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.

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!

Transit Ideas: Fixing the 407 and 430 (Richmond)

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

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

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

Background

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

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

Moving towards today

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

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

Problems

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

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

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

Confusing service patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similar issues: 332 and 335 in Surrey

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

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

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

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

Service duplication: poor service for through Gilbert riders

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

High cost

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

See also: TransLink – Transit System Performance

407 Capstan Way detour

#407 Capstan Way detour

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

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

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

430: The Usefulness Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 430 B-Line: transit planning silliness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My solution

A short-term plan

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

PROPOSAL - Fix the #407 and #430

SEE TRANSITMIX MAP – CLICK HERE

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

407 on Gilbert, 430 on Bridgeport

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

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

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

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

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

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

New C91 community shuttle

C91 River Dr

C91 River Dr map
C91 River Dr map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further service improvements

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

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

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

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

Frequency map - proposed #407, #430 and C91

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

A long-term plan

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Please like, comment and share!

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

Created with the assistance of TransitMix

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

Testing out Transitmix – New Transit Mapping/Visualization Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Transitmix Experience

Bus assumptions - TransitMix

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

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

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

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

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

Outlook

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

The tool is available at www.transitmix.net.

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Surrey Rapid Transit Vision - Minimap

Background

(scroll down to read the vision!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without further ado:

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: A Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

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

TransLink maps: 2004 vs. 2014

TransLink maps: 2004 vs. 2014

Now that I guess we’re all in a sort of transit thinking mindset with yesterday’s Mayors’ Council plan reveal, here’s a bit of transit history!

I found this old transit map dating from about 10 years ago while on a recent internet browsing rampage. Here are some highlights about our previous transit network:

Translink system Map - circa ~2004
Translink system Map – circa ~2004. [CLICK] for full size
  • Unbuilt/nonexistent: Canada Line SkyTrain, VCC-Clark Station, 96 B-Line
  • Other nonexistent routes: 84 VCC-Clark/UBC,555 Port Mann Express, 301 Newton/Richmond, 791 Maple Ridge/Braid Stn, 620 Tsawassen/Vancouver, 430 Metrotown/Richmond, 531 White Rock/Langley, 364 Scottsdale/Langley, C12 Lions Bay
  • The routes were coloured in red!
  • Different route numbers! The #10 was part of the #8, and the #14 was the #10
  • No #9 service whatsoever past Alma
  • #135 continues to Stanley Park Loop
  • Today’s C21 and C23 were previously the #1
  • Today’s C5 and C7 were previously the #114 and #115
  • Today’s C71 and C73 were previously the #317 and #328
  • Richmond had several peak hour express routes (491, 496, etc) that complemented local routes and ran to Vancouver
  • The #41 used to do an evening detour onto Thunderbird Blvd at UBC
  • The #640 was the Tsawassen Ferry route!
  • The #319 portion between Scottsdale and Newton was served by separate #322
  • The #340 was one huge, confusing mess of a route running on today’s 340 and 341 bus routes
  • South Surrey just introduced community shuttles

For comparison: today’s map at [CLICK HERE]

Montreal may use SkyTrain technology for Champlain Bridge "LRT"

Montreal may use SkyTrain technology for Champlain Bridge "LRT"

After Côté tribute, council debates Champlain Bridge transit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEE ALSO: Highway 10/Downtown Montreal Corridor LRT study

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

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

and on page 55:

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

and on page 56:

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

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

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

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

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

Why this matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kuala Lumpur: New 36km SkyTrain line to complement extension

Kuala Lumpur: New 36km SkyTrain line to complement extension

UPDATE – 11th April 2015: SkyTrain technology has been CONFIRMED for the proposed Klang Valley Line.

Today I bring you news from Malaysia! A news release from a few days ago reveals details of a new 36km SkyTrain line to complement an already under-construction 17km extension of the Kelana Jaya line are beginning to surface. The new extension would run from a proposed new transit hub, intersect the Kelana Jaya Line, and then travel through Shah Alam to a terminus at Klang – a city of close to 850,000 people situated 32km west of Kuala Lumpur.

The original regional transportation plan finalized in 2011 [CLICK HERE] proposed that this line would be constructed after 2030; however, a re-examination of the business case in June 2013 has resulted in the project being pushed up to the pre-2020 timeframe. An even newer study focusing specifically on the line details itself has suggested that there are immediate benefits to reap – and with that, the line is now a top priority investment. Construction is likely to begin on the new SkyTrain extension at the beginning of next year, where it will parallel the ongoing extension of the Kelana Jaya Line.

See Also: Greater KL/Klang Valley Urban Rail Development Plan – June 2013 [PDF]

The new plan helps show that the technology we use in SkyTrain is becoming a serious rail rapid transit option for cities worldwide, with expansions of SkyTrain-type lines now well under way in multiple cities – including here in Vancouver, there in Kuala Lumpur, in Sendai, Japan and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Additional details

The “Shah Alam LRT” will be the second SkyTrain-type line in Kuala Lumpur (or the third if the Kelana Jaya Line extension is considered a separate line). The new line will connect directly to the Kelana Jaya Line and may offer a continuous service onto the line. With its completion, Kuala Lumpur’s RapidRail system will eclipse the SkyTrain system in the amount of in-service linear motor trackage, spanning a distance of 82km before 2020 – whereas SkyTrain (lines using linear induction motor tech) will span just 63km after the completion of the Evergreen Line. This will make Kuala Lumpur’s system the second longest linear motor rapid transit system in the world, after the 100km Guangzhou Metro system.

See also: List of Linear Induction Motor rapid transit systems

The new “Shah Alam LRT” line will complement an already in-service commuter rail transit line, similar to how the Evergreen Line will complement the non-stop West Coast Express service in the tri-cities. The rapid transit stock for the new line can be expected to be built by either Bombardier or CSR-Zhuzhou. Bombardier has been a major supplier for the rapid transit cars on the Kelana Jaya Line (ART 200/Mark II trains), while CSR-Zhuzhou has supplied standard rotary-motor rapid transit cars for the Ampang Line (but is also a major supplier of linear motor cars for the Guangzhou Metro system).

About Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” system

Kuala Lumpur's integrated rail system. The Kelana Jaya line is in magenta.
Kuala Lumpur’s integrated rail system. The Kelana Jaya line is in magenta.

In case you weren’t initially aware, Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” network is like a clone of our SkyTrain system overseas: the system is composed of several grade-separated, automated (driverless) rapid transit lines, many of which use the same linear induction motor propulsion technology and Bombardier Mark II vehicles used on SkyTrain here in Vancouver. The Ampang Line, the first rapid transit line using standard rotary motor technology, was opened in 1996 as the first rapid transit rail line in Kuala Lumpur. This was followed by the 1998 opening of the Kelana Jaya Line, the fully automated linear-motor type line that looks and works exactly like our SkyTrain system. The 29km Kelana Jaya Line is built with both overhead sections and bored tunnel sections through the city core. It is the busiest and most popular rapid transit line in metropolitan Kuala Lumpur with 160,000 riders daily [1], and was for a long time the only rapid transit service in the Klang Valley metropolis that broke even (revenues paid for operations costs) until the Ampang Line, which had historically fallen a few thousand riders short from breaking even [1][2], was equipped with the Thales SelTrac system to itself become fully automated (driverless) [3]. Both lines are currently receiving extensions that are due to open at around the same year the Evergreen Line is opened here in Vanouver. The extensions are shown in the above map (note the unnamed stations near the bottom). Kuala Lumpur’s Rapid Rail system has been immensely successful since its opening, being major money generators for the regional rapid transit system and the biggest drivers of ridership and high-density development. SkyTrain technology has helped the fares on RapidKL’s rapid transit lines remain completely unchanged for 10 years [4], and continue to remain the same (so far) through power tariff increases for the operating company, mainly because of increasing ridership [5]. The rapid transit lines are considered the “key revenue-generator contributor” for Prasarana, the regional transportation authority if the Klang Valley [6]

Sources/footnotes
  1. Passenger numbers from Urban Rail Development Study, page 19 [LINK]
  2. The Ampang Line breaks even at 170,000 riders daily, according to Malaysian Business (article “Red Flags” from 16 June, 2000 issue – not available online) – most recent recorded ridership was 141,000 daily
  3. The Kelana Jaya Line has been automated from start of service; the Ampang Line was refitted with the Thales SelTrac system in 2012 [SEE HERE]
  4. LRT, Monorail fares to go up next year – Astro Awani report [LINK]
  5. Prasarana Power Cost Up 17% since Jan 1 – The Edge Malaysia [LINK]
  6. Description page on Rapid Rail Sdn Bhd [LINK]
Featured image: Kelana Jaya Line train approaches station. CC-BY Flickr - @withcuriosity
Featured image: Kelana Jaya Line train approaches station. CC-BY Flickr – @withcuriosity

SkyTrain critics deny benefits of driverless rail

SkyTrain critics deny benefits of driverless rail

Transit gurus in the region constantly criticize SkyTrain and it doesn’t make sense.


I think I’ve pretty much seen it all: unfound claims on SkyTrain’s financial burden, claims that entire tram networks could be built at the same cost as a SkyTrain extension (ignoring the impracticalities of trying to conduct such a massive replacement of buses without ever improving transit speed), and other alternate light-rail transit (LRT) proposals that just don’t make any practical sense.

SkyTrain is constantly being challenged, and this contention has had a phenomenal effect in getting people involved with transit planning matters. Some of the biggest names we know in Metro Vancouver transit issues discussions – the ones you might hear about in newspapers; examples include: Paul Hillsdon, Nathan Pachal, Jordan Bateman, John Buker – are or at one point have been motivated by a criticism of SkyTrain rapid transit.

If there were no one to respond to these criticisms and unearth the problems with such a viewpoint – as I am doing so now – the quality of transit planning in Metro Vanouver would deteriorate to the point where perhaps no disagreement would be had on transit projects; and consequently, little progress would be made in changing communities and peoples’ lives for the better.

Denying the Benefits

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

They’re often proponents of Light Rail Transit (LRT), an alternative option that could allow rail transit to be built in a somewhat more flexible manner (including at-grade and on-street), who are quick to bring forward the positives of community-building, lower capital cost and less obtrusive (at-grade) infrastructure as upsides when compared to SkyTrain.

Can LRT be an appropriate solution in the transit planning sense? Absolutely. That should be quite obvious: there’s a reason why light rail investments are so popular around the world, with hundreds of proposals to reference at any time. However, the versatility of LRT should not be resulting in the dismissal of SkyTrain as another great – and often better – solution to addressing transportation problems, especially here in Metro Vancouver.

And yet, the critics are relentless in their criticisms. . Worse – they’re ridiculing and, apparently, finding reasons to shame our system and the way we’ve built it. These are the worst kind – the kind that try to deny altogether that building SkyTrain has provided Metro Vancouver with any benefits – and the ones who should arguably be disallowed from participating in public policy debacles, because they seem to have no understanding of what has been happening here in Vancouver for the past 30 years.

Metrotown has been phenomenally influenced by the introduction of SkyTrain. In the past 9 months I have spent living in Burnaby, I have witnessed the growth of at least 6 new high-rises.
Metrotown has been phenomenally influenced positively by the introduction of SkyTrain. During the year I spent living in the Burnaby area, I witnessed the growth of at least 6 new high-rises. You can see many of them in this photo.

Sample contentions by SkyTrain critics that are incorrect

1. SkyTrain hasn’t gotten people out of their cars.

TransLink’s trip diary data is a difficulty: there is little bearing that can be had about the accuracy of the measurements (this is a sample size) and the types of commutes that were recorded (i.e. are they commutes to work, shopping, and at what time of day/day), but nevertheless, it is a valid source. It’s used by TransLink and Metro Vancouver in regional planning matters,  and is and often utilized by SkyTrain critics. As SkyTrain critics have been quick to point out, the 2011 value is only 3% higher than the valule recorded in 1994 – the year SkyTrain was expanded across the Fraser River and into Surrey. It’s tempting, when you look at this, to think that SkyTrain has failed us in serving its original purpose.

The problem with these numbers is that they really don’t tell the whole story.

The trip diary draws data from 22,000 households in the region, and is meant to take a “snapshot” of a day in Metro Vancouver transportation. It is a partial survey – it’s not the same as the much more accurate ‘journey-to-work mode-share’ numbers collected by Stats Canada from every household, which show that transit mode share in Metro Vancouver is a bit higher than that collected in the Trip Diary and – together with walking and cycling – has grown significantly since 1996.

Closer studies have suggested that the biggest impact in transit modal shift is coming from SkyTrain and SkyTrain expansion. The City of Vancouver has also collected more specific numbers [Vancouver Transportation Plan Update – CLICK HERE] that not only show a big increase in transit ridership from outside of the city (i.e. connected by SkyTrain) – but also that the amount of motor vehicle trips actually declined for the past decade, despite population growth.

An even closer 2009 study [Niko Juevic SFU study – LINK HERE] that more closely looked at households within both 400m and 1500m radii of Expo and Millennium SkyTrain stations showed even more significant changes – outpacing transit modal shift across the region. The opening of the Millennium Line SkyTrain had a phenomenal effect on the surrounding area: within a 1500m radius of each station, transit mode-share had nearly doubled 4 years after the line opened – growing at more than 4x the regional average rate.

I compiled a summary of these numbers in the graphic below:

Modal shift in Vancouver - data compiled from Statistics Canada, Metro Vancouver and 2009 study by Niko Juevic

2. 80% of SkyTrain riders are recycled bus riders

South Surrey Park and Ride's Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr
351 buses at Bridgeport Station wait to depart for South Surrey Park & Ride. Photo credit: Flickr – Stephen Rees

While I’ve never really been able to track a definitive source for this statistic (I have seriously only ever heard it from one SkyTrain critic group), I see it repeated in discussion circles and used as justification that SkyTrain is weak at attracting ridership. SkyTrain critics have repeated this number to contend that the majority of riders on the SkyTrain were already taking transit before the line was built, claiming that this is “double the industry standard” – and were extremely vocal in certain situations where SkyTrain expansion replaced one or mutliple bus routes, especially in the case of the Canada Line (which replaced express segments for multiple south-of-Fraser bus routes heading into Vancouver).

Firsty, I have never understood why such a vague 80% number is being portrayed as a weakness. In the City of Calgary, a single centralized high-density core and the most expensive downtown parking in North America combine with free park-and-ride facilities along Light Rail Transit lines to give the Calgary C-Train the majority of its nearly 300,000 daily boardings. The Calgary C-Train is a versatile system and many of its riders have chosen to use transit, but not for their entire commute – the first segment of their trips is more often being done by car than by bus, walk or bike.

If the majority of SkyTrain riders are taking other transit to get there first, then that is at least as much a strength as much as it is a weakness (and, very likely, very much more a strength) – because this kind of transit commute coherency is simply not being replicated by other rail transit systems.

The versatile Calgary C-Train services nearly 300,000 boardings every day - but outside of the city core, Park'n'Rides such as this one contribute the majority of C-Train ridership. Image source: Calgary Transit website
The versatile Calgary C-Train services nearly 300,000 boardings every day – but outside of the city core, Park’n’Rides such as this one contribute the majority of C-Train ridership. Image source: Calgary Transit website

Secondly, this claim – at least in the case of the Canada Line – certainly doesn’t hold up to collected ridership numbers.

Passenger measurements by Canada Line operator ProTransBC collected by the Richmond Review were showing that Canada Line ridership in its first few weeks averaged 77,000 – meaning over 55% of today’s ridership numbers were already on board the Canada Line before September 7th, 2009 – when the 98 B-Line and 490-series express routes were terminated, and the many South-of-Fraser express buses (351, 601, etc) were terminated at Bridgeport rather than continuing to downtown Vancouver.

These bus routes make up only a small percent of the Canada Line’s total ridership – the vast majority were choosing to ride the Canada Line before any of these buses were transferred to terminate at Bridgeport or eliminated. A rider survey conducted in 2011 indicated that 40% of those surveyed were new to the system – that being, they previously drove and did not take transit at all for that commute – and that riders’ biggest vaues for the system were speed, frequency and reliabillity.

With the cancellation of the 98 B-Line and associated peak-hour express routes, it’s true that a number of the Canada Line’s passengers were riders of the previous bus-only system; however, this is something that needs to be expected from all rapid transit projects regardless of technology and alignment. Each and every SkyTrain line, C-Train Line, Portland MAX line, etc. replaced a previous bus service and took in riders from that bus service.

Claims like this also downpay the benefits being provided to any previous bus riders, whose faster commutes are fostering increased productivity, lower stress levels and better comfort. For most of the first month of operation, the 98 B-Line continued its operations alongside the new Canada Line until its termination on September 7th. Riders had the option of continuing to ride the 98 or take the new SkyTrain – and as evidenced by ridership numbers that averaged more than double what the 98 B-Line carried before the new SkyTrain opened, the majority of 98 riders were opting for the faster ride.

The proof is in the ridership

A Canada Line train pulls into Marine Dr Station - photo by Larry Chen, license obtained
A Canada Line train pulls into Marine Dr Station – photo by Larry Chen, license obtained

See also: Surrey’s Next Mayor should Push for SkyTrain – Surrey Leader letter

The Canada Line, which was introduced just 4 years ago, is already a Vancouver icon; a part of this city’s fabric of life. It’s hard to believe that less than 5 years ago, the link between downtown Vancouver and Richmond was a miserable bus trip that took as long as the SkyTrain’s Expo Line took to travel nearly twice the distance to Surrey. As a daily rider of the Canada Line to reach Kwantlen University in Richmond (and again later in the day to go from there to work downtown), the Canada Line’s benefits are evident to me in person. I don’t have to worry about potential traffic issues heading into Vancouver that can make buses (or even light rail trains) late – and neither do the 121,999 others who ride with me each and every day.

Riders, stakeholders and decision makers have been clamouring to build something similar and soon under Broadway between UBC and Commercial-Broadway Station. Support has been near unanimous, because previous experience with SkyTrain has shown us that we can be confident about the expanding the system.

Local mayors who were concerned that the expense of SkyTrain would make TransLink’s assets like electric trolleys “crash” were proved wrong when the Canada Line exceeded ridership expectations well ahead of time.

In walks of transit planning and provision, I have always thought that SkyTrain isn’t getting enough credit for what it does. SkyTrain has been part of why Metro Vancouver has lead North American cities in transit ridership. We rank third in transit trips per person per year, behind only New York and Toronto.  We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C. – cities with full-size metro systems – and far ahead of cities with only LRT systems. This has grown from 4th in 2006.

We are achieving great things because we approved the construction and expansion of the SkyTrain system. Which is why making sure SkyTrain critics who mess up the facts do not get a grip on transit-planning decision makers is my top priority for this year.