Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Check it Out!

Monday's post called "Taxi!" is all about the failure of the local transit system.

It has generated 15 comments to date, which may be a record for this blog.

The posting and especially the comments are very much worth a read.


Anonymous said...

Timely, David:

And in today's news, there is a simple sentence that says it all:

"Toronto's transit system has been judged the best in the country, and Vancouver and PEI rank last."

When I get the citation, I'll pass it on. In the meantime, this is the reason given for Vancouver's poor showing: "On a per capita basis, the Vancouver system has the highest cost for the lowest ridership." Well, blow me down!

Funny, Malcolm Johnston, I and many others have been explaining just that for over a decade. For our pains, Kevin Falcon has called me a "generational naysayer", while Malcolm and the others are merely anti-transit naysayers. Sorry Guys.

Mostly, though, we have all been ignored...even when Malcolm predicted a couple of years ago that, "at the rate TransLInk is going, it will be bankrupt - along with the businesses it killed - before the Canada Line is finished." (Even I thought that was going a little too far, so what do I know?)

Anyway, now I've quoted everyone else, I will, modestly of course, quote myself:

"It is the unnecessarily, exorbitant capital, operating and debt-servicing costs of Bombardier's proprietory SkyTrain technology that is the single reason why TransLink cannot afford to build Vancouver an affordable, reliable, safe and popular transit system."

The question British Columbians should be asking - because EVERYONE pays the bill - is this:

When transit dollars are scarce, when there are other major priorities for our tax dollars, why would successive provincial governments (Vander Zalm began it) insist on buying a third of the transit they could otherwise afford had they decided on Light-Rail Transit - especially when LRT is the proven, popular, safe and efficient choice for over 500 systems around the world?

Answer? Perhaps we should do as the axiom says: Follow the money.
(And especially follow the money that our newly-enlightened Premier is to announce at 6:15 this evening!)

Liz J.

JW said...

I recently spent a few days in San Francisco and noted a varied and obviously workable solution to another sea side city's transportation woes. I saw examples of every kind of urban transportation imaginable. Everything from underwater subways to old fashion streetcars, street level light rapid rail, buses and of course the famous cable cars. Their urban freeway system was awesome.

Surely they have something worth studying other than unworkable bridge expansions and partial freeway extensions and so on.

keith said...

The average cost per kilometer for transit in Vancouver is $135,000 compared to $35,000 per km in Toronto.
So I heard on Christy Clark's radio show regarding a study on transportation in Canada.
BC ranks the worst.

Anonymous said...

It is folly to build metro (SkyTrain & RAV) on transit routes that do not have the ridership to support them.

It is folly to operate buses on routes that do not have ridership.

It is folly to offer reduced fares on transit routes that are at or near capacity, without first increasing capacity.

It is folly to not consult with the public as to what the public wants for public transit.

It is folly to have a TransLink board made up of people with no knowledge of transit.

It is folly to reject modern public transport philosophy, in favour of unproven and politically inspired local transportation mumbo jumbo.

It is folly not to build with LRT.

Today's news that "Toronto's transit system has been judged the best in the country, and Vancouver and PEI rank last." comes as no surprise, I predicted it; I was threatened with slander for predicting it; threatened with libel when my views were printed in local papers, predicting it; I was barred from appearing on brand-X because of my views and predictions; and I have been insulted by Falcon and his cohorts for daring to contradict their many half-truths and untruths about RAV.

I told you so!

Malcolm J.

Anonymous said...

Subway construction is ruinously expensive. Underground and elevated stations, actually deter
ridership, as customers want their public transit to be on ‘the pavement’.

What are the costs of recent subway projects? The following excerpt from the UK House of Commons Select Committee on light rail, 2000, reported the following subway construction costs:

Toulouse metro line B - $161 million/km.

Turin metro extension - $196 million/km.

Meteor Metro, Paris - $290 million/km.

Singapore metro - $420.7 million/km.

Jubilee Line extension, London - $559 million/km.

By comparison European tram construction costs are as low as $6 million/km.

Want to know why our transit system sucks? All our transit money has been spent on SkyTrain. RAV/Canada Line costs - now exceeding $130 million/km.

Light Rail Guy said...

The following email is from Gerald Fox, a noted transit specialist, who has worked on most major public transit infrastructure projects in the USA, to a Victoria transportation lobby group.

Mr. Fox also authored a study in the 1980's which showed that automatic or driverless systems were more expensive to build and operate than light rail. The study heralded the demise of sales automatic transit systems in North America, including SkyTrain.

After reading this, on wonders why the RCMP Commercial Crimes Unit is not investigating TransLink and the Ministry of Transportation.

Also the email gives a clear indication of what is wrong with out very expensive transit system.


The Evergreen Line Report you sent me made me curious as to how TransLink could justify continuing to expand SkyTrain, when the rest of the world was building LRT. So I went back and read the alleged "Business Case" (BC) report in a little more detail.

I found several instances where the analysis had made assumptions that were inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. If the underlying assumptions are inaccurate, the conclusions may be so too. Specifically:

- Capacity. A combination of train size and headway. For instance, TriMet's new "Type 4" Low floor LRVs, arriving later this year, have a rated capacity of 232 per car, or 464 for a 2 car train. (Of course one must also be sure to use the same standee density when comparing car capacity. I don't know if that was done here). In Portland we operate a frequency of 3 minutes downtown in the peak hour, giving a one way peak hour capacity of 9,280. By next year we will have two routes through downtown, which will eventually load both ways, giving a theoretical peak hour rail capacity of 37,000 into or out of downtown. Of course we also run a lot of buses.

The new Seattle LRT system which opens next year, is designed for 4 car trains, and thus have a peak hour capacity of 18,560. (but doesn't need this yet, and so shares the tunnel with buses). The BC analysis assumes a capacity of 4,080 for LRT, on the Evergreen Line which it states is not enough, and compares it to Skytrain capacity of 10400.!

- Speed. The analysis states the maximum LRT speed is 60 kph. (which would be correct for the street sections) But most LRVs are actually designed for 90 kph. On the Evergreen Line, LRT could operate at up to 90 where conditions permit, such as in the tunnels, and on protected ROW. Most LRT systems pre-empt most intersections, and so experience little delay at grade crossings. (Our policy is that the trains stop only at stations, and seldom experience traffic delays. It seems to work fine, and has little effect on traffic.) There is another element of speed, which is station access time. At grade stations have less access time. This was overlooked in the analysis.

Also, on the NW alignment, the Skytrain proposal uses a different, faster, less costly alignment to LRT proposal. And has 8 rather than 12 stations. If LRT was compared on the alignment now proposed for Skytrain, it would go faster, and cost less than the BC report states !

- Cost. Here again, there seems to be some hidden biases. As mentioned above, on the NW Corridor, LRT is costed on a different alignment, with more stations. The cost difference between LRT and Skytrain presented in the BC report is therefore misleading. If they were compared on identical alignments, with the same number of stations, and designed to optimize each mode, the cost advantage of LRT would be far greater. I also suspect that the basic LRT design has been rendered more costly by requirements for tunnels and general design that would not be found on more cost sensitive LRT projects

Then there are the car costs. Last time I looked, the cost per unit of capacity was far higher for Skytrain. Also,it takes about 2 skytrain cars to match the capacity of one LRV. And the grade separated Skytrain stations are for most costly and complex than LRT stations. Comparing 8 Skytrain stations with 12 LRT stations also helps blur the distinction.

- Ridership. Is a function of many factors. The BC report would have you believe that type of rail mode alone, makes a difference (It does in the bus vs rail comparison, according to the latest US federal guidelines). But on the Evergreen Line I doubt it. What makes a difference is speed, frequency (but not so much when headways get to 5 minutes), station spacing and amenity etc. Since the speed, frequency and capacity assumptions used in the BC are clearly inaccurate, the ridership estimates cannot be correct either. There would be some advantage if Skytrain could avoid a transfer. If the connecting system has capacity for the extra trains. But the case is way overstated.

And nowhere is it addressed whether the Evergreen Line at the extremity of the system has the demand for so much capacity, and if it does, what that would mean on the rest of the system if feeds into.

- Innuedos about safety, and traffic impacts, which seem to be a big issue for Skytrain proponents, but are solved by the numerous systems that operate new LRT systems (ie they can't be as bad as the Skytrain folk would like you to believe).

I've no desire to get drawn into the Vancouver transit wars, and anyway most of the rest of the world has moved on. To be fair, there are clear advantages in keeping with one kind of rail technology, and in through routing service at Lougheed. But eventually Vancouver will need to adopt lower cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some Translink people very nervous.

It is interesting how Translink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify Skytrain in corridor after corridor, and thus suceeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to scrutiny by a panel of transit peers selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analysed honestly, and the taxpayers' interests are protected. No Skytrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.


But the BIG DEAL for Victoria is: If the BC analysis was corrected for fix at least some of the errors outlined above, the COST INCREASE from using SkyTrain on the Evergreen Line will be comparable to the TOTAL COST of a modest starter line in Victoria. This needs to come to the attention of the Province. Victoria really does deserve better.

Please share these thoughts as you feel appropriate.