of the number of transfers.

  3. Haveacow says:

    Yes Nathan, these are common metrics here in Ontario. In Ottawa its called

    A Complete Trip: You call them Journeys : Fare trip segment + 1 or multiple Transfers trip segments

    Boarding: Each individual Fare trip segment or each Transfer trip segments

    Traditionally Zwei has these issues.

    1. Here in Ontario it is more common to use complete trips (Journeys) as a measure for ridership of the entire transit agency because it omits the double counting associated with complex single mode (bus only complete trips but lots of transfers) or multi-modal equipped transit agencies (bus – train transfers) or the not rare (multiple transfer complete trip like, bus – train – bus). The larger the agency and population serviced, the greater percentage of multiple transfer complete trips. Some large transit agencies (like Translink) use just Boardings, although technically accurate but gives the impression of much greater ridership because larger numbers get used. Complete Trips or Journeys data collection is more expensive and time consuming to collect and figure out, although Fare card data has made it a lot easier.

    If I take transit to my old workplace from my present home, it would have 4 individual segments, local bus, transfer to Transitway Bus (BRT), transfer to Electric LRT (Confederation Line), transfer to Diesel LRT (Trillium Line) total time about 24 to 38 minutes depending on the transfers. Double this boarding segment total if I take transit back home at the end of the day, doing the same geographic route. It’s really believe it or not, a fairly easy and quick trip.

    4 Boardings (x2) = 8 Boardings or 1(x2)= 2 Complete Trips per day.

    Which measure would you use?

    Translink will use the 8 boardings a day in public because it looks better. O.C. Transpo here in Ottawa, uses 2 complete trips per day. Both are technically correct but one is specifically designed to make the agency look better. That’s a kind of unofficial intellectual dishonesty in my book, as a planner I believe that is wrong and should be stopped. This perception is why Zwei doesn’t trust Translink.

    2. There is no master public agency in BC that will publish this type of public transit data in an easy to understand format that won’t statistically favor the larger agencies like Translink. There is here in Ontario but it is kept semi- private although it is produced by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) and the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) its called The Ontario Urban Transit Factbook. However, its difficult to read and completely understand if your not in the profession. The set up and term definitions section goes on for 20 pages. Now CUTA also produces a national document called the Canadian Urban Transit Factbook but you have to be a professionally accredited paying member and the data is proprietary. This means I can’t use the data on this website if I reference it publicly or I can get sued! Not to mention, it is expensive and if you want it, you better pay me for it!

    Due to the fact much of the public transit data in Canada is so heavily edited by its originating agency, it’s very hard to trust it. The lack of an easy to read format, that uses nationally universally similar definitions, edited by someone other than the individual originating transit agency, that those agencies can also trust, remember trust is a two way street, makes it very hard for people like Zwei to believe what is said.

    I can easily see an agency like Translink , whom might have opinion that Zwei has very dangerous attitudes for them and marginalizing his opinion has been done by them in the past, although it really wasn’t a high priority to do so. Due to the lack of independent transit information and commentary by someone other than, a Translink fan boy
    or someone working for a developer you can never get opinions when something is really wrong.

    I worry when I see sites/publications like the Daily Hive and others like it because they have so clearly been bought and paid for by developers. Try running any story that might run an opinion contrary to what has been done in each city’s Daily Hive’s normal written environment, even if it would help in the long run and make those same developers a lot of money. Just see what happens to that contrarian story. Any person or new story that can “upset the applecart” and wow do they turn on you fast. I’m sure Kenneth Chan has never written a story about a Vancouver condo tower development attached to the Skytrain, he didn’t like or at the least, he would be unwilling to champion.

  4. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr. Cow, as a transit professional/planner can you please substantiate your claim that the reason Translink uses boardings is because they “look better”, and this is “dishonest”?

    For example, how many major transit agencies in North America instead use linked trips/journeys in their public statements? How unique is Translink in citing boardings in most public reports? How do you know they do this for nefarious reasons rather than it being for practical/appropriate ends? Does Ottawa use linked trips because you have a simpler pattern of journeys than Vancouver (more periphery to downtown and back)?

    Mr. Davidowitz points out that Translink also publishes data on journeys or linked trips. I don’t think Mr Zwei has ever even acknowledged the data on journeys There is a fairly stable relationship between the two, so when they are properly cited it is legitimate to use either for compaprisons or trends.

    What would be dishonest is if public reports shifted from one to the other without explanation.

    Is it correct that boardings are actually less subject to manipulation than linked trips/journeys, because of the complexity of/variability in measuring the latter?

    And for many purposes, is it true that boardings are the measure that makes most sense? For example, Mr Cow, the ridership for the Toronto streetcars you cited is for boardings, not linked trips, is that correct?

    I believe the main reason Mr Zwei rails against Translink data on boardings because the ridership trends exhibited have been so inconvenient to his predictions for the Canada Line, the Evergreen extension and so on. He has never used the available data on journeys/linked trips or for changes in transit use by region to make his case.

    Translink deserves criticism on many fronts. As just one more example, why are they at the very end of the line in terms of introducing free or reduced fares for children/primary/secondary students?

    The metric of boardings is way, way down the list of issues we should slag them for.

    From the US Dept of Transportation (see, and note its statement that

    “Unlinked trips are viewed as a measure of transit utilization (at the system, route, or subroute level while linked trips are used to measure revenue passengers.”

    Transit authorities reporting to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provide the number of passengers who board public transportation vehicles rather than the number of passengers they serve. Passenger boardings are called unlinked and linked passenger trips. Unlinked trips are total boardings on an individual vehicle. Linked trips refers to the total number of riders and measures the actual number of complete trips from origin to destination, including transfers. Unlinked trips are viewed as a measure of transit utilization (at the system, route, or subroute level), while linked trips are used to measure revenue passengers. The ratio of unlinked to linked trips indicates the relative usage of transfers in the transit system [2]. Determining the actual number of passengers using a transit system can be a significant task because of the tracking requirements for the number of transfers from one vehicle or mode to the next, from one agency to another, and from the use of day passes and cash.

    Because FTA does not have an official methodology for estimating the actual number of passengers that ride transit systems, individual transit agencies develop their own passenger counting and estimation methodology based on their resources and local attributes. Individual transit agencies may estimate the actual number of passengers based on a variety of methods and data-collection tools to help control for double counting, such as, automatic passenger counting units, on-board surveys, manual people counters, video camera tracking, and fare box analysis.

    The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) made an estimate, based on an average weekday, of the actual number of passengers carried by member authorities in 2000. APTA concluded that the number of people using the national transit system is 45 percent of the number of total unlinked trips reported or 14 million people, based on 32 million daily unlinked trips. This estimate reflects the average travel patterns of approximately 50 percent of all transit riders who take 2 trips per day between home and employment and those dependent on transit who could take up to 10 trips per day [1].

  5. zweisystem says:

    Just a quick note. The FTA does not do audits of ridership, but there are agencies withing State and federal governments that do. Thus the information the FTA uses is secure as transportation agencies ridership numbers have been vetted. This does not happen in Canada.

    The same is true in Europe, one metric is used.

  6. zweisystem says:

    The problem with the Canada Line is that ridership does not match operation, which pre covid was a peak hour 3 minute headway’s from Casino Junction (Bridgeport Station), giving a maximum capacity of just over 6,000 pphpd. Ridership counts do not take into account the forced transfer of south Surrey/Delta buses, nor the free zone on Sea Island. With both SFU and UBC having downtown campuses and the proliferation of private universities, plus Langara, there is no account given on U-pass use. This is important as TransLink pays the SNC Lavalin leading concessionaire of the faux P-3 over $100 million annually to operate the line, an amount that has not gone down, with the so called “record use”.

    All important to realize, no one has copied the Canada line, which is a heavy rail metro, built as a light metro and the many international transit professionals i have corresponded with, tend to think the Canada line is a White Elephant, costs far too much, for what it does. The big problem is that the Canada Line is far too expensive to extend, with an instant $1.5 billion+ needed just to increase capacity beyond its meagre 9,000 pphpd.

    Like the proprietary MALM system, the Canada Line is seen to be a Vancouver transit line, which for most is forgettable as there is nothing to recommend it.

  7. Haveacow says:

    1. American transit systems generally use boarding data along with most of the FTA and APTA official data publications because most American Transit Systems don’t have the operating budget to pay statistical personnel to make the statistical conversion or buy the software to do it for them. Canadian transit systems generally have much bigger operating budgets compared to similar sized American transit systems.

    Consider that half of all Canadian conventional transit systems are in Ontario (48 conventional transit systems not counting GO Transit). The Greater Golden Horseshoe Region (the Official version of the Toronto commuting zone ) has 30 of them. The smaller Ontario based transit agencies use the Government of Ontario joint program with CUTA (Canadian Urban Transit Association) to provide statistics, a similar arrangement occurs in Quebec with its 24 conventional transit agencies. This makes Translink an outlier nationally.

    My complaint is when transit agencies use Boardings as a agency wide representation. Yes, for data break downs of individual routes or by mode boardings are useful. The TTC in Toronto moved 525,000,000 passengers in 2019 and you see that publicly everytime you look for the statistics of annual ridership. Thats 525,000,000 complete trips, not the 1,037,000,000 boardings of 2019. Translink uses boardings simply because it looks better, yes complete trips are available but you have to search for it. That is evidence that Translink has a problem about admitting, it has problems.

    2. Any transit agency that usually shows boardings instead of complete trips, when they could easily show both, is using the larger number because it reduces the natural tendency of the public to ask serious questions. The TTC can’t get away with that for long. So when there is a serious issue the public knows about it far sooner. Yes, all sorts of data is available from Translink but it’s very hard to find and or compare to other agencies once you do find it.

    The TTC knows when you show data that is unfavorable, you get a more negative public attention but if you are known for making independent data collection difficult, or its believed that you are, you get catastrophic amounts of negative attention, especially in the long run (Hello Translink and you too O.C. Transpo, you know what I’m talking about) . However, if you have to do a F.O.I. request almost everytime you ask for data from a transit agency you begin to ask a lot more questions about why this is (again, hello Translink).

    Lastly, to their credit, the TTC, STM and O.C. Transpo will occasionally produce articles and stories in publications that portray them in a negative light. It doesn’t happen often but around about twice a year or so, these 3 agencies will publicly admit to something before it comes out in the press and admit that this is serious, they did poorly and definitely need to improve.

    For examle, the TTC admitted last year that the high particulate count in the air quality samples in their subway tunnels was probably due to improper break maintenance on their trains from a round of cost cutting. I have never, ever, seen anything like that around Translink, especially something safety related. I have watched them for 12 years and not once in that time have Translink printed something seriously negative about itself or publicly admitted to something unless the press got to it first and or someone like Zwei had yelled and screamed about for years.

    For example, the sudden and deliberate interest in Translink publications to explain that the Skytrain train technology isn’t proprietary! Even though it clearly is proprietary! The latest set of Skytrain purchases and the complete lack of other bidders in the bidding process, is a big clue about its proprietary nature. Or the simple fact that, when you ask for design or planning information about Skytrain and Translink writes you back refusing your request, saying that this proprietary information about proprietary technology.

    Zwei be proud, that was you and your group who did that! If Translink can’t seriously admit that small fact to the public and feels the need to desperately argue that your train isn’t proprietary, well folks, you have a proprietary railway. A technology that should have never been purchased in the first place and you should be distancing yourself from it as quickly as possible. You never buy proprietary rail systems unless you have no other choices and Translink does.

  8. Nathan Davidowicz says:

    Transit Data is important. TransLink tries to hide the data for many months. By law, they have to submit a monthly report to Statistics Canada, however, the public never see that report, even the highlights of the report are not published on the TransLink website for over 6 months after they gave their report to Statistics Canada.

    BC govt suppose to get all data at the Transit Branch of MOTI. Jodi Dong Phd is the executive Director of the Transit Branch at MOTI Victoria Office.

  9. Haveacow says:

    Nathan I used buy the Stats Canada data packages however, the data they collect isn’t that great or very useful transit data. For example, ridership is nice info but it isn’t very useful professionally unless you have things like, fleet vehicles-km’s, breakdown of transit vehicle service hours, revenue and nonrevenue per vehicle, seat or by mode, turnover of seat and standing space per route or mode, daily passenger route km’s by mode and much more.

    This is why I’m forced to buy the professional transit data collected by CUTA (Canadian Urban Transport Association) and their transit agency partners and accept their unfortunately, really harsh 3rd party data use rules. I know it’s good data because many years ago when I was just out of University, I used to work for them in their offices on York Street in downtown Toronto. Their data is compiled into data products, that are useful for policy makers, planners and engineers of governments, transit agencies, professional consulting companies and research think tank corporations. Any professional company or group that works with both private and public entities involved in Urban Transport that pays can use it. Unfortunately, its just not generally available to the public, nor does CUTA want it available to the public, unless they (CUTA) completely controls the content, final form and the publishing of that data. Like their Ontario Urban Transit Fact Book, or the bi-yearly (every second year) Canadian Urban Transit Factbook.

    What is available to the public is the Bytown Railway Society’s National “Trackside Guide”, available every second year. A great transit and railway fleet data information and technical data guide (does bus fleets as well) but unfortunately, it’s very thin on data about transit supply metrics (how much transit you actually get) and transit usage metrics (passenger ridership).

    There’s also a great yearbook from the UK’s Janes Information Group, the people who brought you classics like Jane’s Fighting Ships (every Royal Canadian Navy, US Navy and Royal Navy, Naval Ship Commanding Officer is given their own copy and a break on a lifetime membership). They also produced other classics like, “All The World’s Aircraft”, plus many other products. Each one usually becomes the industry bible, they are that good.

    Their, Jane’s Guide to Urban Transport Systems is fantastic, it covers everything from most major and medium sized transit agencies around the world, most bus, train, transit ship manufacturers, most secondary system providers and nearly every large and medium sized consulting firm in the known world (my copy has 850 pages). however, it is expensive about $980 ($C) per copy and about $120 for data upgrades. I upgrade it every 5 years or so, that’s all I can afford. Digital only copies are slightly cheaper but if your paying that much, you want to feel the weight of a wonderful, large pholio sized book in your hand, IMHO.

    Zwei replies: My Jane’s date from 1984 and even second hand in 1990, cost $300

  10. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr. Cow, unless you live in an Alice and Wonderland world where words mean whatever you want, Mr Zwei’s “Skytrain is proprietary” claim has been refuted by Translink, the City of Vancouver and Bombardier (see comments under

    Of course, for the above, “proprietary” has to do with ownership, not just some economic advantage that could even amount to a near monopoly. Mr Zwei originally advanced the ownership claim, but more recently seemed to retreat to the economic argument.

    Which are you endorsing?

    Yes, there is a big down side to buying a non-standard product for which there are very few suppliers. But mischaracterizing the basis of the problem diverts attention from more important issues.

    Zwei replies: Again more misinformation. Bombardier has never refuted that the LIM powered MALM was proprietary and to quote the Vancouver Engineering Dept.; “SkyTrain is not proprietary because of the automatic train control.”

    First, Bombardier’s SkyTrain was/is a rubber tired airport people mover which was/is definitely proprietary and the proprietary signalling system (Cityflow) is no longer being supported by Bombardier and will be replaced with another proprietary signalling system.

    Let me remind you that SkyTrain is the name of the regional light-metro system and consists of two railways, the conventional Canada Line and the unconventional, proprietary Expo and Millennium Lines.

    “big clue about its proprietary nature. Or the simple fact that, when you ask for design or planning information about Skytrain and Translink writes you back refusing your request, saying that this proprietary information about proprietary technology.”

  11. Bill Burgess says:

    “Vancouver’s SkyTrain technology is not proprietary, says Bombardier… Written for Daily Hive by Tyler Conley, vice-president of Bombardier Transport’s Western Canada division…

    Bombardier Transportation wishes to address some misconceptions raised in the motion presented by Vancouver city councillor Colleen Hardwick on March 14 to Vancouver City Council.

    Linear Induction Motor (LIM) technology, which is the chosen propulsion system of the Vancouver SkyTrain, is not Bombardier-owned intellectual property nor any other car builders….”



    “FROM: Jerry Dobrovolny, General Manager, Engineering Services
    SUBJECT: SkyTrain and Competitive Bidding Processes

    “… The Expo and Millennium Lines are based on technology that uses linear induction
    motors (LIM) and are controlled by a communications-based train control (CBTC)
    system, neither of which is proprietary.
     SNC Lavalin and Bombardier do not hold patents for either LIM or CBTC, and these
    systems can be provided by several other companies…


    Doesn’t leave a lot of wriggle room……

    Zwei replies: Getting desperate are we, quoting from the Hive?

    Where do I begin.

    As Vancouver is now the sole customer for the proprietary MALM system (not SkyTrain) I would say Bombardier is telling porkies. When did MALM cease to be proprietary? Certainly it was when it was rebranded from ICTS to ALRT. It was proprietary when Bombardier bought the remains of the UTDC and lavalin rebranded ALM. It was still proprietary when Bombardier lumped it in with their Innovia light metro system and again when the Innovia system was lumped into their Movia line, the LIMs were a customer add on. it is the relationship of the LIMs and the steerable axle bogies or trucks that make the system proprietary and the LIM eqipped trains cannot operate in conjunction with a conventional railway.

    The LIM’s used are attractive LIMs (according to many are the wrong sort of LIM) and the patents for these unique LIMs were purchased by the UTDC from Krauss Maffei. Being almost unique, the attractive LIMs are protected by patents, now owned by Alstom, but as attractive LIMs are the wrong sort of LIM and very costly to maintain, I doubt anyone else wants the damn things.

    Actually, SNC lavalin inherited the patents from Lavalin when they owned the proprietary railway

    Translink has been asked for a list of all bidders and they have refused to provide, what I did find is that SNC-Lavelin’s guide ways are required, but the details are redacted. That certainly makes one go hmm.

    As for Jerry Dobrovolny, General Manager, Engineering Services, CoV, either he is ignorant or telling porkies because he is wrong. Bombardier no longer holds the patents because Alstom now owns them, when they purchased Bombardier’s rail division. The Citiflow ATC is also proprietary and Bombardier is no longer supporting it means it has to be replaced by a another proprietary ATC system.

    The moral of the story is, do not believe what you read in the Hive, as it has become Translink’s official organ; its official propaganda machine.

    I suggest, forget the Hive and actually read a book on the subject.

  12. Jason says:

    Translink has always released both ridership metrics on their website called Journeys and Boardings. Journey is a complete trip with transfers. Boarding is every tap of the compass card. When you first tap the compass card, credit card or the wallet app on your phone. (Compass card is no longer needed anymore). You have 90 minutes to make as many transfers as needed. Each 90 min trip is one journey. Most trips in Metro Vancouver can be completed within 90mins. The ridership data on translink is not upto date. the latest data is September 2020. Maybe Zwei should make a freedom of information to request more data.

    One of the longest trips you can do is downtown to White Rock Pier. According to Google Maps, travel time is 1 hour 36 minutes and involve two transfers. 17 minutes on Canada line, 47 mins on bus 351, then 9 mins on bus 362. Google maps is great and tells you if it is crowded or not.

    Another long trip is Downtown to Tsawassen. Google maps says 1 hour 18 mins. 17 mins on Canada line, then 48 mins on bus 601. Only 1 transfer. As a former resident of Tsawassen in 1990’s, I know bus used to take about 90 minutes to do this trip. Canada line has sped up this trip. Those short trains are too crowded at peak times. Maybe translink should consider a second line from Bridgeport down arbutus to Broadway.

    Zwei replies: Actually travel time via the Canada line is longer, I live in Tsawwassen and I have times it. you forget the transfer time, which on a weekend could be as much as 30 minutes or 60 minutes if a bus is full or doesn’t show.

    My wife used to take transit to Broadway and travel times via 602/3/4 (express buses) increased by over 20 minutes. She drives now and average time to get to destination in Kits is 45 to 50 minutes versus 90 minutes by bus and Canada line.

  13. Haveacow says:

    Mr. Burgess I used to work for UTDC as well as Bombardier and they both said many times back in the late 1980’s with UTDC and in the early 2000’s for Bombardier that, their whole concept was proprietary whatever each company was calling the product at that point. Not just the cars but the LIM units, the data processor equipment, the Citi Flo 650 Automatic Operating System, the signal and communication processors. Especially when UTDC and later Bombardier took both Hitachi and NCRC (North China Railway Car Company) to court due to theft of intellectual property. They even claimed the odd sized flanges (wheels) were proprietary. Hell, the TTC complained they had to buy special lathes from UTDC because the standard railway lathes won’t work the UTDC flanges on the Scarborough RT cars, a near carbon copy of the Mk1. Skytrains (except for the tiny driver cabs around the vehicle controls and the fact that the Citi Flo 650 System only ran on the weekend). You can’t have it both ways, its either proprietary or it isn’t.

    Who cares what a city engineer says.

    It is stated in the bidding contracts of Translink, you have to use only SNC Lavlin designed and engineered viaducts, rights of way support clearance and tolerances, their cabling plug arrangement for their 3rd rail pick ups, SNC Lavlin power and communication equipment plugs allowances, to qualify for any potential bidder for the vehicle contract. Essentially, you have to design a Bombardier like product, with their equipment clearances (whether its ideal or not), their power pick up allowances (as if their the designs and tolerances are the only potential one that will work). If the product isn’t proprietary they sure have engineered the bidding process to make sure it is a proprietary product.

  14. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr Zwei, you denied that Bombardier said Skytrain was *not* proprietary. The statement by the Bombardier VP is clear. You misrepresented the City Engineerign Dept. by failing to acknowledge they clearly said Skytrain was *not* proprietary.

    As for when, Translink reported, “When the SkyTrain service began in 1985, the Linear Induction Motor (LIM) technology used to propel the existing Mark I, Mark II and Mark III SkyTrain cars was proprietary to Bombardier Transportation Inc. The patent for the LIM technology has since expired and as such, now allows for other manufacturers within the rail industry to build their own LIM system(s).” (page 92,

    But they are all liars, and we should instead believe you, even though your have *never once* substantiated your claims?

    Zwei replies: I have substantiated the claims that MALM is proprietary. Hell man they are attractive LIM’s very expensive kit. Why would anyone bother to build them as they make the transit system unsalable.

    I bow to Victor Durman, which explains all.

    “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.

  15. zweisystem says:

    These guys just said what their politcal masters wanted them to say. Yes they told “porkies” and were well rewarded for it. The TransLink planners that went against the wishes of the politicians were fired. They get away with it because no one cares, the taxpayer has deep pockets.

    Oh yes, read Haveacows post, but you are the real expert and engineers around the world who have rejected MALM and its predecessors are not.

  16. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr Cow, the issue is “proprietary” in the sense of an exclusive legal right to supply additional cars (or as you noted, pay the patent owner in order to do so). Bombardier says “no”. Translink noted, “no longer”.

    The City Engineer is a senior official who addressed whether Mr Zwei’s claims – quoted in a motion before City Council – are factually correct. He has a lot more to lose from making a false statement than some anonymous writer on a blog.

    Why would Translink *NOT* require that additional cars conform to its current infastructure, whether originally designed and built by Lavalin or someone else? I don’t grasp how that bears the “proprietary” question.

    I think Skytrain is a little like 8 track players – remember them? In their day, they were a technical advance over cassetts. Better audio quality, much longer play, and – amazing – auto-reverse play! But the world went in a different direction. When CDs came along, some people were so invested in 8 tracks that, for awhile, they preferred keeping them rather than pay for a whole new audio system.

    But the time span of urban infastructure is 50 or 100 or more years, not the one or two years for consumer products. We should aways be evaluating when to shift, but for the immediate future I think we are stuck with the Skytrain backbone.

    We need to make the most of it, and not diverted by mischaracterizations of the problems in doing so.

    Zwei replies: Obviously Mr. Burgess, you do not understand what proprietary is. The fact is, we are tied to one supplier, who happens to be Alstom and SNC Lavalin. There were no competitive bids on the last SkyTrain car order because other companies are not going to put the time and expense into engineering for a proprietary railway. That the city engineer hasn’t a clue what he is talking about is understandable, all his info came from Translink and I grave doubts that Translink clearly understands what proprietary is.

    Further, you inability to grasp the significance of what proprietary means, relying on dubious or unfounded reports by bureaucrats, solely favouring what their politcal masters want. Again, I will restate, Translink’s two top planners, one being one of the best transportation/transit planners, not just in Canada, but North America were fired because the publicly stated that there wasn’t the ridership on Broadway to support a subway, contradicting what the City Engineer stated to council.

    By the way, the same City Engineer claimed that LRT could not carry more than around 8,000 pphpd on Broadway, unaware of the fact that coupled sets of PCC cars where operating with a maximum capacity of 12,000 pphpd in mixed traffic, with no priority signalling, in Toronto in the late 40’s and early 60’s.

    Zwei wrote a letter to the city engineering dept and Vancouver council, reminding them of this, when he went screaming to the engineering society to investigate me. I further embarrassed him when a German transportation engineer, provided proof of capacities provided by simple trams (not LRT) in European cities, operating in mixed traffic. All were over 20,000 pphpd!

    further, how do you define Skytrain, because the Canada Line is inoperable on the Expo and millennium lines and visa versa.

    By the way, cassettes were far superior to 8 track, more so when Dolby, was on the market. I also believe you mistaken 8 track with El-cassette, which as a superior format, but large and cumbersome.

    There are none so deaf, that will not listen.

  17. Haveacow says:

    Mr Burgess the issue of proprietary technology for a company like Bombardier is this, if you copy our product in anyway that we don’t like, we will sue you into the ground! At least, that’s what’s Bombardier’s team of lawyers told me when they asked for my opinion from me and virtually everyone in my department about Hitachi stealing an important piece of tech from them and putting it on one of their (Hitachi’s) new LIM powered trains for what was at the time (2002), an upcoming line in Tokyo.

    A product like most basic train designs and normal railway operating concepts is universal, everyone can use the basic technology of railways. However, one reason every vehicle manufacturer (like Bombardier) gives a class or product name like MOVIA to a product, in this case a line of Heavy Rail Rapid Transit EMU’s or Heavy Metro EMU’s used in many cities around the world including Toronto, is so that when new technology is put on this model a legal basis for a particular product is established. Thus a competitor can’t outright copy part or the entire train. This is good as long as their is a lot of competition in the market place.

    In the case of the automated light metro technology you know in Vancouver as Skytrain, this isn’t a good thing. Bombardier is the only company that makes a product like this. Therefore, they can charge a customer anything they want to! They can charge a price that is by metre length, 12-15% more than Ottawa is spending on their new electric LRV’s and almost twice the cost per metre length of the new mainline railway DMU’s from Statler on the Trillium Line (according to the contracts public information anyway). This automated Skytrain technology, using the Citiflo 650 Automated Operating System, LIM propulsion units, steerable trucks (steerable bogies), Seltrac communication processors and light railway running gear, track, turnouts and support infrastructure was supposed to make these vehicles really simple to use and really inexpensive.

    Bombardier sure seems to use their highly technically specific products and patent rights to make sure nobody else can affordably bid on these Skytrain contracts. That makes this product effectively proprietary and gives you all the issues that come with that. Translink then turns around and rights a rail car bid that is so specific, only the Skytrain technology made by Bombardier can win it. Unless one particular bidder out of the most likely group, probably CRRC, Hundai-Rotem or Hitachi, so undervalues their bid, that it can’t possibly be true. Unfortunately, knowingly creating or accepting an undervalued bid gets you in really hot legal water. So that’s probably why, no one other than Bombardier admits to even formally bidding on the Skytrain, even if they were interested. Which is probably why you have the information you do Zwei.

    According to Bombardier in their brief to the City of Vancouver, they have said that the vehicle technology patents on the Skytrain were once indeed proprietary but the patents have now lapsed (Bombardier the Corporation no longer owns them) and the basic technology for the Skytrain is open for anyone to use. You are indeed warned when your patents are about to lapse, and depending on the nature of the product, it can be very expensive to reapply. Bombardier has put no less than $100 million in new development into its Skytrain vehicle technology since the year 2000. The prototypes for the Mk2, Mk3 Trainsets and the upcoming 5 section long (5 cars long) Mk4 Skytrain Trainset, together represent no less than $100 million in direct costs to Bombardier.

    I along with a partner, own 2 patents, this I know fairly well. One company has paid me and my partner a lot of money so they can use the product. If I am making any money with this product, I am never selling it or will let the patent lapse, I’m not stupid. I don’t think Bombardier is that stupid either.

    What I think has happened, is a common occurrence when companies that are in trouble find that their patents on important products or technology may lapse. The officers of the company buy them or an unnamed trust, owned by those people, buy the patents. I bet in those briefs to the City of Vancouver, they didn’t say who does own the patents, just that, Bombardier the corporation doesn’t. This has commonly happened when vehicle or technology companies go bust or are broken up to keep one part of the business going, just like Bombardier. However, if they did indeed let the original vehicle patents go without a fight, patents they spent tens of millions protecting as well as the spewing forth of much blood sweat and tears over the years, then they deserve whatever happened to them.
    When companies produce products that no one else seriously wants to bid against, you have a problem. Either their competition doesn’t feel they have a realistic hope of winning what they think is a rigged bidding process and or, the product is so crappy, nobody else but Bombardier cares. Indeed if Bombardier did let its patents go then, they really don’t have any confidence in the product either, you don’t let money making patents lapse, ever.

  18. Major Hoople says:

    What interests us across the pond, is the denial that your skytrain light metro is proprietary. This is how companies make money, because being proprietary means you are tied to one company.

    Now, though not law, but will soon be, that tram parts are interchange between company products, which will make for much cheaper maintenance costs for the taxpayers.

    Most unconventional railways are proprietary with the ultimate example is the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, which only one example exists. Today, the original company producing cars and parts is now long gone and all cars and spare parts must be custom made. Because the Schwebebahn is of national importance and does a good job moving people it still exists, but repairs today are expensive and requires a complete shutdown of the system. San Fransisco’s cable cars are an another example.

    Your skytrain requires special parts and tooling which no other company makes and it would be exceedingly expensive to switch suppliers.

    Alstom now owns the proprietary railway but another famous Canadian company is also involved, SNC Lavalin also hold patents for the construction of the guideway. We are most interested with the situation because after a recent scandal with SNC and your prime minister, SNC is not allowed to bid on contracts with federal money involved and as the federal government is paying 40% of construction costs for the subway and Expo line extension, this makes you government guilty of contravening the law, as is your provincial government and TransLink.

    If this is allowed to proceed, there will be sanctions against Canadian products, which is making Asltom very nervous indeed. So nervous that they may abandon production as to be not involved.

    It is obvious why many in Canada want to maintain the myth that skytrain is not proprietary.

  19. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr Cow, as you know, patent protection expires, and cannot simply be renewed without qualifying via some new innovation.

    Patents are public (no FOI needed, Mr Zwei, all it takes is a simple Google search). Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Which LIM-related patent currently prevents Hatachi or someone else from supplying Skytrain cars? Those I can see that seem like they might be relevant (though judging this is really above my pay grade) have expired, lapsed for non-payment or been withdrawn. For example, see CA2571912A1 “Railway bogie provided with a linear induction motor” (

    By the way, did Bombardier succeed in getting a judgement against Hitachi or the Chinese rail company for patent infringement? I don’t doubt they would try, but did it work?

    Translink reports that they “received proposals from two companies. All information from the proposal submissions was provided to the technical and commercial evaluation teams, respectively, to be reviewed, assessed and
    consolidated into a final score.
    The first step in the evaluation process was to review each submission and assess the information
    provided based upon the following criteria;
    • Ability to provide LIM technology
    • Integration of LIM motors with the brake systems and Thales’ TOP ATC system
    • Meet all existing space envelope restrictions on the Expo and Millennium Lines (from performance
    • Not exceed the train weight and axle loads (from performance specification)…” (p. 94,

    A “fairness monitor” reported on the process, including witnessing the scoring. (OK, not that I would know about such things, but that report did strike me as ‘thin’.)

    I would not be surprised to learn than the evaluation scores were *not* close. But that would very likely be because of the economic advantage held by Bombardier, as is universally understood.

    In the face of contrary statements by authoritative parties, all that you and Mr Zwei have provided are suspicions, possibilities and evolving, ideosyncratic definitions of “proprietary” as it bears on who can supply additional Skytrain cars.

    Zwei replies: Why all this angst about MALM being proprietary.

    Of course SkyTrain is proprietary as it is a rubber tired airport people mover once marked by Bombardier. They appropriated the name SkyTrain from Vancouver’s regional light metro system, which was not protected by copyright.

    I believe bombardier won the lawsuit because both Hitachi and Chinese rail are forbidden to bid on Vancouver’s ALRT replacement cars. Evidently, only Bombardier bid.

    I also find it interesting that only in Metro Vancouver, that MALM is considered not proprietary and authoritative parties outside the SkyTrain bubble, claim it is. Those within the politcal circle, maintaining that “SkyTrain is not proprietary are well rewarded.”

    The question boils down to; “Who wants to invest and build the damned thing because the now called MALM system offers absolutely no benefit to an operator, being expensive to build and costs more to maintain and operate than a modern tram. Oh yes, today’s modern tram can operate as a light metro, as it currently does in Seattle and Ottawa and many European cities, but can happily operate as LRT on less demanding rights-of-ways. This is called flexibility.

    The real issue is becoming apparent, SNC Lavalin hold the Engineering patents and according to TransLink, Skytrain must use SNC Lavalin guide-ways and SNC Lavalin is in the politcal sin bin, not allowed to bid on federal contracts for a set number of years and The SkyTrain extensions are being funded 40% by the federal government. This makes one go Hmmmm.

    This poses serious questions:

    Is Translink breaking the law, accepting SNC Lavalin guide-ways, which they will receive profit from the 40% portion of federal monies?
    Is the provincial NDP breaking the law by authorizing more SkyTrain construction?
    Is the Mayor’s Council on Transit, Vancouver’s Engineering Department, the TransLink board breaking the law, by trying to pretend that SNC Lavalin is not involved in receiving Federal monies?

    The questions are moot if the MALM system is not proprietary (again Skytrain is the name of the light metro system and operates both a conventional pygmy metro and the unconventional MALM system, now owned by Alstom).

  20. zweisystem says:

    Just a note: The MALm system uses obsolete attractive LIM’s originating from Krauss Maeffi Transurban MAGLEV. Expensive to maintain, attractive LIMs are not used on today’s LIM operating proprietary railways. Also, no conventional railway can operate on a LIM operating railway and Visa Versa. The only advantage i have been told is that LIM systems can climb steep grades and only would be recommended on routes with steep grades, in excess of 10%.

  21. Haveacow says:

    Just had a conversation with my patent advisor, yes if you don’t change a product at all, the patent expires in 20 years however, if you change the product just enough that new abilities are added and if the patent office believes this product now becomes a new technological benchmark or a new branch of an existing technology (and you change the name to reflect that) you get a new patent. According to him 40% of all engineering & technology patents are effectively upgraded this way. Although its not technically the same product. Bombardier could have easily done this. About 60% of Apple’s, Google’s, yearly technology patents are effectively patent upgrades. So either Bombardier didn’t have the money, time or resources to “update” their MALM patents or they didn’t care.

    Zwei relies: Why spend money on a pig? MALM is obsolete and has been for decades and the only way to sell the damn thing was either bribe politicians (Korea and Malaysia) or have the federal government pay (which they did for JFK).

    With no sales for over 15 years, indicates how bad the system is. Now Alstom is discovering what an albatross MALM is and from reports from the REM folks, MALM will soon be relegated to the history pages.

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