How The NDP Paved Paradise and Turned It Into a Parking Lot.

The NDP’s refusal to give Metro Vancouver’s transit planning an independent review has condemned the region to congestion and gridlock for generations. The billions of dollars spent on rapid transit and the future billions of dollars to be spent expanding rapid transit has and will utterly fail to attract the driver from his/her cars.

The continued planning and  building of obsolete light-metro, especially the now called Movia Automatic Light Metro (MALM) system, used on the Expo and Millennium Lines, has condemned the taxpayer to ever increasing ‘transit’ taxes, high fares and onerous user fess.

Breaking News: Mobility or congestion charging is now back on the table to pay for TransLink’s and the Mayor’s Council on Transit’s largess.

The continued use of the now obsolete  light-metro, means that the region has now past the point of no return for transit being effective in moving people and the family chariot becomes essential for urban mobility.

How the hell did we get here?

The Broadway Subway

The Broadway subway to Arbutus, is based on the 1990’s Broadway – Lougheed Rapid Transit Project, which saw a planned LRT line being built from Arbutus in Vancouver, east to the Tri-Cities. At the time, the plan was to use light rail on the Arbutus Corridor, giving a direct Richmond to downtown Vancouver light rail service and having the proposed Broadway light rail connecting would give many advantages to transit customers.

The NDP flip-flopped from LRT to Bombardier’s new proprietary Advanced Rapid Transit (ART) system, which was a rebuild of the older Advanced Light Rail Transit (ALRT) system used on the Expo Line. Bombardier Inc. purchased the Ontario Crown Corporation’s Urban Transit Development Corporation (UTDC) at a fire sale price after Lavalin, which originally bought the UTDC, went bankrupt trying to sell the again renamed Advanced Light Metro (ALM), in Bangkok, Thailand. Lavalin returned the UTDC to the Ontario Government and then amalgamated with SNC, to become SNC Lavalin. The Ontario government quickly sold the remains of the UTDC to Bombardier Inc.

The NDP naively purchased ART and forced it onto the GVRD, when Bombardier promised to build an assembly plant in Burnaby for ART cars, with promises of major international sales and many union jobs.

Union jobs, you say? The NDP were all over that!

To sell a ART light metro to the GVRD, the NDP government promised to sweeten the deal by paying to two thirds the cost of ART only construction West of Commercial Drive. The City of Vancouver passed a by-law banning elevated construction and the only option for the driverless light metro was to place it in a subway. Then GVRD Chair and Vancouver Councilor, George Puil,  was then offered to be Chair of the newly formed TransLink as a further inducement to build with the proprietary ART light-metro.

The international sales for ART did not materialize; the fabrication plant has been abandoned; union jobs gone; but subway planning continued.

Premier Horgan’s chief advisor; big subway booster and former Vision Vancouver Councillor Geoff Meggs, ensured the Broadway subway was made a transit priority. The problem it’s being built on a route with not even close to the ridership numbers that would demand a subway.

Broadway is not the busiest transit route in Canada, rather according to TransLink, it is their most congested route, which sounds more like a management problem than anything else.

The Broadway subway is now an integral part of the NDP’s election strategy and the City of Vancouver’s desire to be seen as world class, yet being part of the Millennium Line will offer no real advantages to transit customers, except making transit more cumbersome to use. The subway, when built will be force fed bus riders from many routes to pretend the subway is carrying high numbers , just as the Canada and Expo Lines do.

The subway will not reduce congestion.

The Fleetwood Extension

As the potential ridership numbers in Surrey did not warrant a “SkyTrain” extension TransLink was forced kicking and screaming to plan for light rail for BC’s second largest city. TransLink did everything in its power to increase costs, delay planning and in the end, designed the Surrey LRT not as a true tram system, rather a “poor man’s” SkyTrain, doomed to fail in the public’s mind.

Then enter the the 2018 civic elections and the former mayor of Surrey running again for mayor, claimed he was some sort of transit guru and ran on a platform of doing a flip flop from LRT to SkyTrain, and he won.

Shades of the Broadway Lougheed!

Building driverless light metro at grade creates the "Berlin Wall" effect.

His claim about building SkyTrain for the same cost of LRT soon turned out to be ‘porkies’, but TransLink, the provincial and federal governments all approved and SkyTrain it was for Surrey, but not to Langley, but just to Fleetwood, a mere 7 km extension.

The funded costs for the Broadway subway and the Fleetwood extension is $4.6 billion and if there is any money left over, an aerial tramway in Burnaby going to Simon Fraser University.

The problem is for the NDP and Metro Vancouver is that SkyTrain is a classic light metro

Light metro was a 1960’s/70’s transit innovation, before the 1980’s light rail renaissance and was an attempt to to build a small metro type system, much cheaper than a heavy rail metro. The main characteristics were elevated construction (about half the cost of subway construction), small trains operating a close intervals, and automatic (driverless) operation.

Light rail could achieve everything a light metro could do at a cheaper cost and more. By the 1990’s, light metro was deemed obsolete and as most light-metro’s were proprietary, such as Vancouver’s ALRT and later rebranded ART, obsolescence has come quickly.

With light metro, came light metro ‘philosophy’, the raison d’etre for building it.

Many academics at UBC and SFU provided one; densification. Rapid Transit (no one in Metro Vancouver calls our light metro system, light metro) is to be built on routes where densification is to be allowed.

Rapid transit was to be a driver for land development, by up-zoning land to build high rise condos and towers.

Rapid transit ceased to become a cost effective and user friendly transportation tool, rather it was built as a harbinger of densification. And with densification, came land speculation, land assembly and land development. Politicians soon jumped on the bandwagon for rapid transit and light-metro because it made their political friends and insiders very happy and very rich.

The transit customer, not so much, as to pretend that rapid transit was successful, bus customers, were forced to transfer to rapid transit and the vast majority, over 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership, first take the bus and that translates into boarding’s as the average transit commuter makes 4 to 6 boarding’s a day!

The Ghost of Transit Costs to Come

What has been ignored by TransLink, the SkyTrain Booster Club, politicians and academics is that rapid transit comes at a cost.


– $4.6 billion for 12.8 km of R/T Line


– $1.6 billion+ To complete the Expo Line to Langley.
– Up to $3 billion to rehab the aging Expo Line (needed before the Langley extension is completed).
– $1 billion+ – New SkyTrain cars to replace the aging MK.1 stock.

Wish List:

– $4 billion+ – Completion of the Broadway subway to UBC
– $5 billion+ – Sending R/T to the North Shore.
– $2 billion+ – Rehab of the Canada Line to increase capacity beyond its current limit of around 9,000 pphpd.

Honourable Mention:

$70 million+ in extra annual operating costs for the funded subway to Arbutus and Fleetwood extension.

Pandora’s Box of Costs:

The 50 year rehab, finance, operational and capital costs of the SkyTrain light-metro system.

The 50 year costs for SkyTrain are never mentioned and for good reason, they are huge.

The NDP, by supporting further light-metro construction has condemned the region to a very small and very expensive light metro system, ill designed for suburban use.

The small network will mean that it will not be a competitive option for car drivers, nor will it be user friendly. The small light metro cars will be expensive to maintain, uncomfortable for longer journey’s  and definitely not user friendly;  and that is to be expected because rapid transit has been designed to meet the needs of politicians and their political friends and not for the transit customer.

The result of the NDP’s transit hubris will be more cars on the road, more congestion and more gridlock at classic choke points, such as bridges. More car use will bring demands of more roads and highways, only creating more gridlock and the vicious circle will continue because at a minimum cost of $200 million per km to build, the taxpayer will only be able to afford a short light-metro line every decade.

Rail for the Valley offered a decade ago a viable transportation solution for the Fraser Valley, to reinstate the Vancouver to Chilliwack interurban service, using modern vehicles such as TramTrain or  light diesel multiple units. The cost in 2020, around $1.5 billion for over 135 km of route mileage, connecting Vancouver to north Delta, Cloverdale, Langley, Abbotsford, Sardis and Chilliwack, and also connecting the many post secondary institutions and business parks along the route.

For less than the cost of the Expo line extension to Fleetwood, we could have had a much longer passenger line, connecting to many destinations; a transit service that would attract more new ridership than a 7 km SkyTrain extension or a 5.8 km subway under Broadway.

Sadly, for the NDP, just like the BC Liberals, rapid transit is being built to meet their political needs and not the transit customer needs and by doing so, ensuring that the auto is the prime transportation mode in the region.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
The NDP have paved paradise

And turned it into a parking lot.



2 Responses to “How The NDP Paved Paradise and Turned It Into a Parking Lot.”
  1. Nathan Davidowicz says:

    More information is needed to tell the readers how far are we in Metro Vancouver compare to Montreal/Toronto.
    We only have about half the ridership per capita ( 100 vs 200). Extending SkyTrain to Langley will continue the urban sprawl that we had over the last 40 yrs Proper. Rail systems are the answers. Maybe some smart engineer will confirm all the figures on SkyTrain and then the provincial government will change to the Community Rail proposal.

  2. Adam fitch says:

    Doug mccallum said that they could run skytrain on the ground to langley, and then it will be cheaper. Not gonna happen. Too many coflicts. But if it does, we wkll have to rename it trench-train, or wall-trai or fence-train.

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