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Canada Line Criticisms Endorsed

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I have been reading an article on the Daily Hive by Kenneth Chan this morning that pretty much repeats every one of the criticisms I have levelled over the years at the Canada Line.

POSTSCRIPT I should have noticed this publication date at the top of the article Aug 14, 2014 9:58 am

It was underbuilt, and the P3 cost more than conventional funding. Among the problems that has caused are trains and stations that are too small, too slow and too inconvenient. It has been far more successful than its initial critics claimed, and Chan does come up with some inventive ways of tackling these issues. I think he is very informative on the parochial nature of local politicians and their very limited vision, and how they managed to hobble the project from the start. Sadly too many of them are still warming seats on their respective councils and regional bodies alike.

There needs to be change. Hopefully we can make a start on some of these sooner rather than later as at least we have got a change in provincial government, and realistic probability of federal funding  – which was why the name of the line was chosen in the first place!



Written by Stephen Rees

October 12, 2017 at 10:45 am

Extending the Canada Line?

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UPDATED April 24, 2012

The headline in the Richmond Review actually reads “Extending the Canada Line won’t happen in our lifetime, says Richmond mayor”.

That is his opinion and he is entitled to it. But the – shortish – piece under it also illustrates not only why he may well be wrong, but also why Strategic Planning is too important to be left to politicians – or people who seriously think that perception is reality.

Malcolm Brodie has shown himself to be a capable politician – simply because he has survived in his position for such a long time, not been tempted to get out his depth, and now and again stood up to the bullies in the provincial government who come from the same part of the political spectrum as he does. I do not buy the appellation “non partisan”. Malcolm is no socialist, nor is he in the slightest danger of being labelled Green. But he also shows that his perspective is what the local electorate generally wants to hear. South of Granville, most of Richmond is still single family homes (though many have “mortgage helpers”) and, like most people up to the eyes in debt, deeply distrustful of change in the neighbourhoods. After all, that was why they bought where they did, and they do not want to find themselves living somewhere else without moving. So this kind of stuff plays well with the local Chamber of Commerce, which is where he was speaking.

But Richmond is changing, and changing fast, and not just in the bits served by the Canada Line. Though the massive retail development proposed in the Bridgeport area is getting the headlines, change is happening along the bus routes, because of a council decision that allows that. Even though only of one them is classified as frequent (#410). At one time most change was small bungalows on large lots getting replaced by monster homes. That still happens within the subdivisions, but along the edges (i.e the arterial roads that are bus routes) the development of choice is townhouses. Lots of them, packed in tight and usually with lane way access. Because even though there may be a bus route, most people are still going to drive and parking standards have not been relaxed.

This blog has consistently pointed out that the Canada Line was not, in fact “specifically built with the idea that it could be extended”. Malcolm and other Richmond Councillors might have thought that, but they were not in charge. In fact they wanted surface light rail on the old B Line “central reservation” – which could have been easily extended, much cheaper but was also incompatible with automatic train operation. The Canada Line has significant limitations – mostly short underground stations – and a P3 “concession agreement”. The single track bit in Richmond does limit frequency as it is operated in two directions.

South end of the Canada Line at Richmond-Brighouse Station

South end of the Canada Line at Richmond-Brighouse Station by "indyinsane", on Flickr

As I have said, what could be done is to build a one way loop by tacking new track on the end of the Brighouse Station and linking back to Lansdowne, taking in the areas with significant traffic generating potential. (No 3 to Granville, east on Granville, north on Garden City, west on Lansdowne). Then it can operate at line frequency as there would be no need to wait until the train gets back to Landowne. The loop might have stations at City Hall, and two more on Garden City.  Indeed, I can imagine the sort of people who think concrete would greatly improve the Garden City lands as salivating at that thought. Not that I am proposing such a thing – or even saying that it would be a Good Thing. Just sketching out a possibility.

I think the cited “$107.9 million per kilometre” as the cost of the line probably includes the very expensive underground route in Vancouver. Single track guideway around a couple of square kilometres of high rises might be a lot cheaper. Though don’t expect the people living at track level to cheer about that. Ideally, of course, one builds rail rapid transit before the people move in. Much easier then to get the thing accepted, and a much better rate of return on capital employed. There is even enough room on the ground, thanks to the old BCER tracks which ran along Garden City and Granville, explaining the generous right of way those roads have, and the bizarre layout of their intersection.

This might well happen, if things develop as nows seems likely. Peak oil, and the lack of affordability of electric cars means that finally Greater Vancouver could get serious about providing alternatives to single occupant motor vehicles. This would be because transit is much more fuel efficient per passenger kilometre even if it is in old diesel buses – and exponentially better if it is in modern electric trains. And the majority of people who live in Richmond now are not people like Malcolm Brodie. They know at first hand what very high residential densities and excellent public transport look like. They just have not been very much involved in municipal politics – as the present ethnic make up of Richmond Council makes clear.

Of course, some of the other likely scenarios have to play out differently too. The major earthquake and tsunami might not happen for a while longer – or we may have actually done something effective to mitigate their impacts. Similarly sea level rise – expected to be much higher in the Pacific North West – will happen, but for Richmond to continue to exist will require a radically changed approach to flood prevention. Salt water ingress into the soil may have some impact on the remaining agricultural lands (if they have not all been paved for port expansion) but fresh water flow from the Fraser might hold that back – despite the loss of the last glaciers and much less snow pack.

One thing I would caution people like Malcolm making prognostications like this is the propensity of history to show that they were wrong and often much sooner than you might think. It does seem to me that those who have been saying that the North American style of car oriented suburb was a short lived idea and one that has now seen its heyday pass are much better founded in their understanding than someone who says “you’re going to have a huge expense for really very little value in terms of densities”. Malcolm really does not understand what is happening in the broadest sense. It may play well now that we are embroiled in trying to cut costs and avoid more property taxes, but it is very short term, local thinking.  And that worries me when we say that the Mayors need to be in charge of the agency that plans the region’s transportation system.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2012 at 10:43 am

Canada Line fails to stand up to snow

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I would like to say that I am surprised – but I am not. News 1130 reports

The big problem was on the bridge that runs over the Fraser from Richmond-Brighouse to the Marine Drive station. Chan says they ran trains all night hoping to prevent stoppages like this morning’s, but it was something that was unexpected.

Really? He did not do that “wrong kind of snow” thing that they still talk about in Britain. But given that the Canada does NOT have a LIM rail – which is the weak link on SkyTrain when it comes to snow and ice – I am a bit nonplussed by the “unexpected” bit. The forecast was spot on. And it was not the first snow this year either.

Now I will confess I was less than prepared myself. I do have a snow shovel. It lives in the shed most of the year, and I did not get it out last night, prior to the snow. I was relying on that “it will turn to rain by lunchtime” bit of the forecast which so far (3pm) has yet to materialise. So to get to the snow shovel I had to put on my wellies and traipse through four inches of the stuff! It’s not exactly arctic out there either.

No doubt further details will emerge later. It will either be blowing snow in the switches – something of a regular feature when I commuted by GO train from Union Station in Toronto.  It usually led to delays rather than outright cancellations – or more likely conductor rail problems. A bit like the issues Translink has with the new trolleys.

British Rail – and London Transport – used to keep a fleet of retired trains equipped with brooms and deicing fluid to run when snow was about. ProTrans does have track maintenance machines that can run under their own power  – they had one out at the airport on that pocket track between the end of the line and Sea Island Centre a few days ago.

I cannot help but feel that at the base of the issue as usual is the penny pinching attitude of the P3 which puts all the emphasis on profit at the expense of customer service.

And as it happens I need to get to the airport tonight. Maybe I’ll take a cab instead. Like the pizza guys they seem to be able to keep running in all weathers

Written by Stephen Rees

November 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm

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Canada Line races toward capacity

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Yaletown Roundhouse Stn

The Canada Line last Sunday midday

The Vancouver Sun (and over the weekend the local press too) has a longish piece on how fast ridership has risen on the newest part of our rapid transit system. While generally a good news piece, there are several comments made by Ken Hardie – the Translink flak catcher – that deserve closer examination.

Hardie said that now, TransLink typically runs 14 of its 20 Canada Line trains, each with two cars, at 3.5-minute intervals, with another two trains added at rush hour.

By August of 2011, the transit authority plans to regularly run 16 trains, which will represent a 12-per-cent lift in service, every 3.33 minutes.

Hardie wouldn’t say how much this would cost.

But he noted that when “we run more transit, we spend more money.”

That is actually only true of the bus system. It is not true of a rapid transit system that has no drivers. Indeed, very early on in my career with BC Transit (as it then was) I was taken on a tour of the SkyTrain depot, and told that one of the great advantages of automatic, driverless systems was their responsiveness to unexpected surges in demand. SkyTrain staff were especially proud of the way they could deal with crowds leaving the stadium after a game. It was, they said, “just like turning on a tap”. They contrasted that with the difficulty and cost of getting operators in and paying them overtime if transit wanted to put on more service to meet a surge in demand from the PNE.

With driverless trains, there really is very little change in cost – some energy (but that is diminished by the ability of trains to produce power during braking) – and some small change in mileage based maintenance. But the system itself requires the same number of people if the trains are full or empty – and running 16 or 20 really costs very little different. What Hardie may be revealing is the impact of the P3 with InTransitBC: they may be able to charge Translink more if they run more trains. Indeed given the following – Translink is thinking about increasing bus operation (which do cost a lot more as 80% of their costs are labour ) – it may be that the secret deal is worse than anyone thought.

having buses scheduled for Brighouse shifted to Bridgeport, where commuters can catch a second, nearly empty train, from the airport.

Now that is expensive – since the schedule has to be revised (means it can’t be done until the next sheet change) and buses added, as lengthening the route increases the vehicle and operator requirement. Not exactly “turning on the tap” is it?

Mark II SkyTrain 329/330

The newest SkyTrain cars between Stadium and Science World

For my years at Translink the biggest constraint on SkyTrain was that there were not enough trains, and there were no capital funds to expand the fleet while there was plenty of theoretical available capacity in the signalling/operating system. We could have run trains at tighter headways, or longer trains, we just ran out of equipment really quickly and could not sustain it all day.

It is possible to run trains more often on the Canada Line and there is spare capacity on the airport branch. But once again the peculiar funding arrangements with YVR seem to preclude a schedule change – for example 2 trains to Richmond for every 1 to the airport. Again that ought to be technically easy to do with the Alcatel system, but seems inconceivable on the Canada Line. It’s our money that is paying for this but we are not allowed to know the details of the contracts Translink has signed. This is not the case in other places where there are private sector contracts to run public services: just look at the amount of detail in the public domain on Britain’s privatised railway – or Transport for London’s battles with its underground system providers/maintainers – recently brought back in house due to the unsupportable demands of the private sector for more cash.

There is nothing in the story at all about what this means in the longer term. The Canada Line is capacity constrained by lengthy sections of single track and short stations: it is feasible to insert an extra car in each train but that is not anticipated for a long time. While most systems hit a physical maximum at a train every two minutes (imposed by the ability of people to get on and off trains at crowded platforms) the single track sections impose a much longer turn around time requirement.  These physical constraints have not yet bitten. It is the contractual constraints that seem to be biting now, but no-one is talking about that either.

Hardie noted he expects ridership to continue to grow, especially as municipalities continue to densify areas around the transit stations.

But all that leads to is the day when Translink does not have to subsidize In TransitBC for ridership under 100,000 per day – one of the few details of the contract we are allowed to know. What happens after that? What sort of system do we have where the demands of the operating entity are more important than the demands of the customers? Ridership won’t grow if the system is unresponsive to increasing demand. Pass ups and overcrowding do not make for happy transit riders, and they start looking at better ways to get around.

UPDATE The story now gets covered by Jeff Nagel of BC Local News. While he reads this blog, he has to talk to me to get a quote. Obviously his employers do not want to provide a link to a blogger. Selective quotation may be standard practice but given the amount of information above I think it is clear that I am aware that there is more than just power costs in train operation. It is also clear that I am pointing to the difference between price and cost – especially when it comes to P3s. But then you read me here and not in your local paper: thank you!

Written by Stephen Rees

June 2, 2010 at 11:21 am

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Canada Line delivers a smooth ride

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The Globe and Mail is publishing a series called “Things that Work”: this is the 7th in the series “on a better BC”.

As you would expect from such an introduction, there is very little other than praise in this piece. Certainly no critical appreciation – except for this snide paragraph

Critics focus on the fact that the Canada Line came before the much-needed Evergreen Line to the northeast, the devastating impact of street-gouging construction on businesses in the Cambie Village area of central Vancouver, and that some bus routes were trimmed or eliminated as a result of its opening.

Actually critics have quite a large number of issues – but I am glad they mentioned the bus routes. Because while the piece concentrates on the ridership, nowhere does it mention that many of the “100,000 riders per day” were already transit users. Given the amount spent on this line, surely the one thing that is really important – how many new transit users did it attract – should have been given some mention?

My main concern now is capacity. (It is too late to talk about how a much more cost effective surface alignment could have been used to the same effect – or possibly better if land use in Vancouver really is going to densify.) Because the line specification was sharply trimmed to stay within the bid price, the rapidly rising ridership which is now so wonderful will soon be a problem. Firstly because the number of trains was reduced. They are going to need more sooner than they thought. Secondly because there is only  scope for a 50% increase in train capacity before station capacity is reached. One car can be inserted into each train – with selective door opening at some stations. If more capacity is then needed, stations must be rebuilt to accommodate longer trains. Alternatively, the line at each outer end needs to be rebuilt to two tracks with a scissors crossing at each terminal. This would allow train frequency to be increased – and will also not be cheap.

There is also the on going secrecy which shrouds the project – the Canada Line is one of the agencies using the courts to try and fend off a decison by the office of the information commissioner. We have to pay for this line for years to come: they want public money but they do not want public scrutiny.

Of course this blog has also noted other deficiencies – like station designs that increase the number of pedestrians crossing major roads – and doubts that any of the possible “future stations” will ever be built – following the example of the SkyTrain. But then I have never pretended to be a cheer leader for “the best place on earth” and it annoys me that the Globe and Mail should become one. That, it seems to me, is not a suitable function for a quality newspaper.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2009 at 2:12 pm

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Vancouver commuters can’t buy a ticket to ride new Canada Line

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UPDATED: Here is the new video from Translink – showing how to do it.

SUBSEQUENT UPDATE – September 7, 2009 18:20

The video has now been removed by Translink. I have no idea why


Also has a representative from the supplier – Cubic – present.

The post below has now been changed from what was originally posted

Kelly Sinoski of the Vancouver Sun demonstrates that it is on fact possible to buy a ticket on the Canada Line with a debit card. It takes her two goes, and even on the “successful” run, it seems to have trouble accepting her PIN number. There is video, but the print story seems more representative of the daily reality. Regular users now carry cash.

This, of course, has been a story since Day 2, which is when I first encountered the issue myself. Translink has not covered itself in glory over the way it has handled the story. Blaming the users is of course the easiest thing to do, but it does not buy you any friends. It also seems true, given the continuing volume of complaints, that perhaps the instructions on the machine are not exactly specific enough. There was no mention on the machine of what the yellow light means or “wait for the click”. The machine did say on its own screen “wait for instructions” but there were none and apparently leaving the card in while you wait for them sends the machine to default “invalid card” mode.

After all, we all dip our cards into ATM machines all the time. There the machine retains the card during the transaction, so perhaps opting for the “swipe on the way out” technique was a bit contrary. But we also swipe our cards at various point of sale systems – and I have even managed to use my chip enabled VISA card in one or two places. Something they have been doing in Europe for years.   That is why these machines were bought – though it is not actually reading chips yet. It is still reading the magnetic stripe. Or rather, not reading the stripe. Translink has changed its tune a bit, and now says that new instructions will be available. Next week apparently. So perhaps their original claim that users were not reading the instructions was wrong. I cannot understand how they expected anyone to read instructions which do not appear.

What seems to be missing completely before the release of the Translink video was any mention of where the machines come from, or any comment from the supplier.  Cubic supplied the machines.

Note too that nowhere on the machine was there any message about the lights – and nothing came up on the screen either. Also missing now is any mention of the “wait for the click” that InTransitBC staff were telling people at the machines.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2009 at 9:45 am

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My first ride on the Canada Line

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Parking meterAs luck would have it, I had to go to the airport today to pick up a package. So with that in the trunk, I drove back to River Rock casino, where I parked. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that parking there is free at present, even though they have the ticket machines in place. They are just not switched on. When they are you simply have to remember your parking stall number and tap it into the machine. $2 a day charges will start on September 7, but right now it is a great bargain. There are signs up saying “No YVR parking” though how they would enforce that beats me.

There is a lot of parking at the Casino – and of course they do not want to deter patrons, but just across the Middle Arm at Templeton Station (the next one down the line) will be a huge long term parking lot for the airport. That will cost more than $2 a day – but the train ride will be free. The extra fare to go from Richmond and Vancouver to the Airport is also temporarily in abeyance so how this all works out will be interesting.

Mounties don't like being photographed

There were none of the crowds that wanted a free ride yesterday. I still think that Translink’s system wide $9 day pass is a great bargain. Yes I could have bought a two zone ticket and used it for 90 minutes – plenty of time for a round trip, but I did not want to be hurried. Conversations with other passengers (my word I am becoming North American) confirmed that many were doing the same thing I was. I rode from Bridgeport to the airport in the back of the train, so I could then get the “driver’s seat” on the way back.

I had, of course, been inside the train when it was on display at the Lansdowne station open day. But running is the real test, and I must say my first impression was very favourable. The Rotem train is much quieter than either a Mark 1 or 2 SkyTrain – I think because it does not have the linear induction motor with its characteristic howl. All the track is long welded, so there is none of the “clickety clack” of old fashioned railway track, and even over switches the ride is smooth and quiet. The seats are not well padded or cloth covered, but since rides are short and smooth this is not an issue. There is plenty of leg room, with the exception of the end row of seats – and there is a rush for the two that have a view. The corner seat is shunned as it has no view front or side. Though I imagine if you are regular commuter with an ipod and a book you will be happy to be isolated.

Oakridge 41st Ave underpass

The stations are rather bland and featureless – all muted beigey colours. There are as yet no adverts – though frames can be seen in many places where they will be installed. I think the stations have a distinctly inoffensive Canadian look – very much like Edmonton’s system. They are currently spoiled by the relics of crowd control from yesterday, and the interiors of the stations will look much better once the temporary barriers are removed.

Acceleration is impressive, but it does not jerk you off your feet when standing. Though I would still hold on if I were you. And for the open sections it is a great view from the front: and I just hope that the maintenance people keep the windows clean. Notable is how the train slows for curves – some of which are very tight. The kink around Queen Elizabeth Park for instance. I would have thought it would have been worth bringing the TBM up here just to get a straight shot under the park in bored tube to cut a couple more minutes off the schedule. It will also cost a lot in future in wheel and rail wear unless they do much better at grinding rails and turning wheels. Right now there are several sections of “roaring rail”

I saw no staff on board any train this morning, they seemed to be at the ticket machines – which seemed oddly unreceptive to my collection of payment cards (credit and debit). I am glad I had some cash on me. There indeed passenger counters – they are, one attendant told me, lasers and are concealed in the direction signage. I rather think infra-red is more likely but no doubt those who are always quick to correct my assumptions will jump in.

Langara 49th Avenue

Which brings to the extendability of stations.  I poked around a bit and now I can see how it is possible to add ten metres of platform even in the underground stations. That will allow a twenty meter centre car to be added, with the ends of the train within the tunnel but all doors against a platform. So no extensive rebuilding but, as with the surface stations, not exactly cheap or quick to do. Again, we will need to see the P3 details to understand how that gets paid for but obviously there is only one source at the end of the day. So fares and taxes will pay for it – but it might be spread out a bit if done early in the life of the deal.

What is less easy to see is how the line capacity can be enhanced because of two long stretches of single track at Brighouse and YVR. The former is also a barrier to further southward extension no matter what happens from Granville to Williams in the way of additional density. What this means is that train frequency can be no more than the time it takes to turn back a train. Present working seems pretty smart and dwell times at terminals are not lengthy. But once trains get crowded, and the airport passengers bags started impeding the fast walkers … well, we shall see. Right now, as I advised one German visitor carried past his stop (Roundhouse) it is no real inconvenience to just stay on and get carried back. So when I boarded my return train at Vancouver City Centre (actually located at Granville and Georgia) I deliberately went the wrong way again – just so I could get the best seat. Waterfront station has two tracks and a crossover, so can clearly handle more traffic. Only one track was in use this morning – with a spare train parked in the other.

Waterfront Canada Line entrance

The walk from the end of the platform into Waterfront Station is level, and enlivened with some large monochrome photographs taken during construction. I would like to see many more of works like this or similar art on the blank walls of the other stations. Of course, in London these have always been prime sites for adverts, though in recent years art and other design elements are more often seen. Perhaps the finest being the stations on the Paris Metro which serve the Louvre. It’s like being in the museum itself.

Vancover City Centre Station

That is another comparison that occurred to me. In many cities the metro has a strong corporate identity – a symbol instantly recognised. In Vancouver you will see many stores have decided to adopted London’s ring and bar sign for their own use, obviously unconcerned about copyright. Vancouver stations have none of this – and frankly not much street presence either. I recall very well a developer telling me, when he was explaining why he wanted an LRT for docklands and not an extension of the tube “I can’t sell a staircase on a street corner”. Which is a reasonable description of City Centre station. It is integrated into the Pacific Centre below ground. But Oakridge is not. There the need to get under one set of running rails to get to your train is awkward  (a bit like Yonge Street at the old Eaton Centre). No doubt there is a long history there, but I do wonder why there is that great empty plaza on the corner of Cambie and 41st.

Oak Ridge 41st Avenue

So now here is the evening peak experience. Trains were lightly loaded this morning, and platforms quiet. That was not the case between 4 and 6pm. Even so it was clear that there were quite a lot of sightseers, and some commuters who were distinctly grumpy that their train home was also a source of entertainment. People were also very reluctant to leave the seats with the best forward view. Judging by the number of people who did not get off at Brighouse, tourists were at least 40% of the load on my train.

On the whole from a scenic perspective, if you don’t care which train comes first, YVR is a better ride. Richmond along No 3 Road is just not that interesting. The view northbound will be spectacular when we are not subject to warm weather and white haze cloaking the mountains. But the centre of Richmond is basically parking lots and low rise, tip up buildings, designed to be cheap and have a short life. A few tower block offices around Westminster Highway must be feeling a bit overlooked – but they all have their blinds shut against the sun anyway.

The surface stations of the Canada Line are even less remarkable than the holes in the ground. They are clearly  functional and there are some recurring themes, like the swooping roof curves seen everywhere – from Waterfront to Brighouse. Which is an odd choice of name – why not Richmond Centre which is what the buses have on the front? Most local Richmond routes ( according to the current Buzzer)  will intersect at Brighouse – Bridgeport being the “regional centre” for the Highway #99 routes. I can see this being a point of discord in future as ridership gets near capacity. People from White Rock and Tsawwassen will find the trains from Richmond are full – at least as far as seating is concerned. So it is probably just as well that peak use from the airport is unlikely in the early morning. The express buses are, of course, still in downtown for the next two weeks, and are still the preferred majority choice I would say. And of course if you are going beyond Richmond the only choice for many. Sexsmith Park and Ride is also still pretty full, unlike the casino’s multi-storey.

According to the CBC news tonight, the ticket machines on the Canada Line have new “chip technology”  which is supposed to explain why none of my cards were recognised – even the ones that have chips!  I get the distinct feeling that the editorial line at the CBC on the Canada line is one of celebration – and much was made of the reported 100,000 people who used the line yesterday. They are simply not interested in a critical appraisal.

One thing I did notice was the the Canada Line has overcome absence of the cell phone signal in the tunnel that affects SkyTrain. I am not at all sure that is a Good Thing – because I really do not like to be an audience to conversations which ought to be private – and in many cases are not in the slightest urgent. And since many of them are in Cantonese – which always sounds like they are having an argument – eavesdropping is out of the question but disturbing the peace isn’t.

It is pointless reaching any conclusions about the Canada Line at this stage. It was not the highest priority, or the best choice, but we are stuck with it. Rather like the Millennium Line. But probably a bit more useful. If the Casino parking price stays at $2 – and is available in the evening, when you only need a one zone ticket – then the time and cost of driving all the way or park and ride is about the same for me. So I will probably use it when I go downtown. I doubt that I can be tempted to use the local bus though, simply because late at night (which is when I tend to be coming home from downtown) the last place I want to hang around is a bus loop – or Richmond Centre. And it is unlikely that service frequencies will get much better off peak – despite some quite heavy loads when there are events on. I did see one in station refreshment place going in – Jugo Juice will be at 41st – but then there are already places just inside the Oakridge Mall like that. There is no sign of any services at the Richmond stations apart from a cabin type building that could be a concession – or more likely a driver’s rest room.

I have a lot of pictures to work on and they will be on flickr and here – eventually. But Comments are now Open

Written by Stephen Rees

August 18, 2009 at 12:43 pm

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The Canada Line Opens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Stephen Rees

August 17, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Posted in Transportation

Canada Line subsidy will be felt for years to come

with 19 comments

Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight forecasts “bad news for taxpayers and transit riders.”

it might take until 2013 before the Canada Line generates 100,000 riders per day

He adds that peak oil will also add to Translink’s woes and rehearses the history of the decision. But what caught my eye was a comment beneath his article

A quick search on the internet shows that the 98 B-Line has approximately 18,000 boardings daily or 9,000 passengers daily:

The annual revenue from the 98 B-Line might be $20 million if you really push it and do some creative accounting, and maybe 10% of this $2,000 million is left over after paying for the light bulbs at the stations, security costs and other operating costs for the RAV Line.

Now I am impressed when a comment not only provides statistics – but also a source and a link where it can be verified. The “briefing note” itself is undated – but it seems to be from around 2003.  Now while I applaud the anonymous “Vancouver Resident” for his research skills, the math used is based on a false premise. The Canada Line replaces a lot more bus service than the B-Line. Every express bus from south of the Fraser will be short turned at the new Bridgeport Station. It would not be hard at all to go look up the Translink web page and get the list of truncated services.    (I find hard to take that this represents “increased choice” that this release claims: it is a forced transfer.)

· #311 Scottsdale
· #351 Crescent Beach
· #352 Ocean Park
· #354 White Rock Centre / White Rock South
· #601 South Delta / Boundary Bay
· #602 Tsawwassen Heights
· #603 Beach Grove
· #604 English Bluff
· #620 Tsawwassen Ferry

I poked about a bit – including on the one designed to inform about Richmond changes – but I do know that the following routes will cease to run

  • #488 Garden City
  • #490 Steveston
  • #491 One Road
  • #492 Two Road
  • #496 Railway

These routes appeared at the first sheet change after the B-Line was introduced, as Vancouver passengers were filling all the buses and preventing Richmond commuters from getting home. Some duplicate parts of the  B Line route on Granville – some run on Oak Street.

And, of course, there will be some people who used to use the #15 on Cambie itself.

Now all of these buses carry passengers – but I do not know how many and I am not at all sure I would believe Translink’s data – even if I could find it. But certainly a goodly percentage of passengers on the Canada Line on September 7 and thereafter will be people who used these buses. So “Vancouver Resident’s” calculations need to be revised.

But the second assumption about revenue is also misplaced – because you do not pay a fare to ride a bus route or a train line but a transit system – and on weekday  daytimes you have to pay more depending on how much of the system you want to use.  So there is no way to determine how much revenue the B line now collects – because many people who board the bus have a pass or a transfer.

Thirdly, there will be some people who will now start to use transit because there is now a train. It has to be said that there is a demographic difference in Vancouver between bus passengers and SkyTrain passengers. Males between the ages of 20 and 50 – especially in higher income brackets – who would not be seen dead on a bus will happily board a train. And the new route will make some journeys that previously required transfers – or slow rides – will be faster for some. So that will attract additional  transit passengers. Though I will be very surprised indeed if it makes a significant difference to the overall share that transit takes  of the region’s transport market. Because that forced transfer – and the routing along Cambie – will also deter some users, and they may well decide to drive instead. Because while the train  may be faster than the bus it is the overall journey time (door to door) , its comfort and convenience, that will count.

All of which seems a bit long to add to the comments section on the Straight’s page.

R8062 sb on No 3 Road on #98 B-Line

Written by Stephen Rees

August 16, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Posted in transit

Canada Line Pictures

with one comment

During the course of construction I have been trying to keep up with photographs as it progresses. I was very pleased to get onto an ITE tour of the construction, including a walk through one of the tunnels under False Creek. But Rebecca Bollwit (Miss 604) has scooped me by getting invited onto a pre-opening tour. No doubt she will be blogging about it as part of her blogathon – she has not done so yet – but the pictures are now on her flickr stream.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Posted in transit