The Real Evergreen Line Story

The Real Evergreen Line Story

Summary: Most people are still asking the question of why the province decided to suddenly switch the Evergreen Line to SkyTrain technology in 2008. I think we should be asking questions about why the LRT design process suddenly stopped, with no reason, back in 2007.


The Evergreen Line is now slated to open in 2017, which just happens to be yet another delay in a consecutive series. Nobody likes delays, and these Evergreen Line delays have injected a new wave of doubt among transit observers here in Metro Vancouver, who may remember a time not too long ago when the Evergreen Line was comparable to a hot potato. That is, hardly anyone could come to an agreement about it.

1998 SkyTrain plans for the Millennium Line. Today’s “Evergreen Line” was supposed to be part of the Millennium Line’s second phase.

During the late 2000s, what is now the Evergreen Line had to go through numerous obstacles, ranging from funding shortages to planning issues to a lack of clarity in the political commitment to the line itself. The Evergreen Line was first proposed as the second phase of what became the Millennium Line SkyTrain, cancelled along with a switch in government, and then brought back to life later on as an at-grade Light Rail Transit proposal on the original alignment.

However, perhaps one of the most perplexing twists in the Evergreen Line story was the controversial change from an at-grade Light Rail Transit system, to the currently-being built extension of the existing SkyTrain system. It took people by surprise, changed the focus of the discussion and was so significant that it caught the attention of transit bloggers in other Canadian cities.

The move was controversial because of the creation of a new business case released by the provincial government (hereafter referred to as the “2008 business case”) that overrode a previous business case released by TransLink (the “2006 business case”) for the Evergreen Line LRT. A following, final business case by the province (the “2010 business case”) adopted the results of the 2008 business case without making major changes to it, or addressing its supposed issues.

The 2008 business case explained that its recommendation for SkyTrain (ALRT) on the current corridor was based on 4 key findings:

  1. Ridership – ALRT will produce two and a half times the ridership of Light Rail Transit (LRT) technology; this is consistent with the ridership goals in the Provincial Transit Plan.
  2. Travel Time – ALRT will move people almost twice as fast as LRT (in the NW corridor).
  3. Benefits and Cost – ALRT will achieve greater ridership and improved travel times at a capital cost of $1.4 billion, with overall benefit-cost ratio that favour ALRT over LRT.
  4. System Integration – ALRT will integrate into TransLink’s existing SkyTrain system more efficiently than LRT.

The new business case recommended SkyTrain based on finding advantages in 4 key areas: Ridership; Travel Time; Benefits and Cost; and System Integration.

Light Rail advocates who looked into the study insisted that the new analysis was biased in favour of SkyTrain, saying it rejected what was an already-sound business case. Some of these people alleged that the switch was a result of insider connections, shady agreements, and other under-the-radar proceedings. 2008 was a time when it wasn’t as clear to people that SkyTrain isn’t a proprietary transit technology and it was probably no surprise that critics of the decision showed up in waves.

These critics were joined by others, including City Councils of the time, who expressed concern about some aspects of the newer business case. Two particular major players come into mind:

1. The City of Burnaby released a staff report that injected doubt into the Evergreen Line’s cost estimates, ridership estimates and evaluation. (See [HERE] for report)

“This report recommends that the Province and TransLink undertake to re-evaluate the choice of technology and prepare a business case of LRT technology for the Evergreen Line based on the concerns and questions raised in this report with regard to service speed, ridership estimates, operating and capital costs, inter-operability, community service and other factors.”

2. A Portland-based transportation engineer named Gerald Fox alleged that the analysis had been manipulated to favour SkyTrain. (The original letter was posted [HERE]).

“It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding.”

At the time, no one could present an argument strong enough to combat what seemed to be a legitimate series of concerns on the SkyTrain proposal. The decisions of 2008 and the surrounding controversy continue to be reflected in the words of today’s writers, most recently surfacing with the announcement of the recent Evergreen Line delay and the ongoing SkyTrain versus LRT debate in Surrey.

It is, however, important to remember that when the Auditor General of British Columbia was asked to look into the Evergreen Line technology switch, the finished report in 2013 concluded that while some information was missing, the switch to SkyTrain was the right decision.

The Auditor General summarized the missing information as a shortfall in explaining the following:

  • Options’ risks, costs and benefits;
  • Assumptions underpinning SkyTrain ridership;
  • Wider transit system risks and dependencies; and
  • How agencies would measure performance

In the approximately 3 years since this Audit was released and the 7 years since the decision to switch to SkyTrain, new information has been released that makes it possible to fill in all four of these gaps, as well as the other concerns raised by critics and the City of Burnaby.

In an effort to compile this new information, I performed the research myself, which included extensively looking into all business cases (2006, 2008 and 2010) and other supporting evidence (including all 61 archived pages of the original Evergreen Line LRT discussion thread on Skyscraperpage).

With my conclusion that the Evergreen Line business case was not manipulated to favour SkyTrain, I present my results below.

1. Were SkyTrain and LRT compared properly?

The first and foremost concern by the auditor general was that the SkyTrain and LRT options may not have been compared properly, citing that numerous numbers in the comparison were skewed and contained significantly shortfalls.

The City of Burnaby’s staff report probably best summarized the issues that were raised surrounding the comparison. They are:

Capital cost estimates

As the capital cost estimates for LRT increased from $970 million (2006 business case) to $1.25 billion (2008 business case) with little explanation, the City of Burnaby complained that this increase was unreasonable – especially as it brought the cost difference with SkyTrain down to a mere $150 million (12%). Light Rail advocates and critics, including Gerald Fox, complained that the cost increase was manipulated to favour SkyTrain.

It was noted in the 2006 study that the cost estimate of then was done at a 90% preliminary design stage – not a fully detailed design stage presenting a finalized cost. It thus seems conceivable that costs increased while the final alternative was being analyzed for the 2008 business case.

Recently I performed some research on the capital costs of Canadian rail transit systems. With several rapid transit and light rail systems now proposed across the country, I took the opportunity to compile an inflation-adjusted comparison of the projects’ capital costs – adjusting each project for the amount of grade-separation (tunnelled, or elevated) and using that as a guideline to compare the costs. This extensive research took me several weeks to complete as I had to manually measure most of the proposals to assess the amount of grade-separation.

See: Capital costs of Canadian rail transit systems

Unsurprisingly, I reached the conclusion that – with the steepest trend in perecentage-to-cost – bored tunnel is the most expensive alignment to construct.

The Evergreen Line, no matter whether it were to be SkyTrain or Light Rail Transit, has a 2km bored tunnel as a part of its alignment through the mountainous terrain between Burquitlam and Port Moody. This accounts for about 20% of the entire route.

The Evergreen Line's 2006 estimate is marked by the "$99" at the bottom left. The 2008 estimate is the $112 above it.
(Open to enlarge) – The Evergreen Line’s 2006 estimate is marked by the “$99” at the bottom left. The 2008 estimate is the $112 above it.

My measurements indicated that the 2006 cost-per-km estimates were the lowest of the other projects. The estimate was significantly below other projects with a ~20% bored tunnel percentage, and below the average trend line that related percentage in a tunnel to rapid transit cost per km.

In other words, the 2006 cost estimates are too low and were probably incorrect.

Now that we know how much trouble it took to construct the Evergreen Line’s 2km tunnel, it’s certain that the LRT project’s final cost would have come closer to $1.25 billion. LRT tunnels need to account for pantographs and higher vehicle heights; whereas the linear motors used on our SkyTrain technology lines are more optimal for tunnels as the train is lower and closer to the ground. As a result, an LRT tunnel would have been larger and more complex and would have likely lead to additional potential problems, necessitating a higher contingency budget.

Just imagine what kind of liability chaos there’d be if a sinkhole did open under a home above the tunnel route. It hasn’t happened with our SkyTrain tunnel, but it’d be more likely under a larger tunnel (and a larger, more powerful tunnel boring machine) needed for an LRT tunnel.

Operating costs

Most critics were adamant to point out that the operating costs rose from $12.21 million in 2006, to $15.3 million in 2008 (both measurements were in 2007 dollars). What was overlooked by these critics is that the cost increase can be explained by a difference in service frequency.

The 2006 business case’s estimate was based on a 6 minute initial operating frequency. The 2008 business case’s operating costs were based on a higher 5 minute initial operating frequency to presumably make the LRT service more competitive and boost its business case (the higher frequency would have also added additional trains, explaining part of the capital cost increase). Whereas the 2008 cost estimates are 25% higher while a 5 minute frequency is 20% higher than 6, the newer numbers seem just about right to me.

Travel times

The City of Burnaby’s assessment of travel times suggested that the SkyTrain alternative’s travel time estimates were far too high and the LRT alternative’s estimates were far too low. It provided this graphic to show the disparity:

Evergreen Line graphic
Open to enlarge

Burnaby complained that the Evergreen Line’s LRT speed estimates were lower than two existing LRT systems in Canada (Calgary and Edmonton).

However, most of Calgary and Edmonton’s LRT systems are built off-street, and with gated crossings and absolute priority like railway systems. Most of the Evergreen Line as an LRT would be in the middle of streets and would have to follow the roadway speed limits (typically 50-60km/h). Naturally, this would result in slower average speeds than Calgary and Edmonton, where trains may run at 80km/h on dedicated rights-of-way.

While the SkyTrain alternative had much higher average speeds than the existing Expo & Millennium Lines (average of 43km/h), the addition of Lincoln Station to the proposal has added some length to the travel time to the extent that the Evegreen Line’s end-to-end travel time is now usually described as 15 minutes – an average speed of 43.6km/h.

At the end of the day, these differences aren’t really dictated by the transit technology. The Evergreen Line will have the system’s longest station-less segment, which is largely in part due to the 2km tunnel between Burquitlam and Port Moody stations. The higher average speeds near here would be comparable to other long sections crossing geographical features, such as the 2.3km SkyBridge segment on the Expo Line over the Fraser River.

Maximum speed

Gerald Fox also raised an issue that the stated maximum LRT speed in the 2008 business case (60km/h) was lower than the potential speed limits that could be achieved in the off-street, 2km tunnel – claiming that the 2006 business case accounted for faster running speeds of up to 80km/h inside the tunnel.

However, the end-to-end travel time estimates in the 2008 business case were actually lower than that of the 2006 business case by 0.4 minutes.

The 60km/h expression in the 2008 business case was probably meant to highlight the speed on most of the on-street sections (outside of the tunnel), which accounted for as much as 80% of the route.

In conclusion

Based on the data I’ve collected above it is clear that SkyTrain and LRT were not compared unfairly.

There is little reason to believe that the 2008 business case was wrong in assumptions. There could’ve been better distribution of the info at hand, and some improvements in the planning process (like the addition of Lincoln Station from the beginning). However, no skewering of the numbers and manipulation to favour SkyTrain has taken place.

2. Was ridership over-estimated?

Ridership was an additional concern raised by the City of Burnaby, which complained that the ridership estimates for the SkyTrain option (at 2.1 million passengers annually/km) were too high,  and that the LRT ridership estimates were too low. Burnaby complained that the 2008 business case did not provide a proper explanation of how ridership was estimated.

Open to enlarge
Open to enlarge

The LRT ridership estimates were said to be too low because they were lower than two existing Canadian LRT systems (40% lower than Calgary, and 9% lower than Edmonton). For the same reasons as I explained above, it’s not possible to put the Edmonton and Calgary systems in the same category as an Evergreen Line LRT. The Evergreen Line LRT is largely on-street; the Calgary and Edmonton systems are not, and tend to run on exclusive rights-of-way at speeds of 80km/h.

This leaves the high ridership estimates with the SkyTrain system. The auditor general raised an issue that the SkyTrain ridership assumptions with the Evergreen Line were made with assumptions that a completed transit network would be built by 2021 following the 2008 Provincial Transit Plan. This included SkyTrain extensions in Broadway and Surrey, neither of which will be built by 2021 based on the current situation.

Burnaby complained that at 2.10 million annual passengers per km, the estimates were higher than the existing SkyTrain system (1.60 million annual passengers per km) and thus much higher than would be realistic.

However, it’s important to note that the SkyTrain ridership estimate in Burnaby’s report was taken before the Canada Line to Richmond was introduced in 2009. The Canada Line’s opening broke ridership records with ridership almost immediately shooting up to its current level of 40.2 million passengers per year or over 120,000 per weekday – numbers that were well ahead of schedule even beat entire, city-wide LRT systems in ridership.

When this annual ridership is worked out per-km, the Canada Line is carrying 2.10 million annual passengers per km – the same amount that was projected for the Evergreen Line – and as such is also contributing to an increase in the system-wide value.

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 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.

A huge part of the reason the Canada Line was so successful was because efforts by the City of Richmond to make the elevated segment on No. 3 Road at-grade (like a light rail system) were defeated, resulting in the construction of a fully grade-separated line. The full grade-separation enabled higher trip speeds, which have been cited in rider surveys as the #1 most-liked aspect of the Canada Line system – outpacing every other favourable aspect mentioned by riders.

The Evergreen Line’s SkyTrain switch decision was largely based on favouring the faster travel-times and transferless journeys of a SkyTrain system. It’s thus conceivable that the Evergreen Line could see the same kind of ridership success that the Canada Line did.

3. Were the risks properly and thoroughly assessed?

The auditor general commented that the 2008 and 2010 business cases did not provide information on the risks that came with connecting Evergreen Line outcomes with the performance of other parts of our regional transit system. In particular, the Evergreen Line’s performance estimates did not account for the potential impacts of:

  1. the level and coverage of bus connector services on ridership;
  2. parking at the more popular Evergreen stations;
  3. changes to the West Coast Express (WCE), which provides peak commuter services for passengers who want to travel between the northeast Metro Vancouver and downtown Vancouver
  4. Evergreen services on those parts of the SkyTrain system that are near or at capacity in the commuting peak periods (for example, around Broadway station).

These concerns present significant risks and it is of my opinion that they should have been addressed.

However, accounting for these risks whenever a large transit priority is laid out in our region is hardly ever common practice. Today’s transit projects have continued the practice of tying performance estimates to grandiose plans for the rest of the regional transit system, like the transit vision crafted by the Regional Mayors’ Council that was defeated in the March 2015 referendum.

When the 2015 referendum was defeated, so too were the additional commitments to connecting bus service that would have been critical to the success of the included rapid transit projects. It’s raised concern among decision-makers such as Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, for example, who raised a concern with the potential costs of increasing parking as additional bus services connecting to the Evergreen Line were rejected along with the other proposals.

Nevertheless, local governments have forged ahead in planning for these lines, despite the new risks created with the lack of a regional vision component. As I believe that there will be opportunities in the future to return to those other critical transit priorities, continuing planning anyway – rather than letting all transit priorities come to a halt – is the best practice.

4.  How are we going to measure performance?

The last issue concerned the collection of performance data to measure performance after the line’s opening. No framework had been set in the 2008 and 2010 business cases, and the lack of such a framework would have a consequence on future transit planning.

However, the Auditor did acknowledge in his report that a framework could still be completed in time for the line’s opening. Although it remains to be said if the province has followed through on this recommendation, this issue isn’t relatively as much of a concern as the others as it has an immediate, clear solution.


So what’s the real “Evergreen Line Story”?

When the Evergreen Line was changed to a SkyTrain extension project in 2008, the switch came after an extended halt in design work and public consultation.

Like today’s rapid transit projects, the Evergreen Line was determined through a multiple-account evaluation that includes a Phase 1 (draft option comparison), Phase 2 (detailed option comparison) and a Phase 3 (finalized option comparison and detailed design).

The 2006 study was finalized at the phase 2 stage, and it noted that its cost estimates were done at the 90% preliminary design stage.

After that, there was silence in the project design work.

At the time, there were plenty of issues around project funding (which can be backtracked to on the Skyscraperpage archives). I can understand delays with transit funding (still a very big issue with projects today). However, the funding issue shouldn’t have delayed detailed design work on the Evergreen Line LRT project. For awhile we didn’t hear anything from planners, politicians or anyone involved regarding the project’s design until rumours of a major announcement surfaced in January 2008. The final business case that was then released in February had been completed by the province rather than TransLink.

For awhile we didn’t hear anything from planners, politicians or anyone involved regarding the project’s design

So it honestly has me raising questions: what exactly was going on? Why did Evergreen Line design works come to a stop, and why didn’t the next phase of consultations take place? Did planners at TransLink realize they under-estimated the LRT costs, and had nervousy about going public with the news? Did local governments start losing confidence in the at-grade project’s business case?

There’s all these disconnects that don’t seem to make sense, and I would argue that this should have been of far greater concern than the provincial government’s decision to switch the project to SkyTrain. It’s not the province’s fault the planning department of the time had decided to cut us off for just over a year on the project’s progress. It’s almost as if the sudden switch to SkyTrain was a measure to deal with these serious problems.

All I do know is that in October 2007, the B.C. Finance minister came to the public with a statement that the Evergreen Line’s progress had indeed been frozen, but that it wasn’t due to the funding shortfall

Finance minister Carole Taylor: The premier did say last week that the Evergreen will be built. The funding is not holding it up. They haven’t decided on exactly the route and exactly the stops. So, we have made the commitment to financially be there when everybody’s ready to go.

(Above quote from: Evergreen Line not held up by funding, finance minister says – Coquitlam NOW)

This almost certainly indicates that the LRT planning department had run into issues with the design, since the 2006 business case had anticipated the start of construction by September 2007.

Instead, in October 2007 the design hadn’t been finished and the planners in-charge “hadn’t decided on exactly the route and exactly the stops.”

You be the judge, but it sounds a heck of a lot like that the province managed to narrowly get us out of an Evergreen Line LRT fiasco in its decision to build SkyTrain instead.


Jaded by SkyTrain and a lack of LRT

There hasn’t been a single, grade-level Light Rail project approved in this region except for the currently proposed project in Surrey, and that’s probably what has raised the irk of some people who have been enthusiastic about the idea of at-grade rail. It’s probably why there’s a commonly-held belief that only provincial government overrides result in SkyTrain, and that at-grade Light Rail systems don’t have major shortfalls of their own that have resulted in their rejection here in Metro Vancouver so far.

However, the argument that lack of at-grade rail infrastructure in this region really caused us to lose out on transit benefits (i.e. we could have built a bigger transit network!) is entirely debatable. The benefits of SkyTrain should be clear to decision-makers, planners and transit enthusiasts in our region.

Despite the constant use of grade-separation and SkyTrain technology, Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain network expanded at a faster pace than any other system in Canada. Vancouver’s rapid transit growth has lead Canadian cities – and when the Evergreen Line opens to the public next year, we’ll have the longest rapid transit system in Canada spanning nearly 80km – and the longest driverless transit network in the world. The lower operating costs of driverless trains make it possible to keep expanding our transit network without bankrupting our operating budget on the cost of drivers.

Despite the constant use of grade-separation and SkyTrain technology, Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain network expanded at a faster pace than any other system in Canada.

SkyTrain also has the highest ridership of any rapid transit system in North America that isn’t classified as “heavy” rail. At nearly 9,000 boarding passengers per kilometre, SkyTrain outperforms every single at-grade rail system in Canada and the U.S.

SkyTrain ridership/km vs. other transit systems

Data is from the American Public Transit Association (Q3 2014) unless stated

City System name (type) Weekday daily boardings Daily boardings/mile
Vancouver SkyTrain (driverless) 377,900 8,870
Calgary C-Train (LRT) 310,700 8,510
Boston MBTA light rail (LRT) 214,500 8,250
Edmonton Light Rail Transit (LRT) 98,144* 7,550
Toronto Streetcar (on-street) 281,900 5,525
San Francisco Muni Metro (LRT) 145,500 4,076
Houston METRORail (LRT) 45,700 3,571
Newark Newark/Hudson Bergen LRT 72,939** 3,143
Minneapolis METRO Light Rail (LRT) 64,500 2,938
Los Angeles Metro Rail (LRT) 203,400 2,892
Seattle Link Light Rail (LRT) 40,300 2,330
Portland MAX, Streetcar (LRT) 113,900 2,330
San Diego Trolley (LRT) 124,100 2,320
Phoenix Valley Metro (LRT) 41,200 2,060

* Q3 numbers were not reported. Data from Edmonton Transit, collected during the same period, used instead.
** Q3 numbers were not reported. NJ Transit’s own FY2014 data is used in place (the same number is reported in APTA’s Q4 ridership report).


On top of everything, SkyTrain has made us one of the most successful metropolitan areas in transit ridership with an annual ridership per capita that is 3rd highest on this continent (beat only by New York City and Greater Toronto)

Region Population Annual Ridership
(thousands)
Annual Ridership
(per capita)
New York City 19,831,858 3,893,854 196
Greater Toronto 5,583,064 1,003,230 180
Metro Vancouver 2,313,328 363,163 157
Calgary 1,120,225 157,325 140
Montreal 3,824,221 433,710 113
Boston 4,640,802 399,594 86
Washington, DC 5,860,342 456,915 78
San Francisco Bay 6,349,948 476,219 75
Chicago 9,522,434 658,203 69
Philadelphia 6,018,800 336,981 56
Los Angeles 13,052,921 620,903 48
Seattle/Puget Sound Region 3,807,148 175,215 46

Data above from South Fraser Blog

With these thoughts laid out, I’d like to see anyone try to claim that decisions resulting in SkyTrain projects over LRT are solely a result of senior-government overrides.

…or that anyone’s manipulating data to favour SkyTrain in rapid transit studies, because that’s simply not true.


Featured: Evergreen Line construction image posted by nname on SkyscraperPage

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.

Vancouver advocate wants a West-End subway

Vancouver advocate wants a West-End subway
Photo: Vancouver West End. From Wikimedia Commons - Socceronly
Photo: Vancouver West End. From Wikimedia Commons – Socceronly

This is one I will have to go “huh” at, because the writer brings up a very interesting and very legitimate point.

Although I think Surrey at this point has a greater need due to increasing car use, I’ve experienced transit on the West End (the densely populated area on the western end of the downtown Vancouver peninsula) and I will have to agree – it sucks.

West End transit is very slow and exceptionally inconvenient, and cannot be relied on by those who want to travel around on a timely basis. Robson, Denman, Davie and Granville are almost always clogged by traffic, and this is part of why buses in these areas are often delayed. These are the four major streets servicing the West End area – and about the only streets with bus routes, meaning capacity can be and is an issue. Unfortunately, these major streets are very narrow and few and far between, leaving light rail/streetcars as a not very viable option for the West End on Davie, Denman or Robson to increase capacity. Mixed-traffic streetcars would have trouble navigating the undivided four-lane roads in mixed lanes, which have no turn lanes and are restricted to two lanes during off-peak hours as parking takes over curb lanes. Extremely restricted roadway capacity and parking space for on-corridor business in the area means taking away lanes for either buses or light rail is not an option.

A streetcar/LRT line down Pacific Blvd and Beach Avenue remains a last possibility, but probably stands to bring little or no travel benefit, because of its longer and indirect route with no improvement in connections to important destinations or hubs downtown – such as bus terminals, Waterfront Station, and others. A streetcar on this corridor has actually been proposed as part of Vancouver’s streetcar proposal, but only as far as Granville; it would not extend to the West End or English Bay.

West End Map. From CityTalks website.
West End Map. From CityTalks website.

The issue with the West End is that it is simply far too dense for the local infrastructure in every way. It’s an issue that I am familiar with as this issue is present everywhere in my hometown city of the Manila, Philippines – where the city’s high density is serviced with very much underbuilt transportation infrastructure.

It seems logical to think that the only solution left for the West End is a grade-separated subway rapid transit extension. However, a subway would be far too disruptive of a priority based on the needs in other areas of the region. So, that leaves this as a matter to be discussed – and a great matter to bring up in advance of an election where transportation funding will be a primary debate topic. It should remind us that, let alone the transit problems that have been brought up and are priorities (like Surrey and the Broadway corridor), there are other problems to address that should be priorities but have not been made as priorities – and that’s how serious the issue of transit need is here in Metro Vancouver.

Forget the Broadway Line, let’s jump on the English Bay SkyTrain line

On the Georgia Straight, by Stephen Hui

After the Evergreen Line is finally completed, TransLink’s next big project could be light rail in Surrey or some sort of rapid transit in Vancouver’s Broadway corridor. One option the regional transportation authority isn’t studying is an extension of the Expo Line in downtown Vancouver.

At the Straight, we get all sorts of reasonable and far-fetched proposals in our inboxes. This proposal is one of them, but I’ll let you decide how realistic it is.

Frank Jameson, who has a barely-there site called Vancouverrr, wrote in to say: “The Expo Line should come to English Bay.” He wants to see a new tunnel bored under the West End, and he plans to make it a provincial election issue.

This tunnel would carry the Expo Line to two new stations: Mount Robson station at Cardero Street and English Bay station at Bidwell Street. Presumably, this means the first station would be at Robson and Cardero streets and the second would sit near English Bay Beach.

It’s not clear whether the Expo Line would split into two branches (English Bay and Waterfront) at Burrard Station. Perhaps a new English Bay line could have separate trains, requiring a transfer at Burrard.

The rationale? Jameson says the English Bay area has the “slowest transit service” in the Lower Mainland. Fireworks and festivals also disrupt bus service in the area. And, you know, lots of people live there. “We deserve better transit. We want a subway,” he writes.

So, over to you. Is it time for the SkyTrain to pull into English Bay?