Stephen Rees's blog

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

The Canada Line Opens

with 20 comments

I said that I would not get on the Canada Line to-day, simply because I dislike crowds. I also do not much enjoy waiting in line – and if I had tried to ride the Canada Line today, that is what would have happened. In somewhat the same vein as the opening of the Golden Ears Bridge, more people turned up than could be accommodated, and at 7pm they started turning people away. So in that sense to-day has been a success.

My last post on this blog got way more attention than I thought possible. It was, after all, me responding to a third party’s comment on Charlie Smith’s piece in the Straight. Not even repeating what Smith had said – but of course using his headline. And somehow I became the spokesperson for the “nay sayers”. Both the CBC and the Courier wanted to talk to me  – not, so far as I can tell, Charlie. The Courier seemed a bit disappointed that I do not live in Vancouver or use transit to commute to Vancouver every day. The CBC mucked me about all morning – changing the planned location at the last minute, getting me out to the airport and even having me ride the escalator with their reporter as though we had ridden the train there – of course we hadn’t: we all drove. But only one sentence I spoke actually made it to air. I am not even sure it made a great deal of sense and if you had been eating supper or coughed at the wrong time you would have missed it anyway.

And now there is a thing going on Twitter which at 140 characters per tweet is almost irresolvable.

It comes down to figures – and in this case a claim that Kelly Sinoski put in a Vancouver Sun article back on August 4. Which is something I am fairly certain comes from the premier’s office since I know he has used the “lanes of freeway”equivalence as I have also commented on that before. Here is the quote

The $2-billion Canada Line is touted as equivalent to a 10-lane highway and is expected eventually to take 200,000 one-way automobile trips off the roads.

Somehow this got confused with the other important figure of 100,000 riders per day on the Canada Line at which time it “breaks even”  Ken Hardie says “Target is 100,000 per day by 2013 for sure, maybe by 2010” and “At 100k riders per day, we’re covering operating costs and private contributions. New data says we’ll hit that mark in 2010.” (So far i have no citation for that “new data”.)

Note the difference. The Sinoski figure is undated and talks about avoided car trips. Ken talks about riders (note for transit geeks, not “boardings”) and gives a range of years in the near future.

One of the people who did ride today asked the question – if the Canada Line today is having to make people line up to board, how do they expect to achieve their ridership target? (except he didn’t say that clearly enough and used the Sinoski figure.) The Buzzer (on Twitter) reported “65,000 in 6 hours” which apparently is counted by automatic passenger counters. So if you do the usual rule of thumb math – or perhaps I had better admit the sort of rough and ready calculation I use especially when asked questions in public and have to come up with a fast answer – a day’s ridership is around ten times the peak hourly ridership. So since the Canada Line today showed it could carry around 10,800 people per hour it clearly has the capacity to shift 100,000 per day as presently configured.

It clearly cannot handle 200,000 people per day – but then we get into the “eventually” time frame and what might happen in the future. That as about the only thing that survived from my CBC interview – my doubts about the expandability of the Canada Line. But I will not go into that again now.

Because what has to be said – and if necessary repeated until someone admits they were trying to mislead us – is that the Canada Line does not take 200,000 cars a day off the road. Now or indeed in any foreseeable timeframe. Because most of the Canada Line passengers (I dislike the term “riders”) were transit users before the line opened and have simply been required to change from buses to trains for part or all of their journeys. If there were no Canada Line, the people who would have used it would be using the bus, not driving cars.

The critical issue for me in the transit debate here – and I keep returning to this figure – is to what extent will the Canada Line improve the region’s transit mode share? All the other figures to me are smoke and mirrors. The $2bn we have spent ought to have significant impact on mode choice. But SkyTrain did not have that effect – especially not the Millennium Line. Not only were most of SkyTrain users already transit passengers, but the expense of supporting SkyTrain reduced the region’s ability to provide anything like decent bus service – especially in the areas that had no other transit choice. Yes there was some gain – but not nearly enough. And other places which built cheaper systems – both rapid bus (BRT) or light rail (LRT) – did as well or better in terms of mode share. Partly because those systems tend to get in the way of the cars.

As we know, traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. Grade separation of transit is used to avoid transferring road capacity to transit. System wide capacity is in fact increased, and therefore more traffic is generated. In Toronto, when the Yonge Street subway replaced streetcars running in mixed traffic, traffic actually increased – as the streetcars were no longer hindering the automobiles.  In several cities in Europe, when trams were put into tunnels through the city centre (a technique known as “pre Metro”) car traffic increased – so they stopped doing that. In many places the tram now operates on streets closed to other traffic. I have seen this in Nottingham and Grenoble at first hand – and no doubt Malcolm and M. Frog will provide more examples.

It is to Vancouver’s credit that the resurfaced Cambie Street is now mostly two lanes with a cycle lane and parking where it used to be three, at least at peak periods peak direction. But equally, Granville Street (three lanes nearly all the time in reality) will see far fewer buses from September 7 onwards, and cars will quickly take up that space. If we are serious about sustainability – or eco-density – or whatever other term is applied – we have to get more people carrying capacity out of our road network. This goes back to that illustration about the number of people a bus can carry compared to the same space filled with single occupant vehicles. And of course the fuel efficiency and carbon footprint – especially with electric transit – is far superior. As is the quality of life for those who live, work and try to operate businesses on busy arterial streets. For they have multiple uses: they are not just “traffic corridors”.

The opportunity to have light rail on Broadway was lost, when Glen Clark surprised everyone with his choice of SkyTrain for the Millennium Line. For the same price the needed “T” surface  line (Arbutus at Broadway – Lougheed – Coquitlam and New Westminster) we got two bits of it, grade separated (VCC – Lougheed – New Westminster) and no reduction in vehicle capacity anywhere. So transit mode share pre-Millennium of 11% stayed about where it was after it opened.

Pretty much the same thing has been designed into the Canada Line – so I do not expect a different outcome. Indeed to do otherwise is a pretty good definition of madness. I continue to judge transit investment by the yardstick of mode share – but that is simply an easy way to measure something much more complex and harder to define but very recognisable when you see it. We used to call it “livability” back when we had a Livable Region Strategic Plan. Which everyone – every municipality and the province – all signed onto. And then tried to forget about. My problem was that once I understood what the LRSP was about – and when I got to Vancouver first I was not at sure what it was supposed to achieve – I became convinced it was a good plan. That was cemented for me when we tried to create a 100 year plan for the region called citiesPLUS – and won an international competition – and it was basically the LRSP projected forward.

Yet now we have the Golden Ears Bridge, the Gateway Program – SFPR and widened Highway #1, port expansion, and all the rest – and do not, repeat NOT, tell me that was what the LRSP envisaged.Because whatever you might say about its graphics, the principles – the simple 14 words – are inconvertible. And we ain’t doin’ that. Are we.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 17, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Posted in Transportation

20 Responses

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  1. I find that this ‘magic’ 100,000 passenger number, “then the Canada Line breaks even”, is very simplistic.

    Is that 100,000 passengers paying full fare? What about all those Langara students with their discounted U-Passes using RAV, how does that affect revenue? Will TransLink apportion fares between bus and RAV or will the bus system be ignored while bus revenue is skimmed into RAV’s coffers?

    Apportioning fares is extremely important if the majority of RAV’s ridership will first have to take a bus to the metro.

    Without a “Oyster Card” system or something like it, how can TransLink apportion fares? Do they care? What about concession fares and the YVR surcharge, how will that factor in revenue collection? Will the Day-Pass need a YVR supplement?

    For many, these questions may seem too technical, but with the P-3 charade, there is going to be some interesting and questionable accounting taking place and if TransLink gets the tax revenue it wants, the real financial viability of the metro will be buried for a generation.

    More and more this 100,000 passenger number and everything is rosy after, is nothing more than ‘Pixie-dust’ planning meant to confuse the media and just about everyone else.

    Malcolm J.

    August 17, 2009 at 9:22 pm

  2. I cannot answer these questions – and it may well be that they will remain commercially confidential as much to do with the P3s in BC do.

    I do know that Langara students do not now get “discounted U-Passes”. And I think that the rash promise that was made during the election that U Pass would be extended will be quickly forgotten. As indeed is already happening to so many commitments that were made by the BC Liberals in order to get re-elected.

    Stephen Rees

    August 17, 2009 at 9:50 pm

  3. I rode the Canada Line today at around 3-4 pm and did not have to wait in a single line. Of course, I chose my stations carefully. 🙂


    August 17, 2009 at 9:52 pm

  4. […] Globe and Mail] Canada Line operator ordered to reveal its deal with TransLink [The Vancouver Sun] The Canada Line Opens [Stephen Rees's blog] Canada Line opening – First Impressions [Price Tags] INTERNATIONAL […]

    re:place Magazine

    August 18, 2009 at 7:19 am

  5. I wasn’t in town yesterday so I missed the 16 ring circus of opening day. People get excited about new infrastructure and like to see where their money has been spent so the crowds were predictable. I’ll probably try it out some time next month. It will be convenient to hop the bus to Cambie after taking my daughter to school in the morning.

    Of course TransLink will never know if I use the line or not. They don’t know if I use the bus or SkyTrain now and that isn’t going to change any time soon. Like all the monthly pass holders I’m only counted as revenue because the passes leave no evidence of when or where they’re used.

    It makes me wonder how anyone is going to know when we hit that “magic” 100,000 number.


    August 18, 2009 at 9:34 am

  6. I generally take reporters comments (and politician’s comments) dealing with facts and figures with a grain of salt.

    WRT counting passengers, if there are passenger counters, that would make it easy – don’t now if there are – but the absence of a direct platform to platform connection at Waterfront would make it easier to conduct such counts since all entrances are separate entrances.

    WRT the Concessionaire Agreement – read in the paper today that the privacy commissioner rejected InTransitBC’s efforts to prevent disclosure of the commercial terms – so it will be disclosed.

    Now isn’t this where you use the free fare day crowds as evidence that free fares system-wide would be chaos and result in unmanageable crowds that end up detering public transit use?

    Ron C.

    August 18, 2009 at 10:13 am

  7. A link to Stephen’s CBC interview (starting at 02:00):

    Robert Finlayson

    August 18, 2009 at 10:13 am

  8. My understanding is that InTransit will receive an regular operating grant from Translink and will share (10%) in gate revenue once ridership projections are met.

    So from Translink’s point of view, break even is when the operational efficiencies + new ridership to make up for the operating costs.

    The revenue sharing shouldn’t become an issue until 2013, whe the faregates are installed. Although the counters now, along with audits should provide a good idea.

    The ridership projection risk is much more on Translink’s side, although the 10% might be enough for Intransit to hire attendants with white gloves to increase capacity if it gets to that.

    But I’m sure we’ll find out more in the agreement, including any non-compete clauses and the requirements for platform extention and train purchases.

    The golden ears is the same model although without any revenue sharing


    August 18, 2009 at 10:57 am

  9. The Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner yesterday ordered that all the information about the concession agreement be released, despite Canada Line Rapid Transit’s claim that releasing the information would “help terrorists” and “harm aboriginal relations”.

    Paul H

    August 18, 2009 at 12:31 pm

  10. I have done a report on the Canada line, feel free to read it on my website at


    August 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm

  11. I have done a report on the Canada Line couple years ago.

    Feel free to read it at


    August 18, 2009 at 12:44 pm

  12. […] Posted by viewfromthe44 under Uncategorized Leave a Comment  Towards the end of a long post about the Canada Line yesterday, Stephen Rees makes a point that’s very challenging for those of us who want to see […]

  13. I Used it on opening day. A madhouse but I got to talk to several other transits Geeks, NDPers to boot. Used it today around 2:30 to go from Broadway /City hall to Roundhouse to go to my gym on Davie. What a saving in time compared to the Cambie bus!! 90% of the seats were occupied, with a dozen people standing. After the gym took it from Yaletown to Waterfront at around 5:30. Train was not sardine-can packed but full enough

    What a let down when one goes to the Expo line! I am surprised they didn’t think it was worth redoing the floor tiles and the ceiling to welcome the Olympic hordes???

    Can’t understand why they didn’t build a pedestrian tunnel between the 2 lines. Yes I know about the levels differences, the Skytrain tracks, the possibility of water underneath but all these problems plus other ones even more complex than here existed in London and Paris when they built respectively the “Jubilee line extension” and the “ligne 14”. Both opened in 1999 and are strikingly similar: the tracks are separated from the platforms for safety by glass walls with sliding doors. Metro line 14 was automated from the start , while it was planned for the Jubilee extension to be eventually automated. Some of the stations (both lines) are striking as natural light goes down to big underground lobbies and in some cases to the platforms. Westminster station has a huge vertical void nearly 40 m (130 ft) deep.

    I am not happy with the design of the entrances on the Granville mall. The one on the South side of Georgia partly hides Sears entrance and with the separate elevator entrance the whole street corner is a mess. Something like a greenhouse would have looked much lighter and way more elegant. Same with the entrance by Hastings. Again that corner is all muddled.

    I agree with Stephen that the whole TransLink system need more obvious, unique and powerful signs to shout I am TransLink and there is a station right here!!. .

    All the same I like the new line and am confident that it will be a success. We may not get 100 000 trips per day for years but will likely get a very good number and sooner than we think.

    Red frog

    August 18, 2009 at 8:19 pm

  14. OFCOURSE there would be large queues, if you get on at Vancouver downtown and ride out to Richmond (YVR or Richmond Centre) how do you expect to get back to Vancouver. YOU REMAIN & STAY ON THE TRAIN.

    Good planning people.

    Special K

    August 19, 2009 at 7:09 am

  15. They did build a pedestrian tunnel between the two lines. It surfaces within the old Waterfront CP station and then you have to go back down to the SkyTrain, which is a minor inconvenience. What is missing is a pedestrian tunnel from Vancouver City Centre station to Granville station

    Stephen Rees

    August 19, 2009 at 9:24 am

  16. I think he means a platform to platform connection at Waterfront – but since Waterfront Expo Line platform is a centre platform, I think you’d still have to go up and down again to get to the platform (aside from the Cordova ramp of the parkade and the Granville Square parkade structure itself).

    Ron C.

    August 19, 2009 at 12:45 pm

  17. Stephen, sorry for not being more explicit..what I meant to say is what Ron C. explain much better than I did..
    There is a connection of sorts between the Vancouver City Centre station and the Granville station but only when the Bay is open as one must walk through their basement to go from one station to the other.

    This is another case of Vancouver planers and architects being either too chintzy or ignorant of the (incredibly long) underground network of malls connecting several rail and transit stations and many other landmarks that are found in downtown Toronto and Montreal (these hallways are open even when the stores themselves are closed) and in many other places, for example in Osaka-Kita and Osaka-Minami in Japan

    Red frog

    August 19, 2009 at 6:56 pm

  18. The lower mode share of transit in Vancouver than other cities that use LRT has nothing to do with technology, and more to do with decentralized Metro Vancouver is.
    Metro Vancouver has a plan to decentralize the region instead of letting downtown Vancouver be a dominate metropolitan centre.
    Everyone knows that when you have a low number of people working downtown, your transit ridership is also low.
    As much as Vancouver hopes that people will take transit to their suburban town centre office job, it does not work that way. Transit usage to suburban town centres is always low compared to commutes to the central city.

    So that is why Vancouver has lower mode share compared to places like say Calgary, which has very high LRT ridership. But that is because most office space in Calgary is downtown.
    You need a centralized workforce for very high transit usage. And unless downtown Vancouver starts building some office and not so many condos, than you are going to have lower ridership on Canada Line and transit in general in Vancouver.
    The more you disperse jobs, the more people drive. Vancouver was trying to make it go the other way, but it is hard to serve transit when you spread jobs across the region.


    August 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm

  19. You are partly right, Mike. But firstly suburban town centres have few jobs. Most suburban jobs are in “office parks” or other dispersed locations hard to serve with transit. The creation of suburban office parks was not part of the regional strategy. Secondly, take a look at the transit maps on the SkyTrain. Rapid transit coverage is confined to the western end of the Burrard Peninsula. It scarcely penetrates Surrey. There is no rapid transit in the TriCities – part of the Growth Concentration Area – or most the region south of the Fraser or east of New Westminster. Yet Surrey has been the fastest growing City in the region. Moreover, Vancouver had lost much of its industrial employment and has not permitted denser development at high accessibility nodes i.e. its SkyTrain stations – and continues the same pattern with the Canada Line. It is not the technology so much as the expense of a grade separated rapid transit system which has – and continues to – limit the growth of the transit system which is grossly inadequate in most of the region outside of the area defined above.

    Stephen Rees

    August 28, 2009 at 7:57 am

  20. Red frog, it’s not an accident, Vancouver city council policy discourages underground mall.


    August 31, 2009 at 8:29 pm

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