A Canada Line debunking

The folks at “Rail For The Valley” have written another “scathing” article with regards to the Canada Line.  We would like to respond to a few of their “points” they made in their letter to the Editor to the Vancouver Sun, which has refused to publish it for good reasons.  The letter can be seen here.

The Editor;

Today’s editorial praising the RAV/Canada Line was predictable; the Vancouver Sun supported this behemoth since its inception.

Sadly, the paper has done its readers a disservice as the Canada Line metro/subway is the epitome of failed transit philosophy from the 1950’s. Has the Sun’s Editorial Board ever noticed that no one is building with SkyTrain and very few with metro? Ever wonder why?

First of all, once again, there are many cities in the world with “SkyTrain” technology (or “SkyTrain-like” technology, fully grade separated systems like the Canada Line).  A full list of the cities can be found on our website, here.   It is known that SkyTrain is marginally more expensive compared to conventional rail and LRT, but there are many benefits with SkyTrain technology.  In fact, Bombardier’s SkyTrain is the front runner for Honolulu’s upcoming metro system. It is heavily based on the SkyTrain system in Vancouver, due to the lower capital costs.

Metro/subways are never planned for unless projected ridership on the line exceeds 400,000 to 500,000 a day. If a metro line does not carry such numbers it must be heavily subsidized; the fewer the passengers the higher the subsidy! Higher subsidies translates into road tolls and higher property taxes.

But there is more. Subways have proven very poor in attracting new ridership and the Canada Line may very well force more people into cars.

The Canada Line is too costly to be extended and as designed will only offer faster journey times to those who live and work near RAV stations. For many, taking the car will be faster than taking a bus transferring to RAV at Casino Junction and possibly transferring to another bus to complete their journey.

One can lose upwards of 70% of potential ridership per transfer.

A metro system’s speed does not attract ridership itself, rather it is the speed of the overall journey that is important. Studies have shown that RAV will increase journey times for most current bus customers, who will lose their direct ‘Express’ buses and be forced to transfer onto the metro.

The projected ridership for the Canada Line is 100 000 passengers per day.  There is a need for a reliable, high capacity, and high frequency rapid transit connection between downtown Vancouver and Richmond City Centre and the ridership on the suburban bus routes along. The ridership on the 98 B-Line, serving the same corridor as the Canada Line (and in which the Canada Line was built to parallel), clearly shows this. There is a reason why the 98 B-Line is one of the busiest bus routes in the region with the second highest ridership levels, second only to the 99 B-Line. Both are express services that rival the speed of other transportation modes along their corridors.

The Canada Line is expensive, but will be worth it in the long run as it puts Vancouver in a competitive economical advantage over most North American cities that don’t have a metro connection to the airport.

The Ministry of Transportation has made it clear that road tolls would not be implemented on existing road infrastructure.  While TransLink has suggested its implementation, there are no concrete plans.  It will also be difficult for TransLink to implement these as most of the region’s roads and bridges are under Ministry of Transportation jurisdiction and not TransLink.

The Canada Line may be costly to extend and expand, but that is with all transit infrastructure.  Taking a car will not be faster than taking a bus plus the additional transfer at Bridgeport.  Currently, busing from Richmond to Downtown takes about 45 minutes during most hours of the day. With the bus integration effective on September 7th, the new transfer will take about 5 minutes for an average person to walk from the bus loop up to the platform.  Assuming one just misses a train at Bridgeport, the next train will arrive in 3 minutes during peak hours.  It takes 19 minutes to SkyTrain from Bridgeport to Waterfront Stn.  Total time on transit with the transfer from Richmond takes 27 minutes, 18 minutes faster than bus, not counting the the 10 minute wait for Oak Street Bridge.  And with a shortened route for south of Fraser express buses, it enabled Translink to run a higher frequency for these routes with more buses running on a shorter route, and without having to deal with the congestion on the bridges and roads into Vancouver nor the congestion in Downtown.

It is is absolutely false that subways require 400,000 to 500,000 boardings per day to justify its existence. Capacity of subway systems, or rather ALL rail systems, is dependent on the frequency of trains, the size of trains, and most importantly the ultimate platform size of trains. It has NOTHING to do with train infrastructure being built underground. Many underground systems have been built to deal with ridership less than 500,000 boardings per day.

And finally, to suggest that these subways, or our own SkyTrain and Canada Line, are heavily subsidized would be equivalent to saying it did not cost a penny to build them in the first place.

The Canada Line P-3 was a charade and the consortium which built the subway used cheap foreign labour and a ‘bait & switch’ from bored tunnel to cheaper cut-and-cover subway construction. The recent successful action by Cambie St. merchant, Susan Heyes, against TransLink, may wipe out any cost savings the switch as more merchants are now suing TransLink. At no time did the consortium assume risk on RAV, as the taxpayer will soon find out.

While it was unfortunate that the Canada Line was built using cut-and-cover construction, the actual cost of cut-and-cover and bored tunnel isn’t as significant as it really is: in fact, a bored tunnel is only marginally more expensive.  Cut-and-cover was used to guarantee the completion of the Canada Line system before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  In the end, we have a rapid transit link that arrived three months ahead of schedule.  However, TransLink did not switch construction methods.  It was assumed that the Canada Line would have been built using tunnel boring machines while the construction methodology had always been up to the bidding consortiums.

The lawsuit by Cambie St. maerchant, Susan Heyes, was not just against TransLink, but also the private company which will be operating the Canada Line.   The cost of the lawsuit is split between the two, meaning less burden on taxpayers.  The case is being appealed. It is unfortunate that many merchants suffered from construction, but at the same time merchants should remember they will benefit from the Canada Line down the road.

The sad fact about the RAV/Canada Line, as its costs soared above the original estimate of $1.3 billion, the scope of the project was greatly reduced. As built, RAV/Canada Line has roughly half the capacity of a light rail line built down Cambie St. or the dreaded Arbutus Corridor. To bring the RAV metro up to just LRT’s capabilities, one would have to invest at least another billion dollars and do the cut-and-cover thing all over again on Cambie St.!

What the RAV/Canada Line really is, is a hugely expensive, politically prestigious, under built metro system, like a cheap Xmas train-set, that will fail to attract sufficient patronage to justify its construction.

The cost of the project soared due to inflated materials prices and the cost of labour. The $1.3-billion figure was first pushed around when the project was first proposed in 2002, and surely you wouldn’t ignore the fact that there was a wide gap between the date of when the project was proposed and the date of when construction actually started: higher construction costs are to be expected.  

The Canada Line is not half the capacity of the proposed light rail system on Arbutus.  The ultimate capacity of the Canada Line is 15 000 passengers per hour per direction, which is the capacity of the current Expo Line during peak hours.   Yes, the trains on the Canada Line are short, but they are also wide and can carry 400 passengers at crush-load capacity and can handle an addition hundred passengers with a third “C-car”. In addition, more trains can be added to the Canada Line; the control system can handle a train every 90 seconds, just like our current SkyTrain.  LRT cannot do that because it’s not automated.  Furthermore, LRT cannot be faster than current Canada Line unless it was built with metro standards, being fully segregated from traffic.  As stated in the City of Vancouver technical study completed  in 1999, SkyTrain, or in our case, the Canada Line, will have an average speed of 35 km/hr, 10 km/hr higher than LRT.  Just looking at the shorter trains is simply shallow-thinking.

The Arbutus corridor is also a longer route that would have increased travel times to upwards of 30-minutes. The route also lacks employment centres needed to attain ridership (On Cambie you have: Central Broadway business district, City Hall, VGH and medical campus, future hospital and developments at 33rd Avenue, Children’s Hospital, Oakridge Centre which will be redeveloped, and Langara Colleg. Cambie is also near the centre of the city, unlike Arbutus. Arbutus only the has western tip of Central Broadway and Kerrisdale for employment centres).

And one wonders why TransLink is in such financial peril and Campbell has forced the phony ‘carbon’ or gas tax and HST onto the public?

Light Rail Committee
Box 105, Delta, BC
V4K 3N5

Not so sure how the carbon tax or HST has anything to do with the Canada Line, but now that it is brought up, the carbon tax simply encourages people to consume less, which leads to more public transit users.  How is that a bad thing?  The HST has nothing to do with the ridership, cost, or success of the Canada Line.

We believe the Canada Line is a crucial transportation link to Metro Vancouver and puts us in an advantage to many cities.  World-class cities all have metro links to the airport, namely London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and San Francisco, not light rail.  Vancouver would be the first city in Canada to have rail infrastructure to the airport, let alone a metro line instead of LRT, and the second city in the North American west coast with a metro to the airport, behind San Francisco and the successful BART system.

Just for the record, the Canada Line is designed with the Millennium Line extension in mind, built as SkyTrain, as there are provisions for a future underground Cambie Station for the Millennium Line with connections to the Canada Line station.

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