Stephen Rees's blog

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

That new bridge

with 34 comments

I apologize for driving you to a paywalled article. Francis Bula is reporting on what Geoff Freer (executive project director for the Massey project) says about replacing the tunnel and why transit won’t meet that “need”

60 per cent of the commuters are travelling to Richmond or Surrey, the U.S. border or the ferries – so are unlikely to use transit anyway.

The chutzpah of this statement takes one’s breath away.

It is not as if the Canada Line was not already changing travel patterns in Richmond. And the introduction of useful inter-regional connections to the transit system (over many years since it was entirely focussed on downtown Vancouver) with direct service to Metrotown and Newton shows that when the transit system actually looks at how people are moving, as opposed to used to move, even ordinary bus services can be successful. When I first arrived in Richmond and had to commute to Gateway in Surrey I initially tried the #410. Then it was infrequent, with a huge one way loop through Richmond wand was always very lightly loaded. Over the years it has become one of the busiest bus services in Richmond and the only one in the Frequent Transit Network.

The other huge change was when Translink backed off the long held belief  that it ought not to compete with Pacific Stage Lines and run a direct bus between the ferry at Tsawwassen and downtown Vancouver. The new service they introduced initially required a transfer to the B-Line at Airport Station, and now requires a transfer to the Canada Line at Bridgeport. It coincided with increased vehicle fares on the ferry so that walk-on traffic grew exponentially. (BC Transit had long met ferries with an express bus from Swartz Bay to downtown Victoria). The #620 now requires articulated buses and frequent relief vehicles. Just like the express bus to Horseshoe Bay.

Artic unloads at Bridgeport

As for cross border services, it would be easy to set up a “walk across the line service” at Peace Arch, with connections to Bellingham. There are just much more pressing priorities – mostly getting students to post secondary institutions thanks to UPass. But bus service across the line has seen significant commercial traffic with both Bolt bus and Quick Shuttle in head to head competition. Some of the casinos down there run their own shuttles too. The best thing that has happened so far on this route has been the introduction of a morning Amtrak train departure for Seattle.

What is actually needed is transportation planning that looks at the future pattern of development in the region, and integrates land use planning to meet population growth and travel needs. Strangely the desire of Port Authority for deeper draft for vessels in the Fraser River is not the first and foremost consideration. Port expansion is not a driver of economic growth. It is path towards calamity, since it is driven by the desires of a few very rich people to export yet more fossil fuel at a time when anyone with any sense recognizes that we as a species have no choice but to leave the carbon in the ground.

I think that one of the great benefits of rail transit development would be protection of the last bits of highly productive agricultural land left after the ruinous performance of the BC Liberals to date. People riding on trains get fast frequent service through areas which see no development at all, because it is concentrated around the stations. What part of Transit Oriented Development do you NOT understand, Mr Freer? Expand the freeway and sprawl follows almost inevitably.

Trains like this one serve the region beyond the Ile de France, and provide fast direct services for longer distances. The much faster TGV serves the intercity market.

It is perhaps a bit hard for people here to understand the idea of fast frequent electric trains that are not subways or SkyTrain, but they are a feature of most large city regions – even in America. As we saw in yesterday’s post even LA is bringing back the interurban. West Coast Express is not a good model as it only serves commuting to downtown on weekdays. All day every day bi-drectional service demands dedicated track – or at least the ability to confine freight movements to the hours when most people are asleep.

New Jersey Transit provides statewide services to the suburbs and exurbs of the New York region

Transit to Delta and South Surrey has to be express bus for now, just because there is so much catch up in the rest of the region. But in the longer term, really good, fast, longer distance electric trains – which can actually climb quite steep grades equivalent to roads over bridges – must be part of planning how this region grows. It requires a bit better understanding of the regional economy than just assuming that somehow coal and LNG exports will secure our future, when they obviously do no such thing.

34 Responses

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  1. ““It’s the only crossing where you have only one lane of traffic in the opposite direction during the rush hour” also said Geoff Freer…which doesn’t seems aware of the Lion’s Gate bridge (on which he has worked before)…and showing than bus can work very well if you don’t clog the bus approach to the bottle neck… like purposely done for the George Massey (which is in fact a HOV lane)

    One of the root problem, is that people making the “business case” for the new infrastructure (Geoff team) are also the one poised to take the direction of the construction of the new infrastructure…
    and if there is none, Geoff and all his team (currently working on the SFPR) will get out of job…

    So when the professional future of the team is at stake, don’t expect unbiaised arguments…

    The conveyed vision that Transit is just good to shuttle 9to5 worker in their Vancouver downtown office is part of of the biased picture…and to be sure, Translink doesn’t help too much on that front
    (see why and idea here: )

    Regarding the draft:

    It has been very quickly recognized it was a red herring by Geoff team (verbally at he open house)
    draft is good enough for Panamax, for new Panamax, removing the rock above the tunnel, and anchoring/protecting the tunnel by another method ( steel plate) allow to gain enough draft for new panamax (15m)…but the Fraser river is simply not suitable for new Panamax : dredging the river could be way too expensive…and river could be not wide enough to allow a Panamax ship to U turn anyway…and then you have lot of other obstacle (gas pipeline at Tilburry, BC hydro line limiting the air draft,…and Alex Fraser bridge ls too low, to make the navigation channel up to Panamax standard anyway)…Way too much addition that removing the actual tunnel could be way too expensive.

    In fact in the region, air clearance is a much greater problem that marine draft: basically most of the new built cruise ship can’t enter the Vancouver port due to too low clearance at Lion’s Gate…
    That Means in long term, Vancouver is poised too loose significant cruise ship market share (to Seattle, where there is no such problem), if no solution is found in the meantime, noticing that the current advantage of the Vancouver cruise ship docks are that they are right in Down town…


    September 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

  2. Unfortunately, many of the reasons you mention are simply engineering challenges to the port. It is probable that they are looking for new berths below the Alex Fraser. Certainly their acquisition of farmland in Richmond seems to point that way. Can’t turn round? Well dig out a new basin, or use more tugs.

    The new Panama Canal means that Panamax will no longer be the ruling standard, and already larger bulk carriers are becoming common. Moreover the ice free North West Passage means many shipping routes will get reconsidered.

    The broader issue is that those who drive decisions which determine the shape of the region have a very restricted focus, no concern for the broader issues and no accountability.

    Stephen Rees

    September 26, 2013 at 10:37 am

  3. Only the traffic gods know why yet another generation of sprawl planners was allowed to graduate, let alone think they need another 10-lane bridge over farmland in a floodplain. No amount of ‘business case’ conniption fitting will justify such a monster, the second one in the region. Given the Liberal’s previous success in cracking open the Agricultural Land Reserve for questionable non-agricultural development, you have to wonder what their ultimate intention is.

    Richmond and parts of Delta could be in serious trouble from rising seas by mid-century. Salt water infiltration is a problem now; Richmond was built below the high tide levels of today. The inability of very deep alluvial soils to bear the weight of structures, like buildings and larger dikes, without expensive remediation measures (if that is even feasible in the most vulnerable locations) is well known in the geotechnical engineering profession. How do you protect and preserve rare agricultural soils for producing food when the pressure is mounting to convert the land into plastic and stucco subdivisions that will be more subject to flooding in future?

    Commuter rail to Tsawwassen makes sense only with last century’s development and travel patterns, but given our climate predicament and the depletion of liquid fossil fuels, these developments are hardly guaranteed to thrive beyond mid-century to justify the expense of any large scale transportation expansion, rail or road, south of the tunnel.

    Tsawwassen occupies 1/5th of the land of upland White Rock / Crescent Beach where new density is already being concentrated. A rail run over agricultural land would be only 5 km long versus 20+ to extend rail from the new bridge to White Rock, and an additional 7 km for a branch line to Tsawwassen town and the ferry terminal . A 30 km high-capacity LRT line could effectively connect White Rock to Coquitlam Centre via the King George Hwy and the new Port Mann monster bridge, and therein achieve great connectivity to the region. (There is more surface room and fewer crossings than the Broadway corridor for this, and a helluva lot less existing density.) Further, most of the line will be in upland urban areas ripe for justified density increases … hopefully with decent urban design measures.

    There has been much press about the higher cost and declining ridership of ferry service, which tended to blame higher fares (and possibly excessive management compensation) for lower traffic volumes. But I think it’s a little more complicated than that. With the worldwide decline in cheap conventional oil production, the heyday of forever expanding automobile dependency is now over, if only our politicians were paying attention. With fuel well north of $1.00 a litre and holding (even after a world-wide recession), people are not driving as much, and that includes unnecessary trips on the ferries by car. The recent continent-wide stats on decreasing vehicle km driven and car ownership bear that out, and it is perfectly natural to extend this trend to the car-carrying ferries. That is perhaps an evolving and much welcome tectonic shift in our car-saturated part of the world, but it seems governments at all levels are still living in the Disco Decade.

    An enlightened government (well, that that is a misnomer if there ever was one!) could very well be forced to decide to focus on moving people instead of cars once fuel crosses the $2.00 per litre Rubicon, and that could translate to more effective transport solutions on the water as well as on land. Passenger ferries would provide convenient harbour-to-harbour inner city service, places where our largest population densities already exist. They would not have to move thousands of tonnes of cars, trucks and buses on every run and would therefore be smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient. They would require far less massive infrastructure and have a quicker dwell / loading and turn-around time. With decent ridership they would not have to sacrifice scheduled runs, good food and coffee and union-scale wages to achieve a profit provided the service was high quality. Passenger ticket prices would be 20% of that charged if they brought a standard vehicle. The vessels could also avoid the fast ferry mistakes and run on standard diesel technology, yet achieve slightly higher speeds than our current lumbering motor vessels transporting giant floating traffic jams. BC Ferries would also have the clout to negotiate fuel purchases in bulk, and would also be very influential in steering the government to reserve a portion of the northern natural gas resource as a long-term fuel source until cleaner marine transportation technologies evolve.

    If a decent directly-connected regional electric passenger rail service was offered at both ends of a ferry route on at least the major runs, then my guess is that millions of citizens and tourists a year would use the service and abandon bringing their cars onto the ferries for all but the most necessary trips. In that light, I see the existing Tsawwassen ferry terminal as having a Best By Date, and therein even less need for a connected commuter or any other kind of rail service. Perhaps the terminal will eventually be reserved for commercial truck and rail freight, or maybe even some kind of clean industrial function. But my favourite choice would be to rehabilitate it back to high-value tidal marsh that will have its own natural built-in climate adaptation abilities.

    It is profoundly unfortunate that the Tsawwassen First Nation banked its economic future on the discredited development model of last century consisting of auto malls and residential and industrial subdivisions, built on flood-prone agricultural land to boot. There are much better ways to share the economic benefits of 21st Century urban and resource development with First Nations, but that is a subject meant for a series of essays on another site next year.


    September 26, 2013 at 11:20 am

  4. RE: “…walk across the line service” – this is barely possible now, but not convenient. Stop #55497 is the closest one to the border – northbound on King George Blvd at 8 Ave.:

    From there it’s a 20 minute walk to the border. Translink could easily extend the 375 (321 in the later evening) to the Beach Road exit and use the turnaround through the median to reverse the route. With a stop just before Beach Road southbound and one near the tourist information centre northbound (, it’s a 10 minute walk from US Customs to H Street where the 70X express ( and 55 ( routes are routed ( The stop is on H Street on the east side of 3rd Street.

    Part of the problem is with Whatcom County transit. In the late nineties to about 2001 or so, the 70X had a later departure (around 9 am) that made it possible to connect from downtown Vancouver. That run was cut, and as the 70X is a commuter route, there are no mid-day runs. The 55 has one mid-day departure – but it terminates at Cordata Station north of Bellis Fair while the 70X goes through downtown Bellingham to WWU. There are no transfers on WTA buses – one pays another fare when one boards a different coach.

    The other part of the problem with walking across the border is the realignment of our transit system that happened when the Canada Line came into service combined with the move of the route 351 coaches to the Richmond depot. Those made it very difficult to connect with the 70X from anywhere beyond the Richmond transit bus depot near Number 5 Road and Steveston Highway.

    Finally, US Customs regards anyone walking across the border with far more suspicion than if one drives a vehicle. They look up everyone who walks across and search most.

    Once one adds up the fares required – on a weekday $5 for Translink from Vancouver plus $1 or $2 US (cash only) for WTA depending on the destination, it’s far easier and almost the same cost to book a Bolt Bus ( or Greyhound bus ( ticket in advance for $8 or $9 plus tax. Greyhound is downtown to Fairhaven and Bolt Bus is downtown to Cordata Station.

    But it is a bit of an adventure and is much easier if done with a bicycle instead of walking. In 1999 I spent some time figuring out how far south one could go with a bicycle and transit systems – at that time one of the big gaps was between Bellingham and Burlington. Now, there is the 80X express to Mt. Vernon – so the remaining gap between here and Seattle is between Mt. Vernon and Marysville. If one wanted to undertake this trip (Vancouver to Seattle via transit and bicycle), it is likely not doable in one day and would have to be done over two days.

    Marc Erickson

    September 26, 2013 at 12:06 pm

  5. There was a guy from Translink who did a marathon all transit trip to Seattle and beyond, tweeting all the way and blogging too. Translink’s the Buzzer followed him.

    Stephen Rees

    September 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm

  6. I think that with good all day transit service a lot of people who drive now in this corridor would stop driving. That means a comfortable, seated ride with convenient transfers to high frequency collector/distributor services that are easy to use. A tall order right now, but what is possible in London, New York, Paris …

    The population coming to this region will be accommodated somewhere, somehow. The citizens of Vancouver seem unwilling to contemplate much more density, and the province is making the new sprawl a “viable” choice for many. We could do better. I think we must.

    Building a big new bridge and refusing to consider funding transit properly means we are not going to sustainable at all. So we have to consider what else might work.

    Stephen Rees

    September 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm

  7. South Delta has a small fraction of the region’s population (40,000), has been stagnant for over a decade, has little room for growth, and is generally politically opposed to population growth. Population growth in Delta can’t be the reason for a new bridge.

    I don’t see the benefit as it’s usually counted for highway projects, in sprawl. There’s not much room for it. It just doesn’t seem like a project that would score well on any type of multiple account evaluation or benefit/cost measure. It could be port expansion, and the port probably has some cards up its sleeves as seen with the low road in North Vancouver recently. But the marginal benefit of a new port facility upriver from the tunnel but not immediately adjacent to the CP and CN yards over a new port facility on Roberts Bank or elsewhere is probably small compared to the cost of a new bridge.

    One of the problems with transit to the ferries, at least where they are now, is the strong peaks in demand. Evidently, the economics of a ferry systems relies on the individual ships having some scale. It takes a lot of people to run a ship, likely fewer per passenger the bigger it is. It takes at least a few people just to run each SeaBus, for example. Ferries are slow compared to land vehicles, so it’s important to minimize the distance between terminals, so there’s no case for a Vancouver-Victoria passenger ferry.

    Any transit system serving a ferry has to have capacity available to handle a thousand or more people at somewhat irregular intervals. Preferably, then, either the terminal should be close to a bus depot and as much of that demand should be buried on lines within an existing urban transit network or the terminal should be on a rail line with considerable capacity. A passenger ferry terminal should be in some place like Steveston instead of Tsawwassen.


    September 26, 2013 at 9:38 pm

  8. SkyTrain is relatively fast for rapid transit, which helps to meet some of the demand that would exist for a regional rail network, like RER or S-Bahn. Eventually, when it gets to that point, we’ll realize that platform extensions can be a very expensive way to increase capacity by only 20%, while an entirely new line with fewer stations can be a cost-effective way to more than double capacity. See Paris Line 1 and Line A, for example. German or Dutch examples are probably better comparisons for what might be possible here though.

    There’s not really a consistent definition of regional rail, as I’m calling it, and there are many variations. I think of it as a mode with a bicycle-radius catchment as opposed to light rail that has more of a pedestrian-radius catchment or with stations at the distance between bus routes. In other words, a twice-walking-distance-spaced bus network would not readily mesh with a regional rail network.


    September 26, 2013 at 10:23 pm

  9. The concentration of population I am looking at is in South Surrey/White Rock: ferry service would only need a short branch line.

    “Little room for growth” assumes that at the ALR is still in effect. This government shows no sign of commitment to that.

    Prior to the construction of the Channel Tunnel, trains regularly left London for Dover, Folkestone and Newhaven. The services that were scheduled to meet ferries were separate from those that handled commuter traffic. There were even services timed to coincide with the hovercraft. The rolling stock used was standard long distance express with most passengers seated and a buffet car. There was also a premium “Golden Arrow” service with Pullman cars.

    Boat trains were common on other routes too “Harwich for the Continent” for instance

    Stephen Rees

    September 27, 2013 at 7:20 am

  10. You don’t need a consistent definition, what you need is a service that is designed to meet the needs of the traveller. Translink prefers to build a one size fits all system and force everyone to transfer on to it so that the ridership looks respectable in its early years. Transit through the tunnel lost ridership when the one seat, comfortable bus ride was replaced by a forced transfer on to an over crowded, standing room only train.

    One way only at peak rail service M-F (“Commuter Rail”) is not known in most major cities outside of North America

    Stephen Rees

    September 27, 2013 at 7:26 am

  11. @ Mike

    It takes a lot of people to run a ship, likely fewer per passenger the bigger it is. It takes at least a few people just to run each SeaBus, for example. Ferries are slow compared to land vehicles, so it’s important to minimize the distance between terminals, so there’s no case for a Vancouver-Victoria passenger ferry.

    Any transit system serving a ferry has to have capacity available to handle a thousand or more people at somewhat irregular intervals. Preferably, then, either the terminal should be close to a bus depot and as much of that demand should be buried on lines within an existing urban transit network or the terminal should be on a rail line with considerable capacity. A passenger ferry terminal should be in some place like Steveston instead of Tsawwassen.

    Moving people instead of cars has as many efficiencies on the water as it would on land.

    I agree that there is a relationship between a ferry’s size and improved labour efficiencies, notably with today’s instrumentation. But I believe you missed the point I made above that passenger ferries – I’d say even those carrying 1,500 people – do not require the additional levels of staff and infrastructure specifically to manage car traffic that currently causes a massive imposition on the ferries. A car ferry is heavier and has more powerful engines and additional car decks with larger engineering parameters and electrical and hydraulic equipment, and this infrastructure is repeated at every dock on shore, all factors that require far more materials and financial resources and more staff to design, build and operate. The reduction in construction and operating costs over time by moving a part of the fleet to passenger-only service in stages would be in my view very significant.

    I also agree with the improvements to the transit system to serve passenger ferry terminals, but one needs to put said terminal where the population and transit service is most concentrated, and that is in the heart of downtown Vancouver, Nanaimo and Victoria. Connectivity is everything. Waterfront Station already exists. It may take a little imagination to envision an expansion to accommodate a high-quality passenger ferry service there (think of the SeaBus docks on steroids) but you are a helluva lot lighter on the land and budget in the absence of vast infrastructure to load and unload cars. Moreover, the terminal can be built on caissons over the water, or partially on land where the existing SeaBus and HeliJet ports are located. New buildings can be built partially over the tracks where the long SeaBus ramp is located and should have a well-designed presence on Granville Street and Canada Place Way should the Granville Square parkade get removed. Land and water lease areas are not an issue at Waterfront Station (it wasn’t too long ago a stadium, of all things, was proposed there). And it already has high-level connectivity to several rapid transit, commuter rail, bus and local ferry services, and is in walking proximity to the largest CBD and downtown residential population west of Toronto.

    On Vancouver Island side you’ve already one of the best unrealized assets that has serviced the inner harbour and core areas of the largest cities and towns on the Island for the last century (with the notable exception of Campbell River) and that is the still-intact existing E&N Railway corridor. Its potential as a high-quality 250 km long commuter rail asset is enormous, and its potential to influence sustainable urbanism and offer full economic participation to the six First Nations who had 8,000 square km of their land confiscated for the original development of the E&NRR is significant. It doesn’t take a PhD in transportation planning to see how the trains Stephen pictured above could connect directly to a couple of passenger ferry terminals and provide economic stimulus. Sustainable urbanism, economic renewal, social justice … not a bad deal in anyone’s books.

    Lastly, years ago my wife once took the private passenger ferry service to Victoria offered by long-defunct Harbour Lynx. She commented that it was really great to depart Vancouver and arrive in Victoria a little more than two hours later in the inner harbours where she was able to walk and take transit conveniently close. Her door-to-door travel time was about three hours, and the total cost then was about $25 per passenger. With travel and wait times on either end, we’re currently at five hours door-to-door, Vancouver to Victoria which we frequently visit, and that’s with on-line reservations which ensures loading. It costs a little more than $100 one way, all costs in, for two passengers and a compact car usually loaded with one suitcase or a couple of small grips.

    I would also argue that a Vancouver-Nanaimo inner harbour passenger service would be quicker than the existing Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay service due mainly from a faster loading / turnaround times and higher potential frequencies. Again, the rail connection at both ends would, in my view, totally energize the system and would cause demand to rise.


    September 27, 2013 at 11:29 am

  12. The number of crew on a ferry is a function of Transport Canada’s safety requirements: there has to be enough trained crew available on every sailing to man the lifeboats in the case of an emergency.

    Stephen Rees

    September 27, 2013 at 11:53 am

  13. Stephen, according to Google Earth Path your proposed commuter rail line from George Massey to the first intersection in the White Rock + Crescent Beach rise (i.e. where urban development begins above the floodplain) clocks in at 20.9 km over open farmland (no stations, no concentrated population). It would be an additional 10.9 km to connect to Bridgeport Station, or an extra 10.6 km to connect to Steveston town centre should the Canada Line ever be extended there.

    Alternatively, an LRT line down King George would have to be extended by only 4.8 km over open farmland to arrive at the same intersection and touch the edges of these two already developed areas.

    Further, the future population growth potential of the White Rock rise is far, far greater than South Delta and Tsawwassen.

    Given these distance and population considerations — let alone the principles of maintaining the ALR and facing rising seas which will hit these floodplain areas first and hard – don’t you agree that the best option would be King George instead of the #99?


    September 27, 2013 at 12:03 pm

  14. Gordon Price noted that the traffic is going down….
    interestingly enough, The Seattle Times had an article this Wednesday (Sept 25) by Danny Westneat: “Cars loosing grip on Seattle”
    “In the war on cars, bikes and pedestrians are winning as Seattle has become one of only five major cities in the nation where more than 50 percent of the commuters don’t drive solo to work”.

    MB, the LRT you propose is what we call in Europe a tram-train, using regular train lines and barreling down at 70-80 km/hr (possible speed 100 km/hr) as there are far less stops than on urban tram lines.

    Red frog

    September 27, 2013 at 11:02 pm

  15. I agree that a passenger ferry between Nanaimo and Downtown Vancouver combined with integrated E&N service offers the best transit connections on the Vancouver side as well as the best connections to most towns on Vancouver Island. I’m surprised to see a direct Vancouver-Victoria ferry (hovercraft) competing well against the other cases. I’m surprised that a moderately fast train and hovercraft connection through Nanaimo might be the fastest way to Victoria.

    Assuming a trip from Vancouver City Hall to Downtown Victoria:

    Vancouver City Hall-Tsawwassen transit 1.3 h (bus arrives 25 minutes before ferry leaves, must be at ferry 10 minutes early)
    Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay car ferry 45 km 1.5 h @ 30 km/h
    Swartz Bay-Victoria transit 1.4 h (bus leaves 25 minutes after ferry arrives)
    Base case: 4.2 h which could be cut to 3.7 h by reducing the time wasted in Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay (e.g. through fare integration, pre-paid tickets)

    Vancouver City Hall-Vancouver Waterfront 6 min + 4 min walk + 10 minutes for ticketing
    Vancouver-Victoria ferry 150 km 3 h @ 50 km/h
    Direct ferry (hovercraft): 3.3 h

    Vancouver City Hall-Steveston 1 h + 10 minutes for ticketing
    Steveston-Swartz Bay ferry 60 km 1.2 h @ 50 km/h
    Swartz Bay-Victoria 1.4 h (bus leaves 25 minutes after ferry arrives)
    Steveston passenger ferry (hovercraft): 3.7 h (so it’s really only useful for transit integration, not for saving people time)

    Vancouver City Hall-Waterfront 6 min + 4 min walk + 10 minutes for ticketing
    Vancouver-Nanaimo ferry 65 km 1.3 h @ 50 km/h
    Nanaimo-Victoria train 120 km 1.5 h @ 80 km/h
    Nanaimo ferry with train connection: 3 h


    September 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm

  16. MB, I think your wife’s trip must have been from Vancouver to Nanaimo.

    Stephen, you’re right that Delta only has limit room for growth if the ALR is ignored.

    The rapid transit mode, SkyTrain in some cases and B-Lines in others, can mesh well with local bus lines if it has stations spaced every half mile, corresponding to the spacing between perpendicular bus lines. This station spacing maximizes the integration and minimizes the duplication between the two modes, which makes the system operationally cost-effective and saves people time in switching between modes. Ideally, local buses don’t have to go out of their way to meet rapid transit. SkyTrain doesn’t have half mile spacing everywhere, but it’s pretty close. The integration problem that exists now is more that the local bus networks in some cities, especially Burnaby and New West and the southern half of Coquitlam, haven’t been designed to integrate well with rapid transit.

    The problem with regional rail in Metro Vancouver is that the stations would be spaced too far apart to integrate well with the half-mile grid in the valley, on which the bus lines will run. Either the station spacing has to be reduced, some other mode has to fill the gap or the bus lines have to twist and turn to meet the regional stations. Regional rail might eventually supplement rapid transit once it’s saturated, but I don’t see it as a replacement, even in the valley.


    September 28, 2013 at 1:21 pm

  17. From Bob Ransford in Vancouver Sun, Sept. 28, 2013 see page G6
    …”regional growth management and good regional planning are at risk when the provincial government makes a decision to proceed with a multi-billion-dollar bridge and highway project within the region that is independent of any planning connected with an existing regional transportation plan. That regional transportation plan identifies as its highest priorities two major high-capacity rapid-transit projects, not more bridges and highways”…

    Red frog

    September 28, 2013 at 10:53 pm

  18. RedFrog,

    I could infer that one of the main problem in the region is when plan like this one

    generates comment like the below:

    I know the plan for that area is a good one. It is based on walkable neighbourhoods built at various density levels to support walking to amenities or to transit. But that transit doesn’t exist today because there is no money regionally to fund transit expansion”

    What was the transit idea to serve such development?

    …The reality is that this (praised) development pattern as many other are the root cause of the Translink fianncial woes.


    September 29, 2013 at 12:06 pm

  19. @ Mike

    Harbour Lynx ran a couple of aluminum catamarans, I believe, not hovercraft. The cats had a special high-speed propulsion systems that continually plagued the company with problems caused by debris getting caught in the water intakes. This was also one of the issues that helped defeat the fast ferries, though I would attribute a lot of that to their trying to adapt non-standard engine and propulsion technology in notoriously debris choked BC waters to obtain unreasonable speeds while hauling thousands of tonnes of cars and trucks. Another penalty, naturally, was higher fuel costs when efficiency is sacrificed for speed.

    I don’t recall my wife saying it took more than three hours to reach Victoria inner harbour from the Waterfront Station docks, only that it took her time savings were in excess of an hour door-to-door via buses and passenger ferry (we lived in False Creek then). The route could have been less than 150 km because, if memory serves, it went due south in Swanson Channel to Haro Strait from the west entry to Active Pass, therein bypassing the longer route around the hook on the southern tip of Saturna island.

    In my opinion, the best way to ship passengers across the Salish Sea would be on aluminum catamarans using standard marine diesel engines with something like a scaled up Volvo Penta IPS drive with duo contra-rotating forward-facing propellers (achieves ~30% fuel efficiency and higher speeds) with skegs mounted in front of each prop array to deflect debris. Sorry cannot copy a link from my phone.

    Your Nanaimo-Victoria commuter rail times would have ti include stops in Ladysmith, Duncan, Langford and possibly Esquimalt unless the RR was advanced enough to have an express service. The E&N RR as I envision it would be duo freight and passenger and would have urban land-use provisions imposed on towns that want the benefits decent RR service brings. If a town agrees to stop building highway retail and single use subdivisions exclusively and accepts appropriate densities in the form of holistic town planning and complete communities, then additional tram services would be introduced incrementally. And all of this would occur in fairness with the full participation of the First Nations whose land was confiscated in the 1860s soley for the benefit of the original RR builders.


    September 29, 2013 at 2:27 pm

  20. You are right, MB. Photos of the Harbour Lynx from my photostream on flickr
    Harbour Lynx catamaran Vancouver BC
    Harbour Lynx Vancouver BC

    Stephen Rees

    September 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm

  21. @ Red Frog

    Bob Ransford does write fairly presciently most of the time and I have no quibble with the column you linked to. His point that regional plans are already in place for both growth management and transportation even with handcuffed and unelected officials promoting them just makes the provincial government’s efforts seem like a long, overdrawn comedy of errors.

    But Ransford is also capable of illogical thinking, generalities presented as detailed analysis and absolutism when he construes things like building light rail with causing human-scaled urban design and promoting the mistaken notion that public sector imposed DCCs and “red tape” contribute more to our housing affordability challenge than almost any other factor.

    Moreover, he is often wont to push unfair and completely petty rants into the faces of city officials and departments. It is painfully obvious that he has never worked on the other side of the counter and was forced to smile and tolerate the daily grind of builders, developers and their associated consultants putting their incompetence and smarmy scheming on display. The really good ones who follow the rules (which are there for good reason) and who submit complete packages efficiently without trying to move the goal posts are too few and far between.


    September 29, 2013 at 2:54 pm

  22. Thank you Stephen for linking to the Harbour Lynx ferry shots. Would you mind if I used one of them in a future essay? I give you full attribution of course.

    My wife remembers the trip being quite comfortable with captain’s chairs and good coffee and sandwiches and friendly staff. I am not sure but I think the capacity was in the 75-100 passenger range. The tickets were about $25 one way back then, about $30 today, which to me is more of an occasional or tourist trip price versus a price structure designed to attract average commuters.

    To really make it work larger ferries than HL would have to be built on the main runs, maybe starting in the 300-500 passenger range every four hours, then building up to next generation 1,000+ vessels with a two-hour departure schedule. The fares should start not much higher than passengers currenly pay, but I would bet people would be willing to pay a little more just to eliminate the transit time to terminals located at Horseshoe Bay, Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay.


    September 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm

  23. MB Most of my pictures are Creative Commons licensed: use them for non-commercial purposes, without alteration and give me credit and welcome. I would be interested to see the essay too.

    The great weakness of the Harbour Lynx plan was the lack of a backup vessel. Relying on one boat meant the service was not dependable.

    Stephen Rees

    September 29, 2013 at 3:45 pm

  24. You’re right that HarbourLynx ran catamarans. The ferry had capacity for 300 people and took 80 minutes and it cost $30, according to old news stories on the internet. The trip time matches my estimate. I suspect limitations on speed in Burrard Inlet and Nanaimo harbour would prevent much further reduction in trip time using any other type of vessel. Thanks for reminding me about this service.

    I took a similar catamaran from Seattle to Victoria a few years ago. It takes 2 h 45 min to cover about 130 km, which is just under 50 km/h, and the ferry info puts the top speed at 55 km/h. The cost is $80 to $90 each way.

    There was a hovercraft operating across the English Channel capable of carrying more than 400 people with a top speed of 110 km/h.

    The scheduled time for 120-km Nanaimo-Victoria trips on the E&N was a little over 2 h, which works out to a little under 60 km/h. A study done for commuter rail in Victoria estimates that the Langford-Victoria segment can be cut from 31 to 24 minutes including 6 stops after a lot of work. The rest of the trip is probably limited by curve radii and dilapidated track. I assumed the speed could be improved by 1/3 to 80 km/h if the track was fixed. In any case, because the speed’s so low there’s little penalty for making more stops. The line, of course, starts on the water in downtown Nanaimo and goes through the middle of Ladysmith, Chemainus, Duncan, and Langford. The Gulf Island ferry connections are not right next to the line except in Nanaimo.

    A single half-hourly passenger ferry service to Nanaimo combined with a single and not-really-very-fast half-hourly passenger train service might be faster – even to Victoria – than the existing ferry service. I guess the question is whether it is more economical.


    September 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm

  25. Mike

    Thanks for posting the Victoria Clipper info. I didn’t remark on it because it offers little more than one or two sailings a day outside of tourist season, which then again only offers three sailings a day (all Seattle-Victoria). BC Ferries will have to build up to a two-hour passenger ferry departure schedule as the years roll by, so the fleet will be a lot larger than the Clipper. If even half the current volume of passengers were accommodated on passenger-only vessels, then the ferries will have to be a lot larger (eventually up to 1,000 in my opinion).

    It’s apparent the Clipper fee structure is hinged on the tourist trade. They offer a pretty decent luggage and cargo service, which I feel is important for any consideration of passenger-only service on the BC Ferries routes. The food service could be better (the menus only offer light sandwiches, coffee and breakfast cereal – I’d want both a decent buffet / café and a quiet lounge). Security is bound to increase in future too.

    If a decent multiple daily harbour-to-harbour service was offered to Gibsons and Sechelt using the ~300 passenger Clipper vessels, there is the potential the community would undergo a profound shift in not just travel patterns, but also in community planning as affordable ferries (i.e. in comparison to the current scenario of paying for a car and tolerating inconvenient public transit from the terminals to the city centre) would bring the cheaper housing prices of the Sunshine Coast “closer” to the city. The trend toward bedroom or retirement communities would only grow, but hopefully without sprawling up the mountainsides.

    The water jet propulsion concerns me due to the debris in BC waters, and the fuel consumption. But obviously the Clippers have run for decades so far and are well maintained. Perhaps they accept water intake clogging as par for the course. However, fuel costs are already impacting everything from vehicle km driven to higher surcharges on flight and mail, and they will only become higher in before this decade is through. The need to slow down and elevate fuel efficiency over time savings could evolve as fossil fuels start to really spike in price, and a kind of devolution back to standard diesel / prop technology (with room for improvement) may be justified.

    I see Waterfront Station as the best site for a high capacity passenger ferry terminal not for its existing rail, land and marine transit connectivity, but because it’s one of the few sites a future national high speed rail system could terminate at salt water sometime by mid-century. With high-quality marine and rail transport, residents of Vancouver Island would arguably be more directly connected to the mainland than ever before – without building another bank-busting bridge for cars.


    September 30, 2013 at 10:46 am

  26. Mike,

    I see a complete paradigm shift for the E&NR and Van Isle communities. Most of the right-of-way is 30m wide, more than enough room for a complete system rebuild from a deteriorated single-track with non-existent service to a full double-tracked commuter rail service. The entire route should be electrified from the start to eliminate its dependency on fossil fuels for operations. The ROW through Metro Victoria, with a few modifications, could carry a separated tram service (i.e. four tracks in some ROW sections) with slower speeds, more stops and lighter rolling stock. Trams could roll on and roll off from the ROW to the road system, depending on the circumstances in certain areas.

    Double tracking Victoria-Qualicum (and eventually to Campbell River) would surely generate many efficiencies, especially with express and freight rail station bypasses. The route currently has several very low speed sections through residential areas (e.g. Shawnigan Lake) that could be rerouted, and relatively straight sections of a nearby BC Hydro transmission corridor presents some route possibilities in that regard. A 6.25 km tunnel (track elevation between 250m-300m) could be blasted through Mt. Jeffries and offer a faster, straighter and safer alternative to the twisty low-speed 17 km Shawnigan Lake section and to motorists who are sick of driving the intimidating Malahat which possess one of the highest accident and death rates in the province, notably in winter.

    Moreover, the ROW and stations are already located in the core of each major town, so expensive land acquisition for rail corridor expansion isn’t a huge issue.


    September 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm

  27. Decades ago I crossed the English Channel aboard one of those big hovercraft. It was a long time ago and my memory of the event is fuzzy. I remember a lot of sea spray obscuring the view. It was extremely fast compared to a conventional ferry.
    I don’t know how operating costs compare to a traditional vessel. I’d assume they’re higher, but a hovercraft offers many advantages: high speed, small wake, debris tolerance, and the ability to operate in truly awful weather.
    I’m really happy to see people supporting the idea of sensible speed rail on Vancouver Island. Maybe, if in 2017 we elect a provincial government that realizes that it’s no longer 1959, we’ll see some progress in that area.


    September 30, 2013 at 12:36 pm

  28. As a side note:

    The reason that catamarans, etc. can’t make a go of it financially is because of the competition from harbour to harbour air travel.

    Most business travellers (including politicians) travelling from Vancouver to Victoria take HeliJet – about 30 minutes downtown Vancouver (adjacent to the Seabus on Waterfront Road) to downtown Victoria (Shoal Point? (near the cruise ship docks)). I think it’s about $300 return.

    There’s also float planes as well – VCCEP terminal to the Inner Harbour.

    Nanaimo also has an inner harbour float plane terminal.


    October 3, 2013 at 2:01 pm

  29. Harbour Air costs $185 this afternoon and $109 Sa, Su. for a single adult male passenger to fly one-way from Vancouver harbour to Victoria harbour. Flight is listed as 35 minutes.

    The 20 minute flight to Nanaimo harbour would cost $105 today, $69 tomorrow and $59 on the weekend.
    For a single person flying this weekend is cheaper than taking a car from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay: $66.75

    Given the low speed limit for marine traffic in the harbours even a 110km/h hovercraft would take twice as long to reach Nanaimo as a float plane and would likely produce a lot of noise complaints.


    October 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm

  30. The limited capacity of float planes probably limits them to a niche market. At 20 passengers/plane, it would take at least 80 planes to match a Coastal-class ferry. In other words, there would have to be 160 aircraft movements in the inner harbours every hour to match the peak schedule of the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry. The planes would have to become much larger to scale to the demand. I’m not sure that there are larger commercial passenger seaplanes in operation anywhere, and I’m not sure larger aircraft would be able to operate in either harbour.


    October 3, 2013 at 7:35 pm

  31. As anyone compared the fares of the B.C. ferries with those in Washington? I am aware that the US ones have shorter rides but there must be away.

    I remember hovercrafts on the Chanel. They have been replaced by big catamarans, like those of the Condor ferries.

    Both the Eurostar and the car shuttle in the tunnel between England and France have taken a bite out of the ferries, but the later are still popular for families with a car going to in Southern and Central France and Spain.

    I had a look at the ferries between France and Corsica and those between Finland and Sweden. The later because I spent a whole summer in my early 20s studying the construction of a suspension bridge near the town of Turku (the closest mainland destination in Finland for ferries from Sweden).

    Both Finnish and French ferries have trips lasting 10 1/2 way.
    Ferries, like European long distance trains, have flexible fares..the cheapest are several months before departure.
    I found a return trip from Finland to Sweden, for a single person driving a car under 5 metres long, that cost 104 Euros. It included a full meal on each leg..dozing was a comfortable armchair.

    Red frog

    October 3, 2013 at 9:51 pm

  32. I don’t think inner harbour speed limits will significantly affect a Vancouver-Nanaimo passenger ferry.

    A 5-knot speed limit is imposed only on Coal Harbour (west of Canada Place, north to Brockton Point) and False Creek. All traffic outside of Coal Harbour seems to be travelling in the 8-15 knot (15-27 km/hr) range, including the SeaBus which travels at about 15 km/hr (3.1 km in 12 minutes).

    With a 4.5 km distance between Waterfront Station and First Narrows, it would take 18 minutes at Seabus speed to arrive at the charted shipping lane transit course change point heading due west through English Bay from the Lions Gate Bridge. From there it’s a 57 km straight run at cruising speed to the entrances of Nanaimo harbour with only a minor course change off Point Atkinson, and only another ~2.2 km under restricted speed in Nanaimo Harbour.

    Apply my previous conjecture that new passenger ferries with conventional diesel engines and IPS prop drives (i.e. not water jets which can clog with floating debris and cause wake problems), and constructed without the need to carry 2,000+ tonnes of vehicles, it is feasible that these vessels would cruise at 27 knots (50 km/hr), five better than the maximum speed of the Coastal class ferries on a clear, calm day, while being fuel efficient compared to the problematic water jet drives and higher speeds of other vessels.

    With decent electrified rail service at either end, and deducting the inordinate amount of time sitting in a parking (sometimes several hours for those without reservations on a busy long weekend … some people choose to suffer a lot to save $17.50), and an affordable passenger ticket price, you are competing very effectively with the existing standard car ferry service and poor transit connections.

    Remember, this is all premised on a liquid fossil fuel constrained world.

    Victoria presents more difficult challenges, such as a 7-knot limit from Ogden Point to Shoal Point, then a 5-knot limit further into the middle and inner harbours. What’s more, the shipping lanes for vessels 20m or more in length are shared with the seaplane landing and take-off areas because of the constricted spaces. Mind you, with fuel prices creeping into higher triple digits, flight will naturally decrease to serve only the wealthy and those with large expense accounts.

    The open water cruising speed distance from English Bay would be ~130 km (~2.5 hours) with added restricted speeds in Vancouver Harbour (4.5 km), Active Pass (6 km) and Victoria Harbour (3 – 3.6 km). This is not the right forum for discussions on detailed site planning, suffice to say I believe it’s possible to have large passenger ferries, island-wide commuter rail, local trams and buses converge at a large hub station at the north end of Store St x Pembroke St. on waterfront land currently zoned for industrial uses.

    Alternatively, almost 50 km could be shaved from the passenger ferry crossing by terminating at a redesigned Swartz Bat terminal, but that would entail building a high-quality and frequent electric commuter rail branch line from Swartz bay to a large terminus station in downtown Victoria, necessitating a transfer for those heading to the Western Communities and beyond. This is do-able, but it makes it a challenge to accommodate a regular ferry to Seattle without building two terminals, or forcing passengers from the US to backtrack all the way down the Saanich Peninsula. I lean toward one large ferry terminal in Victoria’s inner harbour directly connected to a plethora of rail services.


    October 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

  33. This article answers some of our questions! It will be interesting to see their pricing. While I was looking into this, I was surprised to see figures on the order of $10m for 400-passenger catamatarans in San Francisco.

    A 68-minute trip would require 70 km/h in the open strait and an average of just under 50 km/h in the harbours (i.e. west of Point Grey-Point Atkinson).

    A train averaging 100 km/h between Nanaimo and Westhills (west of Langford) and 46 km/h between Westhills and Victoria would take 1 h 20 minutes. The Vancouver Waterfront-Victoria trip time would add up to 2 h 35 min including a five-minute timed transfer in Nanaimo.

    At least at higher levels of investment, high enough to build a moderately fast and frequent passenger rail service, a Vancouver-Victoria ferry should lose out to a faster and possibly more scalable connection through Nanaimo depending on the relative costs of operating ferries and trains. The cost of upgrades to make commuter rail service between Westhills and Victoria moderately fast is on the order of $150m according to the same commuter rail study I mentioned earlier. I have no information on the cost to upgrade the rest of the line so that trains can average 100 km/h, but it at least has an intact ROW from the water in downtown Nanaimo to just across the bridge from downtown Victoria.


    October 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm

  34. A very interesting article, Mike. I am quite frankly surprised private investors are going to try again. Third time lucky, perhaps. If they fail, though, it may make it harder politically for BC Ferries to get into passenger-only ferries. A private service won’t result in affordable tickets, nor will it qualify for subsidies, something that may well be a necessary evil until there is a critical mass. In my opinion, that critical mass is bound to be hard to achieve without a substantial parallel public investment in rail transit, especially on the island side.

    It’s unfortunate that councilor Jang sees passenger ferries mostly in terms of tourism. In a more mature political world there would be a concerted effort to build a passenger-only ferry fleet with the right levels of infrastructure and connectivity, and build the vessels here in BC. The economic multipliers of keeping it local outweigh any narrow focus on strictly the shipyard bid prices.

    A combined ferry-rail route to Victoria through Nanaimo may well prove a little more efficient time wise, but Greater Victoria is the largest community on the island and many people (like us, as we have family both there and up island) would prefer a direct if longer sea link to the downtown waterfront.

    Perhaps the Nanaimo planning department and the regional districts had better start getting their acts together, with or without passenger ferries. The south and western city boundaries butt against private forestry company lands. I wouldn’t be surprised if new sprawling large lot subdivisions sprang up around the Nanaimo Lakes after selling to developers. The lakes are completely encompassed by private forest corporation lands, much of it logged within the last decade and just ripe for surveying. There are perhaps 20,000 hectares in 50 or so conjoined fresh cutblocks above both banks of Haslam Creek, not eight km west of the Nanaimo Airport as the crow flies. The privates are hungry for the large profits of selling logged over lands for subdivisions rather than waiting 40 years for another tree rotation. I have no doubt the directors of these companies frequently sit around the boardroom table looking at orthophotos of their own clearcuts and scaling off how close they are to nearby towns and cities, drooling as they initiate secret talks with a provincial government sympathetic to changes in land use that would greatly benefit corporations that donated to the ruling party. There is already a history there on that.

    Subdivisions are not sustainable in a world of declining fossil fuels. Electric cars may offer a form of alternative transport, but that’s only part of the equation. The other part is land use, and one has to ask whether devoting 40% of the land in single-use subdivisions and 80% of the area traditional malls cover to asphalt for cars (electric powered or not) is affordable in the long run. Extending public roads, utilities and services to the horizon is not cheap or sustainable when the people who benefit do not pay their fair share of the capital and operating costs. There are ways to reconsider a portion of the private forest lands nearest the cities there, and using discredited models from the 60s while ignoring First Nations whose land this was originally is most definitely not one of them. Vancouver Island could be the proving ground of a new urbanism, one that is relevant to the issues that continue to present themselves to us this century.

    Back to ferries, I’m skeptical of the waterjet drive, which is the only drive capable of speeds over 30 knots (55 km/hr). There seems to be a balance that needs to be struck between light fuel loads and the type of drive. From what I’ve read waterjet drives offer less wear on the engines, but at any higher speed the penalty is in fuel consumption. They also need to be steerable.

    Fossil fuel prices are in line become a serious constraint on all transport. With natural gas, the plan here in BC is to export it with high embedded liquification costs for transport to Asia where they seem willing to pay a premium. Our domestic market for NG will likely take a price spike hit as the result of our government’s gold rush economic plan over the people’s resource. NG-fueled ferries are not a long-term panacea, but increases in the efficacy of transportation will really help. There will be a natural attrition in vehicle km driven in correlation with higher fuel prices, including using the ferries to transport one’s car a lot more seldom, and BC Ferries may well have to downsize or get into transporting more human beings without their cars.

    In that light a 10-lane bridge penetrating deep into the greenhouses and potato patches of Delta, with a freeway link to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, just seems so laughable.


    October 10, 2013 at 3:51 pm

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