Something In The Air

Something is in the air.

Could it be that the sickening stench of the Broadway Subway or BS Line deal has reached the lofty halls of Postmedia?

For decades, the Vancouver Sun and to a smaller extent, the Vancouver Province, refused to print negative stories about SkyTrain or do any investigative journalism about SkyTrain. This, in part has created a very powerful tool for the SkyTrain Lobby, where their repeated lies and innuendo has poisoned any chance of credible transit debate in the region.

That the Vancouver Sun is allowing questioning of the BS Line is nothing short of remarkable and it makes me wonder if the senior editors are aware of a distinct change in the air with transit in Metro Vancouver and in BC.

One wonders with only seven such proprietary light metros built since the late 1970’s (with 7 name changes) and with Bombardier Inc. all but abandoning manufacture or marketing of the proprietary ART Movia metro cars, may have something to do with it?

Has Postmedia sensed that the end is near for the proprietary ART Movia metro?

Elizabeth Murphy: Better, cheaper options than SkyTrain to UBC should be considered

Elizabeth Murphy
Updated: March 24, 2019

The recent McElhanney Consulting draft report used to justify a Broadway subway extension of the SkyTrain Millennium Line to UBC raises many questions regarding SNC-Lavalin involvement, assumptions, costs, ridership, mode shift and development. As a draft that has yet to be signed off by the engineers who wrote it, there are elements that look like it has been adjusted into a public relations document to favour a subway. This report is an update of the 2012 report prepared by SNC-Lavalin and Steer Davies Gleave.

However, on Jan. 30, 2019, before the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal broke in February, Vancouver council was rushed into endorsing SkyTrain technology for a subway extension to the University of B.C. based on the theory that with the federal budget fast approaching in an election year it was critical to move ahead immediately. Same with the TransLink Mayors’ Council.

But now we know there is not likely new federal funding in the 2019 budget for the project, so the rush was unwarranted.

SkyTrain is what TransLink calls the Vancouver regional rail system. It is made up of two types of technology: the Canada Line, which is conventional, and the Expo and Millennium Lines, which are unconventional.

The unconventional Millennium Line technology would apply to the proposed extension to UBC, of which SNC-Lavalin (track and electrics) and Bombardier (cars) partnered to build the SkyTrain Millennium Line and continue to still produce and maintain the systems now in use.

SNC-Lavalin, with Bombardier cars, would therefore likely have significant advantage over other bidders for any extension of the Millennium Line, and it puts into question the ability to get meaningfully competitive bids. In the Canada Line-Cambie merchant court case, then-B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield called the bidding process where SNC-Lavalin won the contract a “charade.”

The current draft report makes assumptions that greatly limit the options, the largest of which is a subway from Vancouver Community College to Arbutus Street. This requires a handicap time penalty for transfer at Arbutus.

The reported cost estimates are also questionable. They use the same 40- to 60-per-cent contingency for both subway and LRT, even though subway has way more risks with underground conditions, water and services that require diversion.

For comparing the subway to surface light rail, rather than comparing actual costs of similar systems, the report refers to the cost estimates in the TransLink and Ministry of Transportation news releases.

While most LRT projects are delivered for $50 million to $100 million per kilometre — like the recently approve LRT in Ottawa — the report uses $240 million to $282 million per kilometre, creating a further handicap against LRT.

Although the bus system upgrades provide the greatest cost savings, the bus option costs are not provided at all as part of the comparison.

The minor costs to electrify the bus system to eliminate diesel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by expanding the trolley network to the B-Line or for expanded service would only be about $1 million per kilometre, plus $1 million for each additional articulated double trolley bus. Since the distance from VCC to UBC is about 13 kilometres, it would be a minimal cost to upgrade the whole length of the corridor to electric trolley with doubled lines for bypass of the B-Line plus new articulated double trolley buses.

The current bus system throughout the corridor is far from maximized. Nor is it the busiest bus route in North America, as claimed. There are many more active areas such as in Ottawa and Mississauga, and many larger cities in the U.S.

There is a list of bus optimizations in the report, but the option that has the most promise is only mentioned once, without a bullet. It is to add an express bus that goes from the subway terminus to UBC.

If there was an electric express bus from VCC to UBC, it could take all UBC-bound ridership from the Millennium Line off of Broadway altogether, including the recent increase from the Evergreen Line. A new express route could further avoid congestion from VCC, along Second and Fourth avenues to Burrard Street and along 16th Avenue out to UBC.

The existing No. 84 bus on Fourth Avenue could also be electrified with trolleys with double articulated buses to increase capacity like a proper B-Line rather than the current single buses. Also, the current headway could be reduced from peak hour of six minutes apart to three minutes like the No. 99 B-Line on Broadway.

When comparing the current ridership between corridors, the report assumes incorrectly that all ridership going along corridors for Fourth, Broadway, 16th and 41st avenues would all be diverted to a Broadway subway.

In fact, each corridor is also serving local needs, including even some bus routes on Broadway that have many more stops between the few on the subway or B-Line. This local service will be reduced or eliminated with a subway, like what happened on Cambie Street.

However, would people who live close to 41st Avenue go all the way to Broadway to catch a subway rather than use a 41st Avenue B-Line? Assuming all this ridership would go to a Broadway subway is not accurate.

The McElhanney report identifies that multiple lines of rapid transit had better mode shift from automobile to transit usage. They said that if two LRT lines were provided (such as the addition from UBC along 41st Avenue to Joyce Station) it would have better mode shift and peak hour capacity than one subway.

But because the subway is assumed in all options from VCC to Arbutus, the longer double LRT line option was unfairly dismissed based on the artificially inflated cost estimates assumed for LRT plus the first phase of an assumed subway. But a continuous LRT from VCC to UBC that would cost substantially less, was not an option considered.

Vancouver was designed before the common use of the automobile as a streetcar city. Everywhere is within a 10-minute walk of an arterial for transit. The original streetcar system was replaced with a trolley bus system that is still in use. For a minor investment, the trolley bus system could be expanded and upgraded to multiple routes, including multiple corridors to UBC with some LRT.

This would be the most cost-effective way to broaden the most mode shift and serve the most people. It could be achieved for under $1 billion, while leaving most of the $7-billion subway funding to invest in affordable housing, including student housing at UBC.

Transit should be about affordably transporting people rather than adding expensive SkyTrain infrastructure for delivering luxury condo development for foreign capital. We do not have to repeat the mistakes of the Cambie Corridor and Oakridge. Each neighbourhood can provide more housing choice and affordable options while maintaining character and scale through neighbourhood-based planning.

Elizabeth Murphy is a private-sector project manager and former property development officer for the City of Vancouver and B.C. Housing.




4 Responses to “Something In The Air”
  1. Christy says:

    The broadway extension is the smart line. This is because it will allow you to take one train from Coquitlam to UBC or two trains from Langley or Richmond with a quick transfer on broadway. It is smart because It will be fast. A train from coquitlam to UBC will be under 1 hour. It will be eliminate bus traffic from broadway. It will eliminate pollution from frequent diesel busses. That is smart.

    Zwei replies: At a $3.5 billion cost there are much cleaner and more cost effective ways to move people. subways just do not attract customers as they are deemed user unfriendly. The subway is being built for one reason and one reason only, property development.

  2. Christy says:


    The actual cost is closer to $2.8 billion. Where is the extra $700 million coming from?

    Subways do move people. It looks like you never been to London, Hong Kong, or Tokyo. These cities keep building new subway and people keep using them.

    In London, the new Elizabeth line, total cost $20 billion opens which makes Vancouver’s millenium line look cheap.

    Subways help a city grow. London started building it’s subway when its population was the same as Vancouver is today. Today, London has 9 million and 15 subways. Vancouver has 3 million and 3 subways.

    Extending the Millenium line to UBC is cheap compared to other cities. LRT or a tram train is lame.

    Zwei replies: I did not say subways could not move a lot of people, but on Broadway, there is very little people to be moved, compared to other subway routs. The Canadian/North American standard for building a subway, is a transit route having customer flows in excess of 15,000 pphpd. Peak hour customer flows on Broadway are less than 4,000 pphpd.

    You also make very bad comparisons.

    London’s population when the first “tube” was built was over 5 million (9 million in the metropolitan area). Today, Vancouver’s population is just over 631,500 (Metro Vancouver is over 2.4 million). London’s population of over 5 million in 1900 is more than BC’s population is today!

    Your analogy fails.

    The Elizabeth line is over 117km long, according to Transport for London, while the Millennium Line (including the Evergreen extension) is 25.5 km long.

    The Elizabeth line cost (your quote $20 billion); includes 21 km of subway tunnel, also includes the fact that trains have a capacity of around 30,000 pphpd.

    The cost of the 25.5 km Millennium Line (including Evergreen Extension) no subway construction, is around $3.5 billion (without cars), but has a limited capacity of 15,000 pphpd.

    Add the 5.7km, $3.5 billion BS line, the M Line will will cost $7 billion for 26 km of transit line. Thus comparing the millennium line to the Elizabeth Line, means the M Line would cost more to build, with much less capacity.

    Again, your analogy fails.

  3. zweisystem says:

    Just to let everyone one know, Christy is a troll as her email is ******* The person is not a member of rail for the valley and uses this email address for nefarious reasons.

  4. Haveacow says:


    Broadway’s peak hour traffic of 4500 passengers /hour/direction is relatively low and can be easily handled by both surface BRT and LRT systems. The Daily passenger count for the Broadway Corridor is about 81,000 per business day(2017), again easily handled by surface BRT and LRT systems. Car drivers would just have to deal with the loss of traffic lanes. We have been giving cars and trucks 95% + of the total surface road system since the end of WW2, it just doesn’t work. Sorry car drivers big changes are about to happen in our cities, we simply can’t afford to cater to you anymore, environmentally or financially.

    Translink has been stating the expected passenger numbers on the opening day of the VCC to Arbutus section of the Broadway Millennium Line subway extension in 2025 or 2026 (140,000) as fact instead of being what they are, estimates only. Translink’s expectations are that a vast majority of the traveling public are going to abandon parallel transit corridors on 4th, 16th, 41st avenues as well as Marine Drive. Historically in these situations, the drop in transit customers on parallel streets to a subway is around 35%-45%. Both Montreal and Toronto have examples of this. Translink is expecting to draw away as much as 2/3 or more of surrounding transit corridors.

    Keep in mind, over half of that 81,000 passengers a day don’t go pass Arbutus. Only 30,000 a day cross the boundary line onto the UBC Campus from Broadway Corridor. It’s a lot of people for a few surface bus lines but spending over $4 Billion on a subway extension that right now will only services 30,000 passengers a day is a highly questionable action considering the masive cost of building your subway ($500+ Million per km) and the high cost of operating a section of subway.

    Ottawa’s Stage 1 Confederation LRT Line will be moving 200,000-230,000 passengers a day, on its opening day (expected to be June or July of 2019), and even with that, there are still many people (including real experts) who openly question the need for our relatively tiny 2.5 km downtown LRT Tunnel and it’s 3 stations. Stations that are by the way 50 % longer than your longest Skytrain station.

    To give yiu a little local perspective here, our local politicians here were very upset to find out, the city of Gatineau’s transit system, the STO, will still have 110-120 buses per hour entering the city (about 5200 passengers/hour/direction), even after the new LRT opens. They will move from our second busiest bus corridor, the present Wellington-Rideau Street Corridor(about 150 combined Ottawa and Gatineau buses/hour/direction) to be Split into a east downtown Ottawa bus loop centering on the new Lyon Street Subway Station, along with many surface OC Transpo routes (Ottawa’s transit service) for a combined 100-105 buses per hour at Lyon and Queen Street.

    The other half of Gatineau’s STO buses will be using the Albert and Slater Streets Corridor (the former Transitway Corridor our busiest bus corridor which we are mostly abandoning). So 185-200 OC Transpo buses/hour/direction (10700 passengers/hour/direction) will be replaced with about 65 STO buses and about 12 OC Transpo buses/hour/direction, which will centre around the new Rideau Street LRT Subway Station/Mackenzie King Bridge Bus Station and the Rideau Centre Mall in the middle.

    Broadway runs about 42 buses/hour/direction at peak, and you guys think you have the busiest bus corridor in North America! Broadway is just not that busy!

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