Broadway Subway: Based On Inaccurate And Manipulated Assumptions

Haveacow is an avatar of a very knowledgeable chap from back east who works with public transport.

In the arcane world of transit in Canada, speaking one’s mind or even being truthful can send one to Coventry.

To send someone to Coventry is an English idiom meaning to deliberately ostracize someone. Typically, this is done by not talking to them, avoiding their company, and acting as if they no longer exist. Victims are treated as though they are completely invisible and inaudible.

Mr. Cow’s insights and vast experience makes him a person to be listened too and indeed, Zwei does.

When one reads the following, which is a comment he made on a previous post, the first thing that comes to mind is that Broadway is not the busiest transit corridor in Canada or the USA. Far from it, it is rather average.

Of course this manipulation of the facts, repeated over and over again so the public tended to believe it, was and is the basis for the justification to build the Broadway subway.

Even TransLink, grudgingly admitted to this in a letter, when they thought they were to be faced with a possible judicial inquiry.

TransLink is confident in its data collection and peer comparisons, noting that the 99 B-Line route on the Broadway
Corridor moves 60,000 customers per day on articulated buses running every three minutes at peak times.
This is our region’s most overcrowded bus route.

Please note, this includes all bus routes that use Broadway, including the number 9, 8, 14, 16, 17, and of course the 99B. It should be noted that the only bus route which the subway will replace is the 99 B-Line and only from Commercial Drive to Arbutus!

Not only has this sham planning been approved by regional mayors, it has been approved by the province!

For the common person, this would lead to investigation and criminal charges, but not our transit planning, where six figured salaries and bonuses are the order of the day.

Sadly inaccurate and manipulated data, repeated over and over again, swayed civic, provincial and federal politicians to fund a 5.8 km almost $3 billion subway under Broadway!

The frustrating thing about the way TransLink measured the capacity ranges for the various types of rapid transit technologies was because it was based on how they believed they would run the particular transit operating technology. It wasn’t based on how other more experienced regional transit properties ran their facilities or even close to the best-known Canadian or international operating practices of each type. This pretty much guarantees the results you want. The choice of SkyTrain on Broadway was highly manipulated by this kind artificially low operational capacity and standards and practices that were poor choices for any comparison. I used Bus Rapid Transit as an example here not because I thought it was the best option on Broadway but as an example to show how poorly TransLink’s BRT option really was compared to what could have been used in their report.

The Bus Rapid Transit norms used were inferior and far from the superior practices used by Ottawa and other cities.This absolutely shoddy choice of BRT infrastructure and operating practices shows the limited understanding TransLink officials had on the subject. Thus it’s not surprising that the capacity limits believed for their BRT comparison were more than a little artificially low, especially compared to where and how they planned to operate the SkyTrain.

How TransLink Defined and Would Operate Bus Rapid Transit

I remember reading what TransLink defined as Bus Rapid Transit in many of their past reports and giggling. Ottawa has operated real Bus Rapid Transit on our bus transitway Network since 1983. Ottawa still has the most extensive network of BRT lines in North America, even with 12.5 km of BRT lines already converted to LRT and about 25 km more being converted presently. Many of the operating details of what TransLink defined under BRT would be laughed at by longtime Ottawa Transitway passengers and not considered BRT but really, a glorified express bus with nice bus stops.

Professionally, many of the operating practices presently used or what TransLink planned to use as BRT operational practices in their reports, showed at best an inexperienced operator and a lack of understanding about what you can really do with BRT. If you are going to measure BRT against SkyTrain in a given corridor to determine the most useful operating technology, actually measure a real functioning line that is working within a real BRT operation. Not the joke TransLink used to compare against the SkyTrain. What was obvious from the start was that TransLink doesn’t either understand or wouldn’t acknowledge that there are 2 main types or extremes, of BRT operations, open or closed systems. Choosing to mainly concentrate on either one has real operating advantages depending and different issues that very much effect what gets put in reports. Unfortunately the same lack of understanding can be said for their LRT and just general standard bus operating comparisons as well.

The example of BRT system TransLink used was a mostly closed system which by their nature purposely limits operational capacity and bus numbers to preserve the infrastructure’s theoretical capacity. It greatly lowers cost as a result but TransLink’s own documents downplayed the cost reality. It mainly concentrated on the capacity argument. The examples below are mostly open BRT systems which greatly increase operational capacity.

Before the conversion to LRT, during the height of both the AM and PM peak period, Ottawa’s Transitway would have a passenger level of 10,700 passengers per hour per direction. This was done using 185 to 200 buses per hour per direction on 85 separate bus routes. During the day the Central Transitway would average between 4,000 to 6,000 pass/hr/direction using 60 to 80 buses/hr/direction.

Currently, during both peak periods Gatineau’s Rapi-Bus Transitway moves 4600 to 5000 pass/hr/direction using 90 to 100 buses/hr/direction.

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia “Brisbane Transport Agency known as “Translink” operates a successful BRT “The Busway Network” moves at peak 14,000 pass/hr/direction using 225 buses/hr/direction.

Pitsburgh’s Busway Network during both peaks sees 4500-4800 pass/hr/direction using 90-95 buses/hr/direction

Capacity and Cost is Important Here

The capacity of TransLink’s BRT example in the report shows a service level of only a marginal improvement over the current bus system. Each one of these BRT examples I used uses far greater levels of buses than was currently planned for the Broadway Corridor, but their capacity far exceeds stated capacity levels of Bus Rapid Transit in the reports. The truly laughable BRT capacity used by TransLink here can’t be realistically compared against a full Light Metro line operating in a tunnel. Especially if operating costs aren’t considered important. For example, data out of various projects in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa all showed that a full scale BRT line is lower in cost per passenger and 30 year operating costs than a Light Metro line if that particular line is moving less than 134,000 people a day. Broadway has quite a while before it will consistently break that service level.

Compare Apples to Apples and Oranges to Oranges

The BRT example used in the Broadway report was mostly operating in a painted bus lane with some physical segregation. Painted bus lanes can be easily entered by other vehicles, they are almost impossible for any police service to regulate if it is more than a kilometre long, are highly effected by parking lanes, driveways and laneways, block lengths, the number, size, frequency of and types of intersections. Different types of intersection signaling and control and the sheer number of other lanes. Painted bus lanes have a very low numerical capacity 3000 to 5000 pass/hr/direction depending on many physical conditions. Lastly, the amount of external traffic is desperately important as well for the operating effectiveness of a painted bus lane. Unless the bus lane is a non painted, physically segregated from other traffic, the comparison of this bus lane to any train in a tunnel is meaningless.

To be fair, if you are going to measure a BRT lane against a SkyTrain operating in a tunnel, the BRT lane needs to be in a tunnel as well!

The type of BRT operations used needs to have the capacity maximized to compete fairly against any type of train. The position of the BRT lanes also needs to be considered as well given other surface road conditions.

A mostly closed BRT system operating along mainly painted bus lanes, operating in the open, along with other mixed traffic lanes and having to enter signalized intersections will never compare favourably against the SkyTrain operating below grade in a tunnel.

Stations become critical here because the report had fairly numerous bus stops that could only hold two articulated buses 18 to 20 metres long each. The SkyTrain station platforms were 80 metres long. There were also more BRT stops than SkyTrain Stations. That’s just not an equal comparison!


6 Responses to “Broadway Subway: Based On Inaccurate And Manipulated Assumptions”
  1. Jack says:

    Translink never said broadway was the busiest route in canada or USA.

    This website quoted “This is our region’s most overcrowded bus route.”

    So Broadway is the busiest route in Vancouver area.

    The busiest routes are the best for faster transit routes using rails.

    The BRT look interesting and could be used here. The #99 is really just an express bus with limited stops.

  2. Nathan Davidowicz says:

    Very good explanation and comparison of BRT. Thats why I told the Mayors Council in Feb. 2020 when they went to Ottawa to study their BRT system, no they did not do it.
    Even Toronto BRT is refered as BRT Lite by Steve Munro. You should inform the City of Victoria about BRT as they are proposing few new BRT lines.

  3. I have always maintained that the ‘transit system’ is part and parcel of building ‘good’ urbanism.

    Don’t get me wrong… I love the freedom & flexibility of cars. I am giddily awaiting the flood of EVs coming into the market one the heels of the too-pricey (but damn good) Teslars.

    Using information H-A-C (haveacow) provided me right here, I completed the West Coast Charrette (

    The ‘gift from Ottawa’ was reliable numbers for HOV and SOV lanes on the freeway. Adding those to West Coast Express, Canada Line, and Skytrain numbers I arrived at a figure of 36,500 pphpd coming in and out of downtown.

    Or, put another way, the regional job center.

    I am trying to understand the Housing Crisis as more than just a handful of developers building towers and making off like bandits. They play their role. As does off-shore capital landing in waves. Some of it clean, some of it not, some of it ‘dark.’

    However, the simple fact is that if we are moving just 36,000 people per hour in and out of downtown, there is NO WAY we are moving enough people to live in houses. That would explain why houses are in short supply. What’s the point of building them if no one is going to be able to get to them in time for supper? Or, heading in the opposite direction, get to work on time?

    Transit is the linchpin here. Not Freeways, as we shall see momentarily.

    Oh yes, it is a ‘supply’ problem that is triggering the decades old Housing Crisis. New Zealand is just reporting the exact same thing. But it is at two-headed supply problem.

    First, we are not building enough houses, new towns, you name it.

    Yet, as importantly, we couldn’t get the people there and back from the regional job center downtown, even if we did build houses in sufficient supply to satisfy demand out on the periphery where land is available and cheap.

    That’s the Nexus: using H-A-C’s numbers I estimated the Freeway was delivering 10,500 pphpd. Skytrain 15,000 pphpd (per Ottawa Transportation Certificate). Canada Line 10,000 pphpd (I think this is overly optimistic). WCE 1,034 pphpd. Tally it all up, and you get… 36,500 passengers/hour/direction.

    Not enough. However, that means GOOD NEWS for the 1% who are building towers and raking in the profits from our chocked and constrained transportation services.

    That’s the first point: You want to bring houses back to affordable levels, you say? You HATE the Hong Kong urbanism?

    Then, there is only ONE answer: we have to move more people to more product built on the edges of our region, and in the region next door. Safely, in comfort, affordably and on time.

    Fail to do so and see our economy go to hell in a hand basket… about where we are last time I checked (Oh… but exclude Real Estate from that survey, ’cause property markets are through the roof!!)

    Here’s the other rub:

    Translink is NOT operating a regional transportation system (RTS). Translink barely reaches Coquitlam and Surrey. My children will be grandfathers before Translink is a true RTS. Or great grandfathers. Or never…

    Yet, only an RTS can get the price of houses back on par with median household incomes. Where it was in 1980 when we started in this whole whack-a-mole transit venture… Apparently running on lies according to our Ottawa expert.

    BTW running a modern tram service on the Interurban RoW—still in place, and now entirely in government ownership—would deliver 65,000 pphpd (8 car train set: neither Canada Line nor Skytrain can run 8 cars).

    ONE line of modern tram running on existing, but feral, RoW would TRIPLE service in and out of downtown.

    It would connect the North Shore with Waterfront, Fourth Avenue, the Arbutus RoW, Kent Street RoW, cross the Fraser on the Rail Bridge (where government has 33% trackage rights), and run all the way to Chilliwack… ALL on existing RoW.

    A best guess at construction costs puts it at a 12-times savings to the Broadway Subway. The tunnel to the North Shore, of course, would be on par.

    As far as maintenance costs… I see two off-setting factors that are not often talked about.

    One, a thriving economy needs good jobs. Transit provides just that. So, I see it as a mixed blessing that hiring transit drives is seen as a negative. The flip side of the coins is that these are good jobs.

    Two. The only way we are going to solve the housing crisis is if we provide many more ways to access cheap land.

    One modern tram line at 65,000 pphpd is like building 6 freeways or 4 ⅓ Skytrain systems.

    I’m not trying to kill the EV. I’m just saying that Regional Job Capitals need Regional Transportation Systems.

    And that Pony Train that is the Skytrain ain’t no RTS.

  4. Haveacow says:

    I honestly feel that an LRT would be a better fit for Broadway than Bus Rapid Transit. There is always one thing to remember and it is very important when considering Bus Rapid Transit. It’s simple, BRT is never, a rail line with buses. That thought needs to be banished immediately from the human consciousness. They only look like they are similar. In reality their operations are different, each system BRT and LRT, have different advantages and disadvantages. Their respective operational quirks lead to very different operational passenger building service opportunities. Their expansion will lead to very different operational issues.

    The one thing that keeps BRT around is anti-transit politicians, tax payer groups and pundits who prefer it because it initially anyway, appears cheaper to build and start up (capital costs). Spoiler alert, not really. The operating costs can be dramatically higher than rail. Done right, BRT is only slightly less expensive in capital costs than rail based transit systems. The problem comes with BRT’s scalability. As passenger levels increase, the associated BRT infrastructure becomes bigger and more costlier than building rail based infrastructure, moving the same number of passengers. This reality is what became the prime motivation to finally transform Ottawa’s Transitway Network into an LRT Network. Even though the Transitway was always designed to be convertible to rail, Ottawa’s Transitway people bitterly fought this idea for 2 decades. They still are fighting it. Rail will never be affordably convertable back into a road for cars, but BRT, easily convertable.

    The same anti-transit, pro road, pro very low tax, usually, but not always right of political centre, politicians, groups and pundits prefer driverless vehicle operations (especially rail). Those groups for the most part, couldn’t care less really about the various advantages and disadvantages of driverless transit operations, their just really into “union-busting”. That’s not to say there aren’t issues with people related transit operating costs. Up to 75% of the operating costs of normal surface transit network costs and many rapid transit network operational costs in North America are due to the pay and benefit costs of driver/operator/attendant/right of way maintenance employees. However, much of the automation technology becomes more expensive and troublesome, especially as it ages, than just employing people would have been.

    Ottawa’s automated LRT platform monitoring technology that both monitors the platforms and releases the trains when it is safe for them to leave the station has never worked well and is still non operational. As it turns out, having young people (an st risk youth program) with whistles on each station platform, whistling to the trains when it is safe to go, isn’t more expensive than the computer based system, with the added benefit of having a minimum 2 people in each station who can respond to problems, issues and emergencies. These at risk young people, stay out of trouble and are paid a good wage, they (I must embarrassingly admit) are more dependable than the adult employees. They smile, have generally a better attitude as compared to the adult employees and both RTG and O.C. Transpo have a well trained pool of future talent to draw from.

  5. Paul says:

    It is too late for BRT or LRT on broadway. Contract was awarded in September and construction has started.

    They are currently doing the demolition of buildings at main street.

    For the remainder of the year, work will focus on completion of design, site preparation and demolition of buildings to be used for station locations and laydown areas, in addition to ongoing utility relocations. Construction of the stations, the elevated guideway and the tunnel portal is expected to begin in 2021. Tunneling is expected to start in 2022 and the project is on schedule for the new line to open in 2025.

    Zwei replies: The subway was a done deal back in the Gordon Campbell era, and was called going to be called the “Legacy Line”. The CoV wants the subway for only one reason, political prestige as the subway has no practical application in Vancouver, just like the Canada Line.

  6. Haveacow says:

    @Paul, I know it’s too late to change the project, that wasn’t the point of what I was saying. My point is, if you are going to actually study alternatives rapid transit technologies, for a rapid transit corridor study, then it usually better that those alternative rapid transit technologies be based on realistic and highly functional existing projects. Many of the alternatives studied by Translink were not even remotely competitive with the Skytrain.

    My example was that the BRT alternative chosen by Translink was barely an improvement over the existing bus system already operating on Broadway. Which is odd, when there are many far superior operational models already operating in North America to choose from. This is something your agency does a lot.

    Then Translink chooses to compare the different transit modes in different operating conditions making sure the one they really want is in the best operating environment that will maximize it’s chance of coming out on top. Since Translink sets the conditions on which the various transit technologies are compared, the outcome is pretty much assured. If you say operating speed is most important followed by capacity and downplay the importance of capital cost, then a Skytrain operating in a tunnel with a limited number of stations should definitely win. Especially, when the other 2 examples used are operating in a more limited surface corridor with the same or even greater numbers of stations. If you are going to compare BRT and LRT to the Skytrain, put them in a tunnel as well.

    The big loser is the Broadway Corridor itself. What you get is a transit option that has way too much capacity for the expected ridership, with staggering capital costs and as Zwei has often repeated, much higher operating costs. The tunnel option will be needed eventually but it will be sometime before the expected ridership you need to effectively pay for the operating costs of a tunnel, will be using that extension.

    The Broadway project in the near-term and medium-term will take away a huge amounts of funding from other projects that Translink desperately needs to be completed. Projects like, the rehabilitation of the original Expo Line Corridor so it can actually continue to operate and greatly expand its current and very much limited, passenger carrying capacity. At this point, its too late now to make the trains longer.

    Increasing the passenger carrying capacity by using longer trains doesn’t help much, if the tracks, switches, power collection system, cabling, signaling technology, the automation program and operating technology, all immediately need complete upgrades and replacement. This is on top of the soon to be needed rebuilding of many kilometres of the original Expo Line’s concrete viaduct. Not to mention, the upgrading of the leaking, 100+ year old, Dunismuir Railway Tunnel.

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