Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Vancouver Olympic Village likely won’t be the only shock

with 20 comments

Charlie Smith on the Georgia Straight’s politics blog this morning (isn’t having a Twitter feed wonderful?) speculates on a number of Olympics related budget items which are also not performing as planned. He cites the Vancouver Convention Centre (the broadcasting centre for the games) the Sea to Sky Highway (which will not be quite the real estate boon Kack Poole hoped for) but mostly the Canada Line.

Urban-affairs writer Jane Jacobs once described the Canada Line as a “pork barrel” and “black hole” that will consume limited transit funds.

The Canada Line will result in rerouting of the bus system.

This will shock merchants on north-south streets such as Fraser, Oak, and Granville when they learn that they no longer have people using the bus to reach their stores.

Some might even cite this and ask for a break on property taxes.

But the biggest risk of all is if the Canada Line fails to attract more than 100,000 riders per day.

It will be a difficult challenge, given the cost of transit in this region and the percentage of households in Richmond that own cars.

If the line doesn’t generate sufficient ridership, TransLink will have to provide a whopping operating subsidy to the private operator.

How will that be financed? Probably by cutting back on bus service and jacking up fares.

Well he may be right about the impact on retailers but that is going to be hard to determine. Retail is in trouble already – everywhere – becuase of the recession. So the additonal impact of losing north south bus service is going to be hard to determine. The retailers that I had to deal with when the Richmond Rapid Bus proposal was working its way through public consultations were decidely unimpressed with buses and refused to accept then that people who ride the bus might have money to spend. Their main concerns then were about parking – and the visibility of their store fronts to passing motorists. That was one of the main reasons that the architect designed new bus shelters had to be all glass. And while I am not privy to the bus plans post Canada Line I would expect that there will be some service. After all there has been a long running campaign to try to get trolley buses reinstated on Cambie – so there is obviously going to be some local bus service on the these north-south routes. Probably much les frequent than they are now.

The threat of service cuts and fare hikes is already on the table due to major financing concerns. Either the region’s Mayors agree to a new source of funding for Translink or those cuts will be implemented in order to balance the books. And that happens whether or not the Canada Line hits its magic number of projected riders.

Actually my prediction right now is that the big shock may be the P3 financing for the Port Mann Twinning and Highway 1 expansion. Which, of course, is not Olympic related. BCTV last night passed along a story it had picked up from Project Finance Magazine – which is only available by subscription on line.  They are reporting that the deal that was supposed to have been signed by now  hasn’t been. The January 8 deadline has passed but there are still expectations that it will close by early February. Or not if market rumours about the banks’ credit retraints and doubts about the debt pricing structure are true. The deal is hideously complicated and discussed in language only understood by those with much financial expertise. Which in itself raises my eyebrows, since that has often the technique used in the past to get dubious deals through without too much scrutiny. Of course, with recent revelations about Ponzi schemes, everyone is being a lot more careful these days. Which translates to yet more risk transfer – back to the taxpayer, of course, who is always left holding the bag, just as is now happening with the athlete’s village.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2009 at 9:33 am

20 Responses

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  1. This topic and all the various failings of these privatization funding schemes was debated at length in the Legislature this past year. In estimates, when I questioned Kevin Falcon about the nasty experience Sidney Australia has had with Macquarie, he told me he was smarter than the government down there! And when we debated the Port Mann Twinning bill, the government members mocked and chided us for our concerns about P3’s and the risk to taxpayers. No surprise that we are now seeing them fail – the Olympics Village being a prime example of how the tax payer is on the hook! And now I predict we will see the Port Mann bridge join the Evergreen Line in limbo!

    Maurine Karagianis

    January 14, 2009 at 11:08 am

  2. Maurine, there is more and some of the poop falls into the NDP’s face as well. It is Vancouver’s morbid obsession with light-metro (SkyTrain) that really is the problem and the NDP had a chance to rectify the situation with the Millennium Line, but didn’t. Remember those two seats, two elections ago; the Millennium Line debacle contributed to that in a big way!

    The Evergreen Line is a disaster, not enough ridership to justify LRT, yet Translink wants to build a much more expensive light-metro. Just to repeat American Transit Expert, Gerald Fox’s quote, “I found several instances where the analysis had made assumptions that were inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. If the underlying assumptions are inaccurate, the conclusions may be so too.” and “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 analysed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected. No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.”

    I won’t go on about the Canada Line, but my prediction is 50,000 to 60,000 riders a day. 25,000 to 30,000 each way.

    Malcolm J.

    January 14, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  3. What’s your Twitter url? You should put it in your sidebar 🙂


    January 14, 2009 at 2:03 pm

  4. Oh, found you via people search:

    Keep up the great work 🙂


    January 14, 2009 at 2:04 pm

  5. Aside: Story on the construction of the Evergreen Line Project Office:

    Ron C.

    January 14, 2009 at 2:27 pm

  6. Would the decrease in north-south service be replaced with increased east-west service, such that there is no net bus service reduction? I would think that these local routes that do not go to Richmond or the Airport would not show huge drops in ridership simply because they are probably still going to be easier than taking the the Canada line.


    January 14, 2009 at 2:45 pm

  7. Tim

    You would have to address that to the people who do service planning at Translink

    Stephen Rees

    January 14, 2009 at 3:07 pm

  8. Allan

    Nice to see that People Search on Twitter is finally working again

    Stephen Rees

    January 14, 2009 at 3:07 pm

  9. When the 98-B Line opened, ridership dropped, when compared to the direct 401; 402; and 403; service to Vancouver. Transit ridership will suffer from South Delta and Surrey customers, reverting back to the auto.

    For many, taking the car will just be easier!

    Malcolm J.

    January 14, 2009 at 4:01 pm

  10. The per passenger subsidies for the premium coach service from White Rock are probably pretty high too. If every passenger on every bus route demanded that level of service, TransLink’s operating costs would be even higher.
    Remember that buses would be operating at higher frequency between Bridgeport and White Rock – so there is a benefit to passengers (I’m assuming that the bus drivers won’t be taking half hour breaks between scheduled trips to/from Bridgeport given that their driving distance has been cut in half).

    Ron C.

    January 15, 2009 at 1:14 am

  11. WRT the Olympic Village, if worse came to worst, the City could sell some of the land proposed to be dedicated as parkland in SEFC for development.
    There are ample parks just to the north of Science World as well as west of Cambie Bridge.

    Ron C.

    January 15, 2009 at 1:17 am

  12. Ron C—Your blind faith is Campbell is something else, according to the mayor of port moody (Trasolini) there was an Evergreen office opened up in port moody almost a decade ago only to be closed and scuttled!
    It is called “wag the dog” seems like these illusionary tricks still work on gullible people or those with short memories!

    Grant G

    January 15, 2009 at 2:49 pm

  13. Ron, it isn’t frequency that is the problem, it is the forced transfer. Transit customers (I must repeat this, transit customers) hate to transfer and when one is forced to transfer onto RAV, people will switch to a car. The whole damn thing is wrong.

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

    Then there is the problem of claustrophobia, subways are poor in attracting ridership.

    For a $10 return trip to Vancouver (probably $11 in the near future) will make people think that the car is just more convenient.

    RAV is contrary to just about everything that has been learned to operate a successful transit system.

    Malcolm J.

    January 15, 2009 at 3:24 pm

  14. So, Malcolm, you are arguing against a forced transfer from buses to the Canada at Bridgeport but for forced transfers at Lougheed and Broadway from SkyTrain to LRT. Make up your mind.

    If you are right regarding the losing 70% potential ridership per transfer, then the business case for SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line would even be stronger than the province stated.


    January 15, 2009 at 3:54 pm

  15. There’s no need to speculate and do the whole doom and gloom routine on North-South bus service when Translink posted its plan for Canada Line Integration years ago on its webpage.

    Click to access Section_6_Service_Concepts.pdf

    Go to page 9, it’s all there. You’ll also notice on page 29 that bus service along 41st is going to be significantly improved as well. As for the transfers from Delta and White Rock the less then 3 minutes lost by transferring will be more then made up by the time savings once you’re on the train. Unless the line is badly overcrowded (which Malcolm specifically states he believes isn’t likely to be the case) I just don’t see it being a huge problem.

    Terry S.

    January 15, 2009 at 4:44 pm

  16. “years ago” is the issue. I wrote a very similar document prior to the construction of the Millennium Line that discussed the principles that had to be applied to bus service restructuring and set out detailed descriptions of what the adjusted routes would look like. Once the Millennium Line opened I visited the man who actually did the scheduling and route redesigns. Of course he was completely unaware of what had been written and approved by the Board and the provincially appointed EA Officer. And, of course, no-one at Translink (other than me) thought that there was any problem with that.

    Stephen Rees

    January 15, 2009 at 4:52 pm

  17. It is not being against a forced transfer, what I’m saying is a forced transfer will deter people from taking transit. The quest is to eliminate transfers The 70% figure actually came from BC Transit study in the early 90’s, regarding more express buses across the lions Gate, during the ‘Great Lions Gate Bridge’ debate.

    In Karlsruhe Germany, upon the opening of the two-system LRT and by eliminating just one transfer saw weekday ridership to rise a massive 423% in just a few months!

    The business case for the Evergreen Line is dreadful and is mostly ‘fiction’ from TransLink. Have a look what Gerald Fox, a well respected transit specialist from the States, has to say about the Millennium Line.

    RAV and the Evergreen Line will cripple transit in the region as Translink’s financial woes are coming to a head and there is only one taxpayer!

    Malcolm J.

    January 15, 2009 at 6:14 pm

  18. So by your logic, not having transfers at Lougheed and Commercial could increase ridership by up to 423%. Not even the Evergreen Business Case tried to claim this.

    I looked at the Karlsruhe example and question its relevance here. No doubt that transfers have some impact, but I expect the actual impact depends on a lot of factors.

    Unfortunately with the scattered “pickup sticks” pattern of development in the Valley (and the region for that matter), there are so many origins and destinations that it is impossible to serve such travel patterns with no-transfer transit serve.

    I would also wonder if the main deterrent is waiting for the next train to come rather than the transfer itself. At least for me, I don’t mind transferring on SkyTrain because there is really no wait for the next train.


    January 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm

  19. And yet Stephen when you read the plan, aside from converting the 135 to a B-Line, pretty much every component so far has been implemented on schedule. But hey it makes far more sense to presume bus service is going to be gutted based on no evidence so let’s go with that!

    Terry S.

    January 15, 2009 at 10:04 pm

  20. Terry I can only presume that you must be employed by Translink or CMBC in some capacity.

    Yes, I have now read the section you directed me to. There is no table that compares frequencies now to frequencies post Canada Line opening – although there is a comparison with TTC services that parallel their subways. The total number of service hours is quoted as “the same” because of the extensions of services to terminate at Canada Line station at Marine Drive. In terms of service quality total number of service hours is actually a measure of cost and is not a measure that reflects passenger perception: that would be frequency and seat availability.

    There is no mention anywhere in that section of the issue that Malcolm keeps raising – the curtailment of direct express buses from south of the Fraser. That may be covered elsewhere – but clearly this section was written for public consultation purposes in the City of Vancouver. The loss of direct services that do not serve passengers travelling within Vancouver being on little concern to residents of that City – except for freeing up road space.

    For passengers travelling from Richmond who saw direct services reintroduced when the B line failed tom provide enough capacity due to abstraction of trolley passengers in Vancouver, this section also makes no mention of the 488, 491, 496 and so on. These passengers now get a one seat ride but will in future have to transfer to trains which have very few seats.

    And by the way I did not say “gutted” I said “lower frequencies” – and as I noted above this document does not tell me that. Confusingly the service on Granville in the table is referred to as #8 but on the map as #10 – which currently has 10 minute peak headways in the public timetable but will apparently see a service frequency increase to 7 minute. And the #3 Main will stay the same. The major difference is of course on the #15 Cambie which will use smaller buses and run every 10 minutes at peak periods instead of every 4 to 5 minutes now

    If Translink actually delivers the service promised in this document service frequencies then the forecast made by Charlie Smith (not me) will be gainsaid. But his prediction is not based on The Plan – but on what happens if the resources are not available to deliver The Plan. And that concern remains.

    Stephen Rees

    January 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

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