Common Sense & FastFerry’s

Common sense.

Common sense: something that TransLink, the City of Vancouver, the Mayor’s Council on Transit, TransLink and its CEO, Premier Horgan and is entourage lack.

Common sense: the industry standard for customer flows on a transit line needed to even think of building a subway is 15,000 persons per hour per direction.

Common sense: the actual customer flows on Broadway, under 4,000 pphpd, based on TransLink’s schedule of peak hour 99B-Line service of 3 minute headway’s or 20 buses per hour per direction.

Common sense: huge subsidies must be paid for subway operation on Broadway, which operating costs will be in excess of $40 million annually.

Common sense: realizing what a “FastFerry” fiasco is, before it happens.

Common sense: moving out of Metro Vancouver due to high taxation to fund politically prestigious “FastFerry” style transit projects, that do little to offer a transit alternative, except bleed the taxpayer dry.

The Charleroi Metro, built but never used and remains semi abandoned to this day. Subway operation cost too much for the operating authority and the stations, tracks and infrastructure never used.

Viewpoint: Subway Follies


March 19, 2018
by Patrick M. Condon

Transportation infrastructure influences the shape of cities for centuries. The road pattern of ancient Rome still provides settings for a thousand sidewalk cafAi??s, long after most Imperial buildings have crumbled to dust.Ai??Yet governments seldom think carefully about how their transit decisions will influence future city form and the quality of experience enjoyed byai??i??or inflicted onai??i??our children and grandchildren. This is evident in Vancouver, where I am a professor of urban design at the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Along part of the cityai??i??s Broadway Avenue corridor, current officials insist on building an absurdly expensive ($400-million per kilometre, and rising) subway. Why? Ostensibly because itai??i??s faster, doesnai??i??t conflict with street traffic, and is theoretically capable of moving more people. But other high-capacity surface rail options can be had at less than a fifth of the cost.Ai??Toronto also has donned blinders in insisting on an as-yet-unfunded $3.5-billion one-stationAi??subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line. Their choice is especially shocking given an earlier provincial government offer to pay for a high-capacity surface light rail system to serve the same district. Toronto is leaving billions on the table to satisfy its urge for a subway, seemingly compelled by a desire for Very Big Things.

subway, Toronto, Vancouver, LRTThe alluring high-speed underworld. Photo by Aaron Yeoman.

This is sad, because both cities once enjoyed extensive surface rail transportationai??i??systems that served not just one corridor, but many. Both Vancouver and Toronto are examples of North American ai???streetcar cities,ai??? built largely between 1890 and 1930, when migrant workers flocked to them and electric streetcars that served every arterial in the city. The legacy of this system is all around us. Both cities have a ai???sense of placeai??? derived from their low-rise linear corridors that are now some of the most attractive and vibrant neighbourhoods. These residential districts have been fertilized by the street railway system that served them. Surface rail provided an even number of customers for each street section, insuring a similar distribution of commercial and then cultural services everywhere. The system induced a perfectly walkable density, with a symbiotic relationship between the customers and streetcars.

So if surface rail works efficiently and affordAi??ably, then what is the impetus behind such a costly venture as a multi-billion-dollar subway extension? Well, follow the money. Around every station will sprout a forest of high-rise condo towers, both to supply the astronomical need for density needed to both feed and justify the subway, and the development taxes needed to pay for it. Our future cities will boast shimmering necklaces of these towers strung along our rapid transit system. But what of the vast majority of residents who will live far beyond a ten-minute walking distance of the stations?Ai??For the cost of one short piece of subway, you could provide high capacity, comfortable, surface rail for an entire city. This more evenly distributed approach would capitalize on the huge investment made in the last century to create these ai???streetcar cities,ai??? and would reinforce the qualities of the neighbourhoods that we hold dear.

City builders are now faced with a choice: we can construct a few expensive subway lines to serve largely unaffordable tower districts, while outlying neighbourhoods depopulate and their commercial streets decline. Or we can capitalize on what already existsai??i??the above-ground worldai??i??with a surface-transportation system that strengthens the existing structure of our cities, and restores urban enclaves that are more walkable, affordable and sustainable.

Which kind of city do we want?

Could this be the fate of the Broadway SkyTrain subway?


3 Responses to “Common Sense & FastFerry’s”
  1. eric chris says:

    Excellent article by Patrick, whoever takes the run at mayor for COPE in Vancouver is going to pick up the sea of disenchanted voters who aren’t thrilled about the destruction of communities in Vancouver from development for rapid transit by TransLink. Mayor Patrick Condon, Vancouver has a nice ring to it.
    Wipe out rental units. Create condo buyers. Lose affordable housing.

    There is the distinct impression that certain mayors in Metro Vancouver are puppets on the end of strings pulled by developers using them to wipe out rental units to create the market for high rise “condos” along rapid transit lines. Losing 50 low rise affordable rental units to build 300 unaffordable high rise condo units (with much parking to add lots of cars to the roads) loses 50 affordable rental units and puts many cars on the roads.

    If rental units along rapid transit lines by TransLink aren’t demolished in Vancouver, they take away the market share for high rise condos. Some former renters can afford to buy condos replacing the rental units, but maybe they are fine renting and don’t want the hell of dealing with strata councils. Problem is though that most renters are at the stage in their life where renting is it.

    Renters rent because they don’t have the disposable income and cash flow to buy condos doubling or “morbuling” the cash flow required to live in Vancouver. Many young and old people in Vancouver live on very limited incomes and can’t afford to buy the 459 square foot condo unit (starter with no balcony) costing $700,000. So, they end up being displaced from Vancouver. In the following excellent documentary “Vancouver No Fixed Address” by Knowledge, David Suzuki asks what kind of society pushes out its young and old people in Vancouver? One that TransLink created for rapid transit, that’s what.


    “Commuting hours on transit each day to get to class is a fact of life for many Vancouver college students. But the inconvenience is causing a brain drain as some students switch to schools outside the region, a survey of Langara College students revealed.”

    “Others, like second-year arts student Vivian Thieu, also expressed relief in being able to avoid taking the SkyTrain during peak periods. It’s crowded, especially during the times when school ends, she said. It takes forever to get on the platforms, and it’s hot and sweaty [it sucks and it’s slow]”.

    Who’s to blame for the housing crisis? TransLink, plain and simple. No TransLink. No rapid transit. No condos. No worries.

    Broadway subway by TransLink is part of the “plan” to replicate the “success” of the Cambie subway for more high rise condos destroying Vancouver. Step one: dismantle TransLink. Step two hear that tram.

    “Hear that sound. There’s a voice to be found …”

  2. eric chris says:

    “Broadway Subway (BS) Subsidy”

    Roads are public for transit, commercial and private vehicles. Drivers in private vehicles are not (not) subsidized to use the roads as nincompoops and nitwits in our midst contend. In order for drivers to be subsidized to use the roads, the roads would have to be for the exclusive use of drivers. Roads aren’t. On the other hand, the planned Broadway subway is for the exclusive use of regional transit users, only. If allowed to go ahead, the Broadway subway would receive a massive subsidy from drivers who are being targeted with mobility pricing to pay for it and who want to take it about as much as they want to catch the bubonic plague and other pathogens which would thrive on it:

    Mobility pricing by the “planners” at TransLink is another sneaky trick to raise taxes to pay for TransLink’s white elephant, light-metro or subway system, “rapid” transit, in Vancouver. TransLink’s astronomical $2 billion annual operating budget for “rapid” transit could finance NASA’s space mission to Mars.

    TransLink doesn’t have a funding problem. TransLink has a spending problem.

    Planners at TransLink are attempting to solve road congestion with “rapid” transit taking 20 minutes to reach to save 10 minutes on it. Rapid transit is aimed at the 2% of commuters who ride “rapid” transit from Surrey, Coquitlam and Richmond and work in Vancouver. Planners at TransLink have gone through billions of dollars with a blowtorch to do it. It hasn’t worked, and they aren’t about to admit it.

    If the “planners” at TransLink were truly losing sleep over road congestion, they could restrict driving based on the last digit of the licence plate, for instance, as in other cities. That is, an odd digit allows you to drive on Tuesday, unless you have a job, and an even digit allows you to drive on Wednesday, unless you have a job. Easy.


    Spending two hours like a lump of coal on “rapid” transit to travel 50 km to work is not healthy. All the soot blowing diesel buses used by TransLink on trolleybus routes to take inactive “rapid” transit commuters to “rapid” transit degrades the air quality and leads to respiratory illness in people. Elf is the healthy and active way to commute, instead. Elf doesn’t cost billions of dollars and is door to door:

    Commuting by flying taxi-cabs from Chilliwack to Vancouver rather than by rapid transit takes minutes. Planners at TransLink are in denial about this and have their heads in the sand. The future is now, and regional commuting doesn’t include TransLink.

    Planners at TransLink can’t keep pitching that all the practically empty soot blowing diesel buses running out to UBC are bursting at the seams for much longer. People are ditching “rapid” transit to e-cycle or e-drive. They don’t have to do “rapid” transit any more and aren’t. Revenue passenger use has plummeted on “rapid” transit. The percentage of trips by drivers has possibly gone up by 15% to 66% which is way (way) up from 57% in 1999 when TransLink was formed to “reduce” driving. Light-metro by TransLink is a dismal failure. Reported high “ridership” doesn’t reflect the dwindling modal share of “rapid” transit by TransLink.
    “We’re still going in the wrong direction on climate change, said Mark Watts, executive director of C40 Cities. Global carbon emissions have increased 60 percent since the international 1997 Kyoto agreement to reduce emissions. Using more renewable energy and mass transit won’t be enough to reverse this, said Watts. We have to reduce our consumption.”

    In other words, Green transport isn’t TransLink pouring concrete for “rapid” transit and transit (concrete) orientated development. Become the Green T-Rex terror who you were meant to be and get off “rapid” transit. Save the world from TransLink destroying the planet with rapid transit … the subliminal jab at “rapid” transit in the following video-commercial is obviously obvious, maybe, if you’re perceptive enough to notice: Green T-Rex reaching for the ticket at the “subway” station to take rapid transit is so-so hard and “Green” T-Rex driving the low emission vehicle to curb GHG emissions and save the planet is so-so easy.

  3. Bill Burgess says:

    Mr Chris:

    The simple fact that Toronto also has a housing crisis but no Skytrain and no Translink demonstrates that not everything can be blamed on the latter.

    Cars and roads ARE subsidized. The studies that estimate the total financial, economic and social subsidies of various forms of transportation generally pro-rate the use of public roadway by who uses the road (cars, trucks, buses, bikes, etc.). Most such studies I have seen find that the largest dollar amount of subsidy amounts go to cars and trucks.

    Please stop quoting unrepresentative numbers on the level and trends in the transportation modal split and of revenue passenger ridership in Vancouver.

    The best available data on modal spit is the 2016 census data on journey to work. It comes from a 20% sample that is far larger than any other survey available:

    How residents of Canada’s CMAs are commuting and the time it takes (2016)
    Montréal Toronto Vancouver Québec Ottawa-Gatineau Winnipeg Calgary Edmonton
    Percentage who commuted by public transit 22% 24% 20% 11% 18% 14% 14% 11%
    Average time to get to work by public transit 44 min. 50 min. 44 min. 35 min. 42 min. 36 min. 42 min. 40 min.
    Average time to get to work by car 27 min. 30 min. 27 min. 21 min. 25 min. 23 min. 24 min. 24 min.
    (Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Population at

    Vancouver’s rate of transit commuting is pathetic compared to what it NEEDS to be.

    But since 1996 the share of commuting by transit *increased* by 43%, far more than any other Metro area in Canada. (Edmonton ranked second, see 1996 and 2016 rates at The reason is simple: expanding the ‘Skytrain’ system. Toronto and Montreal rail systems were many decades earlier.

    The rate of commuting to work by private car in Vancouver *decreased* 7.9% from 1996 to 2016 (see. p 4 of Vancouver’s car truck or van commuter rate in 2016 was 69.3%, a little higher than Toronto’s 68.0% and a hair lower than Montreal’s 69.9% (see p. 9 of the above).

    The number of Translink revenue passengers is NOT decreasing.

    Annual “journeys” (which is Translink’s equivalent to “revenue passenger”) have not increased as fast as annual “boardings” (the latter does double-count people transferring from one mode to another). However, following a small dip in annual journeys in 2016 compared to 2015, they increased from 232.98 million in 2016 to 246.57 million in 2017, and were higher in Jan, Feb and March 2018 than in the same months in 2017 (see

    I can already hear your claim that these numbers mean nothing because of the U-Pass program. U-Passers pay less than other riders, but the program collects money from all students, whether they use transit or not. It is probably not revenue neutral as officially mandated, but is probably relatively close to being so. All major cities have UPass programs, so forget that point in discussions about comparative ridership. And I don’t know of any major expansion in the U-Pass program in the last couple of years that could account for the recent trend in ridership.

    Transit ridership must dramatically increase, and that means we need more transit, better transit. In 1986 Skytrain may not have been a good choice, and it it may not be the best choice now but the above comparative data shows it is not the DISASTER you make it out to be; it is not THE problem.

    I do agree with you that it is ALSO necessary to adopt measures that directly discourage car use, though I am not sure about the license plate idea. My friend from Mexico City where they did this said that rich people simply bought another car and made sure that one plate had an odd number and the other an even number.

    Subsidizing drivers needs to stop. This is a more accurate way of describing the context of this discussion than saying mobility pricing is a way to tax drivers in order to subsidize transit. But good transit must be available as an alternative to the x-drivers, and rich people should not enjoy privileges unavailable to poor people. Mobility should be a public good just like health care and education are public goods.

    Not worth bandwidth is electric planes (ditto electric cars) carrying one or two people as a green way to solve the commuter problem.

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