TransLink did something to save people $130 million and no one noticed

TransLink did something to save people $130 million and no one noticed

In my last referendum blog article, which – suffice to say – has been a major hit with discussion communities and the media, I discussed how the “No” side in the transit referendum has skewered perspectives on our CEO salary – a naturally negative aspect of TransLink, as it can be with any public transit agency (for example, Montreal residents are also loud whiners about their CEO’s salary).

To make matters worse, there’s a positive aspect we’ve been largely ignoring: there are great things TransLink does for us that we don’t tend to give much credit for, and often give no credit for at all. Perhaps it’s a result of negative willies in the “vote no” side wanting to make sure there’s no possible way to think positively of TransLink, but those reasons are still there. Regular readers will recall that I’ve been pointing them out occasionally with posts in my “No Credit for TransLink” series.

One of them is the bond credit TransLink issued last year that no other transit agency in Canada uses, which last year saved taxpayers in this region $130 million.

Wait, wait, you didn’t hear about this? Well, the thing is, you probably didn’t. When TransLink made mention of this in a media release, the only significant media outlet that covered this unique deal TransLink made was the Vancity Buzz, and even there it did not receive the same attention that other Buzz articles have (judging by the amount of “shares”):

TransLink raises $130-million in latest bond issue

Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority has announced that it has raised $130-million through its sixth bond issue.

TransLink is the only transportation authority in Canada to raise funds directly through safe and low-risk Canadian debt capital markets.

[READ MORE – Vancity Buzz]

For whatever reason, no one else – not a single newspaper reporter or even a columnist, not a TV or a radio station, and pretty much no one in the transit issues discussion community as of yet – has bothered to take note of this very awesome thing that TransLink has been doing for all of us, so that they wouldn’t have to constantly whip out our gas tax funds to pay for projects that keep the regional transportation system in good working order.

As a bond issue, it’s not take-away money that’s been raised and it does eventually have to be repaid over the long run. However, without these low-risk bonds, we wouldn’t be able to proceed with these projects unless taxes are raised significantly in order to pay by traditional means. This is particularly relevant considering how much disagreement there’s been throughout the years regarding the raising of taxes to keep our transportation network in good, working order – it’s why we’re facing a referendum, after all.

Projects that see this money invested include the maintenance of regional roads, bus fleet renewals and the ongoing rehabilitation of major SkyTrain stations. These are great investments that save us money in the long run because they keep the transportation system reliable for its users.

Without this money, commuters in this region would still be dealing with issues such as old buses that are prone to breaking down, pot holes on our roads, and overcrowded SkyTrain stations that are not built for today’s passenger loads. If not needed immediately (and out of our own pockets), we would still have to make these investments and fix these issues eventually – and they would cost more to do so later and by traditional funding means.

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

It’s noteworthy that being able to do this requires the maintenance of a positive and stable credit rating, which TransLink must maintain year after year. That’s an achievement for which I do not recall TransLink has ever gotten any meaningful credit for at all.

“The demand for our bonds reflects TransLink’s solid financial position, and it shows strong investor confidence in the organization,” said TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis in a statement. “This access to capital helps keep Metro Vancouver’s transit and road network moving and contributes to the maintenance of transportation assets so they serve the region for years to come.”

The bonds do give us additional debt, but it should be noted that this is something TransLink has had no problem making them a part of the budget as it did manage to make a surplus last year, despite bond repayments.

And, to think that this was done under the leadership of Ian Jarvis. Perhaps if people knew about his efforts to secure unique funding that collectively made us $130 million richer last year, they would have been a little less sour about his six-figure salary. If we total up all the funding TransLink has collected this way, we’ve been $1 billion richer, in the form of well-maintained roads as well as new and renewed transit assets, since 2010.

As Canada’s only transportation agency to raise funds directly through Canadian debt capital markets, TransLink has raised more than $1 billion since 2010.

[READ MORE – TransLink press release]

I’m willing to think that perhaps the anti-TransLink “vote no” crowd had something to with why word of this had been largely supressed among local media.

No Credit for TransLink: Nitpicking at the wrong details

No Credit for TransLink: Nitpicking at the wrong details

No Credit for TransLink - A blog series on darylvsworld.wordpress.com. Original photo: CC BY-SA Lisa Parker, flickr

In the latest fiery TransLink shake-up last week, Global News decided to investigate the transit operator’s executive car allowances, demanding more detailed information through a freedom-of-information (FOI) request.

According to the FOI, last year seven executives each received a monthly vehicle allowance of $950 to $1,200 to maintain their personal vehicles and get to their meetings.  When you include the executives parking expenses, the total bill equates to more than $94,000.

The new info added plenty of fuel to the TransLink hate-on, as critics began examining the numbers and coming up with all sorts of conclusions. Questions have been raised on the amount of the monthly allowance, and on why executive aren’t making more use of the SkyTrain station next to the corporate headquarters.

It was probably no surprise that the whole reveal was likely lead on by Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation critic Jordan Bateman, who lead the comments on Global’s news article and was allowed to make this blatantly rhetorical statement on TV:

“They want you to take transit, maybe so that you can clear the roads so that they can drive their fancy cars to their headquarters”

Seriously though?

Has anyone spared a thought that if a TransLink executive needed to get to a meeting in Clayton Heights or Langley, the reason they probably wouldn’t be taking the SkyTrain and the #502 bus is because it could displace another passenger down the road on one of the region’s most notorious routes for pass-ups?

A Reality Check

All sorts of taxpayer-supported government agencies and crown corporations are given a car allowance as part of their benefits – and TransLink’s executive allowances are not on the high end. I actually find it impressive that TransLink is being given only just over $1000 in monthly car allowances to roam around North America’s largest service area, whereas other taxpayer-supported authorities are being given far more for their cars.

Councillors in the City of Surrey have been getting twice that to roam largely within their own cities (in 2011, then-Councillor Marvin Hunt rang taxpayers over $2000 in car allowance expenses).

With the burning trails of TransLink hate bright in the eyes of many people, it’s no wonder that Global would run this story. It’s even worded and executed as if to try and convince people that it’s something new – that it’s something they don’t know. No doubt when people hear the words “freedom of information” or “FOI”, it suggests that whoever’s being questioned is trying to hide something – in this case, that it’s more money than what we already know is being paid. However, the remuneration numbers in TransLink’s salary disclosure document did include car allowances:

“Remuneration” includes any form of salary, wages, overtime pay, vacation, banked time payout, car allowance, cleaning allowance and other taxable benefit paid during the year. Certain remuneration does not include any non-taxable benefits or any amounts payable under a severance agreement (2013 TransLink salary disclosure, page 9)

That means that the car allowance number being reported by Global is a part of the reported base salary number – for reference, this number for CEO Ian Jarvis is about $330,000 (page 71). It’s merely a detail in an existing pay number that is being nitpicked at.

I know that executive pay rates in the midst of a transit funding crisis is an issue, but I want to raise this question: should this detail even matter? Especially with a referendum that could be dominated by a short-sighted anti-TransLink vote?

And, where is the news coverage on the details that really should matter? Whereas big television news and media outlets are quick to jump on anything that could be considered taxpayer waste by TransLink, when TransLink does something unique among transit agencies in Canada to save taxpayers millions of dollars they just don’t give TransLink credit where credit is due.

Wake up, Vancouver: TransLink is working to save you money

Just a few days ago, TransLink announced that it had pulled in $130 million through a unique method of revenue-raising: low risk bonds. TransLink is the only transportation authority in Canada to raise funds directly through safe and low-risk Canadian debt capital markets. The program helps fund needed capital investments and maintenance costs, and has saved taxpayers over $1 billion since 2010.

“The demand for our bonds reflects TransLink’s solid financial position, and it shows strong investor confidence in the organization,” said TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis in a statement. “This access to capital helps keep Metro Vancouver’s transit and road network moving and contributes to the maintenance of transportation assets so they serve the region for years to come.”

See also: TransLink raises $130 million in bond issue – Vancity Buzz

So far the only media outlet that is willing to bat an eye is the Vancity Buzz, and I think that really says something about the quality of the media we rely on today here in Metro Vancouver.

SkyTrain technology declared for 60km outer belt metro in Tokyo

SkyTrain technology declared for 60km outer belt metro in Tokyo

“SkyTrain technology” (linear motor propulsion, with automated operation) has been declared for a major investment in rail rapid transit in the outer boroughs of the city of Tokyo, Japan – the world’s largest metropolitan area with over 38 million people residing.

Map: Proposed "Metro 7" and "Eight Liner" rapid transit line circling outer Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation wants to use SkyTrain technology to reduce the project costs of this transit line.
Map: Proposed “Metro 7” and “Eight Liner” rapid transit line circling outer Tokyo, which will run under the city’s 7th and 8th Ring Roads. The Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation wants to use SkyTrain technology to reduce the project costs of this transit line.

The proposed lines – initially two separate projects codenamed “Metro Seven” and “Eight Liner” – will be merged into a single project that is 59.7km long, with 42 stations.

There is an additional 13.7km extension to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (bringing the total project length to a whooping 73.4km) under consideration. It has not been finalized as part of this proposal and is pending further study, likely given that other Haneda-oriented rail projects are currently being considered by other operators.

Case study

I was given a link to a study on the Itabashi ward website, which concluded that the use of SkyTrain technology would significantly save costs and improve the project business case, due to significant reductions in tunneling and land acquisition costs.

LINK: 平成25年 – 度区部周辺部環状公共交通に係る調査 – 概報告
English: 2013 Fiscal –Outer Ward Circumferential Public Transit Study – Summary Report

The Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation (Toei) has proposed to build and operate the subway line with public funds, a rarity in a country where most major railways are built and operated by private companies.

Linear Motors Save Costs

The new metro line in Tokyo will use a new specification called “Smart Linear Metro“, which is identical to the 69km SkyTrain technology railway line proposed in Okinawa. Short, 12m long cars – similar to Vancouver’s Mark I SkyTrain vehicles – will enable a further reduction in tunnelling height, curve radius and land costs compared to 16m long “standard linear metro” cars already in use in Fukuoka, Yokohama, Kobe and other cities, which themselves allow for smaller tunnels than standard 20m rotary propulsion metro cars. To enable the high carrying capacity required for a Tokyo metro line, multiple-car, articluated units will be used.

Through the reduction in tunnelling and land acquisition costs – made possible by the key advantages of linear motor propulsion in lower floor heights and tighter curve radii – the use of SkyTrain technology is estimated to save taxpayers the equivalent of $300 million Canadian dollars.

Slides from the case study (tap to enlarge):

Trains will initially operate every 3 minutes during peak times on the higher-demand western segment, whereas a 5 minute frequency will be used on the eastern segment.

Popular in Japan

Japan is one of the world countries that has recognized the benefits of SkyTrain technology and pushes a widespread application of SkyTrain technology in every new railway project. There are now 9 lines in 6 cities running, under construction or under consideration. The new circumferential line will be the 9th such line in Japan, and the 20th such line in the world.

The Toei Oedo subway has been operating since 1991, and had one extension in 2001.
The Toei Oedo subway has been operating since 1991 and is one of the busiest Tokyo subway lines.

Toei has previously demonstrated SkyTrain technology successfully on the Toei Oedo Line, a major Tokyo subway line with a ridership of over 850,000 passengers daily. The Oedo Line has operated successfully for over 23 years. It’s no surprise that with this record, Toei would want to build another such line.

See also: List of Linear Induction Motor Rapid Transit Systems

New SkyTrain technology metro in Sendai, Japan opens 2015

New SkyTrain technology metro in Sendai, Japan opens 2015
sendai-map
Sendai Subway map showing the new Tozai Line (east-west line in blue)

A brand new rail rapid transit line in Sendai, Japan – which is using linear induction motor propulsion technology (“SkyTrain technology”) – is on track to open next year (2015), with final construction activities and train testing underway. The Tozai Line will be 14km long, and feature a mix of underground and elevated sections.

The use of SkyTrain technology is now confirmed by more than a concept photo, as the linear-motor rolling stock has arrived and pictures have surfaced showing linear motors on the subway track. These initial trains have passed their testing, keeping the line on-track to open exactly one year from now on December 6, 2015.

A new video featuring the rail transit project, showing the unveiling of the SkyTrain-tech rolling stock and construction progress, was recently updated to YouTube. As part of these unveilings, school children were allowed to be a part of the event, inspiring a future generation of transit riders.

New construction photos of the Sendai Subway’s Tozai Line has recently hit the internet. The photos below were posted on the official project Facebook page:

The Tozai Line was originally scheduled to open much earlier, but construction was delayed by the devastating 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which heavily damaged much of the city. The new subway line will therefore be part of the revitalization movement for Sendai City.

Japan is one of the world countries that has recognized the benefits of SkyTrain technology and pushes a widespread application of SkyTrain technology in every new railway project. There are now 8 lines in 6 cities running, under construction or under consideration. Sendai Subway’s new Tozai Line will be the 7th such line in Japan, and the 18th such line in the world.

Sendai’s project is one of seven SkyTrain technology projects concurrently under construction around the world – the other projects are in Vancouver (Evergreen Line), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Kelana Jaya Line extension), Guangzhou, China (Metro Line 4 & 6 extensions) and Beijing, China (Airport Express west and north extensions).

See also: List of Linear Induction Motor Rapid Transit Systems

A recent SkyTrain-tech project, announced for the island of Okinawa, Japan, will be the largest one-time SkyTrain technology project in the world at 69km long.

Okinawa, Japan declares SkyTrain technology for 69km urban and intercity railway

Okinawa, Japan declares SkyTrain technology for 69km urban and intercity railway

Okinawa Railway System - Urban elevated railway station concept

As you may recall (or not, since I have yet to actually discuss anything Japan-related on this blog!), I departed Metro Vancouver in September of this year to pursue a scholarship-supported abroad studies program in Kyushu, Japan. My studies include a transportation research component – and through this, I initially received word that Okinawa would use linear motor cars on its inaugural island railway – a.k.a. “SkyTrain technology”.

As of this week, a number of online articles in Japanese have now surfaced, revealing project details and effectively confirming SkyTrain technology for Okinawa’s first major rapid transit line.

News release: 知事選で高まる気運 リニアモーターを使った沖縄の「普通鉄道」建設構想とは (English: Election momentum growing: plan outlined for Okinawa’s linear motor railway)
Translated (Google): [LINK]

This means that linear motors and reaction rails (locally termed in Vancouver as “SkyTrain technology”) will be used to propel trains on the island. Japan is one of the world countries that has recognized the benefits of SkyTrain technology, with 7 lines running or already under construction in 6 cities. Okinawa’s railway will be the 8th such line in Japan, and the 19th such line in the world.

See also: List of Linear Induction Motor Rapid Transit Systems

The news release linked above emphasizes that every candidate for prefectural governor (there is an election coming up in Okinawa!) is supporting the proposed rapid transit line. This is because the line will be 30% cheaper to ride end-to-end than the current express bus service, due to efficiencies for the island’s transit operator. It is expected to cut travel time across the island in half, to 58 minutes from the current 1 hour and 45 minutes by rapid express bus.

There will be two primary segments. The 20km segment between Okinawa City and Naha Airport will feature an urban metro-style service. Trains will initially run every 5 minutes during peak hours, and every 12 minutes off-peak. The 49km segment between Okinawa City and Naga City will be the world’s first intercity railway using SkyTrain technology. Trains will initially arrive every 15 minutes during peak hours and every 20 minutes off-peak.

Map of proposed 69km SkyTrain-type railway in Okinawa
Map of Okinawa’s 69km SkyTrain technology railway

The line will initially use 4-car trains, with shorter 12m long cars – similar to Vancouver SkyTrain’s Mark I vehicles. They will be low-height vehicles capable of running through smaller tunnels.

最高速度は100km/hが目標とされており、長さ12mの車両の4両編成が考えられています。1両あたりの長さが約15.7mである長堀鶴見緑地線の車両が、4両編成で定員が380人なので、12m×4両では単純計算で290人程度の定員があることになります

English: Trains will have a maximum speed of 100km/h, and the government has considered using 12m length cars. For comparison, trains on Osaka’s Nagahori Tsurumi-Ryokuchi line are 15.7m long. Those trains carry 380 people, so we imply that Okinawa’s trains will carry 290 people between the 4 cars.

In order to navigate the island’s challenging terrain, 70% of the proposed line will be in a tunnel, which means the linear motor trains – which have lower train heights and require smaller tunnel diameters – will save the local government billions of dollars in tunneling costs. A standard rotary propulsion railway would have also likely required more tunnels, given linear motor vehicles are capable of handling steeper slopes at higher speeds, avoiding the need for tunnels and landscaping in certain segments.

Case study

With further searching, I was able to uncover a case study document that included conceptual art for the proposed rail line:

LINK: 新たな公共交通システム導入促進検討業務 – 報 告 書 – 概 要 版 – 沖 縄 県 (English: New public transit system promotional business case – Executive Summary – Okinawa Prefecture)

According to the study, the SkyTrain-type rapid transit line was initially compared on a level playing field with a variety of other transit options – including Tram-Train – a form of ground-level Light Rail Transit (LRT), and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – and won against these options, found to be the most worthwhile investment as it would generate the most travel time benefits for local citizens.

The linear motor transit systems examined in the study included the Bombardier ART (SkyTrain) systems in New York and Beijing.

About Okinawa

A map of Okinawa prefecture - from Wikimedia Commons, license CC-BY-SA
A map of Okinawa prefecture – from Wikimedia Commons, license CC-BY-SA

Okinawa, a well-populated and internationally well-known island south of the 4 main Japanese islands, is contrary to the rest of the country in that it has yet to see any serious developments in rail transit. There is a 12.8km monorail, called Yui Rail, in the main city (Naha), but that is it – the rest of the population must take buses or drive automobiles to travel longer distances.

The new railway will significantly improve transit travel times and create a new option to combat rising congestion levels on the Okinawa Expressway, a major toll road crossing the island. The entire railway will be 69km long, which will immediately make it the third longest SkyTrain-technology rail system in the world upon completion. Vancouver’s SkyTrain system (which will grow with the completion of the Evergreen Line) and Guangzhou, China (where three SkyTrain technology lines cover 100km of track) are the only longer systems.

New Surrey stop on 555 a hit – prompts TransLink to increase service

New Surrey stop on 555 a hit – prompts TransLink to increase service
156 St Stop Bus
A bus approaches the new 555 stop at Highway 1 and 156th Street, giving Surrey residents improved access to Greater Vancouver.

The new 555 stop in Surrey is a hit! In case you’re not aware of my involvement with the stop, I encourage you to read my article on the stop’s introduction now at [CLICK HERE]. Reporter Kevin Diakiw from the Surrey Leader also did an excellent report on the stop and my involvement, which also highlights an important endorsement from city Councillor Tom Gill on my advocacy work throughout the past year:

Rapid bus now has Surrey stop – Surrey Leader

Coun. Tom Gill, who chairs the city’s transportation committee, said the bus stop materialized thanks to the relentless campaign by 18-year-old Daryl Dela Cruz, who on his website, describes himself as a technology fan, a transit user, a researcher and a community issues advocate.

Gill describes him as a “outspoken, very smart, intelligent young man” who inundated Gill and the committee with well-argued facts supporting the need for the bus access.

“He has been non-stop for a year (pushing for the stop),” Gill said…

[READ MORE]

As for what’s the story now, the #555 bus from Braid Station to Carvolth Exchange in Langley, stopping at 156 Street in Surrey, has received a service increase. Buses now operate every 7-8 minutes in the AM peak period, responding to increased demand as a result of a popular 156 St stop. They previously operated every 9-10 minutes. The service change was confirmed through a schedule change in the 555 schedule posted by TransLink on its website.

[#555 schedule – TransLink – CLICK HERE]

Schedule changes on the 555 improve service to every 7.5 minutes in the morning peak, increasing service for both Surrey and Langley riders. Schedule: TransLink
Schedule changes on the 555 improve service to every 7-8 minutes in the morning peak up from 9-10 minutes, increasing service for both Surrey and Langley riders. Schedule: TransLink

The materialization of this service increase may have had to do with a citizen effort I was informed about, called #555passup, to inform TransLink of the growing service needs and pass-ups on the 555 route that would result in Carvolth passengers being told to wait for the next bus by TransLink security, to make room for riders boarding at 156th Street.

It would seem that much of the efforts were spearheaded by a local rider named Donald Nguyen.

All in all, with only a couple of weeks having passed since the stop’s opening, it looks like my efforts have definitely not gone to waste – and neither have these riders’, to improve the new service provided for them. It thrills me to see that I have given hope in citizens and may have started new trends in citizen-lead transit improvement advocacy. As the improvements materialize, Surrey residents are realizing significant benefits of a new bus stop that really should have been built in the first place – and with demand increasing, funding will soon need to increase further so this service can keep up with the high demand.

Having seen citizens come up with innovative ways to advocate for smaller-scale improvements gives me hope as well – hope in a larger-scale effort we’re going to need to have in order to push the big improvements in transit funding the entire region needs.

The question now is, how can we expect the authorities in charge of funding – specifically, the provincial government, who have also explicitly tied the introdduction of any new sources to a referendum – to be responsive, if at all, to our concerns.

New bus stop enables Surrey access to #555 rapid bus

New bus stop enables Surrey access to #555 rapid bus

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was delighted to learn that the new bus stop at the 156th Street-Highway 1 off-ramp to the 555 Port Mann Express rapid bus would open earlier than expected – in time for the 2014 back-to-school season, and saving commuters to downtown and students at post-secondary institutions like Simon Fraser University and Douglas College minutes upon minutes every day.

The new stop helps Surrey residents in Guildford and Fraser Heights connect to the Millenium Line SkyTrain in Coquitlam, significantly improving links to SFU, Brentwood Town Centre and Downtown Vancouver.

This diagram shows the travel time benefits for Surrey riders now able to access the 555. From my "unofficial business case" (see below)
This diagram shows the travel time benefits for Surrey riders now able to access the 555. From my “unofficial business case” (see below) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

A complicated history

See also: No Stops in Surrey for Port Mann Express Bus – Surrey Leader, Nov 2012

See also: Surrey left out of rapid bus line – CTV News (Video)

For those who didn’t know, the bus stop for the Highway 1 Rapid Bus (#555 Port Mann Express) has been a topic of controversy for some time after a bus stop for the service was not provided in Surrey, due to several issues of mis-communication between TransLink, the Provincial Government, and the City of Surrey. A private developer who was expected to build a transit exchange may also have been involved in the fray.

Original concept images by the provincial ministry of transportation showed buses turning and making a stop at 156th Street, giving a new rapid transit access to Surrey residents in Guildford and Fraser Heights. When the HOV ramp and bridge were opened in late 2012 – along with the introduction of the rapid bus route – this didn’t materialize, secluding Surrey residents from improved transit access in the face of a new toll on the bridge.

Picture of 156th Street underpass and HOV ramps, showing buses that would have been using the interchange.
Picture of 156th Street underpass and HOV ramps, showing buses that would have been using the interchange and stopping for passengers.

Fraser Heights residents would feel the pinch of this when ridership on the bus route #337 grew at the fastest rate of any Surrey bus route – and this was before the introduction of Port Mann Bridge tolls – indicating a high level of demand for the new #555 service that was never provided.

My work ensured that this got built!

We have TransLink (who worked and cooperated with other parties to ensure this would be in service) and the City of Surrey (who ended up providing the bulk of the funding, according to recent Transportation & Infrastructure Committee reports) to officially give thanks to for this stop – but I’m not sure how many people will be talking about the role I and some others had in actually ensuring that this stop was built and in service yesterday!

The surprise retraction of the project and the transit service put a significant amount of pressure on me as I was hoping to benefit from the new stop service, being a Guildford resident and a major transit user facing a transition from high school to university. It prompted me to launch a big advocacy effort myself, which culminated with the creation and presentation of an unofficial “business case” telling city officials why this stop would be so important – not just for me but for several others who could have been benefitting, and were now otherwise losing.

See also: 156th St Rapid Bus Stop Project – Unofficial Business Case

In fact, the expected construction timing and inability to provide the bus stop in due time would become one of many factors behind my decision last year to pack my bags, leave Surrey, and temporarily move to the North of Fraser – making a new home for myself near a Burnaby SkyTrain Station, where I have lived for the past year.

I worked with many individuals – including the vocal and active Daniel Badragan, a local-area student, who wrote quite a few letters to the editor in protest surrounding the missing stop – coming up with ways to advocate for the missing stop.

See also: “Surrey needs transit for Port Mann” – letter, Daniel Badragan, on Surrey Leader
See also: “Make your voice heard on Bus Stop” – letter, Daniel Badragan, on Surrey Leader

It’s probably no surprise that my delight has been intensified by the coincidence of the opening date of the stop with my return to residency in the South of Fraser (I moved back to Surrey yesterday and will be here for a few days before embarking on a major study abroad tenure). The opening of the stop was suddenly added to the TransLink fall service changes page, to a fanfare of probably a few commuters and people except those I heard around me who were talking about it on the bus.

Being labour day, the ridership was markedly low and the buses were running on a Sunday/Holiday schedule, every half hour. But, that didn’t stop me from making use of the new bus stop for the commute to my workplace downtown. See the slideshow above for an early look! 🙂

View my original unofficial “business case” for this rapid bus stop, below!

SkyTrain meltdowns a consequence of devaluing transit investment

SkyTrain meltdowns a consequence of devaluing transit investment

See also: Vancouverites are spoiled by SkyTrain on Vancity Buzz

2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line

Introduction

SkyTrain operates with high standards, transporting passengers with a remarkable 95% on-time performance rate and doing better at providing rapid public transit than other cities our size. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s immune to system-stopping failures that can require the use of shuttle buses and inconvenience thousands of transit passengers.

Our SkyTrain system managed to suffer from two major system meltdowns within seven days, and it’s perplexed everyone. It’s raised questions of accountability and competence within TransLink, and of the versatility of how SkyTrain is operated. It’s raised questions of whether there could be a better plan for emergencies, so as to prevent frustration and inconvenience.

By far, a lot of the comments I’ve seen point fingers at TransLink. Provincial Minister Todd Stone was quick to deny responsibility, and looking through social media reveals an aura of madness from inconvenienced customers. All of this creates a dangerous precedent that a discouragement into putting more money into our transit system is created, as people begin to believe that proactively investing in it isn’t worth it.

However, some of the problems we faced in these past 7 days could have been mitigated by just that – with investments into good maintenance of our transit system.

With the province putting TransLink through audit after audit as part of a mandate to increase the system’s efficiency, it’s become more difficult to justify investments to keep the transit system and its employees running – with everything from a provincially-funded park & ride expansion to the provision of coffee for employees to public art being put through questions and a high-level of scrutiny.

The chaos that we witnessed during SkyTrain’s recent shutdowns can very much be attributed to a devaluation of transit funding, lead by anti-TransLink campaigners.

An explanation

TransLink didn’t purchase a $20 million backup system that would have assisted SkyTrain in the event of computer failures. This would have spared riders from service meltdown incidents like the one on Thursday, July 17th.

To compound the issue, as part of the recommendations of several efficiency audits, TransLink has tightened up the amount of spare buses and staffing on the bus network. This means that when bus bridges are needed to deal with SkyTrain emergencies, there are fewer staff available to drive buses, and few buses available – which was an issue on both Thursday and on Monday, July 21st during the second, human-error-triggered meltdown.

It’s a no-win scenario for TransLink. A seamlessly-integrated backup system would not even require riders to be notified if SkyTrain were to have computer issues – and should the investment have been made known, an inevitable sensation surrounding the choice to invest – driven by anti-TransLink critics – is what we would be hearing about from the media instead. That would be the news item of the day, instead of a SkyTrain failure.

Meanwhile, continuing to provide adequate staff and buses to handle emergencies like the recent ones would go flat out against recommendations in recent audits – which could have triggered a harsh reaction from the provincial government, as they do directly control TransLink’s governance and some funding for transit.

PHOTO: Shuttle buses line up to board passengers at Metrotown
No one likes to ride a bus bridge – but it’s as important to have funding so that drivers and buses can be ready when we do need these.

Comments that put pressure on TransLink and portray them excessively negatively as an organization could result in more “NO” votes in the upcoming referendum next year. It may have become one of the reasons that TransLink has not undertaken investments proactively, spending money to prevent issues before they actually happen. As long as the public has yet to know of the real value of proactive transit investments, it’s difficult to do so without endangering long-term transit funding.

It’s a concern that has been raised by transit advocates and decision-makers, as they work hard to promote the value of transit investment in advance of this referendum. As a “NO” vote has been confirmed to be an option, there is nothing that can stop voters from using their vote to ‘send TransLink a message’ – something that would do commuters on all transportation modes no good whatsoever.

See also: Does TransLink have a bad brand? on South Fraser Blog
See also: TransLink Referendum: Can it win? What do we need to know? on Price Tags
See also: How will anti-TransLink vote influence transit referendum? on Metro 604

Last month, on Thursday and again on Monday, critics were quick to rush to mediums such as Twitter, radio and news to lambast TransLink and remind us of past issues that have been raised. The resulting negative attitude that surrounds our transit system will not just affect how people vote in the upcoming referendum – it may have numerous negative shorter-term impacts such as the reduction of fare revenue, as less people choose transit and more believe that it is not worth doing so. Less fare revenue can mean more service cuts and even worse rider satisfaction throughout the system.

I have a strong feeling that there would be a backup computer system in place today, giving riders a more reliable SkyTrain system, were it not for the persistence of the anti-TransLink critic.

“Ironically, the people campaigning to strip TransLink of funding in the name of efficiency may be responsible for the time it took to get service restored and get people moving over the last few days.”

Nathan Pachal, who operates South Fraser Blog and is running for Council in Langley Township, raised this issue on his blog in his response to the recent incidents.

What do we do about this?

We’re surrounded by comments on how TransLink is “mismanaged”. In order to effectively combat the issues that this creates, it’s important to bring into light whether this level of scrutiny and demand for cost-efficiency is actually necessary.

In a previous blog article, I brought into light how it’s questionable if TransLink was being audited correctly, pointing out a discrepancy between how cost-efficiency has been portrayed and how it’s actually supposed to be measured – noting that between the transit operators in Canada’s three major cities, TransLink is the most efficient – providing the most service at the lowest operating cost.

See also: Was TransLink audited correctly?

It’s also important to bring into light what we should already know about TransLink’s efforts to be a better organization. We should know that TransLink is following up on the recommendations in the audits, and that those efforts are working – TransLink ended financial year 2013 with a $43 million surplus.

One of the most important changes that needs to be made is in public attitudes on transit spending. We can’t be ignorant to the fact that it is necessary to spend some money to keep our system in good repair.

For SkyTrain riders, the worst part of this devaluation of transit funding is that it has a major implication on our SkyTrain system that extends beyond $20 million.

As rail lines age and ridership grows, upgrades are needed to maintain efficiency and reliability long-term, and ensure the maintenance of the benefits provided by the system. TransLink has yet to secure a long-term funding commitment to pay for the over $1 billion in upgrades that will be required to keep the SkyTrain from becoming overcrowded and unreliable as it continues to age. These upgrades will improve station facilities with new entrances and amenities, as well as prepare the system for longer 5-car trains. Some of these upgrades are ongoing, but the majority of them have yet to be started.

See also: Reality Check: Why is SkyTrain breaking down so frequently? on Vancity Buzz

Just as TransLink is looking for long-term funding to upgrade our SkyTrain system, so have other transit operators in Canada with their rapid transit systems. Calgary has made significant investments to extend C-Train platforms across the system for longer trains and refurbish old light-rail vehicles. Montreal is taking delivery of the first new subway vehicles to replace a fleet that is almost 40 years old. Toronto has been working to replace an aging 60-year-old subway signalling system and rebuild its busy downtown transit hub – Union Station – on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line. Both projects have even required planned closures of the subway there.

Long-term funding to be committed to this upgrade is what will be decided in the provincially-mandated referendum, and it is imperative that voters do approve a funding option to keep our transit system in a good state of repair.

As costly as infrastructure like the Canada Line SkyTrain is, the investment has been proven worthy by the benefits to the tens of thousands of people using the system daily. The investment confidence that has resulted in our SkyTrain system expansions needs to be applied to the whole system.
As costly as expanding and building infrastructure like the Canada Line SkyTrain is, the investments have been proven worthy by the benefits to the tens of thousands of people using the system daily. The investment confidence that has resulted in our SkyTrain system expansions needs to be applied to the whole system.

TransLink is in trouble

Some of the issues we faced in the recent SkyTrain meltdowns definitely had to do with more than funding, and perhaps they could have been addressed through better plans and higher competence within branches of TransLink.

However, the fact remains: if we want to maintain a high or higher standard of reliability, there’s going to be an inevitable cost to it. On the other hand, if we devalue the taxes and fares that keep people moving, we don’t get a reliable system as the penalty for our ineptitude.

As stakeholders, if we want to enjoy more reliable transit, we need to realize that TransLink is in trouble and change our attitudes on transit and funding. We need to value our transit, value TransLink, and consider the good value of the services it provides to us.

My Thoughts – Re: Transportation and the July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns

My Thoughts – Re: Transportation and the July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns

The July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns have probably perplexed a lot of people. In the past week, a lot of us bore witness to a level of chaos that I think had yet to be seen on the SkyTrain system in 28 years of operation.

We enjoy our SkyTrain service so much that I think that we have developed a collective expectation that things will always work out the way they’re supposed to.

Here are some of the responses I spotted on Twitter regarding the breakdown:

http://twitter.com/SantiHenderson/status/489950692669267969

http://twitter.com/BaD_KiTTy_MeLz/statuses/489943859783168001

http://twitter.com/CTVVancouver/statuses/489943945120874496

You can clearly see that there’s a lot of frustration; there’s a record of the incovenience. There’s an aura of madness that goes up in the air, as no one wants to be made late.

http://twitter.com/Charlesvancity/statuses/491315698174414848

We’re tempted to question the SkyTrain system. Bus drivers’ union leader Nathan Wood – who, on CKNW, raised an issue that Light Rail systems have outnumbered SkyTrain-type systems in terms of construction around the world, is just a bit concerned that our main rapid transit backbone can have trouble fostering a busy transit network. While his numbers on the amount of SkyTrain systems in existence are slightly off of the actual amount, I can see why people would want to raise those questions after a series of unique, 5-hour closures.

How much service was actually disrupted?

Reliability chart - SkyTrain vs other systems
Reliability chart – SkyTrain vs other systems. CLICK TO ENLARGE

You might have already seen this graphic, actually. I was wanted for a guest post on the Vancity Buzz, and had just finished creating this chart when the second consecutive major SkyTrain issue hit commuters Monday mid-day for what was unfortunately the second time in under 7 days.

SEE ALSO: Vancouverites are spoiled with SkyTrain – Vancity Buzz guest post by Daryl

Usually SkyTrain is operating for 20 hours daily – and while it’s absolutely unfortunate that the recent issues that plagued SkyTrain commuters hit during busier times of day,  a 5.5 hour meltdown constitutes just over 25% of that service – meaning service was fine for the rest of the day. This is a far better record than what was achieved during the Portland transit meltdown of 3 weeks ago, where more than 60% of service fpr the day was not on time.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a 132 hour work-week for the SkyTrain. 5.5 hours represents approximately 4% of service provided for the week, and well under 1% of service provided for the entire year. We had this twice in one week – meaning 11 hours of service were not operated on time – but that still represents less than 0.2% of all service provided throughout the year.

SEE ALSO: Reality Check – Why is SkyTrain breaking down so frequently? – Vancity Buzz

For the rest of the year, SkyTrain is operating normally – 99.4% of service is provided, with a 94.7% on-time performance rate. SkyTrain lets us down sometimes, but this isn’t actually happening a lot of the time. We enjoy reliable, rapid service that gets us where we need to go.

On most days, we get a reliable service out of the SkyTrain system for the duration of the day.
On most days, we get a reliable service out of the SkyTrain system for the duration of the day.

What should we do about this

There’s no question that issues and system shutdowns like this can be inevitable – so is there something that we can do about it? I think that there absolutely is – and looking at these issues, it seems that there’s a lot we can learn from this. For example – a lot of the time SkyTrain will fail, it impacts all riders because many bus lines connect to SkyTrain stations. A strategy to minimize delays during system shutdowns could involve the redirection or extension of bus routes to key areas to serve riders where they already are.

Normally, the best transit agencies can do when this happens is implement a shuttle bus bridge to repace the rapid transit service. This was the same procedure in Toronto and Portland, as pointed out above. The bus bridges are released as demand allows, but there’s no specific protocol that is followed in the event of a failure – meaning it can take some time before the bus bridges actually start, with passengers delayed until then.

PHOTO: Shuttle buses line up to board passengers at Metrotown
No one llikes to deal with slower shuttle buses replacing SkyTrain service!

But, it’s important to be prepared.

So, here’s an important disclaimer: I was lucky enough to not be there for both of these recent SkyTrain disruptions.

But, before you lambast me with comments of “you don’t know what we face!” or “try being on a train when it happened”, I would like to comment that I have seen my share of SkyTrain delays and disruptions before.

Prominent was the one that hit our system in April 2013, when a power rail issue in New Westminster halted trains on the system for close to an hour and required the deployment of shuttle bus bridges. I was on the problem train, and remember what it felt like as my train was passing the problem area and the electricity was suddenly cut. I remember how staff restarted the train and tried to move it past the area again, only for it to once again come to a grinding halt. I was heading from Surrey to the last showing of the theatre play at Windermere Secondary School, to see the performance and meet some friends in a yearly event that I consider to be something of a tradition. With the level of delays, I was unfortunately not able to make it to Windermere until the play ended.

It’s important to remember that transit isn’t the only form of transportation that isn’t always reliable. Accidents on key arterials or bridges can disrupt the flow of traffic in the region, especially when there are two or more bridges blocked at the same time. As a driver, you might know an alternate route that might be slower but will get you there with less congestion and less time waste. I think the same needs to be true for riders of transit.

Sometimes, there’s just no way to make it on time. Regardless, I still think it’s important to be somewhat prepared for when there are issues – and handle ourselves calmly and responsibly in times of crisis.

Gas prices of late are reaching all-time highs in Metro Vancouver. Source: Vancity Buzz
Gas prices of late are reaching all-time highs in Metro Vancouver. Source: Vancity Buzz

There’s an important message that can be had from the recent issues, one of which is a need for all of us to step back and realize that every possible way to get around has some sort of volatility. Even as we walk, we risk tripping on something that can temporarily impair our most basic ability to get around. The reality is, no matter how we choose to get around, we may run into issues. And, with the amount of money we sink into our demand to get around, it’s understandable why there’s such a high level of frustration when a transportation service you must rely on does not work out – not just on the SkyTrain but everywhere else.

Think about it. It’s true, right? So much of the money we earn goes towards the basic function of getting around. Transportation defines the way all of us live – so much that I think we don’t realize that it costs a lot of money to get around in this society. We take our transportation for granted – and for the younger ones, who may have benefited from the subsidized and discounted U-PASS, it’s especially not easy to realize this. However, this is the reality of the life we live. An average suburban household might spend more than 60% of income on the house and car – dealing with gas prices at all-time highs and ownership costs.

But where do I start?

It all starts with looking at where you live and where you might be going, and looking at your alternatives well in advance. For example: what are the bus routes near your house, and where can they take you. Which routes are your best options (accounting for frequency, speed, etc.) Or, if you live in Surrey and you tend to need to get across the Fraser River a lot, how much money can you set aside in case you need to pay for a cab to get across? If you vaule your money, what are the alternate bus routes to get you around once you do get across? (for example: the 123 from New West Station goes to Brentwood, or the 100 22nd St Station goes to South Vancouver).

As a society, we have to be anticipative of issues and have the knowledge to deal with it in real time – because often, transit authorities have limited resources and can’t always do that.

Appendix

Anyway, to conclude this, I’ve seen the comments to the Vancity Buzz post on Facebook, etc. and some of you asked for the sources for my on-time performance numbers – which I have listed below.

I know it’s questionable given I have omitted certain systems, so to clarify – if there’s a system I omitted, it may be because of the difficulty in actually finding the numbers (the internet, in a limited time frame, can only get you so far!) or due to measurement standards that weren’t too comparable (I was looking at adding some Light Rail systems in New Jersey to the list, but NJ Transit’s stats measure with poor standards that consider runs on-time even if they are 6 minutes early or late, so I chose to omit). Listed below:

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!)