Stephen Rees's blog

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

Translink enters the fray

with 10 comments

I am not sure that I have quite captured the spirit or intensity required, but it sure as heck beats “draft strategic framework for consultation” as a headline, which is the name of  the document that Translink releases today. This is actually being written “under embargo”. Which is a first for me. And I did have to twit Translink’s PR people about their somewhat casual use of the term “exclusive”. This is not a scoop – others have it too. As I said to them it’s like virginity – it’s a simple binary proposition. Like “unique”. Nothing can be “very unique”: it either is or it isn’t. And this isn’t exclusive nor should it be.

It should also be no surprise, given what you have read here about Translink’s Stakeholder Forum at the Wosk Centre, or the Sustainability Community Breakfast by Metro. What I heard from Bob Paddon, in our telephone conversation late on Tuesday afternoon, is the message that Translink intends to campaign vigorously on the funding referendum. It is not going to be the case that they will simply let the chips fall where they may, or rely on supporters to make the case.

The provincial government knows that it badly misread the public mood over the HST. But now hopes to cash in on the anti-tax sentiment, which it thinks it saw reflected in its re-election. This is, I hasten to add, my opinion now.  But Bob did make clear his determination to use the information that Translink has at its command to make the case for funding a significant increase in transportation spending in this region. It will take an additional $5bn over the next 30 years just to maintain a state of good repair. But on top of that a list of projects costing a further $23bn has been identified.

There’s going to be 1m people coming here in the next 30 years. We have no control over that. They are coming, and we cannot stop them, and we are not going to try. How we accommodate them is critical. “If we keep on doing what we have been doing, we are not going to make it.” That is a direct quote from Mr Paddon. The vision has not changed from 40 years ago. The goals have not changed. What Translink has identified is the need to make sure that in 25 to 30 years time half the trips made in this region are by walking, cycling or transit. We simply cannot accommodate the number of people we are expecting if most of them use their single occupant vehicles. Not if we want to protect the Green Zone. Not if we expect to be able to grow more of our own food. Not if we want to have a region that is habitable.

We have actually done a reasonable job of building compact and complete communities. We are no longer living in bedroom communities where you have to commute to downtown Vancouver to work. We really do have a multi-centric region, which is what we set out to create. But at the same time as we invested hugely in transit – the Millennium Line, the Canada Line and now (at long last) the Evergreen Line – we failed to do anything significant about Transportation Demand Management. That is a tool box of programs – incentives and disincentives – to change behaviour: to influence mode choice. Carrots were popular, sticks abhorrent. By now, having invested significantly in both roads and transit (“balance” always being a key buzzword) there were supposed to be tolls on every water crossing. Since Transport 2021 was published in 1993 we have been talking about TDM but not doing very much about it.

The real change now is not just that Translink intends to invest early and significantly in increased additional capacity, but that they intend to do something about transportation pricing. That means road pricing and transit pricing. We have been discussing tolls as a revenue collection measure, but much more importantly it is a behaviour management strategy. As we have seen with tolls on the Port Mann Bridge, when faced with a toll a significant number of people will switch to transit, even if it is the #555 – which is just a bus which runs non-stop from Langley to Braid Station, and is not at all what people imagined when the provincial Minister of Transportation promised that there would be rapid transit over the new Port Mann Bridge on the day it opened. Transit pricing needs to be more selective too: not the coarse three zone system and all day M-F vs everything else we have now. Fare by distance and real peak/off-peak differentials

If the referendum does not endorse a new source of funding for Translink, then what? Do we have to go back and revise the targets? Do you want to start considering what a region without this plan looks like?

One of the things that has to change in future is what happens when a major investment is made in transit. While there are good examples – “great examples” is what Paddon said – there are also places where transit investment was made and nothing changed. Take a look again at this video, released this week, with the time lapse trip down the Expo Line.

Sure you see huge changes at Joyce, Metrotown, Edmonds and New Westminster. But what about Commercial & Broadway, 29th Avenue, Nanaimo? Or come to that 22nd St in New Westminster: a major transit hub in a quiet neighbourhood, and not trace of TOD as far as the eye can see.   “We expect to see significant density at every SkyTrain station. The developers are fighting block by block along Cambie right now.” (And see Frank Ducote as a guest poster on Frances Bula’s blog as an example of the opposition they face.)

The investments we make in publicly provided infrastructure have to perform at their optimal level. That speaks to the need for partnerships with municipalities (and, by the way, has nothing whatever to do with the “Hong Kong model” that people keep telling me about). These are the TDMAs that were referenced by Metro as the places where new growth is intended to go. Not bedroom communities with really good access to freeways.

Despite absorbing another million people there will be no increase in car travel. It will be possible for goods and services to be delivered efficiently but we will have compact and complete communities, that protect the Green Zone (LRSP) and we will reduce our CO2 emissions and improve our health. We do have a choice about the way our region grows and we do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can live the way we want to.

Translink will be advocating the need for more and better transportation infrastructure, for more buses, and more cycling facilities. For a safer and more welcoming environment for pedestrians. For places that we will want to stop in and enjoy and not just rush through as quickly as possible. They will be using the information they have collected through their surveys to show that people want a different set of choices than the ones they had in the past.

Bob Paddon also takes some comfort from the discussions he had with transit executives he met recently at the TRB meeting. They faced referenda as well. And 70% of places that had transit questions on the ballot at the last US general election won. Places like the Puget Sound , which now has funding for another $18bn to invest for the next  20 to 30 years. We can indeed make choices which reflect the way that we are already changing.

Here for your edification is the pdf file 2013.06.14 RTS draft strategic framework for consultation

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2013 at 9:00 am

Posted in Transportation

10 Responses

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  1. Fare by distance and real peak/off-peak differentials may be a good idea when there is a rapid transit system that covers the whole of a Metropolitan area. As it is now, using transit to go from one area to another in Metro Vancouver takes much longer than by car. 1 1/2 hr from Coquitlam to Kerrisdale by transit, 30 minutes by car.

    It is extremely unfair to penalize people that must travel at peak time because of their workplace schedule. They have no control over their working hours and most workers cannot work from home.

    Transit for London has peak/off peak fares and a cumbersome zones system and their fares are pretty high. See
    Note that, with a Oyster card, daily fares are capped at a reasonable level, no matter how often one travel in one day (roughly 3 single trips at peak rates)

    Paris only has 5 zones (down from 8 a few years ago) and the fare is the same all day long. The RATP, Paris transit system, still manage to make a profit.
    None of the other major French towns, not even Lyon, with a population in its metropolitan area similar to Metro Vancouver, has fare zones.

    Single trip in London in zone 1 only: cash £4.50/ peak on Oyster £2.10/ off peak on Oyster £2.10
    Single trip for zones 1-9: cash £7.80/ peak £6.70/ off peak £3.90
    Single trip for zones 2-9 cash £6.70/ peak £4.50/ off peak £2.70

    Japanese transit systems are distance based but the fares haven’t changed in years.
    Tokyo single trip fares for adults:
    1-6 km Yen 160 / 7-11 km Yen 190 / 12-19 km Yen 230 / 20-27 km Yen 270 / 28-40 km Yen 300
    Right now the most expensive ticket, for up to 40 km, cost just a bit over $ 3. Much cheaper if one buys booklets of tickets.

    But these are all prices for SINGLE trips. Most people buy monthly passes that give a good discount, especially if one subscribe to a yearly pass.

    A monthly pass for zones 1-9 in London cost £303.40 on a yearly subscription.
    A monthly pass for zones 1-5 in Paris cost Euros 106,40 (about $ 140) on a yearly subscription.
    Passes are much cheaper–in both Paris and London– if one doesn’t need zone 1.

    A monthly pass good on ALL Metro lines in Tokyo (2 different companies) cost Yen 15,139 on a 6 months subscription (roughly $ 160).
    However most commuter buy passes for the very personal route they use between the rail station or metro station closest to their home and the one closest to work or school or …. The route may incorporate buses, suburban train, metro lines. Should they need to travel once a while outside that route that extra trip will always be cheaper than the cash fare for that extra trip.

    An average monthly pass in Tokyo or Osaka roughly cost the equivalent of 15 return trips per month

    Red frog

    June 22, 2013 at 9:07 pm

  2. …Not if we keep building this kind of urbanism:

    I will be relying on you-all here for information on how to nuance the referendum debate. But—fair warning— from where I’m standing, it’s dead in the water.

    It’s an easy mistake to make. A miscalculation… What comes first? The ask? Or getting the story right?

    By asking for the money, Translink is betting the farm that we’ve got the ‘story’ right. Yet, that is not what we are hearing from the Vancouver neighbourhoods currently under seige of draft (or approved) ‘New Community Plans’.

    Consider that if we are not getting the story right—and planning like we are seeing here (and in Melbourne) proceeds apace—then, what we are really building is ‘the automobile city’. What do the stats say about how these folks vote in transit referenda?

    Vancouver becomes L.A. North?. Heck! We got decades to go before we reach L.A. levels of congestion or freeway construction. Lots of room there!

    Little correlation was reported at the Metro breakfast—I was delighted to hear—between towers in the TOD and higher transit ridership.

    One million are coming here in 30 years? Really? Oooh-la-lah! Would they like Oakridge Shopping Centre? Trendy Mount Pleasant? No. 3 Road? Are these ‘real’ people, or just condo buys for investment portfolios? [That one is going to come up in the referendum discussions].

    In any case, Melbourne can jam 2.5 million in just 7.5% of its urban land. Surely we can do better than that. These are Melbourne cadastral parcels calculated as the ‘low hanging fruit’—i.e. along polluted arterials, for example. We are designating tower zones in every neighbourhood at rates much higher than 7.5%. [I’m going to check that one for Mount Pleasant].

    This stuff we are being shown is neither heroics, nor neighbourhood intensification. Melbourne (and places closer to home) are just putting density where it is walling off the neighbourhood edge even as the neighbourhood middle is being left unchanged—save of course for the soaring housing prices. [Transit is not having an effect on that either—another issue for the referendum].

    Ouch!Can we have a referendum in the middle of a food fight? Not only that, but I’m pondering whether or not there is too much transit built already!

    What we really need are the numbers on rebuilding the old streetcar system as 0-GHG BRT, then saving overhead by parking the buses and moving the trolleys outta the lot. Make people walk 0.8 km to BRT. If they are living in densities below 10 units to the acre—i.e. people who own garages—let them enjoy the green space by biking 12 minutes to BRT. The savings will show up in both the Public Health budget and Translink’s I bet.

    Because you’ve indulged my commentary, we’ve been having a running conversation here about ‘good’ urbanism and the role that transit plays in making that work. Take the ‘good’ out of the urbanism and all bets are off.

    Why? Back to Stephen’s excellent analysis—you want 50% of all trips to be walking (and/or cycling) trips? Easy—change the urbanism (not the system). Proceed in the other direction and risk becoming the engineers that make the ‘bad’ urbanism get to work on time.

    Grenouille Rouge—yearly pass = 50% of straight fare? Now there’s a story with legs.

    lewis n. villegas

    July 2, 2013 at 10:48 pm

  3. All what you say, Lewis, make good sense but some general observations

    (1) It looks people flock to have condo along number 3…
    (2) That reminds me, that when Paris built towers in the XIII district, people were all up in arms, but they didn’t buy too …that is the real reason why Paris doesn’t have more tower (it was no market)…we can’t say the same here! (BTW, ever wondered why the XIII district has became the Chinatown of Paris?)

    (3) I watch with great dismay, the “citizen” revolt against (a) a “thin street” proposal in Marpole, (b) A “traffic calming” proposal on Point Grey road…

    and can’t refrain myself to think: whatever is on the table will involve an intense fight by “concerned citizen”…so the fight has to be worthwhile…the “thin street” definitely doesn’t make the cut…a cluster of 45 storey tower will certainly do!

    A 36 storeys at Commercial#Broadway? An all too obvious red herring introduced to canalize a fight which will have occured…At least people doesn’t fight to keep the parking at Safeway, like they did for the IGA at Arbutus#Broadway…


    July 3, 2013 at 12:08 am

  4. just to continue off topic, I have spotted the R8 Gordini (in your flickr stream), at 12th#Knight the other day…(I assume it is the same car)

    …A legendary car, but an helmet should be mandatory to drive such a car, seriously 😉


    July 3, 2013 at 12:19 am

  5. “A monthly pass for zones 1-9 in London cost £303.40 on a yearly subscription”
    Sorry Lewis, I wasn’t very clear there at all…. color my face bright red!

    One single trip cash for zones 1-9 in London cost £7.80
    A weekly pass for zones 1-9 cost £79.00
    A monthly pass for zones 1-9 cost £303.40
    A yearly pass for zones 1-9 cost £3,160 or £ 263,33 per month.

    I’ll let you calculate the cost if one was paying cash for every single trip and trying to only take the Tube to go to work and back 5 days a week…but then wouldn’t most people using the Tube 5 days a week at least want to use an Oyster card instead of paying cash?
    So one should then compare the price of a pass with X single trips paid with the Oyster at peak times (£6.70)
    Right away you can see all the variables..would the trip to work be at peak time, the return trip at off-peak time? what if one stops somewhere and get off the Tube at least once on the way back home etc.
    Having a pass means that one is free to make several trips daily, some of them very short, others longer.. and so on and so forth..I know I do.

    In France some transit systems offer 1 free month, 2 in some cases.
    In Paris a pass for zones 1 – 5 cost euros 1170,40 per year, or euros 106,40 per month (debited automatically 11 months per year). It would cost Euros 113,20 if one was to buy it each month or E. 1245,20 for 11 months. Not a huge saving though..

    If one were to compare Vancouver rapid transit system not with London nor Paris but with Toulouse (it uses the automated VAL) the monthly pass bought every month cost 43,80 € . An annual one cost 438 € per year or 36,50€ per month.
    A monthly pass in Lyon cost 53,70 € ( the Greater Lyon is smaller but still somewhat comparable to Metro Vancouver, population wise)

    Of course the European transit systems mentioned above aren’t looking at fares as the major source of income..The towns involved want to take people away from cars and congested roads..

    Red frog

    July 5, 2013 at 1:55 am

  6. Bob Ransford had an interesting column about the new neighbourhood plan for Grandview-Woodland and others

    Out of curiosity I Googled Toronto and Bordeaux (in both cases the “historical” city).
    City of Toronto: 630 km2 Density 4,149/km2
    Ville de Bordeaux: 49.36 km2 Density 4,779 /km2

    I was a bit surprised by Toronto figure, what with all the condo towers..but then it is true that, even downtown, there are lots of houses, each with a bit of a garden.

    There are no towers in Bordeaux, except for a small area just west of city hall that was the red light district in my youth and was renovated in the 60s with 2-3 storeys podiums used as indoor parking. Their roofs were gardens around office and medium-rise apartment buildings. A great idea at the time..but walking in the evening in those green spaces to reach the front door of a building doesn’t feel safe at all. The alternative is walking in the indoor parking, through sad looking hallways and stairs.. not too safe either
    There are also a few medium height buildings by St Jean, the main rail station.

    The heart of downtown Bordeaux has buildings around 4-6 storeys that are taller than 4-6 storeys bldgs here, as ceiling heights are 3.5 meters (just under 12 ft) and the floors are nearly 60 cm thick (big wood beams–as in Gastown warehouses–with a couple of layers of planks on top, under the decorative wood floor or tiles, and plastered bricks as ceilings under the beams and joists).
    I lived in one of these “tall” buildings as a child. We lived in a 200 sq metres apartment, taking the whole 5th floor, right by Ste Catherine street, the main shopping street since Roman times, now part of a big pedestrian area that opened in 1976 and was expanded in the early 2000, when the tramway system was built. Do note that the open window (right above the outside umbrellas on the left side) is on a floor–called an entresol (between floors)– with ceilings around 2.3, 2.4 metres, originally used as offices and storage for ground floor businesses. This means that the floors above have truly tall ceilings.

    The rest of the old Bordeaux (within the 19th century boulevards) is mostly 1 to 2 storeys row houses (ceiling heights from 3 to 3.5 metres-about 10-12 ft) that house one family or 2.
    These houses, called echoppe (pronounced “a shop”) are built right by the sidewalk and have a garden in the back (a fairly common building model found not just in Europe but on other continents). They often have a basement that, in some cases, is only 1 meter below garden level.

    You can see these gardens on Google Earth if you zoom close enough. They are all over the area between the 18th and19th centuries boulevards and even beyond. There are even some near St Andre Hospital, within the 18th century boulevards.
    The hospital itself—built in the 1820s to replace the– by then small and dilapidated–one built in 1390s (when Richard II, born in Bordeaux, was King of England and Aquitaine) has a big garden in the center and smaller ones between wards. You can’t miss it, it is to the south west of St Andre Cathedral and the town hall.

    Red frog

    July 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

  7. People will vote to pay more taxes if the right question is on the ballot. I’m not confident that the right question will be on the ballot. Maybe it’s worth making a few suggestions.

    Bob Ransford tries to argue that a difference in block depth should result in towers downtown and fat stubs near Commercial and Broadway. In the real world, which has measuring tape and chains, the depth of the blocks around Commercial and Broadway is identical to the depth of the blocks in Yaletown.

    The average density of a municipality is a nearly meaningless abstraction.

    Melbourne and Vancouver have a similar pattern of arterial streets outside the centre. My impression was that their arterials have lower building heights and have higher densities in the form of rowhouses on adjacent streets. We might learn something from their residential neighbourhoods, but they’ll more likely be looking at our experience with tower districts. The recent tower districts are as cold, distant, and disorienting as in Toronto, which I think is the usual result of building on docks.


    July 9, 2013 at 8:21 pm

  8. I am told that Melbourne has quite a bit of LRT. These are their figures for how many development parcels front LRT or BUS:

    12,500 sites near TRAM
    22,000 near BUS

    I’ve now visited No 3 and Westminster Highway a couple of times and I can’t say I am impressed by the urbanism. Yes, the intensity is high. But the resulting quality of place is very low. And Richmond’s problem of the Mega City Blocks generating (what I estimate to be) 3x more traffic volume than necessary remains un-addressed. The architecture AND the urban design are very poor.

    I tested the concept of a year-pass costing 50% of the equivalent single-fare pass with a dad at last night’s Grandview Woodlands Advisory Council (GWAC) session. He lives on 1st Avenue (was fully aware of the traffic issues when he bought) works in Burnaby and drops his daughter at day care on the way. Transit wouldn’t work for him due to the location of the day care site. He is travelling “against the flow” of traffic. However, here’s the kicker: he was interested in the concept of a 50% cheaper full-year pass.

    Of course, I am a rank amateur in this discussion. I only bring it up because I agree that holders of a full-year pass (partly subsidized by the employer??) will find all manner of excuses to use the pass for trips other than the commute to and from work. Thus, riding transit vehicles that have empty seats (over capacity) and lowering the carbon footprint.

    I am also elated to hear the descriptions of less than 4-storey build out in high-density European cities. Of course, 4-storey is a maximum. And given Vancouver’s restricted footprint, I’m guessing it will be the preferred option. But it all goes to show that a fast and efficient transit system is at the core of a more livable city.

    One thing won’t change, as the resident from 1st Avenue reminded me. Having 40,000 bpd at your front door, or 15,000 vpd sitting in a congestion jam at your front door will produce the same amount of pollution. So, we are well reminded: we need both a way to make transit take commuter trips off the road; and improved technologies to make private cars burn more cleanly.

    lewis n. villegas

    July 10, 2013 at 1:17 am

  9. Melbourne calls its LRT system Metro. The stops are spaced like a Metro, but it has at-grade street crossings. It is not frequent enough to be relied on for spontaneous trips. The at-grade crossings and its over-branched layout put limits on how frequent the trains can come on any one branch.

    The tram network also has an over-branched layout. Trams are mostly only separated from traffic on the main branch of the network. Even with separation, the trams are hideously slow. The slow speed and low frequency is, I think, not inherent to the tram network but the product of decades of neglect.

    Both the tram and LRT networks are excessively focused on Melbourne city centre. Transit is nearly useless for nearly all inter-suburban trips. There doesn’t appear to be any significant recent development in inner suburbia, though the patterns from a century ago remain. Development sprawls around the edges following the relentless construction of new freeways.


    July 13, 2013 at 4:33 pm

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