Above video: the Johnston Heights senior choir performs for students
At Johnston Heights Secondary in Surrey, where I completed my grade 12 education early last year, the ongoing disputes between teachers and the government have caused the cancellation of at least one major school event, one of which I was looking forward to attending: the year-end music (band and choir) concert.
The J.H. Music Program is one of the best in the city, having participated in numerous major provincial events such as MusicFest in Ottawa, 2010 (earning the silver award for both band and choir), several consecutive Kiwanis Music Festivals, and the Envision Jazz Festival in Surrey. As an alumni of this program and a member of both the senior wind ensemble and jazz band, I cannot stress enough how important the year-end concert is in the spirit of learning and school culture.
The year-end concert is a celebration of music and school culture, and it represents the culmination of a year’s worth of practicing, learning, dedication and team-building. It attracts other students, parents, and alumni who were in the music program to witness the music-making talents of a new generation of students who participate in the Grade 8, 9 and 10-12 senior bands; the grade 8, 9-10 junior and 11-12 senior choir; the chamber choir; the string ensembe; and the intermediate and senior jazz bands. The latter four are courses that are held outside of the school time and are the culmination of willful attendance, participation and commitment from both the teachers and the students who are involved.
With the school inaccessible outside of normal school hours (which is also preventing students from using the bandroom facilities for practice), this event has been put off indefinitely for the year 2014. It may be the first year in several consecutive years that the school music program did not hold a year-end concert, and I am sad to see that my peers aren’t going to be able to celebrate their hard work and dedication to music.
This is just one of the many inconveniences students have to face because of the ongoing conflict between teachers and the government. Not just now, but in the past several years of deteriorating school conditions.
At the North Surrey Secondary school here in Surrey, too many students and an overcrowded school building have forced the school to adopt anawkward five-block schedule [CLICK HERE]. NSSS staggers students across the 5 blocks, so that older students study for the first four and younger ones for the last four (or combinations with study blocks).
I have often – in letters to the editor, and in other posts on this blog – discussed the realities being faced by students not just in the current conflict but on a year-by-year basis. Not far from Johnston Heights Secondary and at North Surrey Secondary, 5-block schedules are needing to be adopted to deal with increased overcrowding, lack of facilities, and growth in the community.
In the same manner as North Surrey, many schools have been forced to make serious, critical cuts to deal with cut funding levels and increased teacher stress. I’m not sure if North Surrey still requires a 5-block schedule this year, but I was hearing about it from numerous close friends when I was in high school – and I was also hearing about the troubles this schedule gave them – troubles in scheduling conflicts and stress.
One of the dangerous criticisms I’m hearing in the current debate is how kids are being used as “bargaining chips”, resulting in the implication that the teachers fighting their battle over class sizes and competition and pay levels are careless.
However, critics also forget that many teachers have kids too – and these kids are as much participants in the pubic education program as the ones who are being taught. Many of the teachers I personally knew were parents of one or more kids, and a few of them gave birth to new kin while I was in my high school years. In the short term, these kids will theoretically suffer as much from their parents’ course of actions as the rest of the students participating in this school system, and I think it shows that what the teachers are fighting for is more than just their own living conditions and demands. I think it is evident that it is also about good learning conditions for their kids and ours.
Today I bring you news from Malaysia! A news release from a few days ago reveals details of a new 36km SkyTrain line to complement an already under-construction 17km extension of the Kelana Jaya line are beginning to surface. The new extension would run from a proposed new transit hub, intersect the Kelana Jaya Line, and then travel through Shah Alam to a terminus at Klang – a city of close to 850,000 people situated 32km west of Kuala Lumpur.
The original regional transportation plan finalized in 2011 [CLICK HERE] proposed that this line would be constructed after 2030; however, a re-examination of the business case in June 2013 has resulted in the project being pushed up to the pre-2020 timeframe. An even newer study focusing specifically on the line details itself has suggested that there are immediate benefits to reap – and with that, the line is now a top priority investment. Construction is likely to begin on the new SkyTrain extension at the beginning of next year, where it will parallel the ongoing extension of the Kelana Jaya Line.
The new plan helps show that the technology we use in SkyTrain is becoming a serious rail rapid transit option for cities worldwide, with expansions of SkyTrain-type lines now well under way in multiple cities – including here in Vancouver, there in Kuala Lumpur, in Sendai, Japan and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The “Shah Alam LRT” will be the second SkyTrain-type line in Kuala Lumpur (or the third if the Kelana Jaya Line extension is considered a separate line). The new line will connect directly to the Kelana Jaya Line and may offer a continuous service onto the line. With its completion, Kuala Lumpur’s RapidRail system will eclipse the SkyTrain system in the amount of in-service linear motor trackage, spanning a distance of 82km before 2020 – whereas SkyTrain (lines using linear induction motor tech) will span just 63km after the completion of the Evergreen Line. This will make Kuala Lumpur’s system the second longest linear motor rapid transit system in the world, after the 100km Guangzhou Metro system.
The new “Shah Alam LRT” line will complement an already in-service commuter rail transit line, similar to how the Evergreen Line will complement the non-stop West Coast Express service in the tri-cities. The rapid transit stock for the new line can be expected to be built by either Bombardier or CSR-Zhuzhou. Bombardier has been a major supplier for the rapid transit cars on the Kelana Jaya Line (ART 200/Mark II trains), while CSR-Zhuzhou has supplied standard rotary-motor rapid transit cars for the Ampang Line (but is also a major supplier of linear motor cars for the Guangzhou Metro system).
About Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” system
In case you weren’t initially aware, Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” network is like a clone of our SkyTrain system overseas: the system is composed of several grade-separated, automated (driverless) rapid transit lines, many of which use the same linear induction motor propulsion technology and Bombardier Mark II vehicles used on SkyTrain here in Vancouver. The Ampang Line, the first rapid transit line using standard rotary motor technology, was opened in 1996 as the first rapid transit rail line in Kuala Lumpur. This was followed by the 1998 opening of the Kelana Jaya Line, the fully automated linear-motor type line that looks and works exactly like our SkyTrain system. The 29km Kelana Jaya Line is built with both overhead sections and bored tunnel sections through the city core. It is the busiest and most popular rapid transit line in metropolitan Kuala Lumpur with 160,000 riders daily , and was for a long time the only rapid transit service in the Klang Valley metropolis that broke even (revenues paid for operations costs) until the Ampang Line, which had historically fallen a few thousand riders short from breaking even , was equipped with the Thales SelTrac system to itself become fully automated (driverless) . Both lines are currently receiving extensions that are due to open at around the same year the Evergreen Line is opened here in Vanouver. The extensions are shown in the above map (note the unnamed stations near the bottom). Kuala Lumpur’s Rapid Rail system has been immensely successful since its opening, being major money generators for the regional rapid transit system and the biggest drivers of ridership and high-density development. SkyTrain technology has helped the fares on RapidKL’s rapid transit lines remain completely unchanged for 10 years , and continue to remain the same (so far) through power tariff increases for the operating company, mainly because of increasing ridership . The rapid transit lines are considered the “key revenue-generator contributor” for Prasarana, the regional transportation authority if the Klang Valley 
Passenger numbers from Urban Rail Development Study, page 19 [LINK]
The Ampang Line breaks even at 170,000 riders daily, according to Malaysian Business (article “Red Flags” from 16 June, 2000 issue – not available online) – most recent recorded ridership was 141,000 daily
The Kelana Jaya Line has been automated from start of service; the Ampang Line was refitted with the Thales SelTrac system in 2012 [SEE HERE]
LRT, Monorail fares to go up next year – Astro Awani report [LINK]
Prasarana Power Cost Up 17% since Jan 1 – The Edge Malaysia [LINK]
Critics of SkyTrain as a technology and rapid transit option are everywhere. Largely motivated by a fear of all megaprojects with high capital costs, SkyTrain critics are vocal, active, and will stop at nothing to act on this fear. They deny the productivity and developmental benefits that the system has given our region, and they refuse the potential that SkyTrain has to continue to be useful to our region if extended further.
With a $3 billion capital cost, it’s no surprise that numerous SkyTrain critics, fearing the investment cost, have scrambled to promote or find alternatives. “Just another SkyTrain critic” was my first response when I first read about an “alternate proposal” for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) line on 16th over a Broadway subway crafted together by Adam Fitch – a planning technician for the Thompson Nicola Regional District – just over 1 year ago when it was featured suddenly in the Vancouver Sun.
But, the response seemed to be triggered by an absolutely valid series of concerns over the impact on businesses on Central and West Broadway if an at-grade LRT were to be built on Broadway itself – including the loss of parking, impacts to parallel cycling routes, and expropriation at a few properties (particularly at Broadway and Kingsway/Main) where it would indeed be necessary. I suspected that Fitch crafted the idea to counter the imminent disappearance of LRT consideration from public policy in Vancouver.
…The most appropriate solution, with due consideration for costs, regional transit priorities (i.e. Surrey, etc.) and time frame (10 years from now to build the subway at a minimum) is to build a mainly street-level light rail along the CPR corridor, the Arbutus corridor, and West 16th Avenue to UBC. Compare this route with a Broadway subway on cost, construction time and capacity, and it prevails.[READ MORE]
Over the years, this idea continued to circulate in the local discussion scene. It has been featured on a number of regional transit issues outlets, including: Price Tags, Stephen Rees, Rail for the Valley (obviously) and – most notably, but not surprisingly given the paper’s perpetual pro-LRT bias – the Georgia Straight newspaper, in a feature with an intimidating headline that immediately implies that the alternative is “better” – or at least, as reviewed by editor Stephen Hui.
Critics of the planned Broadway SkyTrain wasted no time backing this idea, calling it the next big thing, triumphing it as a “realistic priority” and denouncing the SkyTrain extension proposal as “another megaproject” in the comments for this article.
I find it unfortunate that these people were given this opportunity to further this cause, because it honestly surprises me that the idea – despite the objections from many others aside from myself – has not already died. The fact of the matter that some editors at the Georgia Straight (among others) haven’t seen is that the 16th Ave LRT and B-Line combo idea is a poor, discredited and badly planned idea from someone who doesn’t have a clue how this city works.
A 16th Ave LRT just doesn’t work
I contend that advocating for this idea is a collosal waste of time and money for three simple reasons:
No benefits to Central Broadway riders
Few, if any, benefits to UBC students
Doubling of annual operating debt
Let’s put it into context:
Take a look at this stylized map showing both the routings for the planned Broadway SkyTrain extension and Adam Fitch’s LRT proposal. Notice how the planned Broadway SkyTrain services all of the busy business and activity districts on Broadway, but the LRT misses them – making the only possible benefactors the rider from either existing SkyTrain Lines, Broadway & Arbutus, and residents along the 16th Avenue corridor.
What this show is that there are clearly no benefits to Central Broadway riders – which actually make up a significant majority of the current 99 B-Line’s ridership, as opposed to UBC – and the West Broadway business district is missed as well. That’s millions of dollars in economic potential that could be unlocked, but that isn’t happening under Fitch’s plan. In what would quite possibly be the least equitable planning move in Metro Vancouver transportation planning history, billions of dollars would be spent to benefit only a small portion of the tens of thousands who are actually facing the problems that riders are facing on the Broadway corridor daily.
As many, the Adam’s proposal apparently assumes that the main demand is on UBC. It is worth to mention that the numbers ran by Translink suggests that the highest demand is on the central Broadway portion (Voony’s Blog)
It was one of the shortfalls I mentioned in my original letter to the sun responding to the concept. The City of Vancouver’s report on Broadway rapid transit finds that the Central Broadway area generates at least as many trips as UBC, if not more.
It is extremely important to bring any rapid transit to where the anchors and trip generators actually are – both at the ends and along the route itself. That’s why the Canada Line uses the Cambie Street corridor, as opposed to either Granville or Arbutus Streets – because it provides strategic connections to busy anchors like Central Broadway, City Hall, various major hospitals, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Oakridge Mall along the way.
The indirectness of the proposal also has some other consequences: the proposal is 2.3km longer than any route going down Broadway, an additional distance that not only adds to the proposal’s capital costs – it brings up the travel times as well.
On top of the longer line distance, while parts of the line will be capable of 80-90km/h operation like SkyTrain – supported by crossing gates and some tunnelling – there are several portions of the line that will need to be limited to 50-60km/h speed limits – further dampening the supposed speed benefit:
As a result of the longer distance combined with the speed restrictions, the proposal fails to offer a significant benefit to the one possible travel crowd that could seriously benefit: the UBC traveller; which brings me to my second contention: the Fitch proposal offers few, if any, benefits to UBC students.
With the longer route and deferred connections, it’s reasonable to think that many riders – especially in non-congested off-peak hours, when the 99 B-Line trip takes as little as 30-minutes end-to-end – will opt to continue using the 99 B-Line on Broadway.
This especially applies for UBC students who live on campus, where the 99 is an important connection to businesses in Point Grey/Sasamat, West Broadway and Central Broadway. Fitch’s proposed LRT links fewer business centres, with the first major business cluster from UBC being reached when the line hits Dunbar – a full 6km away, twice as far as Sasamat. Meaning, for items and needs like groceries, doctor’s appointments and other outings, UBC students likely won’t be utilizing the billions of dollars spent on Fitch’s LRT – they’ll be continuing to use the 99 B-Line.
Which brings me to the third reason why Fitch’s LRT proposal is an extremely bad idea: with the required retention of the 99 B-Line, the Fitch LRT proposal doubles the annual operating debt of providing Broadway-UBC corridor transit. By not replacing the 99 B-Line, the operating cost of providing UBC-Broadway corridor transit can only increase.
Versus the current (“business-as-usual”) setup that includes the 99 B-Line, the planned Broadway SkyTrain is expected to save $7 million incrementally in annual operating costs (see: design guide). With estimates already pitting the operating cost of a separate LRT on Broadway itself at over $10 million annually by 2041 (in 2011 dollars), the operating debt with the Fitch LRT simply doubles over the existing setup.
The bigger picture
I could go so far as to say that the Fitch LRT proposal hurts the entire region, because it is really that short-sighted in terms of practical thinking.
As aforementioned, the planned driverless SkyTrain extension is expected to save $7 million in annual operating costs – savings that could be redirected to improving transit around the region. With over 54,000 new transit trips daily attracted around the region – more than double other studied options, including any theoretical LRT on Broadway itself – the planned Broadway SkyTrain generates new fare revenue. That would have also been a serious contributor to expanded transit around the region.
The elimination of the 99 B-Line also means bus services improve throughout the region – because the 99 B-Line consumes more than half of TransLink’s articulated diesel bus fleet. These buses could be redirected to other busy routes in the region to address growing transit demands.
With the Fitch LRT proposal, none of these improvements are able to materialize.
Such bus service redirection can also take from the numerous other high-frequency bus routes that connect to UBC from different parts of the city, usually during peak hour periods. These are the:
43 Joyce Station – via 41st Ave and Oakridge
44 Downtown – via 4th Ave
84 VCC-Clark Station (ALL-DAY) via 4th Ave, Olympic Village and Great Northern Way
480 Bridgeport Station (ALL-DAY Weekdays) – via Kerrisdale and Marpole
The planned Broadway SkyTrain is the only option that offers the significant travel time benefits (cutting travel time between Commercial-Broadway and UBC in half, to 19 minutes!) that could enable the truncation of some of these routes to save even more money annually. For example: the 44 duplicates the 84, and is likely to be eliminated in favour of the faster connections downtown riders will get by utilizing the Broadway Subway with connecting routes and the Canada Line. The 480 could also be eliminated, perhaps following my suggestion. However, with the incremental operating cost savings, bus service on even these routes could theoretically be increased without costing more than the transit on the Broadway-UBC corridor today.
By denying these benefits and choosing an alternative simply because it offers the prospect of less initial capital cost, the region loses out on better transit both on Broadway itself and elsewhere.
Responding to the Straight over the mention of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson being on record for supporting the planned Broadway SkyTrain extension, Fitch rather arrogantly proclaimed in the opening of the recent article on his proposal:
“He’s wrong on probably four or five fronts.”
But, as an upvoted commenter pointed out, he didn’t list a single one. Which I think highlights another problem with critics who fear studied and decided megaprojects and act quickly to try and debase them: they don’t do a good job at it. In this case that doesn’t help, because I think that the City of Vancouver has done an excellent job at laying down the benefits and the business case of a Broadway SkyTrain extension – probably much to the dismay of many critics who have already quit.
As for Adam Fitch’s 16th Ave LRT proposal, it’s evident that not only does it have no case – it really has no argument either.
Author’s note: Thanks for reading this far! I encourage you to subscribe to my blog by clicking the “follow” button on the left sidebar! As I previously mentioned, I will be detailing why there is really no alternative to the Broadway subway – how its business case is proven, and why any alternatives just do not work – in a follow-up article.
There were a few other people with me in the waiting room at Surrey’s (old) city hall on January 15th. I was waiting to present to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the missing 156 St Rapid Bus Stop and a few other were sat with me, which compelled me to start a discussion on matters of transit.
This was where I first heard a concern about the expansion and usage of the South Surrey Park and Ride, hearing that the new lot wasn’t being used effectively and also hearing that the new park-n-ride fees had something to do with it. Earlier in the day I had passed this park-n-ride lot on the commute to city hall from my university in Richmond. Looking at the facility from the windows of my 351 bus, I did indeed notice that the newly expanded portion was sitting there largely unused – and this was at 1PM on a Monday, when commuters using the lot had parked there to ride to their jobs.
So, I’m sure there were a lot of people in Metro Vancouver who raised their eyebrows and turned their heads this week when the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation – an avid and frequent critic of TransLink – awarded TransLink with a “Teddy Award” for wasteful spending over this issue.
BY GORDON MCINTYRE, THE PROVINCE – FEBRUARY 27, 2014
Like the hospital with no patients in the old British comedy Yes Minister, like the “road to nowhere” in Alaska that leads to a non-existent bridge, TransLink can boast of an expensive tax-funded project that isn’t used, too.
It’s a vacant lot. The problem is, it’s also a parking lot, a lot no one parks in, and it cost $4.5 million to build.
“Aren’t there better ways to spend that money?” Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, asked. “I’ve been here four times during workdays and there has never been a car here.”
Did TransLink sit still? Not at all. And, they were correct in stating that the $4.5 million expansion was funded by the provincial government in its entirety, with TransLink in charge of only the operations and maintenance. I think this was a great defense and really all that they needed to do – but CTF’s Bateman doesn’t believe it. Accusations on TransLink have taken the media and public by storm as media agencies rushed to report on the matter.
Seeing the empty new park-n-ride lot for myself demonstrated to me that the model with which TransLink is approaching park-n-ride users is not currently working, and in this regard the CTF may have a point. However, I also think that they are wrong in two regards: 1. that the expansion of this park-n-ride facility is an impractical and wasteful decision at the end of the day; 2. that TransLink should be chastised for this apparent “waste”. I think that TransLink made a great decision to allow the park-n-ride expansion a priority while the funding was available from the provincial government.
So, to introduce the third installment in my “No credit for TransLink” blog series, let me tell you what’s wrong with the CTF’s rationale for the Teddy Award given to TransLink:
Part I: A reality check
I think one of the things that really helps us get the correct picture about issues like these is to get a view of how something began and progressed. To aid readers, I have created a timeline graphic that shows this park & ride issue from start to finish. Pay attention to the dates and ordering of events.
I don’t think anyone realized this, but the park-n-ride expansion itself was announced by the B.C. Government as part of a $60.5 million highway improvement package on October 12, 2012 – an expansion commitment was made afterTransLink’s proposal to start charging fees across all parking lots in the region, which was part of the draft 2013 base plan being discussed in September.
This was a sudden announcement by the B.C. Government. The minutes for meetings of Surrey’s Transportation and Infrasructure Committee and other relevant reports that were made approaching the announcement suggest not only that the expansion was not being discussed until about the time it was announced, but also that TransLink was looking to alleviate the overcrowding issue in South Surrey through other means.
Shortfall 1: No communication
While TransLink had been studying the expansion of the park and ride back in 2010, this wasn’t the solution TransLink was looking for in July 2012, just as TransLink was beginning to tow cars out of the park-n-ride in order to deal with its overuse. At the time, TransLink contacted Grace Point Church, a nearby church on 34th Ave and King George Blvd that is served by stops for the same routes that pass through the park-and-ride.
As the Church parking lot is of course largely disused on weekdays, it represented an opportunity to service riding passengers on South Surrey buses. TransLink would have required a temporary use permit and to install revenue machines on the lot to operate it as an extension of South Surrey’s Park & Ride.
The plan was to begin negotiating the temporary use permit in the fall, but by then it had been made unnecessary with the provincial government’s announcement of a park and ride expansnion, as part of a highway improvement project that would have also added many interchanges to the area.
Any solution would have appeased many residents in the area and Surrey’s Citizen’s Transportation Initiative (CiTI), who had been advocating for a solution to address park-n-ride overcrowding. However, CiTI did not specify that it had to be an expansion of this lot – rather suggesting that new park and rides were necessary.
What this showcases is that the direct expansion of the park-n-ride really wasn’t in the interests of TransLink or any stakeholders at all. There appears to have been no communication with TransLink on whether other solutions were possible, no consultation with the public, and no prior communication with the City of Surrey. Mention of the park-n-ride’s $4.5 million expansion did not show up in the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussions and minutes until October 15 – 3 days after the province’s announcement.
Shortfall 2: Surrey’s failed anticipation and action
BY KELLY SINOSKI, VANCOUVER SUN – JANUARY 15, 2014
Surrey city officials are poised to impose parking restrictions around the South Surrey park-and-ride lot, following complaints that drivers are clogging local streets to avoid a $2 parking fee at the lot.
Coun. Tom Gill said the issue will likely be raised at the transportation and infrastructure committee Monday and will probably involve posting ‘no parking’ signs around the area.
The city has shied away from Vancouver’s practice of having permit-only residential areas, he said, and likely won’t adopt that here.
“We are looking at a new strategy,” Gill said. “I would suggest we’re going to be forced to look at some sort of parking restrictions on the side streets given the demand.”
The issue of the park and ride’s underutilization was paralleled by resident complains that local streets near King George Blvd were being used as free “park and ride” spots, a major shortfall that had not been anticipated by the City of Surrey. As reported by the Sun’s Kelly Sinoski, Councillor Tom Gill suggested that the issue woud be raised at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting during which I was in attendance.
This didn’t happen. Meaning, this issue for now remains unresolved.
In conclusion, we’re pointing the blame finger in the wrong direction.
The park-and-ride fees were put into place at about the same time the park-and-ride expansion opened – but this had little to do with the underutilization of the new parking lot. The fees were actually in place over a week before the expansion opened and the decision making process that resulted in the fees neither had to do with the expansion, nor did it target that park-and-ride exclusively.The CTF’s Teddy Award also completely fails to consider municipal-level issues that have not yet been solved.
It’s clear that TransLink had no responsibility in the current situation facing South Surrey commuters, and the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation does not have a suitable rationale for giving TransLink a “Teddy Award” for taxpayer waste over this situation. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation should revoke this award, apologize to TransLink, and make a statement to the public about its mistake.
The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation should revoke the municipal Teddy award given to TransLink, apologize to TransLink, make a statement to the public about its mistake, and reassess its criteria for future Teddy Awards ceremonies. (darylvsworld.wordpress.com)
Part II: Bad coincidence, or growth investment?
I don’t think that it’s viable to see this as a waste of taxpayer’s money, and there are good reasons for this. At the end of the day, there are two ways in which you can properly view the decision to expand the South Surrey Park & Ride while charging fees on it.
This is a picture of Morgan Crossing. It is the built-out centerpiece of Surrey’s Grandview Heights NCP (new community plan) and features a center where residents of the area can access retail and services. Accompanying this centre is a set of medium-density apartments: the center is largely built as mixed-use development, with shops at street level and condominiums up above it. There’s a lot of population in this newly developed area of South Surrey.
This is a picture showing the extent of the city’s Grandview Heights NCP.
And this is a picture showing how much of it is actually built. (Google Earth – May 2013 image)
As I was mentioning, you can see the expansion of this park-and-ride and implementation of parking fees as a bad coincidence. Or, you can see it as a growth investment to accompany one of the largest community build-outs in Metro Vancouver.
I think we should give the decision-makers some credit for anticipating high growth in this area and increased demand for transit, especially as the coming development increases congestion on Highway 99 (that expanded Massey Tunnel or Bridge is at least 10 years out!)
Aaron Meier on Twitter sent out this tweet a couple days ago, referring to a write-up I did last year on TransLink’s transit costs (see: Transit is More Affordable in Vancouver (Infographic)), which looked at what were the fares across the transit systems covering 3 major Canadian cities. Overwhelmingly, I found that TransLink gave you a better deal and could get you further for less, when the zone system and fare payment variables are fully taken into account.
To this day, that article has been one of the most popular on my blog – overshadowed only by write-ups containing even more compelling stats reveals having to do with TransLink that I published last fall (see: Was TransLink Audited Correctly?).
Positive stats like these could be making all the difference in how we perceive our transit system and our transit authority (TransLink), but they aren’t going around in the discussion circles. Instead, our perceptions about TransLink have been more often defined by convoluted stats that those who hold an anti-Translink agenda might twist to suit their wishes.
When I published my first and very popular “No Credit for TransLink” write-up, another regional issues blog – Price Tags, the blogging outlet of the very vocal SFU City program instructor, Gordon Price – was helping me build momentum on the issue at about the same time, having published The TransLink Hate-On: No Credit a few days after my feature focusing on the media’s TransLink treatment. A number of other articles focusing on where TransLink can be positively credited followed up on Price Tags, so I’ve been paying close attention to the site for the last few weeks.
Today, my attention was directed to a new post that came out just today featuring some very important statistical information from Peter Ladner (twitter: @pladner), a person I remember to have written a very good letter denouncing the province’s TransLink referendum proposal (which I was opposed to as well) last fall.
I highly suggest that the rest of you read up on this and enlighten yourselves. I think this is really important information worthy of sharing on at least a few other blogs out there. See below…
I don’t want this to get missed. Peter Ladner’s comment in the post below:
My letter to the Sun in response:
TransLink’s biggest failure is in selling its remarkable success. It astounds me that your recent article on TransLink, loaded as it was with financial facts and figures, missed the most important question: after all these funding and governance issues, has TransLink been a success?
Since 2006, the shift of trips to transit in Metro Vancouver is unmatched in North America. s number of transit trips per person per year.
We have more than three times as many transit trips per capita as Portland, which is the #2 city in the 2.0-2.6-million population peer group in North America.
Among all cities in North America, Metro Vancouver is third, behind only New York and Toronto with their heavy rail subways, for transit trips per person per year. We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington D.C….
The writer makes mention of two important points of service optimization (changes requiring consultation, and changes involving service reduction), but completely fails to point out a number of positive changes that were also listed in the TransLink source page:
TransLink also plans to make frequency and service improvements along busy corridors across the system. These improvements will be implemented over the course of the year during regularly scheduled service changes in April, June, September and December.
Fraser Hwy. (Surrey/Langley) (502)
Scott Rd. and 72nd Ave. (Delta/Surrey) (319)
410 service in Richmond (Richmond/New Westminster)
41st Ave. (Vancouver/UBC) (41/43)
49th Ave. (Vancouver/UBC/Burnaby) (49)
Broadway (Vancouver/UBC) (9/99/14)
Hastings St. (Vancouver/SFU) (135)
Como Lake (Coquitlam/SFU) (143)
Marine Dr. (North Shore) (239)
Notice how the first change on the list suggests that a badly needed service improvement on Surrey’s overcrowded 502 route is the top priority. Such a prospect should have come hand-in-hand with cheers, good feelings, and “finally!” letters to the editor; however, the writer does not give any readers the opportunity to celebrate, simply failing to mention these positive service improvements.
It doesn’t come as a surprise for me, because this won’t be the first time I’ve pointed out the Georgia Straight and its authors for what seems to be a biased, anti-TransLink view. And, assuming I am right about such a motive, it’s a very clever move on their part. The writer approaches the topic with neutrality and objectivity, not spinning the article with any obvious viewpoint, but readers are likely to make up their own spin anyway because they see only neutrals or negatives, and do not see the omitted positives.
It’s not just the Straight, either. I’m sure most of you remember the time last year when the media (especially TV media) converged on TransLink for doing as any other company would by providing coffee to its employees.
So, to the media gurus out there with the competence to possibly provide me with an answer… I’d like to ask you a question.
Why is there such a need for TransLink to be seen by the public as the bad guy?
Nearly two years have passed since my involvement in a student rally in opposition of the upbringing of Bill 22, where I helped gather thousands of BC students to walk out in solidarity and in frustration over educational issues.Yes, the above video is, in fact, my video – one that gained more than 10,000 views overnight to help make the walkout a reality.
However, for the past two years it seemed the effort we put forward to launch this event didn’t go that far. Us students had a duty to go back to school and make the best for ourselves under whatever system was in place, because most of us really didn’t have time for this kind of advocacy. The BCTF went into a brief strike as the education situation continued to stagnate and it was unclear whether there would be any improvement in the situation. Skills training programs got cut, the student-educator ratio became the worst in Canada, and it seemed that just about everybody was out of luck.
After the election loss last Spring, I touched on how a big issue that our society in BC might face is a disconnect with younger people [SEE: Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.], who have been put through the trials and tribulations of a broken education system with disappearing scholarship opportunities, larger class sizes, and more stressed out teachers being treated like they have no idea about how to teach students.
So, when I woke up today I was expecting a usual morning. Prepare breakfast, read news on phone, walk to SkyTrain station, take newspaper from canvassers in front of the station, open it and read on the train. That part of the morning didn’t actually differ from the usual, but my outlooks for the day changed rather drastically when I read the front page of 24 and spotted the words opened today’s print of 24 to find the words “B.C. teachers awarded $2 million in Bill 22 fight” in decently large letters staring me right in the face. I read the article with a potent grin on my face.
The B.C. Supreme Court has ordered Victoria to pay $2 million to the union representing the province’s teachers, saying government was “playing politics” by trying to push educators to strike, and imposed unconstitutional legislation that limited collective bargaining rights.
In a decision handed down Monday, Justice Susan Griffin slammed the provincial government for creating Bill 22, a now-rejected law governing collective bargaining that was nearly identical to legislation previously deemed unconstitutional by the courts.
She said the ruling BC Liberals were trying to provoke teachers into a strike in 2011 by putting forward unacceptable suggestions during bargaining…..
The Supreme Court has had their say and it looks like it’s clear that students back then were sending the correct message to the B.C. Government and to everyone paying attention, in solidarity with our teachers and principals. Give yourselves a pat on the back, everyone. It’s now just up to the government to comply with this ruling and we will be rolling again in no time.
Below: a video summary of the action we took in March 2012.
This was a horrible accident which has changed many people’s lives. I feel for all these people and hope they have the support and understanding they require to recover as best they are able to continue on with their lives.
However, during the period when my daughter attended Kwantlen University I often dropped her off and picked her up at different times of the day, I saw many of the local high school students crossing the street wherever they wanted instead of using the safer alternative of crossing the street at 72 Avenue and 128, which is a light regulated cross walk and not far off their chosen path. In addition, these students were often on their cell phones, engaged with one another and not paying attention to the traffic and their own safety.
High school students go on to Kwantlen campus (why?) and often walk in a horizontal line across the limited driving lanes in the parking lot, disrespectful of vehicle drivers doing their best to safely navigate through a maze of students, who are not walking where and as they should be (on the side, single file). Drivers have to come to complete stops and wait. It was a very frustrating situation for drivers accompanied at times by rude behavior from the students.
I hope that the administration at Princess Margaret high school have had numerous pedestrian safety workshops for students teaching them their own responsibilities when walking in traffic, and that Kwantlen University is not their ‘playground’.
Perhaps the Surrey School District should share in the responsibility and have secure high fences around the entire school premises with designated entries/exits which would file students/visitors on and off the premises using safe methods (e.g. entry/exit onto 72 Avenue where they would then walk to the street corner to cross in the light-controlled crosswalk; entry/exit at the back to then cross at the new crosswalk). Otherwise, 128 Street could be ‘littered’ with crosswalks every half block based on where the high school students choose to cross the road! What a traffic nightmare that would be.
I hope that the safety of all improves with this new crosswalk, student traffic/safety education and that suggestions from community people be heard and possibly implemented.
According to City of Surrey & BC by-laws, students crossing to reach the businesses at 70th Avenue are not jaywalking. This is because they are crossing more than 1 block away from the lighted crosswalk – and Surrey bylaws state that if there’s no crosswalk, you’re expected to just cross. Lunch break at Princess Margaret is just 45 minutes long. You seriously cannot (and I mean CANNOT and SHOULD NOT) expect students to go out of their way to 72nd Ave on limited lunch time. I reckon that habits of running and hurrying would make them even less safe than with the current arrangement where they cross 128th St closer to the businesses.
As I mention in my above write-up, I am a graduate from Johnston Heights Secondary in Guildford. Previous to my 9th grade year, students were regularly crossing 4 lanes of 100th Avenue, either at an unmarked location on 153rd Street – not within 1 block of any signalized intersection – or at varying points to the west and east, within 1 block of a signalized intersection and thus doing so illegally. This crosswalk and another on 152nd St was signalized in 2009 and all students use the signalized crosswalks today. They were a huge success, and they are benefiting not only school students, but also the entire neighbourhood through improved access on several fronts.
128th Street does not have to be littered with crosswalks every half block – there are two spots where signalized or at least marked crosswalks do make sense. My experience at JH demonstrates that one or two crosswalks would probably be fully successful at preventing crossing at any unmarked spots.
I don’t think that money spent to educate students on where to cross and not cross the road would be money not well spent, but think of the logistics – you’d have to do this every single year. A signalized crosswalk, on the other hand, would be not only be a one-time investment – there would be a cost offset through economic benefits, as the crosswalk may encourage students to check out the local businesses. It can’t be denied that ease of access matters a lot in our society. Why do you think high-density neighbourhoods are popping up along the SkyTrain lines throughout Metro Vancouver?
On the issue of high school students going into Kwantlen and crossing the parking lot the way they do…. well, it’s a parking lot. Do you seriously expect students to adhere to unwritten rules of walking along the edge of a parking lot that does not have any proper sidewalk or walking path defining a pathway to Kwantlen? I would think that Kwantlen needs to make changes to their parking lot design if through pedestrian traffic is supposed to be accommodated.
Lastly, please allow me to say that I take issue with your suggestion that PM Secondary be turned into a prison with high fences around the entire premises and limited exits from all directions. What did we do to deserve that kind of shame? And, what do you think we are? Sheep!?
I almost let this one slip under my nose! It looks like the Langley Times published one of my letter submissions from last month.
One of the things I noticed in the letter I responded to is how misinformed some TransLink critics can be on who did what. I could explain more, but the best explanation would probably be to read my letter:
Editor: I think that Gordon Price is right — whoever set this widespread anti-TransLink agenda has really damaged the state of transit debate in this region.
Particularly, the recent letter in The Times (“TransLink is never satisfied,” Sept. 12) is like many I’ve read before, in that it’s painting a completely incorrect picture of TransLink. If you’ve heard about the .5 per cent sales tax proposal recently, it was brought up by two well-known South of Fraser transit advocates — not by TransLink. TransLink’s board has never requested a sales tax of such calibre for transit.
The .5 per cent sales tax proposal was first brought up earlier this year by a group of people we have previously elected to lead us: our mayors. The Regional Mayors’ Council has been very vocal in trying to ensure that transit investment in this region can move forward.
Why is that? Because they know that investing in transit is the most efficient way of providing needed new transportation options for a growing population….
My doubts began while I was in the middle of a long research session, constructing what became one of my first popular posts on this blog – an article comparing Vancouver’s transit fares with those of Toronto and Montreal’s.
As part of my research being done while I was putting together that article, I was also having a look through Shirocca Consulting’s TransLink efficiency review, which can be accessed on the CAW111 site at [CLICK HERE]:
One of the interesting things that I found in this review is that efficiency is defined:
However, Ctrl + F the document, or visually scroll through it all you want; but no matter what you try, you will not find a place in that document that mentions “Operating cost per revenue service hour” except the box on that page.
Meaning, TransLink’s cost efficiency is simply not measured: it is not part of this review, and there should be no way anyone can say anything about it. Service effectiveness (Revenue passengers per revenue service hour) was not measured either.
I would think that a proper audit would have taken both of these important figures (as it so declares) into account.
How “efficient” is TransLink anyway?
Having a look at TransLink’s financial and performance reports, looking at reports from other agencies, and arranging the numbers so you could make a comparison between the agencies, I was not only able to measure these numbers from TransLink myself – I was able to compare them with other transit agencies serving major cities in Canada.
TransLink is far more efficient, in terms of pratices leading to provision of transit service per operating cost dollar, than both Toronto and Montreal.
This is how TransLink compared with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC):
And this is how TransLink compared with the Société de transport de Montréal (STM):
(note: service kilometres were compared as Montreal does not provide service full service hour data)
Some anti-TransLink advocates have not wasted any time to point unsuspecting readers to this chart:
And indeed, a first look at this chart made me want to cringe. At $3.92 per revenue passenger, conventional transit provision per revenue passenger with TransLink is more expensive than other Canadian transit agencies.
Firstly, I think that this is a terrible way of measuring cost effectiveness.
While TransLink’s conventional transit costs approximately 40% more per revenue passenger than the TTC’s, TransLink also provides 22% more service hours for every dollar it spends on operating transit (see earlier chart). This chart does not normalize the data for TransLink’s superior cost efficiency, and so the “cost effectiveness” value is not correctly measured. When normalized for cost efficiency, TransLink’s conventional transit costs only 14.75% more per revenue passenger than the TTC’s, a far lower difference than is portrayed by this chart.
Regardless of normalization, “cost effectiveness” is fundamentally different from “cost efficiency” (which is something we don’t even have to worry about).
Cost efficiency is a constant value affected by the competence of executives and practices within an individual organization; in other words, refer to this value to find out whether TransLink is doing great or not, and use this measurement when comparing transit agencies with each other. Cost effectiveness, on the other hand, has nothing to do with administration pratcies or costs within TransLink. It is something that can be affected by outside factors within transit agencies’ serviced city/metropolitan areas.
It should help to remember that TransLink is unique in that it’s one of the few single-metro-agency setups in Canada, and services the largest transit service area of any transit agency at about 2 times that of Toronto’s TTC (note: while Greater Toronto is much larger than Metro Vancouver, Greater Toronto’s different cities are serviced by different transit agencies).
With TransLink in such a unique position not had by many other transit agencies in Canada of having to provide for the entire region, a lot of the transit it must provide is not cost-effective transit by default. This can be illustrated by the varying cost-per-boarding values of bus services in different areas of Metro Vancouver. I took the data from TransLink’s transit system performance review and compiled it in this chart:
The highest value here is obviously the central and most dense area in this region: Vancouver, with a cost per boarded passenger of just $1.08. The three bottom areas – the Northeast sector, Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, and South Delta – are among the farthest-out areas of Metro Vancouver, and the only three areas that do not have access to a regular SkyTrain rapid transit service.
The equivalent areas in Greater Toronto (i.e. the York Region, Mississauga, Hamilton) are simply not serviced by the TTC – they are served by their own transit agencies (YRT, Mi-Way) with a cost effectiveness that is not measured in the Shirocca report.
Are people not getting the right picture of TransLink as our transit provider?
It is very questionable whether people are getting the right picture of TransLink as our transit provider.
It doesn’t help that many opinions on TransLink efficiency and the apparent need for Translink to improve are being based on a horrible, incomplete audit that does not measure and compare all of TransLink’s efficiencies. The Shirocca Consulting review is extremely questionable, and readers never get the big picture: apart from the missing measurements I pointed out earlier, only 4 other cities were ever used in the comparisons, even though the numbers supposedly came from a CUTA fact book that measures all Canadian transit agencies.
It doesn’t help that TransLink is currently running financial deficits that are eating into a reserve fund every year, no thanks to the unwillingness of senior government levels and the TransLink commissioner to approve and provide additional transit funding. (The promises were made back in 2010 and no action has been taken since).
It doesn’t help that this is happening, even though TransLink may very well be one of the most cost-efficient transit operations in Canada, and it doesn’t help that nobody realizes that because one of the biggest audits of TransLink efficiency did not bother measuring the fact.
What is the solution then?
The solution to TransLink’s cost effectiveness problem is, contrary to what popular anti-TransLink advocates like the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation’s Jordan Bateman and some bloggers at Rail for the Valley say, the opposite of what has been suggested: approving more transit funding for TransLink (such as a regional sales tax for transit), thus allowing more transit expansion in Metro Vancouver.
I’m sure that what these advocates want in the end is a more cost-effective transit service in Metro Vancouver; however, by believing the doctrine of TransLink inefficiency and believing that the only way to solve the low cost-effectiveness of TransLink’s services is by rejecting funding for TransLink and voting “no” in the upcoming 2014 transit referendum, these advocates are taking an incorrect position in the “fund-transit-or-not” debate.
Transit cost-effectiveness only goes as far as an area’s land use patterns and locations can take it – and as evident in the above chart, the worst areas are in the outermost areas and have the most suburban, automobile-oriented land use patterns that prevent transit from being cost-effective.
But, improved transit can also bring better land use, and one of the greatest examples of this in action is our SkyTrain rapid transit system, which has been blamed for why there is currently a reported boom in office tower construction in Metro Vancouver.
My suspicion is that the Northeast sector, at a cost of $1.92 per boarding and thus the third worst for cost per boarding in Metro Vancovuer, will improve significantly as the introduction of the Evergreen Line SkyTrain in 2016 brings with it higher transit ridership typical of introducing a fast and reliable service, denser and more transit-oriented land use, and bus patronage on routes approaching the SkyTrain line and the densified hubs around the stations.
It is big projects like these, which will require a lot of funding, that will do the most in solving the problem of low cost-effectiveness of TransLink services. All we need now is a willingness from these transit cost-effectiveness advocates to acknowledge this fact and revise their positions on TransLink and transit, and Metro Vancouver will be all set on a path to become a world leader in transit cost-efficiency, cost-effectiveness and planning choices.
It’s just too bad that everyone seems to believe that TransLink is the opposite and headed in that general direction.