The Irony

One finds it interesting how the SkyTrain lobby warps the truth to suit it’s own ends. What the SkyTrain lobby is really saying is that; “We completely discount over one hundred and fifty years of rail/light rail/metro development, to support a unconventional, proprietary railway.” That only seven such systems have been built (actually there are two types of SkyTrain systems, the old UTDC ICTS/ALRT system and Bombardier’s updated ART system), with two of the systems, Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Toronto’s Scarborough Line, being forced upon the operating authority by senior governments, is testament of the non-popularity of the light metro. The SkyTrain version that has managed a few sales is Bombardier’s ART light-metro system, which has been sold as a “prestigious” airport people movers or fun-fair transit system and only Kuala Lumpur operates a ART system as a regional metro system, along side both conventional light-metro and monorail.

The UBC SkyTrain boys and girls take umbrage with RFV posting of a letter sent to various news papers, so let’s have a look what they say.

As mentioned previously, there are only seven cities that have built with the SkyTrain ICTS/ALRT/ART system, over a 30 year span.

SkyTrain can cost up to ten times more to install (TTC ARTS Study) than light rail. When compared to other North American Light Rail systems, SkyTrain cost 2 to 5 times more to install and operating costs for ALRT/ART are higher than comparable LRT systems.

This is Honolulu’s second attempt to build with SkyTrain as the first attempt collapsed due to massive cost of the light-metro. One doubts that SkyTrain will be built in Honolulu, especially when politicians have just found that the costs quoted in Vancouver for SkyTrain were direct costs only, not total costs which is the norm in the USA. The same issue sunk the Seattle Monorail project. It also must be remembered that Honolulu’s planners want an elevated system, yet their projected ridership numbers do not warrant such an expense.

It is true that SkyTrain, or ART, is more expensive, but one must not compare ART with LRT.  ART is a fully segregated system and most LRT’s built today are not fully segregated.  Of course LRT costs less if it can be built integrated with traffic.  However, if LRT was built using similar construction methods as ART, the costs will be quite close (as shown with the Evergreen Line, requiring similar amounts of tunneling and elevated guideways as the SkyTrain option).  

Due to the heavy congestion on Honolulu’s Interstate and artery roads, planners and politicians are a greater need for rapid transit.  In fact, it was those same politicians that have voted for a higher capacity, faster fully segregated metro system.  Projected ridership numbers are higher than that of the Canada Line, at 116 000 passengers per day.  At bare minimum, forecast numbers show 90 000 passengers per day.

The projected ridership for the Canada line is pure ‘pixie dust’, as it assumes that almost three times more people from Richmond, South Delta & Surrey will use transit to Vancouver than presently do and is not based on scientific assessment, rather it is a political guesstimate.

Using 2007 numbers, which are much lower than the ridership on the 98 B-Line today, the 98 B-Line moved over 27 500 passengers.  This number is over 30 000 passengers.  Adding that to the ridership on Suburban buses, plus local buses such as the 10-Granville and 15-Cambie,  this number is well over one third of the projected ridership of the Canada Line.

In addition, many developments are just about to be complete around Richmond-Brighouse Stn.  Richmond plans to fully develop around the Canada Line, expecting 80 000 more residents.  Of special mention, Pinnacle and Concord Pacific owns a plot of land at the future Capstan Way Stn, expected to be developed over the next few years.  Furthermore, the City of Vancouver council is supporting a rezoning application by a development off of Marine Drive Stn by PCI and Busby Perkins+Will.   The City of Vancouver has also transformed Cambie between Olympic Village Stn and Broadway-City Hall Stn, with a mix of big-box retail, dense residential, and office complexes.  The Vancouver Airport Authority also has plans in building offices around Templeton Station.

Yet when the 98-B Line bus was instituted in Richmond, ridership dropped from what the old 403, 402, and 401 bus routes with direct services to Vancouver, carried. Again the SkyTrain lobby ignores the singular fact that forced transfers deters ridership.

This is quite a different comparison.  In addition to cutting off the Vancouver portion, TransLink also reduced services for the 401, 402, and 403 buses.  In our case right now, the frequency of  thee buses  increase.  It is also different because the 98 B-Line was not faster than the original bus service as opposed to the Canada Line, which is at least 20 minutes faster than the current bus service.

More importantly, above all, it was the four-month transit strike that really affected the ridership for these routes (and for that matter, all bus routes in the region). The strike occurred before the implementation of the 98 B-Line, and a deep service cut occurred one month after.

This comment is absolutely silly, if the author took time to investigate; in North America, rapid transit systems that connect to the airport, including Chicago and San Fransisco, see little ridership.

Tell that to London and the DLR and Hong Kong’s Airport Express.  Daily ridership on the entire BART is also 346 504 passengers; I can’t see how that is “little ridership.”  It is also important to note that BART also has a fare surcharge of $5.00 to the airport from downtown, more than the $2.50 AddFare TransLink is proposing.

Again, the author discounts the great cost differences for LRT and SkyTrain. Sorry, taking the car will be faster and more convenient as studies have shown that for residents in South Delta and South Surrey, being forced to take RAV will increase average journey time, especially off-peak, which is hardly a good selling point. Again, I must remind the SkyTrain lobby it is not the speed of the ‘rapid transit’ that attracts customers but the speed and ease of the entire journey; RAV. with forced transfers which will not be an attractive alternative.

Unless buses feeding RAV run on the same frequencies as RAV, they will not be competitive with the car. Your numbers are misleading as your 5 minute transfer time is not realistic. Most car drivers would spend another 15 minutes in their car rather than take a bus, transfer to RAV and transfer again to another bus. RAV is just not a competitive alternative to the car.

Clearly, one hasn’t read any of the explanations the UBC SkyTrain Group has mentioned in the last post.   A 5 minute transfer time is in no way unrealistic: the transfer is from the bus up two escalators to the platform.   In fact, a normal commuter will take less than that.  This isn’t a transfer from Bridgeport Street and Oak Street Bridge to Bridgeport Station, this is a transfer from a bus loop directly under Station, to the platform.  It is also important to note that there is a Park & Ride that will attracting potential Canada Line commuters that do not want to be stuck in traffic on Oak Street Bridge and beyond.  Park and Rides are pretty much what makes LRT systems successful in North America.

It is ironic that one is lecturing us about a transfer.  Zweisystem wants LRT to be built for the Broadway Corridor even though it creates an extra transfer at Commercial Drive Station.  The UBC SkyTrain Group, on the other hand, wants an extension of the Millennium Line SkyTrain to reduce a transfer.  Oh the irony…

The UBC SKyTrain Group supports a transfer at Bridgeport Station because it saves time for commuters using transit.  While it does create a little bit of a hassle, the benefits such as the time savings and increase of frequency to the suburban buses are worth the transfer.  TransLink has said that the buses will come at least every 15 minutes, upgrading buses to Frequent Transit Network requirements.

Actually it’s not false but very accurate that a subway needs 400,000 to 500,000 passengers a day to justify the investment. The figure comes from UBC Professor Condon but it is also illustrated by the fact that subways are avoided at all costs due to high costs. You can build a subway with less ridership potential, but be expected to pay higher subsidies to support it. Finally your comment is illogical, for if a subway was viable for ridership flows of 100,000 a day, more cities would be burrowing underground.

The Expo Line today has paid off its construction costs and is also fully recovering its operational expenses from fares.  Ridership of 100,000/day is the magic number for breaking even on Canada Line operational expenses, and that number is quite realistic in the very near future as evident with the numbers we’ve seen these past few days.

And if we had built with LRT instead, we could have had it in operation two years ago, your argument is without foundation.

Yes, but the Arbutus corridor was a slower route and would’ve provided only marginally faster travel times to Richmond Centre than the current 98 B-Line.  More importantly, employment and residential densities around Arbutus are simply insufficient to support such a line.

Passengers in subways do not see surface stores and restaurants and do not get off trains to patronize them. The opposite is true for light rail, where merchants adjacent to the LRT line see about a 10% increase in business once the line opens. Your comments are disingenuous.

Businesses benefit because passengers are provided with a fast connection to the key business areas, and these areas see growth.  At the end of the day, the transportation element is the most vital part: it is not a stop-and-go taxi that brings businesses right to their door.

In fact, with that logic, we should be building streetcars so that passengers get a slower view at the stores.

The point of building SkyTrain and Metros is to first build regional transportation infrastructure and then have light rail and streetcars act as a regional connection and feeder system from the higher capacity systems.  This is what is done in Europe: the London Light Rail systems feed off of the London Underground.  Hong Kong’s Light Rail in New Territories feed off of the MTR.  San Francisco’s MUNI is located above the BART system acting as a feeder to San Francisco communities as well as acting as the higher capacity system.

The costs soared because the costs for subway construction were deliberately misleading from the start! The switch from SkyTrain to a generic metro was done to save the cost of over 40 km. of the expensive reaction rail needed for the Linear Induction Motors.

No, there wasn’t a switch from SkyTrain to Conventional Rail.  There were three bids made on the Canada Line project: one from Bombardier proposing ART of course, one from SNC-Lavalin and ROTEM proposing conventional rail, and others from a collaboration of companies including the MTRC proposing conventional rail.   In the end, SNC-Lavalin’s bid won.  There was no switch from the beginning.  Clearly, there is a lack of knowledge of the Canada Line project on your part.

Actually the capacity of a Canada Line car is 163 passengers, using the industry standard of all seat occupied and standees @ 4 persons per m/2; the figure of 200 per car is derived at crush loading, all seats occupied and standees @ 6 persons m/2. Do the math, even with the third car, the RAV Line barely match LRT’s capacity of over 20,000 persons per hour per direction.

Yes, but the travel times are much shorter using the conventional rail over LRT.  The LRT option did not meet Transport Canada minimum time requirements for funding.

You are dead wrong here. Light rail can operate at 30 second headways, and do it day in and day out on scores of LRT operations around the world. Actually LRT can operate at a faster commercial speed than metro if it is designed to. RAV faster commercial speeds come from sacrificing stations along the line. By your logic, having no intermediate stations and an extremely fast metro line would attract hundreds of thousands of riders – NOT! Obviously you haven’t done any research on transit and your lack of knowledge on the subject is telling.

If LRT was designed to do that, it means it is fully segregated or built to light metro standards, making it much more expensive.  That obviously won’t be the case for Broadway, nor is there a pre-existing right of way we could use. Light rail cannot reach a frequency of every 30-secs on a street like Broadway, with all the traffic, traffic lights, intersections, and pedestrian crossings. Trains will simply bunch up, as they do with the 99 B-Line buses during peak hours. This has been debunked thoroughly by UBC SkyTrain in previous articles and posts in our blog.

You overstate the employment centres as hospitals, with nurses and staff working odd shifts and 12 hour days are not good transit revenue generators. The real question about employment centre is how many people working at those employment centre, live near RAV to use it?

The Arbutus route had the higher density and the many shops spread along it’s route would have also been good revenue generators, a fact ignored by RAVCo. & Co. Again you confuse commercial speed with journey speed; a slightly longer trip, serving more destinations, may have attracted more customers.

Like mentioned earlier, the City of Richmond already has plans for increasing density around the Canada Line stations, expecting 80 000 more to live around the No. 3 Rd corridor and Olympic Oval area in the decades to come.

The Arbutus route has density in just one main area: Kerrisdale. And maybe at Central Broadway, although it is only the western tip of it.

Actually the HST has a lot to do with the RAV and Evergreen Lines as the provincial government needs the extra revenue to pay for their hugely expensive transportation projects, your ignorance of this is nothing short than appalling.

HST puts BC in a competitive economic position.  Eventually, provinces will move to the HST model and that is known: the question is when.  The Province has finally decided to heavily invest in public transit infrastructure, ones that were needed a decade ago.   All of these transit plans we’re seeing were previously proposed in the 1996 Greater Vancouver Regional District Livability Plan.

What foolish nonsense which smacks of ‘penis envy’. Vancouver doesn’t have the population as Tokyo, hong Kong and San Fransisco to support a metro, let alone a metro connection to the airport. did you know that BART line to San Francisco’s airport carries a mere 10,000 a day?

Vancouver doesn’t, but will no doubt be home to many more people in the future.  Investing in rail infrastructure requires long term planning.  We need a public transit system that is able to carry more people and investing in faster, higher capacity systems is the way to go to attract general commuters to transit instead off driving.

I’ve no desire to get drawn into the Vancouver transit wars, and, anyway, most of the rest of the world has moved on. To be fair, there are clear advantages in keeping with one kind of rail technology, and in through-routing service at Lougheed. But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink people very nervous.

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. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analyzed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.”

It is true that Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors.  This is a fact.  This is why, for instance, LRT was built in Hong Kong for the New Territories.  But the problem is the Richmond-Airport-Vancouver corridor is a major corridor, along with the Broadway corridor. Both corridors require competent and quick transit modes.

To clarify again, the UBC SkyTrain group only supports SkyTrain in particular cases.  We do not choose a technology for a route without prior research and local experience for that particular corridor.  In fact, we believe it is necessary for LRT to be built in the South of Fraser areas, particularly along King George Hwy, and in the Fraser Valley. SkyTrain is simply the region’s backbone transit connector.  Like with all rail infrastructure projects we’ve seen in the past in this region, BRT should be introduced to guarantee ridership before investing into LRT/ART.


One Response

  1. British Columbia Rapid Transit Costs since 1980:

    1985 UTDC – SKYTRAIN
    Skytrain Expo (EXPO 86) Line 1985 20.4 km $1.45 Billion
    Vancouver Waterfront Station to New Westminster Station
    114 Skytrain Mark 1 Cars (57 two Car trains or 28 four Car trains + 1 two Car train)
    ($854 Million paid by British Columbia, $600 Million paid by Canada / Ontario.)

    1989 Skytrain Expo Line extension to Columbia Station 0.64 km ?
    1990 Skytrain Skybridge $244 Million
    1990 Skytrain Expo Line extension to Scott Road Station 2.3 km ?
    16 Skytrain Mark 1 series 2 Cars (8 two Car trains; or 4 four Car trains)
    1994 Skytrain Expo Line extension to King George Station 4.4 km ?
    20 Skytrain Mark 1 series 2 Cars (10 two Car trains or 5 four Car trains)
    Total Mark 1Cars 150 (75 two Car trains or 37 four Car trains + 1 two Car train)

    Skytrain Millennium Line 2002 20.6 km $1.1 Billion
    Columbia Station to Broadway Station
    60 Bombardier Mark 11 Skytrain Cars
    (30 two Car trains or 15 four Car trains; only Cars 259 / 260 have on-board cameras)
    Skytrain Millennium Line 2006 extension to VCC / Clark Drive 0.83 km ?

    48 Bombardier Mark 11 series 2 Skytrain Cars with on-board cameras $193 Million
    (24 two Car Trains or 12 four Car trains)
    7 Bombardier Mark 11 Series 2 Skytrain Cars $28.1 Million
    (3 two car trains + 1 one Car train; or 1 four Car train, 1 two Car train + 1 one Car train)

    2005 SIEMENS – CANADA LINE (orphan system not compatible with Skytrain)
    Canada Line (RAV – Richmond Airport Vancouver) 19.2 km $2.05 Billion
    1 Block from Waterfront Station to Richmond Centre or Airport
    40 Heavy Rail Subway Cars (20 two Car trains) No on-board cameras for safety.
    Subway Station Size reduced to two Car trains to save money, no room for expansion.

    2009 TOTAL COST: $5.07 Billion

    1979 GVRD RAPID TRANSIT PROJECT COST: $430-558 million
    Skytrain Expo/ Millennium Lines, longer Evergreen Line, and Canada Line. $430 million at grade; $558 million elevated, subways, Pattullo Bridge with 6 lane car and 2 lane LRT.


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