Stephen Rees's blog

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

Election Impact on Transportation

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I got a call this morning from Global BC, inviting my opinions for their live cable news show which only goes to Shaw customers. So if you have some other way of getting tv, this will help fill the gap. Gordon Price was in the same coat closet sized “studio” ready to follow me, for another show and the same subject. While he was talking to me I heard the feed from Burnaby in my earpiece, where Keith Baldrey was playing down the likelihood of a Broadway Subway. He said that Christy Clark has no interest at all in funding a project for a constituency that had rejected her but would probably be very willing to help Surrey get LRT. Oddly, Gordon was pointing out almost simultaneously that former Mayor Diane Watts would be able to do some of the heavy lifting for the same project in Ottawa. So no wonder Linda Hepner seems so confident that she can deliver an LRT for Surrey by 2018.

What I had to say was that she seems to be implementing Plan B – what do we do if the referendum fails? – before Plan A had even been tried. Plan A requires agreement on the question – still to be decided – on how to fund the project list decided by the Mayors before the election. In order for any package to be acceptable there has to be something for everyone. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that if one project was seen to take precedence, that would be the death knell for any funding proposal that did not deliver for the rest of the region. The Mayors, under the guidance Greg Moore, re-elected Mayor of Port Coquitlam, have been acting very collegially up to now. Translink is not just a transit agency, so there would be some road projects for the parts of the region where transit cannot be a significant contributor for some time. And no-one was being allowed to play the “me first” card.

Actually, given the political cynicism  realism I was hearing from Baldrey and Price, perhaps this explains why Kirk LaPointe was so confident that he could deliver transit for Broadway better than Gregor Robertson. Peter Armstrong – who paid for much of the NPA campaign – must have given him some reason for believing that he would be favoured by the federal Conservatives (who featured so prominently in the revived NPA organization apparently) – and maybe even the province too.

It is very sad indeed that we cannot talk about how will build a sustainable region and meet the challenges of a world that will be sending us more people – whether we have plans to accommodate them or not. How we move to higher densities without upsetting existing residents, how more people can give up using their cars for every trip as things become more accessible and walkable, how transit becomes one of several better options than driving a single occupant car that is owned – not shared. How we have a region wide conversation on what needs to be done, and how we pay for that, in a way that satisfies a whole range of wants and needs across communities.

Worse, that is seems to be really easy to get funding for a major upgrade to a freeway interchange in North Vancouver when there seems to be no possibility of relieving overcrowding on the #99 B-Line. No doubt the new highway bridge between Richmond and Delta will still get precedence in provincial priorities. Once the Evergreen Line is finished there will be the usual protracted process before the next transit project starts moving and, as we saw with the Canada Line, perhaps expecting more than one major project at a time is over optimistic. The province also has to find a great deal of money for BC Ferries, since it seemed very easy to make a decision on the Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route really quickly – without any clear source of additional financing for the identified structural upgrades its continuation demands.

If the fix is really in for Surrey, who is going to find the local contribution? Assume that the feds and province pick up a third each, can Surrey cover the rest alone? Is it likely that the other Mayors will vote for a package that gives the major capital spending preference to Surrey? And if not, and Surrey does find a way to that – a P3 is always a possibility – do Surrey transit riders and taxpayers pick up that tab? Who operates Surrey LRT and will it have the same fare system – or do the rest of us have to pay more for that?

No I couldn’t cover all of that in the time allotted to me. I spent longer getting down there and back than I did talking. But these ideas and the questions they raise seem worth discussion below.

12 Responses

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  1. It seems profoundly sad that another form of P3 (Pure Political Partisanship) blocks the path to sound decision making. Again.

    Adopting a neutral stance is frustrated when the politicians act like children and do not understand the consequences of their ill-informed policies. The electoral system may be as much to blame here, notably in what political influence money will buy you, and basing your policies on voting patterns, not on societal need.

    The technophiles also contribute their share of division and disinformation and would have politicians gambling billions on one mode of transit over all others with a near absolute disregard for the necessary independent planning and project management criteria. I’ve seen too many kindergarten-level cost estimates, read too many childish and ill-informed comments by academics, and observed a complete lack of site analyses by light rail enthusiasts specifically on the Broadway corridor to give them credence that spending $2 billion on Surrey LRT will be justified. Well, prove it folks. Start with research, site analysis and engineering feasibility studies, then tie in Surrey’s land use policies, employment GDP, and estimate the long-term economic performance within 500m of each line. On the latter points, you will find Broadway-UBC was light years ahead generations ago and the justification for a $3+ billion subway was realized in the 1980s.

    A neutral planner would promote the appropriate mode where necessary and would have a well-stocked transit toolkit with various modes (let’s not forget that the backbone of transit is the lowly bus) suitable for meeting the demographic, environmental, economic and urban challenges ahead.

    Instead of politically elevating Surrey’s light rail over Vancouver’s Broadway-UBC subway to suit the suburban conservative vote (or vice versa for the urban progressive vote), we should have an independent Metro-wide analysis by professionals, from outside jurisdictions if necessary, to: review and tabulate past data and reports (e.g. published by TransLink, BC Transit, private sector firms like KPMG, municipalities, etc.); analyze employment and residential densities, quality of service and ridership under various funding and technology scenarios; determine the life-cycle GHG emissions, energy consumption, financing and operating costs; analyze the effects of various adjacent land use responses; coordinate city versus Metro transportation policies; rate and narrow the choice to the most applicable transit modes; write a plan for the entire Metro around it; and outline the benefits of implementing it and the consequences of not doing so. Paying for this level of planning locally is not a huge burden, in fact Metro has a good foundation in its latest growth strategy plan, but such a plan will be very useful in negotiating transit funding from senior governments.

    Apparently, all that is too much to ask for in today’s political reality. We still have 1960s transportation and urban planning road-obsessed policies in our region because most current senior governments are backward looking. In the meantime, the most recent reports are predicting four degrees world average warming by 2060 under current emissions levels, even with modest cuts. That overshoot will surely lead to profound consequences for humanity.

    Here’s a link to a downloadable report (PDF) released by climate scientists through the Royal Society just this month:

    The province has already recognized climate change and is currently forcing local cities to raise their dikes in accordance with very modest out-of-date sea level rise predictions. Though they downgrade expectations, the BC government cannot claim ignorance on this issue. Yet there they are concurrently planning another vastly over-designed mega bridge and connecting freeway to the open muddy berry fields of Delta, bringing the total capital expenditure on the Metro freeway system close to $10 billion in just 10 years, not including debt servicing. we also have the new context of massive public expenditures, blown emissions targets, and anemic sovereign wealth return on the people’s resource with northern LNG.

    Three billion for one Vancouver subway, two for LRT in Surrey, one for more buses … big hairy deal. We need at least $200 billion for radically upgraded transit accompanied by land use policies in Canada’s seven largest cities within the next decade.

    We therefore need a new polity.


    November 20, 2014 at 10:42 am

  2. How would you finance, say, a $200 billion federal program for Canadian cities?

    Each percent of the GST brings in about $7 billion in annual revenue. That’s currently around $35 billion every year. When the Conservatives eliminated two points from the GST they also hacked off their right hand which held the deficit-reducing pen formerly held by former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin, who incidentally proposed a pretty good agenda for cities as a newly-minted prime minister before Jack Layton decided to yank the rug from under Martin’s minority government. Enter successive Conservative governments. Thanks Jack. Is it any wonder thousands of people now vote strategically instead of with their consciences?

    Anyway, one can argue that consumer taxes are regressive and it’s better to increase progressive income taxes. I’m OK with that, as long as the revenue adds up to an appropriate amount to help cities in a 10-year plan, and also our most important social programs. Having said that, two GST points is worth $14 billion a year or a not insignificant $140B over a decade. Looking at it another way, the Conservatives have lost $112 billion in revenue since they assumed power with their ideologically motivated cut. Lower income families and the poor would be rebated annually through their tax returns. Tossing in a bit more income tax revenue from wealthier Canadians and losing the subsidies to the fossil fuel industry would surely strengthen a federal agenda for cities.

    A carbon tax is long overdue nationally. BC started at $10 / tonne and increased it by $5 / tonne annually to a ceiling of $30 / tonne where it has sat for several years. The total 2008-2014 revenue from the CT was ~$5 billion, and this was balanced by the equivalent in tax cuts in other areas to establish “revenue neutrality”. It has been a success and indicated a significant decrease in emissions while BC’s economic performance increased. However, recent emissions are now increasing again and the latest tax cuts have exceeded the CT revenue.

    Regarding a national CT, I would start at $25 / tonne and increase it $5 / year over 10 years to $50 / tonne, but consider extending the annual increase if the emission reduction results were not satisfactory. Based on our current national emissions the CT would bring in $18 billion in the first year. Assuming a 25% reduction in emissions by the 10th year, the revenue would still be $27 billion at the high end of the tax. There is no question that a carbon tax would draw significant revenue, but it may affect Canada’s overall economic performance as fossil energy inputs decrease and the costs of using them increase. My reasoning is that there is still a lot of economic instability and artificial props out there in the world that will affect the economy beyond internal taxes, so it may be relative.

    I also question revenue neutrality. While the goal of reducing emissions through pricing is admirable, it does not address the direct funding of efficient transportation, sustainable city building and producing clean energy. I believe the demand for transit in our cities has increased significantly and therein revenue neutrality has no meaning as long as people are taxed and there is no reciprocal return in the form of new, highly useful and long-lasting public assets which could in themselves offer significant savings in family transportation budgets as people can give up expensive car ownership.

    Raising or creating new taxes will, of course, have its critics. Usually the analysis they present is devoid of the acknowledgement of the value-for-money, the environmental benefits and the economic multipliers of sound public investment decisions from new tax revenue (e.g. long-term development along rapid transit lines). You get what you pay for, and higher taxes are the cost of resiliency.

    In my opinion, debt is a major drawback because a state that is beholden to its creditor’s whims becomes relatively undemocratic, and even modest interest rate increases can profoundly affect a nation’s ability to pay down the principle let alone sustain the health care and other social systems. Thus, debt reduction should also have a separate, dedicated tax revenue stream. With a household mortgage every extra dollar paid on the principle at the beginning of the 25-year amortization period results in $2 saved in interest at the end. People who kill their mortgages before the half way mark save hundred(s) of thousands in interest. Banks love people who opt for the lowest monthly payment stretched over the longest time. Compounded interest is definitely in the creditor’s favour.

    That’s the tax side. A fiscally-responsible government can also find billions in savings and efficiencies that do not result in the massive job losses and program cancellations that both the Liberal and Conservatives enacted. Who really needs the F-35 when the Cold War ended in 1989, notwithstanding Russia’s latest incursions? Why do road projects with little resulting stimulus continue to outweigh transit, building energy efficient buildings and providing adequate water and sewage treatment in our cities? Why do governments of late promote themselves as good economic managers while concurrently ignoring the challenges fast approaching?


    November 20, 2014 at 12:43 pm

  3. MB, What you are suggesting is what Translink is already doing:
    I link an “astute” comment from ssp:
    Which provides the relevant link and extracts the relevant information:
    LRT in Surrey is simply the wrong answer.

    If people disagree with that, they can come with their counter expertise. And that concerns especially people promoting “white elephant” such as LRT in a Surrey.

    The Translink study suggests that a failed transit referendum involving massive LRT investment in Surrey, couldn’t be necessarily a bad thing in the long term

    that reminds me of the failed transit referendum in Zurich, which has proven in fact to be a blessing: the city was forced to work at improving its surface system, historic trams and buses, iand that has worked very well for them: In my opinion, it could be the same in Vancouver area


    November 21, 2014 at 9:22 am

  4. The BRT and RRT-based alternatives were most cost-effective overall in achieving the project objectives due to greater relative benefits (RRT) or lower costs (BRT). LRT 1 and LRT 4 performed the worst in this account, due to higher costs and minimal benefits, respectively.

    Surrey Rapid Transit Study Phase 2 Alternatives Evaluation (p. xiii)


    I wonder what our friend Zwei or the new mayor would make of that?

    Thanks for the link, Voony. I’m glad to see “relative benefits” come into play in the evaluation phase.


    November 21, 2014 at 1:41 pm

  5. LRT are so bad that there are now 7 lines in the Ile de France (Paris region), with a total length of 82.2 km. 3 of the lines are in the city of Paris. Extensions are being planned for several lines, the goal being 152 km by 2020.
    Most of the trams are in suburbs that are comparable to Surrey, density wise.
    See map at

    Trams in Paris:'Ourcq-DSC_0083.jpg
    behind the tram there is a 2 levels RER and, behind it, a Transilien train.

    While automated LRT, like SkyTrain and the Canada line, are faster than LRT, they have a passenger load much closer to LRT (the Europeans still call them tramways or trams) than to subways.
    I sincerely believe that the Provincial government made a Vancouver made a costly mistake by choosing an ALRT system.

    In most places–Japan for example–they are used as a secondary type of transit, feeding into the trains and subways systems.
    They are perfect for smallish well-defined ares, like the artificial islands Japanese love so much.
    Yurikamome from Tokyo mainland to Odaiba island:

    The French towns of Lille and Toulouse regret that they chose this type of transit as ,now that their Metro population has increased to over 1 million, the ARLT are much to crowded in the city center. Both towns have trams besides their VAL (Automated LRT).

    Toulouse: pedestrians and new road layout_1.JPG
    The plane trees with their sharply cut tops are typically French…
    Toulouse again:

    An ALRT works fine in a town like Rennes that is still around 1/2 million with its suburbs.

    Red frog

    December 1, 2014 at 9:43 pm

  6. to be sure,

    most of the Parisian trams line doesn’t go in area with lower density than 5,000 person/km2.
    that is order of magnitude more than Surrey…even Surrey city Central is barely more than ~3000 person/km2

    Then what is counted as trams is also this kind of animal:

    it is a rubber tyred guided vehicle on the line T5

    In the meantimes, 200km of new subway line are also planned…


    December 2, 2014 at 11:29 pm

  7. Regarding the VAL.
    The Lille and Toulouse VAL vehicles are 26 meters long and 2 meters wide:They have less than half the capacity of the Canada line (with current 40 meters train), and still carries close to ~200,000 people/line for Lille…Toulouse is not that far away…

    That said, RedFrog is right, they are now undersized…but lines have been built to allow the doubling of the trains length…what should occur ~2016 in Lille (after 30 years of service of the original trains consist), and still the line will have less theoretical capacity than the Canada line…

    But the main issue of the VAL is its width: at 2 meter wide it feels simply too narrow and cramped…
    Rennes, for its second line, goes with a much reasonable rolling stock of 2.56meter wide (same as the skytrain)

    The Vancouver Skytrain has very little in common with the VAL as seen in Toulouse, Lille or Rennes, and should be more accurately compared to the Parisian subway,since it has similar capacity (and Canada Line capacity is also much in line with the typical parisian subway line than the VAL):

    In practice, that provides capacity of 15,000 to 25,000 pphpd while maintaining average speed of 40km/h (for Skytrain or subway line 14 in Paris)…that is simply order of magnitude more than an LRT can practically achieve.


    December 2, 2014 at 11:29 pm

  8. Red Frog and Voony, apparently the beauty of automated rapid rail transit is its very quick response to frequency … increase or decrease it with just a few strokes of the keyboard. SkyTrain at Burrard Station currently achieves 75-second headways with 6-car trains at rush hour, that’s four every 5 minutes in both directions. That’s very impressive, especially when coupled with its 80 kph speeds between stations.

    Imagine the possibilities of 60-second headways with 8-car Mark 2 trainsets. We might not need that capacity until 2040 and beyond, but there is no reason in my opinion to diminish the future capability by underbuilding transit in the Broadway corridor today.

    The trams at the periphery of Paris are impressive, but it’s obvious the Metro and RER do all the heavy lifting mostly in the core out to the edges. I would find it very exciting as an urban designer, though, to design new compact communities on raw land using LRT powered by clean electricity as the primary mode of transportation, even eventually for freight, with deep connections to high-capacity regional commuter and freight rail. Along with appropriate zoning, streetscape design and architecture and a high walk score, this would be one of the best ways to achieve high levels of resiliency and would position citizens to find it easier to give up on cars and fossil fuels.

    But in the big city, let’s build on what we’ve got. SkyTrain is not pretty where it is elevated, but it is very efficient even though it’s been underfunded for years and has ~30% in unused capacity on existing lines as the result. I love the idea of seamlessly travelling from Coquitlam Centre to UBC and reading the paper all the way, maybe hopping off at a station to grab a Canadiano to-go and hop back on in less than 5 minutes.


    December 3, 2014 at 3:22 pm

  9. According to TransLink figures, a 6 cars Mark I can carry 480 passengers..
    A 4 cars Mark II can carry 520-580 passengers..
    A joined at the hip pair of Canada Line cars can carry 334 passengers..

    From Wikipedia: The SkyTrain network carried a total of 117.4 million passengers in 2010, including 38,447,725 on the Canada Line and 78,965,214 on the interlined Expo and Millennium Lines

    The Toronto subway new Red Rockets trains (6 cars linked by gangways) carry 1000 passengers.
    the ridership for all the subway lines is 1,084,600 per day (average).

    Automated trains on Paris’ line 14 (6 cars linked by gangways) can carry 722 passengers.. the average ridership per year on that line is 62,469,502
    Automated trains on Paris’ line 1 use the same trains as line 14… the average ridership per year on that line is 207,000,000

    Comparing Vancouver rapid transit with Paris’ is unfair…The cities of Vancouver and Paris have the same size but Paris has 2.2 million within the circular freeway that marks the city limits..

    Let’s compare Vancouver with Lyon, that has a fairly similar metropolitan population. Its 4 subway lines have a total average daily ridership of 740 000.

    One major difference with Metro Vancouver is that in Paris, Lyon and other major European towns (also in Montreal, Toronto, major Japanese towns etc.) subways only run in the core city of a metropolitan area. Inter-cities trains and buses service suburbs..(Lyon has 16 train lines…)

    Red frog

    December 4, 2014 at 2:46 am

  10. Red Frog, comparing 21,000 persons per km2 average (Central Paris) to 4,630 p / km2 average (City of Vancouver) sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? However, the 2,200,000 people in Central Paris are served by well over 200 km of Metro and RER lines in an area only 10 km in diameter.

    Vancouver’s downtown and Broadway-UBC corridor population and employment densities would be well-served by a completed subway system, of which only Broadway has yet to be realized. I believe the bus system is nearly tapped out with 140,000 riders a day (the ~2,000 passenger pass-ups a day are testimony to that) , and the geomatics of Broadway work against LRT. Note also that Vancouver’s average density is 160% greater than the Metro average, and orders of magnitude more in downtown and Broadway.


    December 4, 2014 at 1:00 pm

  11. Vancouver’s downtown and Broadway-UBC corridor population and employment densities would be well-served by a completed subway system, of which only Broadway has yet to be realized.

    Actually, at one time the Hastings corridor was seriously looked at for a downtown-SFU rapid transit line. If built today, it would presumably tunnel through Burnaby Mountain necessitating a deep underground station accessed at mid-campus due to the gradients. The line could terminate at Burquitlam Station. I’m not sure the demographics and economic performance on that corridor support rapid transit at present, but that doesn’t mean rezoning and development couldn’t follow, hopefully with better results than the black hole urbanism of Metrotown where the mall sucks the life out of the street. In all cases, a community, pedestrian and fine-grained street orientation must be respected (e.g. Burnaby Heights) or created from scratch where it doesn’t currently exist.

    Our dependency on finite petroleum, according to the estimates by independent geologists like Euan Mearns, David Hughes and Anthony Berman, as well as economic analysts like Chris Nelder, is set to be seriously tested in the latter part of this decade. That is the time the US shale formations are expected to plateau and decline. US shale will go down as a short-lived boom due to its extraordinary decline rates, the waste and the precarious financial position of many players in the field.

    Why does this matter when gasoline has gone down to $1.22 a litre? Because even with today’s recent decrease, the price is still ~500% higher than 15 years ago, and will surely rise again and impact transportation, the Number One user of liquid petroleum fuel. Eric Reguly wrote a column in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail that explained why these prices are only temporary. The five OPEC nations decided to keep production steady at 30 million barrels a day to create an excess and purposely drive prices down as a counter measure against unconventional oil (shale, tar sands, offshore) which requires a higher break-even price point. Sure enough, companies are banking off production. OPEC cannot do this for long because only two of them can afford prices below the break-even point themselves. One must also keep in mind that OPEC controls the largest production share of cheaper conventional oil, and that peaked in 2005.

    All this points to higher fuel prices and shortages over time. The 2020s could be the make-or-break decade for preparing our cities. Investments in public transit is needed more than ever. Building it will be much harder in times of economic upheaval, so the sooner we start, the better.


    December 4, 2014 at 1:38 pm

  12. Re: Train capacity.

    Thanks to put the number Redfrog.

    Notice that Paris, uses a standard of 4people/m2 and multiply by the surface of the train to get the train capacity.
    That was the point of my linked post: what is important is the surface of the train fitting in a station (practical capacity can be altered by seating arrangement, but that is easy to change, and trains themselves have a limited lifespan…change a station length, or increase the train width is another beef ):

    Below is a same scale comparison of two train consists, showing lot of room for capacity improvement on the skytrain MKII compared to a parisian subway:
    notice also the equidistant doors, minimizing dwelling time and perfectly adapted for platform door,a reason why the Parisian subways line 1 or 14, like most asian subways, are way much more reliable that the skytrain…but it is another story 😉 ):

    And notice the skytrain platforms can accomodate 5 MKII/III cars trains (~80meters train)…

    I was comparing train systems, not transportation network: That is coming below

    One major difference with Metro Vancouver is that in Paris, Lyon and other major European towns (also in Montreal, Toronto, major Japanese towns etc.) subways only run in the core city of a metropolitan area.

    The same could be said for LRT:

    One major difference with a North american LRT city (e.g. Portland, or wanabee Surrey) is that in Paris,Lyon…trams only run in the core city of a metropolitan area….

    So in fact it is not Vancouver which is different of European cities, but the North American cities which have a different transportation network model from the European ones…

    Vancouver,may be because it doesn’t have the legacy rail network of a typical European city, such as Lyon, has to build all its “s-bahn/RER” network from scratch…and for this use the Skytrain model.
    SFO has used the BART, other cities have used LRT…It seems to me that the Vancouver model has been quite successful so far.

    Interestingly enough, most of the future planned subway investment in Paris (Arc Express), can be essentially seen as “light RER”: the speed of the RER with the capacity of the typical Parisian subway:
    That could also be a definition of the Skytrain (and I include the Canada line) which capacity is well adapted to the size of our city.


    December 4, 2014 at 10:43 pm

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