Listen To The Experts

When Patrick Condon, BSc, MLA,  Professor Chair, Urban Design Faculty of Applied Science School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture says a new transit vision is needed in metro Vancouver, we should listen.

We should have listened to the experts in the 1980’s when the then social Credit government forced ALRT onto the regions regional transit planning.


We should have listened again to American Transit Expert, Gerald Fox in 2008.

The Evergreen Line Report made me curious as to how TransLink could justify continuing to expand SkyTrain, when the rest of the world is building LRT. So I went back and read the alleged Business Case (BC) report in a little more detail. I found several instances where the analysis had made assumptions that were inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. If the underlying assumptions are inaccurate, the conclusions may be so too.

We should have listened to the 62% of those voting against TransLink’s transit plans in the 2015 plebiscite.

$11 billion needed to build a mere 21.7 km of SkyTrain light metro should be setting off major alarm bells in Metro Vancouver and Victoria, but those alarm bells have stayed quiet.

An UK Transit expert, who was in Vancouver, wrote a guest post for the RFTV blog, The Emperor has no Clothes and no Transit, is worth reading again.

You don’t meet people of substance here. You meet flakes. The press is dominated by yellow journalism. Rarely if ever have I read a real piece of investigative journalism. You do not meet people who form their opinions based upon facts. When you encounter Vancouverites and engage them in the discussion of social issues the argument usually become circular and they end of talking only about themselves. There is a kind of deep insecurity that comes from profound feeling of self loathing that is hard wired into the political culture here. Narcissism is the dominate religion and worshiping at the Temple of Mammon; real estate speculation is the Holy Grail.

We must listen to the experts today, as the alternative is more highways, more cars, more gridlock and more pollution.


Hundreds of thousands of trips are taken on Metro Vancouver’s buses and trains every day, but are enough commuters able to get to where they really need to go?

After the civic elections, TransLink is getting a new Mayors’ Council this fall and one expert believes the transit authority and its leaders need to start steering transit development toward change.

“I’ve long argued it’s well past time to do that because our transit model is not suited for the way the region is growing,” Patrick Condon with the Urban Design Program at the University of British Columbia said. “Most of the job growth is not in downtown Vancouver, it’s throughout the region, and it’s very dispersed in many, many locations.”

Condon says the current hub-and-spoke model presumes that all the jobs are downtown and all the workers live in the suburbs, but it’s no longer the case that all roads lead to Vancouver.

“We committed to the SkyTrain system in the 1980s and we seem very reluctant to move away from it into a system that’s much more affordable and much more capable of serving a distributed region with a distributed system of transit,” he told CityNews.

He says surface light rail and express buses are much more affordable ways to move people than using an elevated or underground SkyTrain system, particularly the “fantastically expensive” Broadway subway line currently under construction in Vancouver.

“The problem [with the SkyTrain] is, because of its nature, it can never serve, within reasonable distance, everybody in the region. It’s impossible to serve everybody with such an expensive system. There are much more affordable systems that can reach closer to people’s homes and can bring them to where they want to go if it’s not downtown Vancouver.”

Condon points to the “political brouhaha” in Surrey as an example.

“When Doug McCallum regained the mayoral seat four years ago, he immediately switched away from a completely funded light rail system that was going to serve Guildford, downtown Surrey and Newton, preferring to extend SkyTrain out to Langley without the funding. And they still don’t have the money to go out to Langley. It’s a terrible situation”

Condon argues the at-grade, light rapid transit plan would have served a denser population area, it was cheaper to build and it was fully funded.

“Now you have a situation, which I don’t think was fully recognized during the last election, where most of the job and housing growth are occurring south of the Fraser [River]. The City of Vancouver has a population growth of less than one per cent over the past couple of years whereas, when you get south of the Fraser, it ranges from about 1.8 per cent in Surrey to over three per cent in Langley.”

The good news, according to Condon, is that the growing Lower Mainland is arranged along a corridor.

“It would be relatively easy to service this constellation of linear communities, from Surrey to Langley to Abbotsford to Chilliwack, with a reasonably inexpensive system that just connects the dots.”

That’s if we consider the region as a whole, beyond the Metro Vancouver area served by TransLink, he notes.

“We don’t really think about [the region past Langley] as part of our metropolitan area but it most certainly is and that’s where the growth is happening. And to extend a super expensive subway out to UBC on the premise we are going to add another couple hundred thousand people to Vancouver really defies the gravitational pull of where growth is going.”

The inaugural meeting of the next TransLink Mayor’s Council on regional Transportation is November 17th.


4 Responses to “Listen To The Experts”
  1. Haveacow says:

    Everything has its limits, especially geographic limits. The planned Skytrain line that is 30+km long running from North Vancouver to somewhere near the Fraser River or going from Langley to downtown Vancouver by Skytrain, taking in over 25 stops and more than 1 hour is my point? When a medium capacity rapid transit line travels too far, the operating costs will out do any of its actual benefits, just out the need for the expensive maintenance of the 4th rail and right of way itself. Not to mention the other very costly maintenance of the power and communications equipment along the line versus the actual number of passengers per day that will use that section of Skytrain.

    The same can also be true for surface LRT and BRT lines, that are too long. Metrolinx has a planned an enormously long system of BRT rights of way around the outer boundary of the City of Toronto. The existing Mississauga Transitway (high capacity busway) is part of that orbital BRT route. The province of Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe Transportation Plan refers to it as, “The East-West Cross Regional BRT Connection (Burlington-Pearson-Locust Hill-Oshawa)”. This 70+ km long route is an interesting idea but in real actual operations, not that useful. In that, most of its end to end length will never be used by most passengers.

    Taking a very fast bus east, from Burlington or western Mississauga to downtown Mississauga, the western portions of Toronto or Pearson Airport, sure that’s very useful. Or going west, from Markham (in York Region) to say Brampton, York University or Pearson Airport, yes that is already a well used route. However, traveling west from anywhere in Oshawa via Locust Hill through to anywhere west of Woodbine Avenue in York Region (say someplace in the central areas of the City of Markham) by bus is pointless. A shorter BRT connection to the planed GO RER Network inside Oshawa, could do the same trip and be considerably faster.

    Not to mention, who’s bus would you use to travel the length of this BRT line. The Greater Golden Horseshoe Region (officially with a population of 10,000,000 as of mid 2019) contains 2 dozen transit agencies as well as the Regional Transit Network of GO Transit. This BRT route goes through the operating territory (moving east to west) of Durham Region Transit, York Region Transit, Brampton Transit, My Way (Mississauga Transit), Oakville Transit, Burlington Transit and of course, GO Transit’s regional commuter bus service.

    There is no hope of a single transit service across the region because of the different yearly tax rates that each service charges. Most of the routes in the TTC network are at or near European levels service, which Torontonians expect but local politicians just across the northern and eastern boarder in York and Durham Regions would be skinned alive for by their individual taxpayers, if they had to pay even 2/3 of Toronto’s transit surcharge on their tax bill. This enormous region is still trying to work out a consistent and fair, region wide transit fare structure to simplify cross border trips and even that is proving to be difficult.

  2. A new Transit Vision is Needed!

    Could not agree more.

    — Skytrain serves an area of less than 100 square miles, or just 1/10th of the regional district.

    — Inside that ‘Skytrain Core’ we have shoehorned half of the population in the region.

    — How about the other regions? Squamish-Lillooet-Whistler and the Fraser Valley? Nothing.

    Because… Skytrain is too expensive to get there! (As pointed out by Haveacow above).

    So, rather than develop our regions, we keep stacking people on top of one another in the Skytrain Core. In an area just 1/10th the size of the region. And much much smaller when we take the two adjoining regions into account.


    — The Broadway tunnel is estimated to carry 7,500 pphpd.

    — Currently the line from Coquitlam to Commercial only carries half that number.

    The doubling in passenger use is predicated on people staying on the Broadway|Millennium|Evergreen (BME) line to transfer to the already at full capacity Canada Line to go to Vancouver or to the Airport.

    That will breathe a little room into the already at full capacity Expo line.

    — The surface system that were demonstrated in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics are now operating in Kitchener and Waterloo, with a full potential of 40,000 pphpd.

    That’s in Ontario, where the only other Skytrian in Canada will be shutting down next year.

    —Also next year, a 2010-style Bombardier surface system will start operating in Edmonton. At full capacity, that system will deliver 44,000 pphpd.

    —That’s the same capacity as the Toronto subway.

    Imagine that! After we spend a few more billions on Skytrain its full capacity will improve to 22,000 pphpd. Half the Edmonton system. But only after a LOT of retrofitting, adding power packs, and rebuilding stations.

    —The Canada Line will never achieve that. It will continue to operate around 11,000 pphpd.

    So, better to keep the Skytrain where as is. Stop building the Broadway subway! Stop upgrading Skytrain! Skytrain can remain a people mover in the 100 square mile Skytrain Core. Any additional capacity can be added via the new surface lines.

    Better to start investing on the surface solution, instead of curing more money down the drain building Skytrain; upgrading Skytrain; making excuses for Skytrain.


    — The Kitchener-Waterloo system cost 48 million per km, all in. That was the final price, cost overruns included.

    —Skytrain in Vancouver? It is estimated at 600 million per km… but we won’t really know until it is up and running. Since cost overruns are usually part and parcel of these kinds of very expensive transit projects.

    THAT’S 12.5-times more cost.

    Yes. We HAVE been sold a bill of goods. And the facts that have been cooked to paint a rosy Skytrain picture? They simply does not exist. The Kitchener-Waterloo lines now are PROOF.


    12.5 times more service!

    We own the right-of-way for the Old Interurban from Vancouver all the way to Chilliwack (from Marpole to the New Westminster Rail Bridge, where the corridor is owned at least in part by CP, we can operate surface tram on Marine Drive/Marine Way, where there is ample space).

    Vancouver-Chilliwack line—from Granville Island—is 128 km long. So, using the Ontario numbers we get:

    — 128x 48 million = 6,144 or $6.1 billion.

    Cost of the 12 km tunnel from VCC to UBC?

    — 12 km x 600 million = 7,200 or $7.2 billion.

    You just can’t make this stuff up…. $1.1 billion more to run Skytrain to UBC, than to operate surface LRT all the way to Chilliwack.

    One route is 12 km long and lined with towers. The other is 128 km long lined with guaranteed affordable houses. Get the difference?

    That sound you just heard was the housing crisis imploding. Are people ready to take a ‘hair cut’ on the value of their home, so that their children and grandchildren will be able to afford to buy a house here? The ones I have spoke to say: Yes. That is what I hear over and over again. Along with complaints about ‘a sense of crowding’ in Vancouver.

    How do the speculators feel? Very much opposed.


    What will be the cost of operating a surface LRT from Granville Island to UBC riding on the historical 4th Avenue alignment?

    —9.4 km x 48 million = 450 million or $0.45 billion.

    So, of the 1.1 billion saved by operating modern LRT to Chilliwack instead of horrendously expensive, and capacity hamstrung, Skytrain to UBC… only 0.45 billion is required to get us to UBC on LRT along 4th Avenue.

    $450 million is ¾ the cost of the first km of Broadway tunnel. So, I repeat: STOP building the Broadway tunnel immediately!

    BTW— the modern LRT is ALSO cheaper to operate than the Skytrain (about 3 times cheaper), including paying driver’s salaries.


    Of course, the discussion here tends to be all about transit. Fact is the surface LRT supports human-scale development, built from renewable value-added forestry products. By comparison the steel, concrete and glass towers are in fact energy hogs.

    Consider this advantage to boosting walkability in our neighborhoods: Baked into the price of surface rail is building 2-times more stops.

    Because the surface LRT stops on the sidewalk and requires nothing more than a pole with ‘Next Service’ readouts, stops (rather than stations) are cheap to build. For weather protection, we can just add shelters, or take advantage of fronting arcades. In Edmonton, stops are enclosed and heated in winter. In our climate, that is overkill.

    Skytrian on the other hand builds towers. It is difficult to find any other logical explanation why we are building the Skytrain than the tower plans approved for both Broadway and for Fleetwood in Surrey over the summer.

    Both plans were passed by their respective Councils last summer, in a hurry, before the election. Langley has yet to spend on a tower plan, probably since the system is not funded, and the smaller municipality will just ‘wait and see’.

    It is this kind of criticism that we read here will, that I believe, will win a consensus majority over the next four years.

    The Days of the Skytrain are Over. If only for this ONE reason: stop adding fuel to the Housing Crisis by building the Wrong Type of Supply (towers)!

  3. There is a kind of ‘Part Two’ to this narrative: “The Days of the Skytrain are over—If we want to end the Housing Crisis, that is.”

    First, let’s review the narrative to this point:

    1. Skytrain is too expensive to get us where we need to go—the regions adjacent to the GVRD (Metro) are ‘A Bridge Too Far’ for the Skytrain to reach (Fraser Valley; Squamish-Lillooet-Whistler). In fact, so is the regional periphery (the North Shore, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Township of Langley, Newton, Cloverdale, White Rock, Lions Bay and Bowen Island).

    2. Why do we need to go there? In order to build ‘Guaranteed Affordable Housing in Perpetuity’ (GAHP). The Housing Crisis will NOT end until such time as we deliver product guaranteed to sell below a price|income ratio of 30% of median household income in the regions (forever!).

    3. The Olympic Tram (now operating in Kitchener and Waterloo, and opening soon in Edmonton in 2023 as the Valley Line) costs 48 million per km to build (final costs, for Kitchener-Waterloo). The system delivers 44,000 pphpd at maximum capacity (Edmonton). 44,000 is the equivalent LOS of the Toronto subway! (At a fraction of the cost).

    4. Skytrain in Vancouver costs 600 million per km, and will deliver 7,500 pphpd in the Broadway tunnel.

    5. Numbers 3 & 4 present the key error or miscalculation.

    Our regional planning is perpetrating a cost|capacity inversion that must stop. Vancouver Skytrain is 12.5 times more expensive, and delivers 2-times less capacity than modern tram (the Olympic Line, Ion Line, Edmonton Valley Line).

    6. We are also building rapid transit for the wrong reasons.

    7. We build the Skytrian to service urban cores that have been already built up.

    Land values skyrocket when we zone for towers. And then, we are only servicing those cores that are inside the 100 square mile footprint of the Skytrain Core—the system is too expensive to reach beyond that limit.

    8. Whereas we should be building rapid transit to hardwire the regional core to GAHP houses, building in quantities sufficient to meet or exceed demand.

    Instead, we are building Skytrain-and-Towers. The reason why we need to change the urban paradigm suddenly becomes crystal clear: The new paradigm is the very definition of the “End of the Housing Crisis”. The crisis will end only when there is sufficient product available to meet or exceed demand below the 30% threshold of the cost|income ratio.

    This, in fact, what we are contemplating is a New Urban Paradigm: modern tram and human scale urbanism—guaranteed affordable in perpetuity.

    This is not just a local or inter-regional goal—it is a national imperative. Toronto, Montreal, and soon Calgary, will benefit greatly from the same approach. I happen to believe that a Bedford Line, linking Halifax-Dartmouth around the Bedford Basin, will achieve the same results (30 km). This time proactively, cutting off at the pass the threat of House Price Inflation in yet another Canadian metropolitan region.

    Now, it is mostly transit wonks and engineers that read this blog… and I’ve enjoyed working with each and everyone of you, or people just like you, every time I’ve been given the opportunity. But let’s face facts…

    Part Two of this argument—spelling out the New Urban Paradigm—falls on our shoulders. The BEST reason to build expensive transportation systems is to access crown land for delivering ‘Guaranteed Affordable Housing in Perpetuity’ (GAHP—the jeans, but spelled with an ‘H’).

    Let’s keep it simple…

    (9) Conceptually, GAHP is the Co-Op housing like what we built in the GVRD, and elsewhere in Canada, up until the 1980s.

    The key difference is that we can apply the GAHP contract to individual properties. We don’t have to think in terms of Co-op housing as multi-family sites. We can deliver: houses, row houses, courtyard houses, walk-ups, and some six-storey wood frame as GAHP products.

    GAHP is NOT the CMHC housing projects that were built in the 1960s in Strathcona, and in Montreal (Rue Emery & Rue Sanguinet). Housing the homeless is a GAHP+ program, that delivers ‘housing with supports’. In EVERY community, not just in the DTES.

    However, CMHC, or a local, regional, or provincial housing authority, can play a key role. Housing authorities are one way of delivering GAHP tramtowns, in the urban periphery, and GAHP neighborhood infill within a 12-minute walking radius of tramstops, in the urban cores.

    (10) Canada is the largest democracy in the world, by land mass. So it’s not like we will be running out of land any time soon. What we have run out of is ‘imagination’.

    To be sure, the Condo Tower Kings will be salivating at the opportunity to build Tram-and-Towers.

    We should have learned our lesson by now to restrict tower construction from sprawling to each and every neighborhood (good examples of restricting towers to ‘tower zones’ are: La Defence in Paris, or the downtown peninsula in Vancouver).

    Towers belong in the downtown tower zone and nowhere else in Vancouver. As we move into the New Urban Paradigm, municipalities will need to be given incentives (cash) to keep them from falling prey to the promise of ‘Councils Flush with Cash’ whispered in the ears of elected officials by the Condo Kings. Or we can legislate tower zones.

    Part II of this narrative invites us to ‘imagine’ a New Urban Paradigm—using modern tram to deliver guaranteed-affordable-housing-in-perpetuity (GAHP) in crown land, and government owned parcels in our cities (there are still a number of them around, an inventory is needed). We can build GAHP in quantities sufficient to meet or exceed demand, thus finally putting an end—once and for all—to the Housing Crisis.

    Can’t be done? I think we know better. Need more housing? Build more modern tram… by extending the network. You know what I mean. How can this be possible?

    Because, as we are seeing in Kitchener and Waterloo, and soon in Edmonton, the technology—all in— is 12.5-times cheaper than Vancovuer Skytrain.

    That means we can go 12.5 times further for the same transit buck. Instead of 12 km to UBC, we go 150 km to Chilliwack (the extra 22 km can get us to the North Shore; Rosedale, east of Chilliwack; Stanley Park; etc.).

    Yes, reaching the North Shore will involve extending the Canada Line tunnel as a hybrid Skytrain-Tram tunnel. However, that will be the gateway to serve Squamish-Lillooet-Whistler. And the chief reason why a 2030 Whistler Olympics is a ‘must’, regardless of recent declarations by provincial officials. They really do NOT know what they are talking about… Just look at the Housing Crisis they can’t find a way to end once and for all.

    Because the technology will carry 2-times more passengers than Skytrian, we can avoid the next round of prohibitively expensive upgrades altogether. That treasure can be put to better transit uses.

    Keep in mind that Edmonton numbers are coming in higher than K|W. We need to await final costs (I’m thinking the cost of heated stations will figure in the mix). Edmonton uses a slightly different train set than Kitchener|Waterloo. Thus, Edmonton has a maximum capacity of 44,000, while Kitchener-Waterloo tops out at 40,000 pphpd according to Bombardier’s website.

    The New Urban Paradigm keeps the Skytrain operating as a very fancy & expensive people mover in the regional or ‘Skytrain Core’, then supplements the hamstrung capacity with a regional transit system operating modern tram. Over time, the Skytrain converts to modern tram.

    The human scale infill around the urban tramstops, and human scale tramtowns in the regional periphery, can be built in a manner that is sustainable—in balance with nature.

    So we are not giving up one thing (sensible and sustainable urbanism) to get another (overpriced tower products ginning up the property markets since the 1980s).

    The New Urban Paradigm is exactly what every Canadian wants: building sustainable, human-scaled neighborhoods and tramtowns (below 4 storeys in height), made with renewable, local, value-added forestry products, selling at a guaranteed price|income ratio everyone can afford (pegged below 30% of median household incomes, or the federal limit for affordability).

    Transit folks have a key role to play: building a modern tram network to supplement the highway system once a known or quantifiable level of urbanization has been reached.

    There is really no other future for Canadian urbanism.

  4. legoman0320 says:

    Kitchener-Waterloo lines on time performance 70% Headways 10 min (max 4 min} Train Length 70 M? Annual Cost ‘operations’ $ IDK

    Skytrain on time performance 95% Headways 2 min (max 90 Sec} 68.1 m (MK 3) Annual Cost ‘operations’ $422,057,000 (Skytrain and WCX)

    TTC lines 1 on time performance 90% Headways 5 min (max 4 min} Train Length 139.14 M Annual Cost ‘operations’ $4,068,663,000 (line 1-4)

    Zwei Replies: A rather apples to oranges comparison I am afraid.

    ION (your Kitchener-Waterloo lines) is a classic light rail line, which includes “gauntlet running” with a mainline railway, while what we call SkyTrain is a light-metro. The total cost for the 19 km Phase 1 line was $868 million. Annual operating costs, according to MetroLinx is $20 million annually. By comparison, the annual operating costs of the 21.7 km extensions to the Millennium and Expo Lines is almost $80 million annually, according to TransLink. As well the cost of the total 21.7 km extensions will cost somewhere around $11 billion when all is completed.

    Headways are a “man of straw argument” and are largely determined by the number of customers using the system.

    The rest of your numbers are nothing more than ill researched gobbledy-goop, as you are referring to heavy-rail subways (I think) and not LRT.

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