Transit Is About Moving People -From 2011

From ten years ago.

This post is pertinent today with the $4.6 billion, 12.8 km extensions to the Expo and Millennium Lines.

One of great criticisms of old Zwei back in the day, was the claim that the Evergreen line was the unbuilt portion of the Millennium Line, which was piggybacked on the previous light rail plans for the Broadway/Lougheed Rapid Transit project. As the ART Millennium line was far more expensive to build than LRT, the project was divided into parts, with the Evergreen Line being the second part of the project.

Every jeer and barb made, basically pointed to the fact that the Evergreen Line was an independent transit line and anything else was, to put politely, talking through one’s hat.


Well today, there is no Evergreen Line, just the Millennium Line, which caters to traffic flows that only justifies a married pair of Mk.2 trains.

It is now very apparent that TransLink’s $4.6 billion extensions to the Expo and Millennium lines, including the 5.8 km Broadway subway, light-metro again, is being built to act as a driver for increased density, which in the end not provide the ridership to justify the expense.

The huge increased density, in the form of high rise condos, built around the Millennium Line in the past ten years, has not translated into transit ridership. The 2-car trains used on the Millennium Line certainly indicates light ridership and I am afraid the same will be true of the Broadway subway and the Fleetwood extension.

Just sayin.

Interesting news item, from all places, the SkyTrain friendly CKNW radio station.



Just as the mayors vote today on funding for the Evergreen Line, a report by the transportation commissioner says TransLink’s ridership predictions may just be wishful thinking.

The Province newspaper reports commissioner Martin Crilly wrote last week that the growth predictions for ridership on the proposed Evergreen Line appear somewhat optimistic, and may not be based on logic.

His skepticism stems from the Evergreen Line being built in the relatively low-density Tri-Cities area.

The problem I have with Mr. Crilly is that he is stuck in the density trap and seems to be of the school that massive densification is needed to justify “rapid transit“, while forgetting the fact that modern LRT being much cheaper to build, would require much less of his cherished density to operate economically.

Being soundly criticized and booted from many so-called transit friendly blogs because I advocate a simple message that “Transit is to move people not create density.”, I have been amazed at the nonsense being passed as good transit philosophy.

Development will happen along transit lines but the massive densification advocated by the rapid transit/SkyTrain types maybe counter productive, especially if the populace of the newly densified areas do not work nor commute anywhere near where the rapid transit lines go and take the car instead.

The (N)Evergreen Line is a forgotten spur line of the original Broadway-Lougheed LRT projects and was omitted because we could only afford a much smaller SkyTrain Millennium Line (same was true of the original Expo Line which originally terminated in New Westminster and was much smaller than the original 3 line LRT plan) and now another $1.4 billion is needed to complete it.

The problem with the Millennium Line is that TransLink has been telling ‘Porkies’ about ridership all along, first exposed by Gerald Fox’s 2008 letter –

From: A North-American Rail Expert (Gerald Fox)

Subject: Comments on the Evergreen Line aBusiness Case

Date: February 6, 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 Caseai (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. Specifically:

Capacity. A combination of train size and headway. For instance, TriMet’s new Low floor LRVs, arriving later this year, have a rated capacity of 232 per car, or 464 for a 2- car train. (Of course one must also be sure to use the same standee density when comparing car capacity. I don’t know if that was done here). In Portland we operate a frequency of 3 minutes downtown in the peak hour, giving a one way peak hour capacity of 9,280. By next year we will have two routes through downtown, which will eventually load both ways, giving a theoretical peak hour rail capacity of 37,000 into or out of downtown. Of course we also run a lot of buses.

The new Seattle LRT system which opens next year, is designed for 4-car trains, and thus have a peak hour capacity of 18,560. (but doesnai??i??t need this yet, and so shares the tunnel with buses). The Business Case analysis assumes a capacity of 4,080 for LRT, on the Evergreen Line which it states is not enough, and compares it to SkyTrain capacity of 10400.!

Speed. The analysis states the maximum LRT speed is 60 kph. (which would be correct for the street sections) But most LRVs are actually designed for 90 kph. On the Evergreen Line, LRT could operate at up to 90 where conditions permit, such as in the tunnels, and on protected ROW. Most LRT systems pre-empt most intersections, and so experience little delay at grade crossings. (Our policy is that the trains stop only at stations, and seldom experience traffic delays. It seems to work fine, and has little effect on traffic.) There is another element of speed, which is station access time. At-grade stations have less access time. This was overlooked in the analysis.

Also, on the NW alignment, the SkyTrain proposal uses a different, faster, less-costly alignment to LRT proposal. And has 8 rather than 12 stations. If LRT was compared on the alignment now proposed for SkyTrain, it would go faster, and cost less than the Business Case report states!

Cost. Here again, there seems to be some hidden biases. As mentioned above, on the NW Corridor, LRT is costed on a different alignment, with more stations. The cost difference between LRT and SkyTrain presented in the Business Case report is therefore misleading. If they were compared on identical alignments, with the same number of stations, and designed to optimize each mode, the cost advantage of LRT would be far greater. I also suspect that the basic LRT design has been rendered more costly by requirements for tunnels and general design that would not be found on more cost-sensitive LRT projects.

Then there are the car costs. Last time I looked, the cost per unit of capacity was far higher for SkyTrain. Also,it takes about 2 SkyTrain cars to match the capacity of one LRV. And the grade-separated SkyTrain stations are far most costly and complex than LRT stations. Comparing 8 SkyTrain stations with 12 LRT stations also helps blur the distinction.

Ridership. Is a function of many factors. The Business Case report would have you believe that type of rail mode alone, makes a difference (It does in the bus vs rail comparison, according to the latest US federal guidelines). But, on the Evergreen Line, I doubt it. What makes a difference is speed, frequency (but not so much when headways get to 5 minutes), station spacing and amenity etc. Since the speed, frequency and capacity assumptions used in the Business Case are clearly inaccurate, the ridership estimates cannot be correct either. There would be some advantage if SkyTrain could avoid a transfer. If the connecting system has capacity for the extra trains. But the case is way overstated.

And nowhere is it addressed whether the Evergreen Line, at the extremity of the system, has the demand for so much capacity and, if it does, what that would mean on the rest of the system if feeds into?

Innuendos about safety, and traffic impacts, seem to be a big issue for SkyTrain proponents, but are solved by the numerous systems that operate new LRT systems (i.e., they cana’ be as bad as the SkyTrain folk would like you to believe).

I’ve no desire to get drawn into the Vancouver transit wars, and, anyway, most of the rest of the world has moved on. To be fair, there are clear advantages in keeping with one kind of rail technology, and in through-routing service at Lougheed. But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous.

It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analyzed honestly, and the taxpayer’s interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.


But the BIG DEAL for Victoria is: If the Business Case analysis were corrected to fix at least some of the errors outlined above, the COST INCREASE from using SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line will be comparable to the TOTAL COST of a modest starter line in Victoria. This needs to come to the attention of the Province. Victoria really does deserve better. Please share these thoughts as you feel appropriate.

As one can see, TransLink’s business case is on very shaky ground and now Mr. Crilly is sounding alarm bells on the project. The problem with the Evergreen Line is that for transit customers wishing to go to Vancouver, the West Coast Express is a faster and seamless ride and those who wish to commute elsewhere, other than Metrotown or Lougheed Mall, will need to inconveniently transfer to another SkyTrain or bus.

Like the Canada Line, for many, the Evergreen Line will be inconvenient and taking the car will just be a better option.

Until we design our regional rail and transit system to cater to customer needs, instead of academic, bureaucratic and political needs, taking the car will be the option for those who can afford to, leaving the rest of the transit system to decay, mainly being for the poor, the elderly and students. Why should the taxpayer ante up two cents more a litre for that?

A never used section on the Belgium Charleroi pre-metro.

Over optimistic ridership numbers, doomed some completed lines to rust away, never seeing a paying customer.



4 Responses to “Transit Is About Moving People -From 2011”
  1. Nathan Davidowicz says:

    Any transit improvements in the City of Vancouver; Rail Light Rail Bus FerryBoat has lots of riders. Vancouver with 25% of regional population has 50% 0f regional ridership.

    Zwei replies: Take away the U-pass and see ridership plummet.

  2. Haveacow says:

    @Nathan Davidowicz

    1. The U-Pass Subsidy is Far too High

    The problem is that each U-pass ride is so heavily subsidized that you have to have multiples of them to get the same financial benefit as a single ride from an adult passenger who buys his or her own transit pass or god forbid, pays for a ride using cash! Not all rides are financially equal to the bottom line of Translink. This is why most transit agencies nation wide had to be held at political gunpoint by an upper level of government (like the province of BC did back in the 1980’s) to accept university passes. You are making the bet that, enough university students will ride but not too many. You have to make up for the loss in revenue you get at normal monthly pass level versus the high subsidy locked into these university transit passes but minimize the loss of every single full paying adult rider because too many University students are taking seat or standing space from full paying adults. How much does 1 year of transit add to the cost of university tuition? I can tell you its a lot less than the cost of 12 months of transit passes paid by the general adult passenger. You can’t keep forever subsidizing a hundred thousand students per year at the expense of transit operations forever.

    Transit systems have to start getting a much greater level of support from their fares or find much cheaper ways to operate as well as build much cheaper rail systems. $4.6 Billion for only a paltry 12.8 km or 7.9 miles of a light metro. Some cities are spending ridiculous amounts to build trains in tunnels or on raised concrete guideways that cost less than tunnels to build but more than tunnels to maintain. You got to build at the surface and use existing rights of way wherever possible, its so much cheaper! The federal transit money that many who build these expensive rail system rely upon, will only continue as long as the Liberals are in power. Even one single term of a cost cutting Conservative government and that cash is gone.

    2. The U-Pass Rider is Subsidized At The Expense of The Other Adult Passengers and The General Taxpayer

    Although I don’t completely agree, I believe Zwei’s argument about the U-Pass can be summed up to this. University pass rides should be valued not as a single ride but as its fractional financial value compared to the financial value of a complete unsubsidized ride by an adult. That way, you would see the real actual number of transit riders that systems like the Skytrain are really attracting. if you massively subsidize a single group of transit riders, yes, you get more ridership because each ride is a cheaper ride but it adds a great cost to the rest of the system. Zwei’s final point is that the attractive value and passenger numbers of Skytrain would probably decline greatly without these cheaper rides. What good is a railway where you have to bribe a certain group of riders with dramatically subsidized rides to keep ridership numbers up? This forces regular adult riders to effectively subsidize university students. If transit is to survive you have to maximize incoming money and reduce subsidies as much as possible. You can’t keep subsidizing things forever at these high rates.

    (My normal rant begins here)

    3. Skytrain is a Very Expensive Train Trip

    As someone who works in the industry I can tell you that the Skytrain as a rail system, is a very technically complex and operationally expensive way for going from point A to point B. Especially, compared to other rail based technologies like Light Rail Transit. Its basic design makes things like operational maintenance very expensive and cumbersome. Due to modern design LRT requires far fewer maintenance staff as well as commercially available cheaper maintenance equipment. Skytrain’s unusual propulsion system forces out other great supportive railway infrastructure and technologies because they can’t be mounted where they are generally designed to be mounted, between the rails. Your 4th rail or “induction rail” is in the way.

    A former general manager in charge of maintenance for the the division/corporation that runs the Expo and Millennium Lines said that, he could reduce operating costs by 25% simply by switching to standard electric motors on the Skytrain fleet, pulling out the LIM propulsion units and removing the horrifically expensive to maintain 4th rail from the network’s track.

    4. Skytrain Has Geography Issues

    The other issue is that as Skytrain goes out further from the core of the urban and suburban areas of Vancouver geographically, the operating costs of Skytrain go up greatly compared to the operating cost of vehicles using standard mainline railway technology. Systems operated as a true Regional Rail line with EMU’s or DMU’s, not as a Commuter Rail operation like most North American systems but a true regional railway system, would greatly outperform Skytrain at these extended distances from downtown and on top of everything else, these regional based networks are cheaper to build and run.

  3. zweisystem says:

    A chap who worked at TransLink informed some time ago about multiple trips on SkyTrain, predominately the Canada Line. As the Canada Line has limited capacity there were odd times of the day where ridership was very heavy, especially between 49th and 41st Oakridge and Broadway and downtown Vancouver. Observation saw that students from Langara would travel via the Canada line to Oakridge and return. He told me he saw the same people a various times of the day either going and coming and the same observations were made Broadway downtown. What seemed to be happening was that a large body of students were traveling several times a day from Langara to Oakridge and return and the same downtown. He was told to keep quiet.

    It is quite evident that with the ride at will U-Pass the same student boarded not 2 times, not 4 times but 6 or more times a day! As TransLink loves to claim higher boarding’s, how many of those higher boarding numbers are students boarding the metro many times a day.

  4. Bill Burgess says:

    Transit advocates need to think bigger than this preoccupation with subsidizing Upasses.

    Also for context, multiple back and forth trips by Langara students on the Canada Line are not typical. My own long-time observation at a different university is that the typical pattern is one trip to and one trip from, plus the occasional evening trip a downtown club (and using transit after drinking is a good thing, not bad). And I don’t have the figures but I believe it is still a minority – unfortunately – of university students who actually use their UPass more than very occasionally despite being required to pay for it.

    No public transit system is NOT heavily subsidized, just as public road systems are heavily susidized (to say nothing of other public goods, like health and education). Travel by car is generally more subsidized than travel by transit, even without considering the imperatives of reducing greenhouse gasses, inlcuding by promoting more compact urban form and complete communities.

    Instead of opposing the Upass and falsely suggesting it inflates Vancouver’s relative transit ridership (all major cities in Canada have a Upass system) transit advocates should press for the current subsidies on car use to be transfered to transit use and expanded further as necessary to enable most people to move around without private cars.

    Transit fares should be reduced across the board (instead of the increase about to be imposed by Translink). I don’t know the exact path to follow, but consessionary passes (like those for seniors) should be progressivety introduced, notably free rides for primary/secondary students. Employers could be encouraged to subsize passes for their employees rather than provide them free parking, etc.

    Skytrain may be a relatively expensive way of providing transit. But for the forseeable future we are stuck with that backbone and need to make the best of it.

    Instead of gross exaggerations about how it is responsible for transit woes in Vancouver we should be pointing our fingers at the public money going to auto/oil/real estate interests.

    Zwei replies: The problem you wish to ignore is funding, the taxpayer just cannot afford to continue building with light metro. The U-pas/boarding issue is merely to bolster claims that the Canada Line is somehow successful, but it ain’t, not by a long shot.

    Sorry Mr. B, I am not false reporting, go the Daily Hive for that!

    The big problem with the light metro system is looming on the horizon and that is a hugely expensive rehab, up to $3 billion. (Memo to Mr. Cow, I have been advised that it maybe indeed higher, but no fear, the feds will pay for it!…..NOT!)

    The big problem for TransLink and most other transportation authorities is that; Will customers come back?

    In Vancouver/Burnaby/New West, yes probably will over time, especially if TransLink introduces new cheap fares, more age related free travel, etc. but, not the suburban routes, which is the very reason light metro was built. We are looking at electric cars (there has been an explosion of Tesla’s in South Delta and South Surrey); an utterly user unfriendly suburban bus service and badly planned bus routes.

    TransLink has hired another ass kisser so the politicians can go along pretending everything is OK, but it isn’t and we get back to the hoary old question, funding.

    I can tell everyone this, polls aside, those paying the taxes do not want to pay a cent more to TransLink, something, I think civic politicians will be told in spades in 2022.

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