Capital costs of Canadian rail transit systems

Capital costs of Canadian rail transit systems

There’s been a lack of clarity when it comes to the big numbers that define the planning of transit systems in Canada. It’s particularly evident when transit technology becomes a matter of discussion.

Of course, millions of dollars are at stake. So there’s no doubt that when the cost estimate for a major project is higher by so much as a few million dollars, it’s the kind of thing that sends transit advocates scrambling to get attention and some people in the media practically screaming.

So I decided to take all the recent and upcoming Light Rail projects in Canada, research their costs and alignment details, and put them in a table for proper comparison. I put the data in a Google spreadsheet:

All projects were included regardless of technology. Alignment was divided by percentage and split into/measured in 7 categories: on-street, above-grade (i.e. elevated), below-grade (i.e. tunnel, open cut), disused R.O.W. (i.e. railway R.O.W., other empty lands), bored tunnel (the most expensive kind of tunnelling), shared-lane (on-street in mixed traffic like a streetcar), and the total at-grade percentage.

Trends

Since the transit planning complaints here in Vancouver always seem to be directed at grade-separation, I decided to focus on seeing if there was a cost trend regarding the amount of grade separation for the line.

Same data as above, but sorted by amount of grade-separation

What I found is that there is a trend that occurs when the chart data is pinpointed on a graph and assessed by percentage, but it’s very inconsistent and the projects are all over the map:

Percentage below or above-grade
Open to enlarge

Several projects end up below the average and several end up above it. As an example, there’s a difference in the four projects on this chart closest to the 100% mark. The highest mark is for the proposed Scarborough extension of Toronto’s Bloor-Danforth subway line, which will be fully underground. The lowest mark is from the estimate for a SkyTrain Expo Line extension in Surrey, which will be fully grade-separated but built in an elevated guideway as opposed to a tunnel.

Despite the use of grade-separation, many of the highest-cost projects are not fully grade-separated and feature many at-grade segments that can limit potential. Even projects with only about 20% grade-separation can come close to or even breach $200 million per km.

Below-grade segments

In order to account for the differences associated with much more expensive below-grade (tunnelled) segments, I took the data and assessed it by percentage below-grade and found a much steeper and more consistent trend-line:

Percentage below-grade
Open to enlarge

The amount of systems at the 100% mark has decreased from 4 to 3, and the trend-line now hits the middle of these three dots. The middle dot, closest to the line, is the current ongoing extension of Toronto’s Yonge-University Spadina subway line. The lowest dot is the cost estimate for the ‘Broadway Subway’ (the Millennium Line’s proposed extension down Broadway), which is below the trend-line but is built around a medium-capacity system unlike Toronto’s fully-fledged, high-capacity subway.

Still, there are some differences to account for in terms of alignment. At the 45-50% mark there are two projects that deviate both from the trend-line and from each other.

2012210-eglinton-lrt
The vast majority of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be placed in a large and expensive underground tunnel

The higher of these two marks, at $279 million per km, is the Eglinton Crosstown LRT being built in Toronto. The Crosstown was planned as an on-street LRT system, but the central portion will be placed in a 10km dual underground bored tunnel, which spans more than half of the final construction.  The lower of these two marks is actually our SkyTrain system’s Canada Line. The Canada Line is a fully grade-separated light metro and a slightly higher total percentage of it is below grade. However, only a much smaller portion of this is expensive bored tunnel – the rest was done as less expensive cut-and-cover. Therefore, it manages to be less expensive despite the full grade-separation.

Bored tunnels

To account for that difference I created one more plot excluding everything but projects with bored tunnel segments. The plot line managed to stay the almost same, and the relationship between high capital costs and tunnels is thus made clear:

Percentage bored
Open to enlarge

Since only 13% of the Canada Line was built in a bored tunnel, it is now to the left of where it was in the last chart and sitting very close to the trend-line (the Eglinton Crosstown is also closer to the trend-line). Meanwhile, our Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension, which encountered challenging soils with its single tunnel bore, is right on the trend-line when set amongst the other systems.

Canada can’t be compared to Europe

The Tyee has probably been one of the most prominent to sound the cost-comparison alarm when they published a 2012 article titled, “Why Is TransLink’s Price for Light Rail Triple What Other Cities Pay?”

This article surmised that our Light Rail cost estimates are triple what they should be, based on cost estimates being about one-third as much in European and American cities. (And it was, of course, brought up as a way of hurling tomatoes at the idea of a Broadway Subway line – which is still a great idea for a number of reasons).

14532657623_ab73087347
Nice try, Tyee – but the Hiawatha Blue Line is largely off-street and incomparable to Broadway!

Interestingly, of all the American cities that could’ve been chosen in the comparison, it was Minneapolis and its Hiawatha Blue Line. This comparison is invalid as over 80% of the line is placed in either disused R.O.W. or tunnel, with only 20% of it being on-street. All of the other examples are from cities in Europe.

Regardless of whether you believe these numbers or not, the reality is that transit projects and their costs are more complicated than being able to be broken down into a simple cost-per-km value that can apply nationwide, across nations, or across transit projects. There are differences in labour laws, work schedule expectations, material costs, acquisition costs, logistics costs, varying land values, differences in local terrain and differences in economy. All of these need to be accounted for and thus it can’t be assumed that a transit project that cost a certain amount in Europe (or any other country, really) could be replicated in Canada for a similar cost.

Here in Vancouver, for example, any big rapid transit projects are likely to cost more than anywhere else in Canada simply because the higher cost of land would likely significantly raise the costs of project elements such as the operations & maintenance centre (OMC).

Despite this, at the end of the day, both the Broadway Subway and the LRT proposals were consistent with the trendlines across Canadian rapid transit systems.

On-street LRTs

To further address the point raised by The Tyee, I compiled one more chart between the predominantly on-street LRT systems:

Percentage on-street LRTs
Open to enlarge

From the wide spectrum in cost of what would otherwise be similar at-grade, on-street LRTs, it may appear that The Tyee would have a point. Even this can be explained, however. The two lowest-cost systems on this chart are Kitchener-Waterloo’s ION rapid transit and the proposed Victoria LRT system. They also happen to have the highest percentages (44% and 31% respectively) on a disused right-of-way (i.e. beside a railway), which is the least expensive place to build any transit because there’s no utility removal, property acquisition or street-scaping work adding to the cost.

highway_401_at_hurontario_street_9192877703
With a right-of-way this wide, the Hurontario LRT is not going to need a lot of property acquisition.

In the middle are the Mississauga and Hamilton systems, which are slightly lower than the big-city systems in Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto (they are also among the 3 systems with occasional mixed-traffic rights-of-way), which seems just right to me. The Mississauga system (Hurontario LRT), in particular, is being built on a wide roadway that in most places still has significant allocations on either side where the roadway can be expanded if necessary (in other words, there’s almost no property acquisition).

The cost for a Broadway LRT system is certainly on the high-end of the spectrum. This makes sense as a Broadway system would need to offer the highest capacity of all of these systems and would face street-scaping challenges with the need to stay within property lines (though this won’t stop property acquisitions from being necessary at station locations). There’s also the uncertainty around an OMC, which would have likely had to be built underground and/or expensively due to the lack of lands along Broadway and high land costs in Vancouver.

Conclusion

In the end, the amount of bored tunnel has a somewhat linear relation with project costs – but grade-separation altogether does not. This doesn’t mean we should avoid building systems with bored tunnel segments from end-to-end (at the end of the day, whether to go that far or not should come down to detailed evaluations of each corridor and transportation needs), but what I do hope to achieve with this article is to facilitate an improvement in the discussion of rapid transit projects (Especially capital costs, since it seems to be the only thing people want to talk about when thinking of rapid transit projects – I, of course, completely disagree).

It’s time to stop thinking that we can build paradise if we replicate the results of other countries, at the costs those other countries experience – it’s impossible. Let’s build transit systems that are adapted to the way our cities work, so that we are sure to be rewarded with positive outcomes.

Where YES vote % was lower, more people drive (Referendum Results)

Where YES vote % was lower, more people drive (Referendum Results)

So in the wake of the NO VOTE in the Metro Vancouver Transit & Transportation Plebiscite,

Here’s an interesting collaboration I did with Kyle of 257vancouver over a Twitter conversation. After he posted a few charts with preliminary data, I asked him plot the below chart showing how the referendum YES vote correlated with the commute mode-shares for public transit and driving:

Both sets of data compare %Yes Vote. SOURCE: Twitter @257van

Notice on how the top set of grey dots, there are more dots up where the driving mode share percentage is higher, closer to the left where the yes vote percentage was lower. The opposite is generally true for those who rely on public transit.

To me this is a rather unsurprising but a very important trend to pay attention to. With at least a part of the “NO” vote outcome coming not necessarily as a result of choice of funding method or a distrust of TransLink, but as a result of any opposition to the details of the Mayors’ Council’s transit plan, I think this really says something about how we need to be looking to plan big-ticket transit expansion here in Metro Vancouver. That is, at least, if we want it to get more support for it from the public.

(HINT: a faster SkyTrain, over the proposed ground-level LRT in Surrey that barely improves transit travel times, would certainly help).

An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the "efficiency" recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.
In the meantime… welcome to the world of even more crowded buses, even more SkyTrain breakdowns, and basically even more commute-related stress whoever you are and however you go.

The "Only rail creates development" myth

The "Only rail creates development" myth

I wrote this segment as a part of the recent article I did commenting on the new study for Light Rail in Surrey. The quote from the study that caught my eye and may perhaps catch the eyes of others invested in transit planning, is this prominent suggestion that…

Unlike Rapid Bus or SkyTrain alternatives, the LRT will have a permanent physical presence in their exclusive rights-of-way and yet be at a human scale and have a gentle footprint in keeping with the lower density portions of the lines. (Surrey LRT study)

Notice how the author attempts to justify the Light Rail technology aspect in this way, by suggesting that the “permanent” presence of rail-based transit (i.e. visible rails on the street) has a positive implication on image from riders and developers, that isn’t achieved with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

(SkyTrain is the existing, fully grade-separated, driverless rapid transit system in Metro Vancouver)

Myth 1: Bus Rapid Transit has no “permanence”

This notion that BRT can have no “permanence” and doesn’t attract economic development is has been challenged by transportation professionals.

Investing in enhancing bus service instead of physical rails on the street is not a failure to create “permanence”. After all, rapid transit improvements are justified in the first place because the demand for the transit on that corridor is already quite high without it.

According to a new report released by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, BRT systems in North America are outperforming LRT in terms of how much development is generated per transit investment dollar. While the study found an LRT line in Portland had generated the most development, when this was divided per dollar of transit investment, the LRT line actually generated 31 times less development, than the system that led the per-dollar development measure: a BRT system in Cleveland.

“Per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, Bus Rapid Transit leverages more transit-oriented development (T.O.D.) investment than Light Rail Transit or streetcars.”

(Institute for Transportation & Development Policy)

According to the study, the top predictors in T.O.D. outcomes are not related to the choice of technology; they are:

  1. Strong government support for redevelopment
  2. Real estate market conditions
  3. Usefulness of transit services – speed, frequency, reliability

Clearly, when the outcomes are given similar marketing and promotion, developers don’t actually care if the system uses rails or not.

Here in Canada, York Regional Transit in Ontario, with its “VIVANext” program to implement city-wide BRT, is helping to challenge the popular notion that only rail systems can reinvigorate communities. The video shows vibrant urban communities growing around future BRT stations.

Myth #2: Light Rail creates “permanence”

Light Rail is praised by supporters for creating the idea of “permanence” – which has to do with the presence of physical tracks in the streets. The suggestion is supposed to be something along the lines of, “we invested rails in this corridor so that it will never disappear.”

This is a very dangerous myth – and one of the reasons this is dangerous is because of the untold implication, wherein going straight to a Light Rail system results in other parts of the transit system lose transit service, as a means of coping with the associated costs.

Perhaps the best example of this is the downtown streetcar system in Portland, Oregon. The reveled streetcar had vibrant beginnings in its promise to provide a clean, high-quality service every 10 minutes, promoting and connecting new developments in the downtown core.

Its big-ticket issue, however, lies in the fact that it was not planned around actually improving mobility. The resulting service was not significantly more useful than existing city buses, and was often slower than walking or cycling. It was easily and frequently disrupted by accidents, poorly parked cars, and a host of other issues.


Above video: Portland Streetcar gets stuck due to a poorly parked vehicle, in what would be a minor and avoidable adjustment for a bus.

The costs that the streetcar saddled the city with didn’t help the major funding shortages affecting region-wide transit in the late 2000s, resulting in massive service cuts and cancellations throughout the region. It was so bad that in 2009, the regional operator was forced to abolish its entire 15-minute frequent transit network due to lack of funds.

Throughout its history, the streetcar has also received service cutbacks – which arguably challenge the notion that rail has “permanence”. The streetcar has never once operated at the initially promised frequencies of 10 minutes. The cutbacks were initially to the point where you would have to wait as long for a streetcar in the supposedly-vibrant city centre, as you would for a bus in a lower-density part of Surrey.

The streetcar’s ridership is so low that only 6% of the streetcar’s operating costs comes from farebox recovery. 94% of operating costs must be subsidized, and the subsidy is so heavy that it has City Auditors concerned that the streetcar is taking away from other basic services.

“We remain concerned about how projects like Portland Streetcar displace other transportation services,” referring to street maintenance.
City audit questions management of Portland Streetcar – Apr 2014

What is clear about the Portland streetcar example is that the ‘rails’ in the transit lines haven’t made any meaningful difference. They have added so little value, which ends up coming out negative against the funding issues that affected transit service throughout the region.

When the streetcars are unable to run due to an accident or some issue, the replacement shuttle buses are providing essentially the same service as the streetcars. It has had some people thinking whether Portland could follow examples here in Vancouver and in Seattle, launching a well-branded, electric trolley-bus service could have been more suitable for not just the streetcar routes, but other bus routes throughout the city as well.

A stopped TransLink articulated low-floor electric trolley. Buses like these were paid for by the additional revenue raised through low-risk bonds.
TransLink operates several articulated trolley buses here in Vancouver.

Bridging the gap between BRT and LRT

Recently, consultant Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit blog (which as you’ll notice, I’ve already referenced a few times in this write-up) mentioned that when naturally low-performing local and suburban bus services are excluded from the picture, frequent bus service is nearly as cost-efficient as LRT (in terms of the cost for every rider on the end-service).

Many advocates of LRT would rather have you look at the bus vs LRT operating costs per rider, as they apply to the entire transit system. This creates misleading attitudes surrounding buses, because the numbers include the local and suburban bus services that are naturally poor-performing (and on top of that, will likely never be replaced/justified by an LRT, ever).

This chart says two remarkable things: Firstly, that frequent bus performance is now very close to light rail performance. Secondly, that the spread between Frequent Bus and infrequent bus is usually bigger than the spread between all buses and light rail.
This chart says two remarkable things: Firstly, that frequent bus performance is now very close to light rail performance. Secondly, that the spread between Frequent Bus and infrequent bus is usually bigger than the spread between all buses and light rail.

The numbers above demonstrate that when you give buses the service quality and frequency usually associated with a more expensive LRT investment, they can be nearly as cost-efficient to operate. Likewise, if buses are also given the same amenities that add to comfort, image and sleekness, then they will likely be appreciated as much by the public.

BRT can receive the same “permanence enhancements” as LRT such as branding, way-finding information, landscaping, lighting, and dedicated rights-of-way. Many BRT systems have adopted innovative features that go a long way towards bridging the gap between BRT and LRT.

BRT advocates often cite examples in South America (such as Bogota, Colombia and others) that use BRT so extensively and so innovatively, that it is considered a replacement for heavy rail. I believe there is another worthy example that deserves some serious attention, and it’s within North America:

“Look ma, no hands”! In Eugene, Oregon, the “Emerald Express” BRT system adopted a magnetically-guided automated steering system, allowing the bus to make more precise turns and dock with precision at every BRT station. The revenue service of this guided system was introduced in June 2013 and is now celebrating its 2nd anniversary.

This guided BRT design allows for reduced lane-width requirements. Steering is automated through the electronic guidance, which only requires pavement under the wheel tracks. This provides an opportunity for the inclusion of additional green space between the tracks. The guided bus technique allows for “precision docking” at the stations.

(BRT project brief)

While the buses do need to be specially equipped, they can still run on other roads. This system does not require the extensive infrastructure and costs of previously-developed “guided” BRT systems, and can in fact save costs by allowing a tighter, narrower running right-of-way for rapid buses.

Showcase of Eugene, Oregon's Emerald Express. Taken from automated steering system study linked above.
Showcase of Eugene, Oregon’s Emerald Express right-of-way (from automated steering system study linked above)

It’s time to consider BRT

Where could you go with Bus Rapid Transit? I personally think that a lot of the potential of BRT systems is dismissed not necessarily because of disapproval, but also because the discussion is never really started. You would never be able to travel from King George & 88th and end up in South Surrey or even Coquitlam without transferring, on the currently proposed LRT system. Unfortunately, that’s been pushed out as a key consideration in transit planning here.

The Emerald Express is an excellent example of how current technology can be used to bridge the gap between BRT and LRT. And, on top of the examples showed in Eugene, there are so many other ways to “bridge the gaps”.

At this point, basically every heavily-promoted LRT feature can be replicated with BRT (and likewise, every streetcar feature with buses). Well-designed BRT systems incorporate lements such as: sheltered stations with wait-time displays, off-board payment, seating and other amenities adding comfort and ambiance. Hybrid diesel-electric or electric trolley buses can be used to lower or eliminate carbon emissions – and provide the smoother, non-jerky ride quality of electric vehicles. Plus, double-articulated buses are increasingly being used – giving a little more flexibility in terms of capacity (Light Rail’s current running advantage).

If BRT can gain more traction in this decade, it will pave the way for much better transit in all our cities, because BRT costs a lot less to implement, and has numerous flexibility advantages over Light Rail systems in urban settings. You could build more BRT than an LRT with the same dollar, and extend its reach further by through-running onto other corridors.

In order for this to happen, transit advocates must abandon any and all adherence to the “only rail creates development” myth. The fear-mongering, excuses and nay-saying from pro-LRT activists is becoming a serious setback to the realization of transit potential in our cities.

Concept image of rapid bus service instead of LRT on King George Blvd/104 Ave. Note the continuation of 3 different services to allow direct connections to Cloverdale, Coquitlam and other communities.
My concept of rapid bus service instead of LRT on King George Blvd/104 Ave in Surrey. Note the continuation of 3 different services to allow direct connections to Cloverdale, Coquitlam and other communities. Through-running flexibility is a major BRT advantage that won’t be had by currently-proposed LRT.

Calgary Light Rail system incomparable to Surrey

Calgary Light Rail system incomparable to Surrey
Responding to: If at-grade light rail does the job for Calgary, it will for Surrey too – South Fraser Blog

I was drawn to South Fraser Blog a couple of weeks ago when the webmaster commented on the concerns raised by a Township of Langley engineer over the proposed Light Rail system in Surrey. It prompted the response on this blog (Langley and Legitimacy on Light Rail Concerns), which noted numerous fallacies in the SFB article, many common and repeated among Lower Mainland LRT advocates.

Today, SFB caught my attention again with a new headline on the website declaring adamantly and proudly that “If at-grade light rail does the job for Calgary, it will for Surrey too“, a result of the webmaster (Nathan Pachal) recently visiting Calgary. Pictures are included of the Calgary LRT system, in an attempt to set an example for Surrey.

However, I immediately found many reasons to the contrary. As a first, it should be noteworthy that most of the observation wasn’t centered on the newest-opened line on the system.

Opened at the end of 2012 and adding 8.2km, the newest LRT line in Calgary is almost entirely grade-separated (including a prominent elevated segment and station), which likely wouldn’t have served the S.F.B.’s purposes to showcase at-grade rail very well at all.

And yet, the West LRT is a shining example of how Calgary has mandated its future build-out of LRT. Like many cities, Calgary has realized that more grade-separation is key to making rail rapid transit reliable, safe and competitive. Which is why the new West LRT resembles a SkyTrain extension.

Calgary’s newest West LRT. Image: Harris Rebar
Calgary’s newest West LRT. Image: Harris Rebar

Differences in context and right-of-way

As I’ve mentioned in past write-ups on the proposed Surrey LRT system, one of the things I feel is among the biggest issues is the choice on how the proposed LRT system is going to be built. All 27km of the LRT right-of-way (R.O.W.) will be at-grade, on-street, and in the middle of the street – interfacing with vehicles and pedestrians, and operating at the speed of surrounding traffic.

Calgary’s LRT system is not designed in this fashion at all. A comparative survey of LRT systems (pg. 5) measured that 93% of the system is placed on a private, segregated R.O.W. where the speed of trains exceeds 35 miles per hour (60 km/h). There will be no parts of the Surrey LRT that will be operating like this, as the maximum speed limit on city streets is 60km/h. It is atrocious to be trying to draw a comparison between two completely different types of LRT.

Unfortunately, LRT advocates have few systems to draw appropriate comparisons with. In the same aforementioned survey, all of the compared systems operate largely in either fully exclusive R.O.W.s, or other semi-separated ones at over 60km/h – making none of them comparable to the proposed system for Surrey.

These critical details are often forgotten by the Lower Mainland’s light rail advocates, because of the broad scope of systems that are called “light rail” but aren’t necessarily at all comparable.

Glimpsing Calgary’s Light Rail performance

Calgary light rail system provides consistent travel times. In Downtown Calgary, signals are timed to allow the smooth flow for light rail riders, cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

(Claim on South Fraser Blog)

The South Fraser Blog reasons that the C-Train’s performance is “consistent” and so will meet the standards of Surrey transit riders. Firstly, I think it’s important that claims like these get some sort of back-up so as to give readers a better idea of what’s being compared, but a link to any information is markedly absent.

So I decided to track down some of the data myself. This is what a 2010 study on the C-Train’s reliability has said about the C-Train’s (in)ability to run on-time:

Due to many issues in LRT operations, the target headway is not achieved regularly. Trains are often delayed, and the level of service is not considered satisfactory by many passengers.

(Reliability and Delay in LRT operation in Calgary – R.M.N.T. Sirisoma, S.C. Wirasinghe, D. Morgan)

The worst delays on the system happen as the lines pass through 7th Avenue in the City Centre, which is touted by S.F.B. for its on-street alignment. Despite the claimed reliability of the traffic signal sync system, 25 to 30% of all trains in both directions are delayed by more than 3 minutes.

The study does not account for technical issues like stuck doors or signal breakdowns, or for service disruptions caused by closed tracks and accidents – it is meant to measure the system’s day-to-day performance, something that’s generally not considered newsworthy as it’s what Calgarians are used to.

That means that the major incidents that can and do make the news come on top of this already not-so-stellar performance.

And with C-Train riders having to deal with as much as 57 major delays within a single month, many of them have been left relatively miserable.

Regular train rider Heather Laird says @calgarytransit has become her warning beacon for when to ride and when to drive to her job downtown.

“I keep a close eye on Twitter in the morning — delays have become so common we’re used to it.”

On-street running or on-street shoehorning?

Along 36 St NE, light rail traffic is prioritized at intersections.

(South Fraser Blog)

There’s prominent mention of the Northeast LRT’s 36 St NE section, which technically runs in the middle of a road, making it easier to draw comparisons with the proposed systems here in the South of Fraser. For numerous reasons, I still think this isn’t the case.

This is what the Northeast LRT line actually looks like:

Photo: 'Light Rail Now' group
Photo: ‘Light Rail Now’ group
Calgary LRT on 36 St NE - Photo credit: Ryan Harder, Flickr
Calgary LRT on 36 St NE – Photo credit: Ryan Harder, Flickr

36 St NE is busy, and is basically a highway. In order to “prioritize” LRT, there is a requirement of lights, crossing arms and bells at all crossings, and there are dual left turn lanes at the majority of intersections to accommodate for the lengthier train crossing delays. The result is the LRT on 36 St NE looks nothing like an urban tram system, but similar to other Calgary LRT lines placed in freeway medians – with intersections instead.

This isn’t an “on-street LRT”: this is an LRT, with its right-of-way shoehorned into a middle of the street, sharing none of the characteristics of typical on-street tram systems and completely different from the proposal for Surrey.

Photo: Light Rail Now group
Photo: Light Rail Now group

You do not even cross the street to access station platforms – all stations are accessed by pedestrian overpasses, with stairs or long circular ramps. There is virtually no community integration, and everything requires twice the land footprint of anything that would be permissible in Surrey. The ballasted track LRT R.O.W. is over 4 lanes wide at any point on the corridor.

It’s no coincidence that the S.F.B. article did not include any pictures of 36 St NE. Doing so would paint a picture of LRT that is relatively unattractive.

The confusing context of “LRT”

Light rail supporters mix “LRT” and “tram” statistics interchangeably, thus the arguments made by supporters are quite flawed: the main problem with pro-LRT activists is that the broad scope of LRT systems allows them to take bits and pieces in their argument that do not add up to the whole.

UBC SkyTrain Group – “Debunking Further Myths”, 2009

The fact that Light Rail systems come in many different shapes and sizes was first pointed out by the “UBC SkyTrain” advocacy group 6 years ago, and has been ignored by the transit community at-large ever since.

Light Rail has a confusing context. While the many similar systems that are branded as “Light Rail” do share several characteristics, I think there’s a need to pay attention to the key differences in design of these systems. What might work well for a certain LRT system may not work well at all in the other.

One of the reasons I have remained in opposition of a Surrey LRT is because of the many issues that will stem from choices in design and lack of foresight (I recently wrote on the fallacies of a new city study attempting to justify LRT, [SEE HERE]). The Calgary’s C-Train was built in a context that didn’t have these issues from the very beginning. R.O.W.s were pre-planned years before construction, and were largely located off of city streets.

But the differences are not just in specifics in design. It must also be considered that they extend to what roles the transit system is playing in a city.

The C-Train didn't build higher-density, sustainable, transit-oriented city centres like SkyTrain built Metrotown in Burnaby.
The C-Train didn’t build higher-density, sustainable, transit-oriented city centres like the ones our SkyTrain built. Shown here is Metrotown in Burnaby.

C-Trains run less frequently than our driver-less SkyTrains, especially during off-peak hours and on weekends, limiting their ability to foster transit-oriented communities with people living transit-coherent lifestyles.

As a result, C-Train is most effective at replacing cars for that final commute into the one high-density city area (downtown) – but that doesn’t mean C-Train trips are always beginning by walking, cycling or transit. Nearly every single C-Train station is complemented with a large, land-intensive park and ride – ensuring that parking can be reduced in the space-limited downtown core.

In Metro Vancouver, it's common to take the bus to reach the SkyTrain. In Calgary, the common standard is to park-and-ride.
In Metro Vancouver, it’s common to take the bus to reach the SkyTrain. In Calgary, the common standard is to park-and-ride.

Outside of this pattern, it’s a toss-up. There are few dense nodes on the LRT lines, and little variety in commuting patterns. Coherent transit usage demands good transit development and a robust city-wide transit network, but the bus system has obviously has not grown to be robust enough to prevent the need for so many huge park-and-rides. And without a robust city-wide network, it also becomes difficult to compete against commutes to areas where jobs are concentrated over lower densities (like industrial parks).

As a result, of the $6.14 billion the City of Calgary is earmarking for transportation investments in the next 10 years, 63% of that money will be going to roads – far outpacing investments in transit, walking and cycling. Clearly, the road network has remained to be of far greater economic importance than the C-Train light rail system in the city of Calgary.

If reduction in road expansion is supposed to be one of the major goals of rapid transit, then the C-Train network may as well be a colossal failure.

In conclusion,

All the Light Rail advocates I have heard from seem to have this fundamental value that it is Light Rail’s viability in Metro Vancouver and especially South of the Fraser is proven by the various examples around the world. Because we currently do not have such a system here, Light Rail has become a sensational topic among transit discussion circles.

Many of these advocates think it’s as simple of a matter as “If it works for ________, it will work for Surrey.”

As shown by the Calgary example, that is clearly not the case.

New Surrey LRT study wastes taxpayer money

New Surrey LRT study wastes taxpayer money

The City of Surrey has released a new report by Shirocca Consulting titled “Economic Benefits of Surrey LRT”, available on the city website. Unfortunately, as I also detailed in a previous release on the SkyTrain for Surrey website, it fails to address what actually matters to commuters and transit riders.

What’s wrong with it? One of the first big issues I found with this study when I looked into it was that it basically concludes the obvious. It neither provides important information that decision-makers actually want, nor that which actually has meaningful relevance to the project stakeholders (city residents). To put it shortly and bluntly, it was a waste of taxpayer resources and has poor value in promoting Surrey’s LRT project.

There are 3 main issues I have identified in this study. You can read in detail about them below.

Issue 1: Over-emphasis on construction process

Firstly, the study promotes the very obvious conclusion that if you start a major construction project, you create construction jobs. Building absolutely anything would achieve the same results.

In this stage of planning where the final design and business case is not complete, what needs to be looked at is not the results of the construction process – but the results of the outcome, which measures how efficient a project is as a use of our money and resources.

One of the reasons I reckon the Shirocca study does not touch on this at all is because the original Surrey Rapid Transit Study, commissioned by TransLink and endorsed by Surrey, came to the conclusion that Light Rail fails. The benefits of LRT failed to outweigh the costs in a multiple account analysis. It is an inefficient use of our money.

One of the reasons the benefits of LRT failed to outweigh the costs in the previous study was because this study looked at a certain aspect of construction that the Shirocca report refused to touch on: the economic impact of construction, negatively.

Construction will close lanes, disrupt traffic and snarl our major corridors for years, costing the economy thousands upon thousands of man-hours sitting in idling cars and stuck transit buses. On King George Blvd and 104th Ave, the exchange for years of construction pain is only 1 minute in transit time-savings over the 96 B-Line.

104 Ave: No benefits from LRT – Express riders save just 1 minute on the proposed LRT vs. 96 B-Line
I detailed the kind of disruption residents will face in this graphic I sent last year to the City of Surrey.

Decision makers aren’t un-educated in this matter: they know that major transportation projects will create substantial jobs in the construction industry. This is why I have firm doubts that those at the provincial and federal level will take the estimates on construction jobs in this study seriously – especially as it doesn’t measure against potential alternatives, like a combination SkyTrain and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

Issue 2: “Only rail creates development” myth

Myth 1: Bus Rapid Transit has no “permanence”

Unlike Rapid Bus or SkyTrain alternatives, the LRT will have a permanent physical presence in their exclusive rights-of-way and yet be at a human scale and have a gentle footprint in keeping with the lower density portions of the lines.
(Surrey LRT study)

The author attempts to justify the Light Rail technology aspect in this way, by suggesting that the “permanent” presence of rail-based transit (i.e. visible rails on the street) has a positive implication on image from riders and developers, that isn’t achieved with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

This notion that BRT can have no “permanence” and doesn’t attract economic development is simply incorrect – it has been challenged by numerous transportation professionals.

According to a new report released by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, BRT systems in North America were outperforming LRT in terms of how much development was generated per transit investment dollar. While the study found an LRT line in Portland had generated the most development, when this was divided per dollar of transit investment, the LRT line actually generated 31 times less development, than the system that led the per-dollar development measure: a BRT system in Cleveland.

That’s because BRT can receive the same “permanence enhancements” as LRT such as branding, way-finding information, landscaping, lighting, and dedicated rights-of-way. BRT can be equipped with sheltered stations with wait-time displays, off-board payment, seating and other amenities adding comfort and ambiance, just like LRT.

As an example, this video from York Regional Transit in Ontario, detailing its “VIVANext” program to implement city-wide BRT, challenges that notion. The video shows vibrant urban communities growing around future BRT stations.

Myth #2: Light Rail investments create “permanence”

Rails do not create “permanence”, and may actually harm the maintenance of it. LRT service can be seriously affected by things such as popularity and financial factors, particularly as LRT systems are costlier than BRT.

As an example, Portland, Oregon’s streetcar system had vibrant beginnings,promising high-quality service every 10 minutes, and connecting new developments in the downtown core. Because the service not significantly more useful than existing city buses, and was often found to be slower than walking or cycling, the ridership on the streetcar did not materialize to the point of demanding the higher-frequency service.

So service was cut back severely – initially to the point where you would have to wait as long for a streetcar in the supposedly-vibrant city centre, as you would for a bus in a lower-density part of Surrey. This has had a major effect on the system’s ridership, viability, public image, and support from economic investors.

The Portland Streetcar’s ridership suffers to the point where it has a low farebox recovery ratio of just 6%. It is so heavily subsidized that City Auditors have reported that the cost of operating & maintaining the streetcar has taken away from other basic services.

“We remain concerned about how projects like Portland Streetcar displace other transportation services,” referring to street maintenance.
City audit questions management of Portland Streetcar – Apr 2014

Today, even the transit-oriented developments that have been described as the ‘justification’ for the streetcar investment required additional subsidies to be actually built – and the only advocates of the streetcar in Portland are the ones who think that frequency and reliability of service doesn’t matter – people who are clearly in the minority.

“I think frequency is an overrated thing. Let’s say there’s a 20-minute [wait].  You can look on your phone, wait inside and have a beer.” — Portland Streetcar Citizens Committee member Peter Finley Fry, justifying the 18-minute frequency of the Portland Streetcar’s new Eastside loop, quoted last August in Willamette Week.

While I do recognize it may not be as fair to draw development outcome comparisons between “rapid” bus or rail systems and a non-rapid streetcar, what was clear about the Portland streetcar situation is that the ‘rails’ in the transit lines haven’t made any meaningful difference.

When the streetcars are unable to run due to an accident or some issue, the replacement shuttle buses are providing essentially the same service as the streetcars. It has had some people thinking whether a well-branded, electric trolley-bus service could have been more suitable for not just the streetcar routes, but other bus routes throughout the city as well.

Issue 3: Ignoring the transportation aspect

Adopting an urban-style neighbourhood design, it will result in direct links to key destinations, with more stops than SkyTrain, which operates more on a railway format.

Investing in LRT rather than SkyTrain also makes both economic and land use sense in Surrey as it can provide more kilometers of line per dollar spent, which is what Surrey needs given its geographic size, variation, spread of its component communities and rapidity of its expected growth.

(Surrey LRT study)

The suggestions that followed the aforementioned sentence underscore the study’s ignorance of the transportation aspect. Simply put, the study refuses to consider or attempt to measure what actually matters to transit riders.

It’s a very risky assumption to think that an LRT would attract a superior ridership because it would offer more stops and local access than a SkyTrain extension, at the expense of journey times for riders.

The original Surrey Rapid Transit Study, commissioned by TransLink and endorsed by Surrey, found a better transit outcome out of a combination SkyTrain extension with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). This study reasoned that the benefits of this option would be higher, finding over 2x the travel time savings for existing transit users and 3x for new transit users, on opening day.

This is going to make a huge difference to potential riders. Here in Metro Vancouver, studies, surveys and the results of our transit projects have repeatedly demonstrated that travel time is one of the biggest factors in our commute mode choice.

The most in-your-face one is that SkyTrain has a ridership per kilometre that is unmatched by any single Light Rail system in Canada or the US (numbers from APTA, CUTA – compiled [HERE] and [HERE]). Speed is the #1 reason our ridership is achieving these record levels. It is the most versatile feature of our regional rapid transit system.

When the Canada Line on our SkyTrain network opened to the public just over 5 years ago, its trains witnessed ridership levels that surpassed projections already high for North American rapid transit systems. When Canada Line riders were then surveyed, trip time was found to be the most-liked aspect. In essence, the Canada Line’s speed and reliability as a fully grade-separated transit system was responsible for its excellent ridership results.

The speed of the trip is a “most liked” aspect of Canada Line service. This was mentioned by more than four-in-ten riders (42%). Mid and high frequency riders also valued the frequency and on-time reliability of the service.

Metro Vancouver doesn’t just have some of the highest rapid transit ridership per km rates on SkyTrain – our entire transit system has one of the highest transit ridership per-capita rates in all of North America.

From South Fraser Blog
From South Fraser Blog

That fact in itself really underscores the success of our SkyTrain system. The effects are clearly seen across the region, with many riders coming to SkyTrain on buses and taking journeys that mix the two modes (bus, SkyTrain) or more (i.e. SeaBus). This kind of transit coherency, where people are using transit from the beginning of their trip to the very end, is unique to our region. In other medium-sized cities, the success of their rapid transit systems has generally relied on park-and-rides – fostering trips that might finish with transit, but start with the car.

Calgary, which provides free park-and-rides at nearly every LRT station, is a notorious example of this.
Calgary, which provides free park-and-rides at nearly every LRT station, is a notorious example of this.

A SkyTrain extension to Langley would have nearly 75% more boardings per km than the proposed Surrey LRT network. The Surrey Rapid Transit Study predicted that investing in SkyTrain and BRT would generate 2x as many new daily transit trips in the region as an LRT.

Surrey is indeed a big city, and because of that its commuter base extends far beyond where the LRT lines can go. In the end, the system we choose to build could make the difference between whether someone who doesn’t live very close to the line would be willing to start taking the bus (using the line to complete his/her commute), or not do that at all.

Among other issues

By far the biggest failure in the new Surrey LRT report is its failure to address the numerous issues raised by LRT opponents, including myself.

The Township of Langley recently raised questions regarding the proposed LRT, with an engineer questioning its merit to Langley. He noted that the City of Surrey’s desire to add more stops for a more localized service come at the expense of ensuring the corridor is competitive as a regional backbone.

The new Surrey LRT study simply suggests that having more/local stops will foster higher ridership, without any suggestions on how much it would be (against how much could be lost as a result of the travel time trade-off), completely ignoring the concerns raised by the Township.

But an even bigger issue, ignored by not just this study but by every pro-LRT party to date, is safety.

From The Seattle Times, 2011:
From The Seattle Times, 2011: “Light-rail service was held up for three hours Tuesday after a train struck a pickup at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and South Dawson Street.”

Collisions between trains and vehicles or pedestrians are an inevitable reality with LRT systems. They also president further cause for concern in terms of the impact on service reliability. Accidents – including those that don’t involve trains – can block tracks and disrupt LRT lines for hours.

There is a financial and economic implication that will come with every accident. Where tracks are blocked, commuters are delayed and we lose hundreds of man-hours in productivity. Where trains are damaged, it costs a lot of money to repair them. Where lives are lost… they’re irreplaceable.

There is also a cost to the entities providing insurance, which could be passed on to the public in the form of higher insurance rates.

Dublin's Luas Tram is often featured in LRT promotion by the City of Surrey. Here it is from another perspective, having crashed into a bus. Photo: CC-BY-SA Flickr: William Murphy
Dublin’s Luas Tram is often featured in LRT promotion by the City of Surrey. Here it is from another perspective, crashed into a bus. Photo: CC-BY-SA Flickr: William Murphy

This is further amplified by the fact that Light Rail is one of the most dangerous and deadly forms of transportation. In a 505-page National Transportation Statistics report published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Light Rail systems were found to have the second highest fatality rate of any transportation mode, second only to motorcycles. Nearly every other mode of transportation, including bus rapid transit and motor vehicle travel, was found to be safer than Light Rail.

Average fatality rates per 100 million miles, 2000–2011. Source: US Department of Transportation
Average fatality rates per 100 million miles, 2000–2011. Source: US Department of Transportation

Most LRT systems in North America have segregated, private rights-of-way – but of the few LRT systems that have been built so as to be entirely at street level and on the street, those were found to be the most dangerous systems in North America. The Houston Metrorail is a prime example, having suffered from a track record of frequent accidents, since its opening and continuing up to today.

The Surrey LRT system will be built this way, running at-grade through some of the most dangerous intersections in the region and introducing a massive implication to transit riders, drivers and pedestrians in terms of safety.

By far, the only comments from LRT advocates in the city have been the denial of the safety issues presented with introducing trains to an on-street environment.

We deserve better than wasted money on studies for something that isn’t going to work. With consistent failures by LRT supporters to address safety, risks and the transportation case, on-street Light Rail is clearly inappropriate for Surrey, Langley and the South of Fraser.

Below: New ‘SkyTrain for Surrey’ campaign video

Transit Ideas: Fixing the 407 and 430 (Richmond)

Transit Ideas: Fixing the 407 and 430 (Richmond)
FEATURED PHOTO: A 407 Gilbert bus leaves Bridgeport Station in snowy weather. Photo by Dennis Tsang on Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
FEATURED PHOTO: A 407 Gilbert bus leaves Bridgeport Station in snowy weather. Photo by Dennis Tsang on Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Despite ongoing attempts at service optimizations that fix costly and inefficient oddities in the Metro Vancouver transit system, there remain a number of service oddities at different locations throughout the system.

In Richmond, the 407 and 430 – which primarily service the Gilbert Rd., Garden City Rd. and Bridgeport Rd. corridors are no exception to this. I ride these two routes occassionally on trips from the Metrotown area to Kwantlen University (taking advantage of the at-the-door drop-off) or to Richmond’s night markets and personally find that they could be far more useful than the current arrangement, with a bit of creative tweaking.

Background

The 407 took on its present form in 2002, when it was extended onto Bridgeport Road in lieu of 402 service (before the introduction of the 98 B-Line – the Canada Line’s rapid bus pre-cursor – the 407 serviced the Gilbert corridor only and continued as an express route to Vancouver). Today, it continues to provide a basic local-access service on Richmond’s Gilbert Rd, Garden City and Bridgeport corridors.

The 430 was introduced in late 2004, with 30 minute peak and 60 minute off-peak frequencies, to service a regional travel market between Richmond Centre and Metrotown in Burnaby. The route was cited to “make it easier for commuters to travel between Richmond and Burnaby” and “save travel time for students travelling to the Richmond campus of Kwantlen University College”, according to TransLink’s original press release. The result was a very big improvement in the links between these two centres – as previously, connecting riders would have to take the 98 B-Line to Granville & 49th and take the 49 for the rest of the way to reach Burnaby; while destinations along the current 430 would require multiple routes (i.e. present-day 407, 22, 100) to be reached. Today, the 430 operates with slightly enhanced frequencies of 20/30 (peak/off-peak).

Moving towards today

The Canada Line resulted in significant changes to Richmond transit. Photo credit: Flickr - Richard Eriksson
The Canada Line SkyTrain resulted in significant changes to Richmond transit. Photo credit: Flickr – Richard Eriksson

In recent years, the structure of transit towards and within Richmond has changed significantly. The most significant change was the introduction of the Canada Line (a SkyTrain rapid transit service) in 2009. This created a different way of travelling into Richmond, and required the reorganization of most bus routes. Many routes had their frequencies increased, which included the 430. Routes were reorganized to connect with the SkyTrain station, and some routes that continued express to downtown Vancouver via Granville Street were shortened to terminate at Bridgeport Station, allowing for frequency improvements.

Problems

The unfortunate result of these service changes is a service pattern that’s not necessarily optimized for the Canada Line, nor is it optimized for local travel, on some of Richmond’s bus routes. For example: with the introduction of the Canada Line, it is often more convenient to now use the Canada Line and the 49 for Metrotown-bound trips. The 407 and 430 suffer from issues such as service duplication, different routings, and lack of service simplicity.

(Scroll down to view my proposed solution to fixing the 407 and 430!)

Here are some of the problems I took note of on the two routes:

Confusing service patterns

The current state of routes 407 and 430. Created with TransitMix
The current state of routes 407 and 430. Created with TransitMix

As you can see from my above sketch of the different routes on TransitMix, there are different routings for riders to worry about.

While the 430 has one routing, 407 riders can be dealing with three different trip patterns throughout the day. For example: in the peak hours, the 407 detours via Vulcan Way to service numerous industrial establishments and prioritize linking residents to their jobs. All in all, there are usual 407 trips, peak-hour 407’s via Vulcan Way, and 407’s that only service the Gilbert segment and short turn at Brighouse.

The two routes also don’t necessarily take you to the same place. The 407 uses Cook Road rather than Cooney and Lansdowne to exit Richmond Centre, and additionally detours towards No. 3 Road in the vicinity of Capstan Way.

This is confusing, inconsistent throughout the day and can result in one route being much longer than the other. It’s probably also a rider deterrent – as the job centers being serviced in the northeast are very close to fast, limited-access expressways making driving a very attractive and fast option.

Service duplication: poor off-peak service on Bridgeport/Garden City

Service frequencies on the 407 and 430, by segment
Service frequencies on the 407 and 430, by segment

The actual service is another story. The routes have very varied frequencies, which combines with the confusing service patterns to amplify the issues with the route. None of the service can be considered consistently “frequent” (every 15 minutes or less) and useful in that sense

During some parts of day, the service can be really poor. Interestingly, a half-hourly service is maintained on the 407 during the evenings – this is probably a result of the earlier termination of 430 service at 9:30PM, and transit demand from the International Summer Night Market – but the mid-day services on Bridgeport Rd. are very paltry.

Whereas the 407 generally traverses the entire corridor between Steveston and its northern terminus at the Knight St Bridge, every second trip terminates at Richmond-Brighouse mid-day. This results in a paltry and barely usable hourly service during mid-day weekday and weekend periods on the 407 – which was probably justified as a result of duplication with the route 430, which runs every half-hour. However, as the 430 is an express route, not all stops on Bridgeport and Garden City are served.

If the 407 and 430 service on Bridgeport and Garden City were coordinated – on the same route with the same stops – those corridors could theoretically be enjoying a more useful 20 minute off-peak frequency. Instead, buses come every half-hour or as infrequently as every hour depending on the stop, making it difficult to effectively avail transit service. Contrast that to service on Marine Drive across the Fraser River, or on Cambie Road. Both corridors have only a single bus route (100, 410) – but the service is frequent all-day, every day. Both services are easy to use, popular, and warranted by the ridership figures.

Similar issues: 332 and 335 in Surrey

This was also a problem in my home community of Guildford, Surrey. Until some fairly recent service changes, two different bus routes that were otherwise the same used the 108 Ave corridor: the 335, continuing to Fleetwood, and the 332 (the 332 was the same as the current 335 short-turned at Guildford Exchange, usually interlined with 326 service on 156th Street).

The 335 operated every 20 minutes in the peak hour, whereas the 332 would operate anywhere between 15 and 30 minute service. On the weekends, half-hour 335 service was complimented by duplicate, once-hourly 332 service. All of this proved inefficient and unuseful, so TransLink made some changes in the 2013 service optimization round, with consultations from the community.

A 335 in Surrey, followed by a 337 express to Surrey Central Station.
A 335 in Surrey on 104th Ave, followed by a 337 express to Surrey Central Station.

With the changes, the 108th Ave segment of 335 now enjoys consistent 10-minute peak period frequencies and a frequent 15-minute mid-day weekday service. The service optimization also enabled an extension of the 335 to Newton Exchange. Overall, riding those routes in conjunciton with new 96 B-Line rapid service has been very pleasant for me.

Service duplication: poor service for through Gilbert riders

In addition to the above shortfalls, Gilbert Road 407 riders also have a shortfall with the existing setup. With only every second 407 trip making the entire route during most off-peak periods, this also results in a very poor through service during those periods for Gilbert Road riders headed for destinations on Bridgeport. Riders on 407 trips to Brighouse only could transfer to the 430 express for the remainder of the trip, but the transfer is not a guarantee – and riders who miss their 430 connection could end up waiting 20 minutes for the next bus.

High cost

With a combined service cost approaching $4.4 million, the 407 and 430 service cost is comparable to that of the similarly lengthy, but more frequent 401. Neither route ranks particularly high in terms of service efficiency, and the 407 is dangerously low on the list at 113th of 206 routes in terms of cost per boarded passenger.

See also: TransLink – Transit System Performance

407 Capstan Way detour

#407 Capstan Way detour

The Capstan Way detour on the 407 is an interesting oddity that goes back to the 98 B-Line days, when Bridgeport Station was unbuilt and 407 passengers on Garden City would connect to the 98 B-Line at No. 3 Rd. and Capstan Way. Today, the detour does not connect to any rapid bus route and can add up to 10 minutes for riders on the 407, when combined with the detour to service Bridgeport Station. There’s an improvement in access to some businesses with this routing – however, given the numerous alternatives within very close walking proximity such as the 403 and 410, and the planned opening of a Capstan Way station on the Canada Line, it’s very negligible.

This also becomes a weakness as the 407 can get caught in congestion delays at No. 3 Rd. at Sea Island Way – especially during the evenings when Richmond Night Market is operation, causing buses to reroute and end up avoiding this segment anyway.

If the detour were removed, it could make for a net balance or improvement in access, travel time and service provision.

430: The Usefulness Debate

With the introduction of the Canada Line providing a faster service to Richmond Centre, it has raised some debates in the transit community on the usefulness of the 430.

The rational (sp) for it, is that since the advent of the Canada line, it is always faster to board on the Canada line and transfer along the way toward Metrotown, than to use the 430 from Brighouse. So it is reasonable to retire an “express route” which has been made obsolete by recent transit improvement (which is eventually illustrated by a relatively poor ridership).

See also: A Richmond Transit PlanThe Regional View and The Local View on Voony’s Blog

Voony’s Blog opined that the 430’s usefulness ended with the introduction of the Canada Line, which can be used in conjunction with the existing 49. His Richmond Transit Plan proposal creates a “630” linking Metrotown with Tsawassen Ferry, following the 430’s routing up until the Knight St Bridge – with local service continuing on Bridgeport Road afterwards, and insists that this arrangement would be more useful. I think this would be a bit unfair given the establishment of the 430 with the current ridership, which actually does outperform the 407 and other Richmond routes.

But, indeed, if one were to prioritize a trip between Metrotown and Richmond Centre, a similar travel time could be had with the local 49 service and 430. In the peak hours, the 49 takes about 30 minutes to traverse the segment between Metrotown and Langara, with the Canada Line able to provide for the rest of the way. The 430 also takes about 30 minutes to reach the Canada Line at Bridgeport Station. This is slightly closer to Richmond, but only slightly faster and with the risk of being delayed at the congestion and accident-prone Knight Street Bridge.

The segment between Bridgeport and Brighouse serves few important destinations, (with the only notable one I can think of being Kwantlen Polytechnic University), and most of them are still accessible through other quality transit services.

Defenders of the 430 who may advocate that the existing route be kept at all costs may cite the need to continue servicing heavy demand to access destinations on Bridgeport, including Richmond’s night markets (Magical Candyland and ISNM) as well as IKEA Richmond, nearby retailers and other nearby industrial outlets that are centres for many jobs. Because the current arrangement actually restricts potential service usefulness on the corridor, however, this argument can be effectively nullified. In addition, the earlier end time of 430 service negates the usefulness the route may have to Richmond’s night markets.

A 430 B-Line: transit planning silliness

SEE ALSO: “Rapid Transit Vision” report exposes faults of Surrey LRT proposal on SkyTrain for Surrey

One of the things that caught my attention in the recent Mayors’ Council report was the proposal to convert the 430 into a full, rapid B-Line service. It’s one of the two primary things in this report making me reluctantly ask the question of whether our Mayors can be actually trusted to PLAN transit (the other being the apparent approval of a Light Rail system in Surrey – see my reasons for disapproval at [CLICK HERE]).

Even as a 430 rider myself, who could benefit from the increased frequencies and capacities of such a service, I found myself thinking of the idea and saying to myself, “this is silliness.”

For the busy 49th Avenue corridor, turning the 430 into a B-Line is definitely not the right solution. Every transit planner I can think of would advise TransLink to operate an express B-Line route straight down 49th instead, linking Langara-49th SkyTrain station and Langara College. It would create a more effective, straight route with a faster connection to Canada Line and for Metrotown-Richmond downtown-to-downtown riders, providing improved rapid access where it is needed most on 49th.

I think it’s just so silly to propose to create a B-Line out of an indirect routing – with a very limited business case, as noted by the Mayors’ Council Vision appendices report – that doesn’t even warrant frequent service levels at the moment.

The proposed #430 B-Line in the Mayors' Council report scores low on all performance criteria.
The proposed 430 B-Line in the Mayors’ Council report scores low on all performance criteria.

I understand that a lot of the decisions in this proposal may have had to do with transit-oriented growth-shaping in addition to the transportation element, and that such planning might have the intention of creating such destinations on Bridgeport and south Knight. Howver, not only are there so few destinations of note on the corridor in particular right now – I also seriously doubt the redevelopment potential of the industrial lands on the 430 corridor.

Areas like River Dr, Cambie Road and the Olympic Oval area actually do have higher-density residential or mixed-use developments being planned or even built right now – but those weren’t industrial lands to begin with. Those were empty lands that were much cheaper to develop and build up. With the amount of still-undeveloped land in other areas of Richmond – especially closer to City Centre – I find it doubtful that the redevelopment to create a business case for a 430 B-Line would materialize for years.

My solution

A short-term plan

I used TransitMix to rearrange the services and found that with $4.4 million annually, not only would a much better service plan for all corridors serviced be attained – a new community shuttle route could be introduced, expanding transit service in North Richmond to service and spur new developments.

PROPOSAL - Fix the #407 and #430

SEE TRANSITMIX MAP – CLICK HERE

(I understand that this map can be edited by anyone, so I ask that you do not mess it up, for the sake of other blog viewers! 🙂)

407 on Gilbert, 430 on Bridgeport

Under this plan, the 407 and 430 would be split into two different routes – and service duplication segments would largely be removed:

  • The 407 would continue to operate from Bridgeport Station to Steveston via Brighouse Station. The route would largely assume existing frequencies, but would operate twice as frequently on weekdays between Brighouse and Bridgeport on Garden City Road to replace additional 430 service, serve demand to proposed commercial areas and open up Garden City for higher-density, mixed-use development.
  • The 430 would be shortened to operate between Bridgeport and Metrotown, replacing the 407 on Bridgeport Road.
  • A peak-hour extension of the 407 to Vulcan Way, terminating at Knight & Marine, will continue to operate during peak periods only – doubling service on Bridgeport between Bridgeport Station and No. 5 Rd.

Under my proposal, the 430 ceases to be an express service, serving 5 more stops than currently and providing the bulk of service on Bridgeport Road. At present, the 430 on its limited-stop route does not actually save any significant time over the 407 – with the scheduled time difference being only 1 minute. This may have to do with the low popularity on the 407 – likely a result of paltry off-peak service – resulting in fewer stops being made – and 430 service duplication.

The increased popularity of this setup, resulting from vastly improved frequency, may further slow down the 430 – but for regional through riders between Metrotown and Richmond Centre, this difference would likely be made up anyway if riders use the Canada Line (with a travel time of 6 minutes and a 6-minute frequency – vs. 13 minutes on Garden City via the 430) to complete their journey. All in all, the more frequent and consistent service would likely make up for the shortfall.

These services can be interlined at Bridgeport Station so that 407s continue into 430s, and vice-versa. This would allow the revised routes to operate much like the existing setup, for passenger ease and convenience. For example: during peak hours, 407 runs from Steveston can continue as 407’s extended to Vulcan Way, whereas 407s starting from Brighouse – to provide additional Garden City Rd. service – can interline into the 430’s continuing to Metrotown.

Routes are straightened out and simplified – the Capstan Way detour is removed, and service is not provided on Cooney Rd and Lansdowne Rd. Kwantlen University students will continue to have access to the 407 and 430 by way of a very short, 2-minute walk to Garden City – while riders from Cooney Rd are a very short walk from Lansdowne SkyTrain station.

New C91 community shuttle

C91 River Dr

C91 River Dr map
C91 River Dr map

The second component of this plan involves the introduction of a new community shuttle service: the C91 River Dr.

As a number of medium to high density residential developments rising on River Dr. will soon warrant a transit service, this would be a great opportunity to begin a service to these developments while also bringing expanded, all-day transit options to Vulcan Way corridor industrial and the International Summer Night Market.

Dava Developments' Parc Riviera will add several condominums as well as park amenities to the River Dr corridor northeast of Bridgeport SkyTrain Station.
Dava DevelopmentsParc Riviera will add several condominums as well as park amenities to the River Dr corridor northeast of Bridgeport SkyTrain Station.

The shuttle will run every 30 minutes for most of the day, with enhanced frequencies of 20 minutes during weekday peak periods. On weekdays, the route provides an extension to the northeast end of Crestwood Industrial Park, linking Richmond residents with their jobs.

In conjunction with the existing 407 to Vulcan Way, riders from Bridgeport Station can catch a bus to the Vulcan Way corridor every 10 minutes – significantly improving the transit accessibility of Crestwood Industrial Park. By servicing this market in addition to the market of River Dr. residents riding in the opposite direction to/from Bridgeport Station, the C91 has the potential to be a very cost-effective transit service with high usage in both directions.

The IKEA and Home Depot area around Bridgeport Rd and Sweden Way, where riders can access – among other things – a 24-hour McDonald’s, would also benefit from a 15-minute service or better at any time of day and any day to/from Bridgeport Station, with optimal timing of combination C91 and 430 service.

This shuttle would cost approximately $713,000 annually to operate and could be accomplished within the same budget used for the present 407 and 430, if the two routes are optimized as outlined above.

Further service improvements

Apart from the C91, the plan also incorporates a number of service improvements to both existing route corridors:

  • Late-night service on the 430 is extended to approx. midnight on weekdays & Saturdays.
  • Saturday service on the 430 starts one hour earlier
  • Saturday service on both routes improves to every 20 minutes between 9AM and 6PM
  • All service generally operates at least every 30 minutes at any time

In addition, two key segments will – on the same route or on combinations of two routes – improve to a consistent 10-minute service in the peak hour, as well as a 15-minute mid-day weekday service:

  • Garden City Road between Bridgeport Station and Brighouse Station (407)
  • Bridgeport Road between Bridgeport Station and No. 5 Road (430, 407)

Frequency map - proposed #407, #430 and C91

For a massive service improvement, it would take only the same amount of operating money being put in the 407 and 430 right now – approximately 4.4 million annually – including the cost of additional, 10-15 minute frequency evening shuttle service on the C91 for when the International Summer Night Market is in operation.

A long-term plan

In the long term, the introduction of a frequent, all-day express service on 49th Ave from Metrotown to Langara-49th SkyTrain Station (B-Line or otherwise) can be anticipated. With this, it would be ideal and efficient for the 430 to change.

With the introduction of such a route, the 430 can be cancelled; in place, 22 Knight service is extended beyond the current Knight & Marine terminus to Bridgeport Station, resulting in further increases in frequency on Bridgeport Rd. and through service to Knight St. Riders on the former 430 can now use the 22 in conjunction with the 49 rapid route to maintain a fast connection. Meanwhile, the 407 continues to provide a peak-hour-only extension to Knight & Marine via Vulcan Way.

This would permanently solve an issue where presently, riders must transfer to connect to local Knight Street service – and create new Vancouver-Richmond connection opportunities.

The savings in operating cost would allow the new rapid 49 to be more frequent, improving transit for all people.

What do you think?

Please like, comment and share!

If you like my plan, I encourage you to comment on it below and share it where you can – perhaps re-blog and do a feature on your website! I’m hoping that with the release of TransitMix, I can create “transit ideas” articles like these way more often than I was initially planning – touching on several areas here in Metro Vancouver.

Created with the assistance of TransitMix

Transitmix is what allowed me to visualize this entire article. It’s new and simple way to think about transit in terms of bus requirements and real costs. Map-makers draw a route on a map and plug in span and frequency. The app then calculates a vehicle requirement and cost in both hours and dollars, factoring in an adjustable layover ratio, average speed and dollar cost per service hour.

Testing out Transitmix – New Transit Mapping/Visualization Tool

Testing out Transitmix – New Transit Mapping/Visualization Tool
TransitMix is a new web app that allows both professionals and armchair transit planners/enthusiasts to easily conceptualize transit networks and routes
TransitMix is a new web app that allows both professionals and armchair transit planners/enthusiasts to easily conceptualize transit networks and routes

I caught wind of Transitmix while scrolling through my new reads on Pulse Reader. Jarrett Walker’s blog (Human Transit) has this to say about the tool, which was created by a group of Code for America developers:

Transitmix is simple way to think about transit in terms of bus requirements and real costs. Basically, the user draws a route on a map and plugs in span and frequency. The app then calculates a vehicle requirement and cost in both hours and dollars, factoring in an adjustable layover ratio, average speed and dollar cost per service hour.

Transitmix theoretically works for any city on the map, as any city-related data such as operating cost per service hour is inputted by the user. This tool could theoretically also be used to layout and plan rapid transit lines (including rail) with the insertion of the appropriate “average speed” and “operating cost” values, albeit with the present limitation that lines snap to roads and cannot use other rights of way.

It’s made by the same people who created Streetmix, an urban road visualization tool that I previously featured on this blog.

See also: StreetMix lets you create the perfect urban road
See also: Human Transit – Transitmix: a new tool for armchair transit planners (and pros too?)

I tried it out here in Vancouver to conceptualize one new transit route I had in mind, based on a City of Vancouver (and more recently, Mayors’ Council-approved) proposal to introduce a B-Line type service from Commercial-Broadway station down Victoria Ave. (Pictured above – separate article coming soon)

On the Transitmix Experience

Bus assumptions - TransitMix

One of the reasons Transitmix is currenty able to work with so many cities around the world without issue is because it currently relies solely on user-inputted data.

That means, making effective use of the tool means knowing the average cost of service in your area (operating cost per revenue service hour) because this is not provided for you by the tool. I tracked this down for Metro Vancouver by checking TransLink’s bus performance reviews and other documents.

Unfortunately, that single value for operating cost is valid for all routes on the map and cannot be changed per route – meaning it is currently not possible to accurately compare the costs of standard bus services vs. less-costly community shuttle bus services (or mixes of both). It is, however, possible to create a completely separate map with the appropriate value inputted for those routes.

TransitMix is also currently not able to tell which roads are arterial roads, freeways, or local neighbourhood streets. That means that any speed calculations – which have an effect on operating cost and service levels – will have to be done manually, outside of the tool. At present, they will also have to be converted to mph.

These are the only limitations I’ve found. Among the strengths, previously made maps can be easily shared or remixed – and kept for future re-access – via the numbered URL.

Outlook

Transitmix will become an important tool to empower individuals who have an interest in transit. It takes out a lot of the effort in visualizing and presenting a proposal, and makes instant what would otherwise be a plethora of calculations.

The tool is available at www.transitmix.net.

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Surrey Rapid Transit Vision - Minimap

Background

(scroll down to read the vision!)

If you’ve read about me in any way, you’ll likely know about my issue with the Surrey at-grade rail (Light Rail Transit) proposal. It was the turnkey issue that became responsible for dragging me into a world of politics. As a stakeholder,  it motivated me to educate myself as best as I could about issues in the community, and is the reason why I pay attention.

My problem with Light Rail? As much as everyone seems to like the option – especially over a SkyTrain expansion – and as much as it DOES work well in many locations around the world, the reality of Light Rail in Surrey is that it won’t help us achieve ambitious goals (rather restricting us from getting to them ever); won’t move our people the most efficiently; and won’t give us the most benefits for the cost.

These aren’t wild claims; these are facts and stats that have been made clear in numerous studies, including TransLink’s Surrey Rapid Transit Study. So far, people across the city of Surrey – from stakeholders to big advocacy organizations like the Surrey Board of Trade – have disregarded these facts and stats. It really dismays me to see that over $5 million that was put into the Surrey Rapid Transit Study – which was made specifically to compare the rapid transit options from a technical perspective – is largely going to waste.

One of the most alarming things about the proposal for me is that one of the proposed corridors (104 Ave to Guildford Town Centre) will actually see transit worsen with Light Rail, especially during its construction. It’s been a concern not just as a long-time resident of the Guildford area (and a rider on 104th Ave transit routes), but as a generally astute Surrey issues follower for the sake of citizens in all areas, and our region.

With over 5 years of advocacy of Light Rail Transit from numerous city organizations and politicians, stakeholders like me now face a situation where city organizations that control our future unanimously support Light Rail and unanimously disregard its serious downsides. Light Rail for Surrey was recently approved in the Mayors’ Council’s regional transit vision, which is why I believe the time for action is more urgent ever. It’s a perfect time, actually, with the next municipal elections only months away and the attractive lure of political discussion in this city being just around the corner. I think there’s a real potential to turn this around, and I think it has to be done more than ever.

So today I present you with a new Surrey Rapid Transit Vision: a vision that promises more practicality at a lower cost, and with more than twice the transit improvement benefits for our citizens. And, I plead that you don’t ignore this.

It’s the convergence of my best research, put together in a way that residents, current politicians and candidates for the upcoming Surrey municipal elections will be able to understand. In the following months you will be seeing me circulating this presentation to associations in the city and working hard to make this issue clear in advance of the next municipal elections. You’ll see me contacting potential Mayor and Council candidates,  current politicians, the media and stakeholders about this issue. You’ll see me working at this because I believe this is a big issue and people NEED to hear about it, right now.

Without further ado:

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: A Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

(Recommended: Tap the icon on the bottom right to view in full screen!)

Montreal may use SkyTrain technology for Champlain Bridge "LRT"

Montreal may use SkyTrain technology for Champlain Bridge "LRT"

After Côté tribute, council debates Champlain Bridge transit

BY RENÉ BRUEMMER, GAZETTE CIVIC AFFAIRS REPORTER MAY 26, 2014

MONTREAL — The start of Monday’s monthly city council meeting was dedicated to a man who never served as an elected official but whose life left an enduring mark on a city he loved.

After his homage, a large part of the meeting was dedicated to the question of putting a light-rail transit system on the new Champlain Bridge, a topic close to the heart of Marcel Côté. [READ MORE – The Gazette]

In the City of Montreal, City Council is at odds as to what type of transit should complement the replacement of the dangerous Champlain Bridge, which has come under increased scrutiny after the federal government announced its funding.

SEE ALSO: Federal budget promises fix for Montreal’s aging Champlain Bridge, new Windsor-Detroit border crossing – National Post

Montreal’s transit authority is pleading the City Council to vote in favour of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system on a replacement for the crumbling Champlain Bridge, whereas some stakeholders prefer a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The LRT line, initially meant to provide an alternative transit option for the corridor with no Champlain Bridge replacement, has been in the planning stages since before the need to replace the bridge was identified.

I was reading about this and came across a concept image for the proposed highway median LRT system, on the official website for the proposed line. The yellow-coloured train looks suspiciously like a Mark II SkyTrain vehicle in a 5-car configuration:

CONCEPT IMAGE - Champlain Bridge LRT, taken straight off of the AGENCE MÉTROPOLITAINE DE TRANSPORT website
CONCEPT IMAGE – Champlain Bridge LRT, taken straight off of the AGENCE MÉTROPOLITAINE DE TRANSPORT website

I did some further digging and found that this image is repeated in the preliminary design studies for the light rail transit system, which is comprehensively suggesting that the desired specifications of the new “LRT” line are fully compatible with linear induction motor propulsion (“SkyTrain technology”) and will be using similar rapid transit vehicles.

SEE ALSO: Highway 10/Downtown Montreal Corridor LRT study

This is made evident by a number of items on the project’s list of desired performance criteria on page 32:

• an attractive service operating at a high commercial speed (over 50 km/h) and a high maximum speed (100 km/h);
• a high frequency (intervals less than every 3 minutes at rush hour);
• a high level of safety thanks to guide rails, an exclusive track, automated operating systems and anti-collision devices;

and on page 55:

3.4.1 Operating mode
Automatic train operation has been retained because, among other things, it allows for reduced service intervals and running
times, increased flexibility for adjustments of timetables and intervals, as well as improved safety, better controlled accelerations,
and greater passenger capacity in each train set.

and on page 56:

3.4.7 Car performance requirements
…The design load of the cars (seated passengers + four standees/m2) is 131 passengers per car. Each train will be made of 5
cars and will therefore have a capacity of 655 passengers.

Notice how this is exactly the passenger capacity of a Mark 2 vehicle.

With 80-90m platforms, frequencies less than 3 minutes, 5-car trains, and high-floor cars on a fully grade-separated right-of-way with 6% slopes… almost everything matches. You name it, SkyTrain has it, and Montreal’s Champlain Bridge “LRT” is also going to have it.

Studies have identified that the proposed rapid transit line, which will be fully grade separated, has a positive benefit:cost ratio of 1.11:1. It is 15km long, and advertises a travel time of just 18 minutes from the outbound terminus to Montreal City Centre.

Montreal Champlain LRT recommended alignment
Montreal Champlain LRT recommended alignment – taken from study

Why this matters

You may recall that I recently started a new blogseries called The Problem with SkyTrain critics, which comes at a time when several SkyTrain or other rapid transit expansions are being debated here in Metro Vanouver. One of the problems I have identified with SkyTrain critics (and will be discussing shortly in more articles on the matter) are the numerous dubious claims of SkyTrain’s “obsolescence” – SkyTrain critics claim that the technology, which was developed in the 1980s, no longer has a place in rail rapid transit planning.

SkyTrain criticsdeny SkyTrain’s potential as a high-quality rapid transit system that generates billions of dollars in transportation, developmental and economic benefits. They clutter our blog-feeds, newsletter sections and comments with endlessly varied suggestions to perpetuate the belief that SkyTrain simply isn’t the best option for investment.

SEE ALSO: The Problem with SkyTrain Critics – Denying the Benefits Part I

But, this is the second example I have uncovered as of late that shows that the technology we use in SkyTrain is becoming a serious rail rapid transit option for cities worldwide. In another recent blog article, I brought to light that Kuala Lumpur [SEE HERE] has approved an additional 36km of SkyTrain expansion in addition to the ongoing 17km extension of the Kelana Jaya Line. Other extensions are taking place in Sendai, Japan and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Guangzhou Metro recently opened a new metro line using SkyTrain technology, which already carries over 700,000 passengers daily.

The success of SkyTrain (in particular, the Canada Line) has also inspired the Montreal airports authority to advocate for a light metro-type shuttle to the airport.

SEE ALSO: Montréal-Trudeau Airport Light Rail Shuttle Study
The JFK AirTrain was one of the rapid transit systems mentioned in the Champlain LRT study as a reference, alongside the Millennium Line and Canada Line in Vancouver.
The JFK AirTrain (which uses SkyTrain technology) was one of the rapid transit systems mentioned in the Champlain LRT study as a reference, alongside the Millennium Line and Canada Line in Vancouver.