The vancouversun has a story about a man claiming it is not clear enough to where you have to validate your ticket. He could have a point:

Brighouse station: ticket vending machines are easy to spot, but where are the ticket validators machines?

Whether you are a bit distracted, it can be very easy to find yourself without properly validated ticket on the train. Not only nowhere there is a physical line reminding you to validate your ticket, but ticket validators are rather hidden in some stations. without going to turnstiles, that doesn’t need to be as I have already mentioned here


smartcard access to the subway of Rennes, France, is done without turnstile. Nevertheless, notice how the smartcard readers are placed in proeminent position on the farepaid zone line. credit photo wikipedia

Post updated on April 6th

As mentioned by Stephen Rees, I was at “a special blogger breakfast” about the project where Jeff Busby and Margaret Wittgens from Translink provided a description of the different options and was answering our questions [1]. Translink has provided significantly more material in this phase than in phase 1.

The consultation process

Like in Phase 1, translink has scheduled several workshops. In those workshops, Translink staff engage conversation where you have the opportunity to discuss your concerns, opinions not only with staff but also with your ‘neighbors’ and understand others viewpoints. It is a very constructive approach, and I warmly recommend people to attend those workshops and provide feedback as soon as possible in the process to Translink.

Some comments:

In the preliminary phases, it was unclear what Translink was meaning by “LRT”, an LRT in the American sense, or a tram in the European sense? A later solution apparently favored by noticeably UBC professor Patrick Condon and a relatively active Broadway merchant group called BARSTA.

  • The Phase 2 gives a clear answer: the option is an LRT in the american sense.

Compared to the “business as usual case” (assumed to be the bus 99B) [4] the cost required to attract additional ridership is around $25,000 per new rider, as suggested by the graph below comparing the different solutions proposed by Translink

cost per new rider is around $25,000, except two outliers, the RRT above and the BRT below. Numbers from (4)

That is, the additional ridership could be at the expense of local bus routes, so if the goal is to increase the Transit mode share, and that is a goal of both the Province and the City of Vancouver [5], the figure become more striking, and solutions providing net gain time on the Commercial Drive to Central Broadway seems at a net advantage in term of “buck for the bang”.

Capital cost per point of additional Transit mode share in the corridor, compared to the 'business as usual' case. Numbers from (4)

Some solutions provide clear advantage in time of access time from Commercial to Cambie, and convenience from the Millenium (lack of Transfer), over others; and at least from the cost/additional rider perspective, looks reasonably priced. Obviously it couldn’t be the only metrics to look at…among others are the travel time to UBC [2], operating cost…

Under this regard, the lately added Combo 2 , RRT+BRT, could require more refinement:
The redundancy of service East of Arbutus doesn’t seem to provide the bang for the buck, noticeably in term of serviced area. We could have preferred something looking more like the rubber tire version of Combo 1 or looking like the figure below

Combo 2 could have been maybe better served by a 'BRT' reusing the 84 alignment terminating at Main, and a potential rerouting of the 44 to serve the RRT

The regional perspective

That is, as reported of this week workshops, and already outlined here, it is hard to ignore the regional significance of the connection of the Millennium line to the Canada line, which could have a “shaping” effect probably as great as if not greater than an extension of the existing Skytrain in the confins of the GVRD.

A discussion has been engaged by Stephen Rees on the trip model used to generate ridership. It appeared that Translink consider the Evergreen line built in its modelling. That says, they also rely on growth projection provided by external agencies; and this growth projection could not have considered a transit network effect

The network effect

The gap in the Vancouver rapid transit network is hard to ignore. credit (3)

On this topic, Jeffrey Busby mentioned that the scope of the study is really the Broadway corridor, and not addressing the question of the “extension” or not of the Millennium line.

  • According to the selected option, this question could be still open, leaving customer of the Millennium line to their frustration for very long time.

In that sense, an apparent cheaper solution, not based on an extension of the Millennium line could prove to be a costly mistake, but obviously all of that need to be quantified and LRT could make sense at least on part of the corridor

[1] You will find other account of it at, vpsn blog or

[2] The choice to prefer to compare travel time between Commercial and central Broadway rather than UBC is deliberate since UBC bound riders, mostly students, could be less sensitive to travel time than the more general users.

[3] Illustration from Jarret Walker

[4] UBC Line Rapid Transit Study Evaluation Summary – March/April 2011

[5] Province call for a doubling of the Transit ridership by 2020. Vancouver call for 50% non-auto mode share in the city by 2020

The Zurich Model

April 26, 2010

Entry edited on April 27

The Zurich metropolitan area is home of around 1.6 million of people on 2103 km2 [1] and boost one of the highest transit ridership in Europe if not in the world. This has obviously drawn the attention of the transit observers and advocates, speaking then of a Zurich model, but do they draw the right conclusions?

Some authors, like Paul Mees, use the Zurich Model to support the assertion that transit efficiency is not correlated to density, and so can work well in low density suburbia [5], while others noting that Zurich has no subway per sei, could conclude that a dense enough all at grade bus/streetcar service could be a better option than a traditionally more hierarchical network like we know in subway rich cities like Toronto or Munich.

A bit of history

In 1960 and 1973, Zurich has rejected twice subway plan which was more or less aiming to replace its streetcar network, then considered guilty of creating congestion.
That being said, subway work has been initiated before the failed referendum, and around ~2km of already built tunnel have later been re-used by 2 streetcar lines, but the city will tehn mainly bring some efficiency improvement to its network [7].
In 1983, a referendum will give the green light for a cross city rail tunnel with new underground station, enabling the introduction of the S-Bahn, a regional rapid rail network working in a way similar to the Parisian RER, which will be inaugurated in 1990.

This S-Bahn came with a fare integration between the different transport operators, and a more general re-organization of the rail service with what is called “Taktfarplan” or “regular timetable” (that means that you train start at regular interval, usually at least once an hour , e.g. 8:04 , 9:04, 10:04,…) which has been underway on the Swiss national network since 1982.

Though that the frequency of the S-Bahn is not high enough to forget the timetable, the later one are easier to remember, and so simple they can figure on the network map itself.

The settlement structure

Zurich regional area density is low and could be compared to the one of Houston, TX or Edmonton, AB, but eventually such comparison are not telling the real story as much as the topographic map below can say:

extract of Zurich area topographic map showing how the urbanization follow a linear model along valley separated by strong physical barrier

The Zurich area topography draw urbanization along natural valley corridor where sit the railway network. While it is not a pure model of urban clusters; in no way, the Zurich area can be compared to the typical north American urban sprawl model. It has rather developed a linear urbanization model along transportation corridors.

More, one can see that the geography force indirect route to go from point A to point B as soon as those points are not in the same valley, whether you take your car or transit. The usual transit network disadvantage of providing indirect route for “non radial” become less problematic in the case of Zurich.

The Socio-economic structure

Zurich city with a population of 380,000, host 320,000 jobs, for an active population of only 200,000. 50% of its work force come from outside its boundaries.

One should also note that the Zurich city population has declined since the 60’s when it was host of 440,000 people, at the advantage of its suburbs.

The Zurich socio-economic pattern could be compared to Calgary or Seattle for the very high ratio job/population. both inner cities foster good transit ridership number by North American standard, but this can be mostly due to a very centralized job market favoring a good transit market share in the CBD rather than a good transit system per sei [6], as could illustrates the statistic below.

Conurbation Size (in km2) Transit Car Walk/bike
Zurich urban area < 2,100 41 40 19
Zurich city [3] 92 63 26 11
Seattle urban area 2,100 7 88 4
Seattle city [1] 370 18 67 10
Seattle DT [1] 23 33 39
Calgary city [2] 726 17 75 7
Calgary DT [2] 27 22 51

The table above verifies the correlation between high transit ridership and a strong CBD stated by J. Michael Thomson [9], but there are some interesting facts to underline:

  • Zurich’s walk/bike mode share is pretty weak and in line with the one in Seattle
  • car share in the Down Town of the both North American cities, is below the one in Zurich

The Swiss city is significantly smaller that the considered North American ones, so it could have been interesting to compare thing on a similar size, but the conclusion we can probably draw is that Zurich tends to make a difference in its suburbs more than in its center, where it seems that the high transit mode share is achieved more at the expense of the bike/walk mode than the car on.

The Network

It is constituted of a 380 km S-bahn network. In comparison the Zurich’s streetcar network has 70km of track, and the streetcar route are around 7km long, not venturing much farther than 5km of the Zurich center. The map below overlay this streetcar network on the s-bahn to illustrates the coverage zone of both.

The Results…or does Zurich has been too far?

The Zurich S-bahn has been an undeniable success with ridership increasing from 159,000 ride/day in 1989 to 356,000 in 2007 [5]. A second cross city tunnel is currently under construction.
The Zurich Transit Priority program [7] has also produced positive effect, but eventually one shouldn’t overestimate them. Though speed is not the only element of the program improvement, it is still an important one: as an example, the table below provides the evolution of the average speed on the Zurich’s trams network (number from [8])

1960 1970 1990
16km/h 14.5km/h 15,5km/h

On a financial note, The Zurich public transit had a recovery fare box of around 45% in 1997, requiring CHF360 millions of subsidy yearly: it could be due to a political choice of low fare, but one should keep in mind that the Zurich model is not necessarily a self sustained one. The table below represents the operating cost and fare-box recovery (number from [7])

years operating cost farebox revenue % fare-box recovery
1991 522.6 277.5 53%
1992 563.6 286.9 51%
1993 583.2 292.8 50%
1994 600.7 294.4 49%
1995 605.4 298.1 49%
1996 639.2 298.8 47%
1997 660.2 300.0 45%

For matter of comparison, the table below shows the evolution of the ridership in some selected Swiss cities since 1980.

Intra city commuting pattern on last 20 years in selected swiss cities

It is remarkable that the already very high transit market share in both the Zurich region and city has make some gain after the 90′s when it tends to stagnate in the other Swiss cities. But as already noticed when comparing the modal split with Calgary and Seattle, is that this gain has been done quais exclusively at the expense of the bike/walk share mode which tends to be low in Zurich and not only by Swiss standard:

  • All things happen like if the improvement of the Zurich city surface transit, by better accessibility and frequency but not necessarily significantly improved speed, compete more with the walking or biking option than the driving option, but
  • One should also question if Zurich offer, like other Swiss cities, has not reach a limit touching the “hard core motorists group” which could not consider transit under any circumstance.

The graph below compare the inner city mode share with the region urban area one for some selected Swiss cities:

mode share in selected swiss cities in the inner (ref. 3) and the urban area (ref. 4)

As mentioned before, where the Swiss cities exhibit specificity is more at the regional level than at the local level: Even at the region level, the transit market share is greater than the car one: this is probably contributing to the overall high level of transit share including in the inner area, but there is more to it:

  • The walk or bike share is still non negligible even at the regional level: that seems to indicates that the suburban shape is suitable to those mode, and sufficiently transit friendly
  • The walk and bike mode in the urban area of Zurich seems more important that in the inner city itself: it confirms the fact that the city’s level of Transit service tend to cannibalize those mode more than the car one.
  • car mode share is smaller in Bale and Bern than in Zurich. Those city being smaller, one could have expect the reverse.

While numbers show an higher transit share mode in Zurich than in any other Swiss cities, it doesn’t translate with a smaller car mode share showing the limits of the “Zurich model”.

On a side note, one could note that the German speaking cities perform better than the French one (Lausanne and Geneva), reflecting difference we can also see between France and Germany in term of transportation market share: Eventually beyond an unified public policy of a nation, some cultural trend tied to language could be identified making this policy more or less effective.


As we have seen, Zurich can’t be really invoked to justify good transit in low density area. As well one shouldn’t ignore the specific socio-economic structure of Zurich providing a favorable ground for Public transit.
The defeating of the Subway proposal has not translated in lack of a hierarchical network in Zurich: Eventually Zurich could have been too small to support a 3 level hierarchy (bus-subway-S-Bahn) like in bigger city such as Paris, but the “rapid rail” component is here providing a rapid transit backbone in the Zurich area.
We should also ask the question if Zurich has been too fa in its quest for high Transit ridership: this one lately seems to have been done at the expense of the walk or bike mode rather than the car one, and we should ask the question of what should be an efficient transportation goal:

  • Increase the transit mode share or decrease the car mode share?

If the former is the goal, then Zurich is a model, but if it is the later, the point is more moot.
Overall the Swiss urban areas achieve a remarkable non automobile mode share, and may be we should talk more of a “Swiss model” than a “Zurich model”: The Swiss model is not only constituted of a good local transit, like we could find in other European cities, but rely on an excellent regional rail network. The Public transportation option is still of excellent quality at any level from local to the Intercity train sustaining a real culture of public transportation starting as soon as the kindergarten with some initiatives like the walking-bus …and eventually that could be the real lessons of the “Swiss Model”, Zurich is capitalizing on.

[1] numbers from department of planning and development, city of Seattle, Jan 2004

[2] numbers from Mobility Monitor April 2008, city of Calgary, Jan 2004

[3] numbers from LITRA, Switzerland, 2004 citing statistics from the Office fédéral de la statistique. Those statistic discriminate intra city commuters and inter city commuters: To give fair comparison we have mixed both using a 2/3 weight for intra commuting pattern and 1/3 for inter commuting pattern reflecting the fact that Zurich city has one third more jobs than active residents. The intra commuting number are kept as is for figure comparing Swiss cities between each others

[4] numbers from Projet d’agglomération
Lausanne-Morges (PALM)
, December 2007
, citing the census 2000 from the Office fédéral de la statistique

[5] “Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age”, Earthscan, Paul Mees, 2010

[6] One could see Zach Shaner’s comparison of Vancouver and Seattle illustrating the kind of Transit service offered in Seattle.

[7] Implementation of Zurich’s transit priority program, Andrew Nash, Mineta Transportation Institute, San Jose, October 2001

[8], Dr Felix Laube and Dr Rolf Bergmaier, Transport Engineering Australia, 2000

[9] Great Cities and their traffic, J. Michael Thomson, Littlehampton Book Services, 1977

I have been first intrigued by a “rapid transit map” dating of the 1970, but it was more than a map: Below an extensive Verbatim of “Beat the Traffic Rush”, The case for rapid Transit, Alderman Harry Rankin, 1971

Do the people of Vancouver and surrounding municipalities want a freeway system which will:

  • Crisscross and divide up residential areas with ugly structures of concrete and steel?
  • Funnel all automobile traffic from north, east and south into the narrow peninsula that comprise Downtown Vancouver?
  • Create unprecedented and impossible traffic congestion and traffic jams?
  • Pollute our air to the danger point until it becomes as bad here as in Los Angeles?
  • Saddle our citizens with an enormous debt which will burden homeowners with huge boost in taxes, and tenants with still higher rents


  • Bring people instead of cars into Vancouver’s downtown area and to place of employment?
  • Move people quickly and efficiently at low fares, saving time and money for transit users?
  • Keep down debt and taxes?
  • Reduce air pollution?

Do we want to see a rapid transit system in the Greater Vancouver region which will:

Provide frequent and efficient service between municipalities and within each municipality so that everyone will have far greater freedom and ease of movement?

We can have one or the other.

We won’t have both.

Which one we get- freeway or rapid transit—is not only important for the reasons given above. The undeniable fact is that the kind of transportation system we end up with will decisively shape the nature of the growth and development of our cities and municipalities for decades to come.

Our future is very much at stake in the choice and decisions that will be made.

You can help decide what that choice will be.


Rush hour TRAFFIC

Population by the year 2000 will have doubled

1970 2000
1,000,000 2,000,000

Metropolitan employment employement will have more than doubled

1970 2000
375,000 850,000

Downtown employment will increase by at least 50% and possibly double

1970 2000
93,000 143,000-205,000

The number of morning rush hour commuter trips into downtown will increase accordingly.

1970 2000
39,000 61,000 – 88,000

Many of these rush hour commuters will need public transit, for those roads into downtown will have limited capacity.

1969 2000
15,700 29,000-56,000

(From brochure By GVRD)

Freeways Are Already Here!

We will have to make a choice very soon because powerful interests are at work endeavoring to impose a freeway system on the Greater Vancouver area. The city of Vancouver is the local point. Here freeway plans are already well advanced-more so can most people realize. Vancouver City Council is trying to sneak in a freeway system piecemeal, one section at a time. This way the total effect will not be felt at once. People will not know what is happening. The freeways sections are being planned and build in such a ways that each completed section logically demands another.
This is of concern not only to Vancouver. While Vancouver cannot build freeways its own boundaries, yet once these freeways are built in Vancouver you can be sure they will not abruptly end at city boundaries. They will be extended into adjacent municipalities. Then we’ll all be saddled with freeways whether we like or not.

Vancouver Transportation Study

Vancouver Freeway recommended Plan in 1968 (click on it to get a better view)

The essential aspects of the freeways scheme were outlined in the Vancouver Transportation study, 1968, prepared for Vancouver city Council by BBQ&D of San Francisco. It called for:

  • A New Georgia viaduct
  • An East-West freeway continuing east from the Georgia viaduct along Union and Prior streets and connecting up with Highway 401
  • A north-south freeway in the Ontario and Quebec street corridor, also linked up with the Georgia viaduct.
  • A third crossing of Burrard inlet (called Brockton crossing and located just east of Stanley park).
  • A waterfront highway from the Brockton crossing to the north-south freeway, and going through the CPR’s Project 200.
  • A Taylor expressway going along the North shore of False creek where the CPR is planning another West End-type of apartment jungle.

The Vancouver Transportation Study studiously ignored the question of rapid transit. It stated that the city of Vancouver and B.C. Hydro agreed that no provision for rapid transit was required in the freeway system except for a 60 foot median strip in the centre of the east-west freeway from Gore Avenue eastward “for possible future grade separated rapid transit facilities in this corridor.”

The Vancouver Transportation Study has never been officially adopted by the Council. Yet a majority of Council is trying to implement the report piece by piece.
The citizens of Vancouver met this report with open hostility.
The Chinese community vigorously protested the connection between the north-south freeway and the Waterfront Highway which would go along Carrall Street and cutup Chinatown. Council had to drop this plan and consider a connection along Gore street.

The resident of the East End rose up in arms against the east-west freeway which would go through the heart of their area, cut their district in half and compel the expropriation (and removal of destruction) of about 1,200 homes. So Council had to drop this scheme too.

But Council didn’t give up by any means. It went ahead with plans to replace the Georgia Viaduct, shelving some of the other sections for the time being. But what it built was much more than just a replacement. What we have now is a two pronged viaduct designed as the hub of a downtown freeway system. The Vancouver Transportation Study admitted (page 25) that “the Georgia viaduct replacement is in effect a western extension of the east-west freeway”. There is now sits awaiting decisions about connector links at each end.

Compelled by to drop its Union-Prior corridor route for an East-west freeway, Council’s next step was to set up a Liaison Group included aldermen Wilson, Broome, Rankin, city officials, a team of consultants responsible for selecting a route, and representatives of five community organizations from the East End.
The study team of consultants has selected a new route that would go in a south-easterly direction form the East End of Georgia Vaiduct, avoiding the densely populated areas, and linking up with Highway 401 in the vicinity of boundary Road and the Grandview Highway. A conservative estimate places the number of homes that would have to be demolished at between 90 and 105. However, this does not take into consideration the construction of ramps that would bring this figure closer to 200. It is significant that the connector link they have selected makes no provision whatsoever for rapid transit.

The community representatives on this Liaison Group have given their views on the new alternative route. They have turned it down flatly.
“While the $60 million freeway route now being proposed by the consultants is less reprehensible thean the Union-Prior corridor earlier considered” they said in a statement to Council signed also by Alderman Rankin “it is still a freeway, and freeways our citizens don’t need and don’t want.” They then proposed that council drop all its plans and get busy on a rapid transit system.

Council’s unofficial plan is now to connect the west-end of Georgia Viaduct via Georgia and Dunsmuir streets with a new freeway crossing of Burrard Inlet, Council has opted for a tunnel rather than a abridge. Ottawa has offered to pay the cost of the tunnel, but only on condition that its contribution will be recovered in tolls. The provincial government has pledged $27 million for tunnel approaches.

But a third crossing, whether a bridge or a tunnel, is not the urgent need its promoters represent it to be. All survey show that the bulk of the traffic entering Vancouver comes from the east and south, not from the North Shore. In fact traffic the traffic volume to and from the south and eats is approximately the volume of traffic to and from the North Shore. But because Liberal politicians promised another crossing to North and West Vancouver business interests, and because of pressure from freeways promoters, plans for the crossing are being pushed ahead.
Other planned sections of the freeway system scheduled to come before Council sooner or later are links which will connect Burrard and Granville bridge with Georgia viaduct and with the third crossing, the north-south freeway, along the Quebec Ontario street corridor, a Waterfront Highway, and the Taylor Expressway.
Then our half a billion dollar eyesore and traffic congester would be complete—fro a few years, that is, when inevitably there would be a demand for still more freeways. Once caught up in the freeway cycle, there’s no escape.
That’s the plan that is being implemented piecemeal. It is still in its initial stages, but every completed section makes other sections more certain. If we are going to stop it at all, the timer is now before it has a chance to go much further.

Adverse Effects of Freeways

The adverse effects of freeways are obvious and numerous. If you want to see Vancouver would be like in five or ten years from now if it gives through with its freeways plans, just look at Seattle and Los Angeles.
Freeways are an eyesore which will artificially divide up cities and municipalities.
It is fundamentally wrong to siphon all traffic into the narrow neck of land (bottleneck would be a better word) which constitutes Vancouver’s Downtown area.

More and more of our choice land in Vancouver’s Downtown would have to be taken over a great expense and used for parking lot, and many city streets widened to serve the freeway system. Freeways will further aggravate the lopsided growth of Vancouver where far too much development is going into the Downtown area.
Since the freeway system would be spread over the whole Lower mainland, all its citizens would be saddled with enormous debts and increases in property taxes.

The experience of all cities which have freeway systems clearly proves that freeways solve nothing. They contribute to the very problem which they are supposed to solve—Traffic congestion. And the accident and death toll from the hundreds of thousands of cars on our freeways systems will continue to mount, as will the already too high insurance rates.

Who Wants Freeways?

Why then, are freeways being promoted by Vancouver city council?

The answer is that powerful special interests want them. They are the business interest who stand to profit directly from them. First among them are the big real estate interest and devlopers. The CPR has project 200 – the complex of hotels, apartment and offices – which includes 5,000 parking stalls to be linked to the freeway. The CPR is also building a huge apartment complex on the north shore of false creek; Taylor expressway was designed to service this area. The Bronfman interests, Eatons, and the Toronto Dominion Bank want traffic directed to Block 42-52. Near Stanly Park the Four Seasons and Bayshore Inn interest want the freeway to serve them.

Then there are the car manufacturers and the oil interests who push for freeways everywhere and the big construction firms looking for lucrative multi-million dollar contracts.

These are the private interests that want the government and the public to spend half a billion dollars on freeways just to serve them! No matter where you live in the Lower Mainland – these selfish interests are determined that you must foot the bill for freeway to enhance theirs profits.

No wonder the citizens of the Lower Mainland in increasing numbers are saying NO! We’re not going to subsidize the freeways with our hard-earned dollars and pensions!
The majority of our citizens are already opposed to freeways and their number is growing constantly. They include a wide variety of community organizations, ratepayer and tenant groups, trade unions, anti pollution groups, and increasing number of city planners and aldermen—in fact, citizens from almost every walk of life.
For the most part the groups and individuals opposing freeways are also supporting rapid transit. They look upon it as the only realistic alternative. It’s a view I wholeheartedly share.

We can’t ignore the fact that the number of motor vehicles is growing twice as fast as the population in the Vancouver region. If we don’t take control of the situation now, the demands of the car will soon control us completely!

The phoney “Balanced Transportation System” theory

Some politicians and municipal officials, feeling the pressure of the opposition to freeways and the support for rapid transit, have come out with a “compromise”. They say we we don’t need to choose freeways or rapid transit, and that we can have both. This argument they clothe in the fine and sounding phrase, “a balanced transportation system”.

I want to say without equivocation or hesitation that this is a lot of nonsense. It doesn’t come from people who don’t know better. It come from people deliberately trying to mislead and deceive the public. It is coming from people who are busy promoting freeways while doing nothing about rapid transit.

The reason we can’t and won’t have both freeways and rapid transit in the Lower Mainland isn’t only because we can’t afford both. The cost would be staggering. Even more important is the fact that freeways and rapid transit serve opposing purposes and interests that can’t be reconciled.

Isn’t the fact that Vancouver city council is building freeways while just paying lip mservice (and hardly even that) to rapid transit proof enough that it has made a choice? It isn’t building any “balanced transportation system” — it is building freeways!

What Is Rapid Transit

Perhaps at this point it would be worthwhile to go into the whole question of rapid transit more deeply.
What do we mean by rapid transit?

As the term is usually used, it means any form of public transportation operated over its own exclusive track or roadway and separated from other traffic.

Examples of rapid transit are the subways of Toronto, Montreal, London, Paris and Moscow; the elevated trains of Berlin and New York; the one-mile monorail in Seattle; and an exclusive bus roadway in Washington D.C.
Rapid transit systems are often supplemented by others from of rapid transportation including commuter trains, express buses, ferries and hovercraft.

In the Lower Mainland we could use all of the above or any combination of them, to suit our special needs. What we’re after is a good travel system that will get people where they want to go, when they want to go and at low cost.

Rapid transit us designed primarily to move people, rather tha cars, swiftly, efficiently and economically, to and from work, to and from the Downtown area of Vancouver, from one point to another within a city or municipality, and from one city or municipality to another.
Let me add that advocating rapid transit does not imply that we don’t need or shouldn’t use cars any more or that traffic roads don’t need improvement. All that rapid transit is trying to do is to eliminate unnecessary car trips. People will continue to use cars for shopping, visiting family trips and the like, and adequate roads and parking facilities must be available. But wherever it is not essential to go by car, rapid transit should offer a cheaper, faster and more comfortable service. In fact it must be made so advantageous that people will use it whenever they can.


Rapid Transit Study

Rapid Transit Study, GVRD, 1970 (extract of Harris Rankin case for rapid transit) ((click on the picture to get a better view)

The Greater Vancouver Area Rapid Transit Study of September 1970 was prepared for the Joint Transportation Committee of the greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) and BC Hydro and Power Authority. (the regional district, by way includes West Vancouver, North Vancouver City, North Vancouver district, Vancouver, Richmond, Delta, Burnaby, New Westminster, White Rock, Surrey, Lions Bay, Port Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Fraser Mills, plus three electoral areas, Ioco-Buntzen bay, University Endowment Lands and Bowen Island.)
It proposed a rapid transit network consisting of four main corridors to be completed by 1990.

  • Arbutus Corridor – Granville and Pender in Vancouver to Centenial Park in Richmond—10.2 miles
  • Granville and Pender to Surrey—13.5 miles
  • Kingsway corridor—Granville and Pender to North Road—10.9 miles. This would go on toward and connect up with other form of fast transit serving Port Moody, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam. It would also serve the PNE and North Vancouver (via second Narrows Bridge)
  • North Shore—Granville and pender across new Burrard crossing to Upper Levels Highway.
    • Link to east via Lonsdale and 21st (North Vancouver)
    • Link to West via 15th Street (West Vancouver)

It estimates rapid transit passenger volume per peak hour inbound as follows

1970 2000
Arbutus 4600 21,200
Kingsway 9900 18,400
Hasting 5700 12,900
North Shore 4500 9800

At peak periods, trains would run every two or three minutes and at six minute intervals during off-peak periods.

The study states that the Kingsway Corridor has enough traffic today to warrant its construction immediately, and estimates that it would take 7-10 years to get in operation.

The Kingsway Corridor would “leave the downtown area by means of an elevated structure parallel to the new Georgia Viaduct and turn south near Main to cross over the CNR yards. It would be underground below Prince Edward, Kingsway and 22nd Avenue to Nanaimo. At this point the line would occupy the BC Hydro right of way between Nanaimo and Willingdon, using open cut construction…Stations on this line could be located near Main, Broadway, Knight, Nanaimo, Renfrew, Central park and Willingdon”.

It proposes that the rapid transit network be complemented by feeder bus routes and parking lots fro those who wish to park their cars for the day (“park and ride”) and for those who pick up or drop off passengers (“kiss and ride).

The study also points out that in Montreal and Toronto, 70% of the peak of travel oriented to the central business district is by public transit. This shows the potential for our area.

How do we Get Rapid Transit?

This involves several important questions such as

  • Who should be responsible for establishing a rapid transit system in the Lower Mainland?
  • What Practical steps should be taken immediately to implement rapid transit?
  • Who will pay for rapid transit?
  • What political action needs to be taken?

A Regional Transit Authority

It will be obvious to all that rapid transit cannot be brought about by each municipality if it is left to do or not do its own thing. It is essentially a regional matter and must be tackled on a regional basis.

We already have a regional structure in the Greater Vancouver Regional district. Its directing board consists of members appointed by the various municipalities included in the district—15 cities and municipalities plus 3 unorganized districts.
The GVRD should set up a transit Authority for the whole region with the responsibility and authority, under the direction of the GVRD, to establish a transit system for the region.

Under no circumstances should the Transit authority become an independent or autonomous body. (we already have one sorry example of this in the PNE in Vancouver. Although all its facilities are publicly owned, its operation has been turned over to a small group of businessmen who use our publicly owned facilities for the benefit of private professional sports promoters who get use of our facilities for next to nothing).

The Transit Authority must be appointed by and be directly responsible to the GVRD for all its action. Only in this way can public control be maintained. Don’t forget that if and when we get a rapid transit system, the special interests who oppose rapid transit and support freeways would be only too happy to see rapid transit run in trouble.


Who pays the Shot?

The first point that should be made is that rapid transit services (and an upgraded bus service, too) should not have to pay their own way through fares. Rapid transit should be regarded as a service, as essential to a community as sewers and water, and the costs should come out of general and special revenues.
The bulk of the cost to build and subsidize a rapid transit system should not be placed on the property owners and tenants of the municipalities. These costs should be met by grants from senior governments. The fact is that the difficuylt financial situation our cities and muncipalities find themselves in is not of their own making. It is the direct result of a distribution of taxing authority under a British North America Act adopted over a century ago and now completely out of date, and the contributing failure of senior governments to adjust their contributions to municipalities to the changed needs of the times.
Urban center are growing at an accelerated rate. Today only 7% of our entire population is engaged in farming. It is estimated that by the end of this century, 90% of the population will live in large urban centres. The economic council of Canada predicts that by 1980 one third of all Canadians will be concentrated in three large metropolitan areas- Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Several of our cities already have larger population than several of our provinces.
Hand in hand with this urban growth has come the demand for all manner of essential services – police and fire protection, street, sidewalks, welfare costs, education, parks. These costs have grown enormously. Yet our municipalities must rely mainly on property taxes to raise the necessary funds. All the other significant means of raising revenue (income and corporations taxes, resources tax, liquor tax, gasoline tax) have been reserved by senior governments. Municipalities must go hat in hand to senior government for grants to meet their rising expenses.
This situation needs correction and it can only be done by senior governments. Obviously some constitutional changes are needed. In this case of rapid transit though, no constitutional change is required –only the agreement of Victoria and Ottawa that they will pay the bulk of construction and operating costs.
The provincial government has already committed itself to pay some of the cost. On October 27, 1970, Provincial municipal affairs minister Dan Campbell, stated that “the provincial government is of the opinion that the financial input to the transportation picture in the Greater Vancouver area…should be on the basis of a 37,5% outright grant from the provincial government on a progress-payment basis to the transportation authority; 37,5% outright grant, again on a progress payment, cash payment basis by the federal government and 25% input from the regional district, again on a cash progress-payment basis”.

The proposal leaves considerable uncertainty since it does not commit the provincial government directly to rapid transit, but only to “transportation” which could include anything and everything. Furthermore, it is conditional on grants from Ottawa and a heavy 25% percent load on the region. However it does acknowledge the need for aid by senior governments and does offer a basis for negotiations.
In my view we should press for 100% of capital costs to be paid by senior governments, plus a share of the operating costs.
The rapid transit study proposes a new retail tax, increases in property taxes and increases in gasoline taxes as ways and means to raise whatever money the GVRD must pay for rapid transit. I don’t think much of any of them because they all place the biggest burden on the people least able to pay, working people and low income groups that comprise 80% of the population. As an alternative, I would propose land assembly and assessment of big properties at their true market value.

Land Assembly

A profitable means of raising funds for rapid transit is through land assembly. When a rapid transit route –the Kingsway corridor, for example—is definitely agreed upon, the transit authority should acquire substantial sections of land along the route, especially in the vicinity of the transit stations. This land is bound to increase greatly in value due to new attractiveness added to it by the rapid transit corridor and the rezoning upwards that would be necessary. When the transit corridor is completed the Transit Authority could develop this land and sell it to private developers. Million of dollars in revenue could be raised in this way.

The principle is a sound one. Since the new land value are created by public action, the benefit should accrue to the public and not all go to private real estate speculators and developers as has always been the case in the past. This method has been used in Britain for some time in connection with public housing projects.


Maps have updated from the scanned original pamphlet (cover pages missing)

The Gordon’s Lanes

March 5, 2010

recently the BC government made some budget announcement concerning transportation [7] and transit observers will have noticed a shortage of funding for “number one priority” transit project when the deep unbalance between transit and road investment could call for a better equilibrium as we have already noticed…but to add insult to injury, the government is not hesitating to make up the number for transit…and the Gordon’s Lanes illustrate how.

These Gordon’s Lanes are the bus lanes announced with great fanfares (and funded at 50% by the provincial government):

  • 16$ millions for a “bus lane” on highway 7 in Pitt Meadows [1] where there is no bus route
  • 13$ millions for a “bus lane” on Highway 99 in Surrey [2] where there is only one regular bus route serviced every 15mn [3] and little congestion

Every one in Lower Mainland, with a little sense of observation, can easily think of way better transit investment [4]: If the government was serious about transit it could have easily found some investment bringing more bang for the buck!

So what is the real reason of those bus lanes?

Those Bus lanes will be also HOV one obviously!

Not that there is something wrong with it, but what is certainly wrong is to tout an investment as “transit” when the obvious reason is only to create more road capacity, which will be marginally used by public transit services if any.
Where the cynicism of government proves to be boundless is that it will fund this road investment from earmarked “transit money” [6]


The Gordon’s bus lanes fallacy shows how our shameless government is willing to ostensibly burn our tax money on complete useless project while it refuses to address real pressing public transit need. This strategy will accredits the idea in the general public that public transit is no more than a waste of tax payer money…
It shows that the contempt of our Government for the public transit matter is even worse that most could suspect

[7] Prime minister, premier announce 15 new projects, March 1st, 2010

[1] Governments partner to create jobs, stimulate economy- 174 B.C. infrastructure projects to be funded. Sept 24, 2009

[2] Ottawa and Victoria invest $35.4 million in B.C. transportation upgrades, March 2nd 2010, Business In Vancouver

[3] it is the bus 351, Crescent Beach, Bridgeport. route 352 and 354 are peak service only

[4] Examples of sounder investment include the Surrey 399B line (which has been ditched due to lack of funding) or improvement of the bus traffic on Highway 99 in its Richmond part : for example the Hy 99 North bound doesn’t have bus lanes south of Westminster highway, there is no queue jumper at the Bridgeport exit, used by all suburban buses connecting with Canada line, ..investment here could benefit to the existing bus route targeted by the government funding among other converging to Bridgeport station. One could also give a look at the 699B line idea to foster an attractive transit presence in our suburbs…

[5] Eventually the government will deny it (remember the HST?), but there is no doubt on the fate of under used lanes

[6] The Blog follower will have also noted that the “hydrogen bus” experiment is funded from transit “earmarked money”…

Newton New Town

February 22, 2010

Recently Surrey, BC has organized an urban planning competition Townsift mounted by Trevor Boddy. Several area was brought for consideration by contestant, but lets take a look at the one supposed to integrate a transit centre: Newton.

Most master planned communities are a failure in the sense they are unable to be anything else than bedroom communities: they can be considered nice and desirable  suburbs like Columbia MD, or Irvine, CA, but they are not by any measure vibrant cities you can think as a destination…In that matter Richmond is more successful than the previously  mentioned suburbs.

At the exhibition presentation, the question of “why all the master planned communities fails to be nothing more than bedroom communities?” has been raised. the panel composed of Lisa Rochon and Bing Thom eventually had some opinion, mostly related on the architecture design.

Capitalizing on Bing Thom “living organism” parabola for our living place, we think that the transportation network, road and transit, are the blood of the city, when architects/designer see them more often than not  as a constraint not much different than a sewage system: so if there is no blood, there is no life, and it is what happen to most of the “master planned communities“.

More often than not, the “master planned community” has road surrounding a “village” organized around a “pedestrian plaza“: it can eventually work in a resort where people have nothing much else to do than hang around and sipping coffee at the “pedestrian plaza“, but in the real life people  eventually work, and have little reason to go especially to a place just to “hang around sipping a coffee“…

How the contestants fare against this idea

Preliminary: None of the contestants have brought into consideration a “vertical” integration of the transit centre, it is unclear if it was due to an unfortunate  constraint of the contest or to the own choice of the contestants.

Newton 73

The good idea:

the water element

The major flaws

  • they have designed a nice pedestrian Plaza, but why people would go there? what is the point?  The plaza is not visible of the outside, and there is no natural straightforward way to invite people from outside to experiment it
  • You are in suburbs, natural traffic pedestrian flow will be from and to the “transit station”: the walkway is carefully avoiding it…the whole concept is turning his back to connectors (blood bringing life), and this concept is typical of master plan communities.
  • The pedestrian alley seems to be grade separated of other traffic: a bad idea in itself for such location: Not only geography, but also because pedestrian and motor traffic level couldn’t justify this grade separation[1].
  • Worst, the car oriented strip mall is well recognized and reinforced, by furthering the disconnection of it with the rest of the pedestrian oriented place.
  • The lack of grid readability with rather weird road turns is prejudicial to the urban quality of the environment. At the end, the 70s’ish curved building form is not really convincing.

Newton 30

the good idea
The green corridor

The major flaws

  • The corridor is not visible of King George Boulevard and in fact the whole block design turn its back to this boulevard
  • The retail space is seen as an extension of the strip mall  neither connecting to the Transit mall neither open to the major thoroughfare.
  • The green corridor doesn’t connect to the park nearby, neither to the civic area, especially the library.
  • The transit hub looks like to be a constraint more than the center of the project.

Newton 110

the good idea
the orchard and community gardens: the civic space designed as a peaceful, intimate one is well though, the connection to a more active space via a cenotaph transition is a brilliant idea.

The major flaw

  • The pedestrian Public space (square) is insulated, sterilized, neither connecting to major street or transit.
  • The scale and building from on the South West are inappropriate to compliment an urban King George Boulevard.
  • Transit Hub is ignored, he is surrounded by ground oriented residential!

Newton 77

The good idea(s)

The transit hub is the focal point: It is the only proposal capitalizing on it, and recognizing that in a successful transit oriented environment, this will be the main public place, with its esplanade.

The penetration of the nearby park into the block (the green link concept).
The slightly grade separated sport field.

The building form contribute to give an interesting urban feeling to the 72th avenue and contribute also positively to the King Georges Boulevard streetscape.

The major flaw

The location of the esplanade not opened  to a major thoroughfare is not inviting enough, in such a sort as non transit user could totally ignore its existence:

  • It could generate some safety issue feeling late at night (lack of “eyes” on the Esplanade)
  • it could be also not well located in the event of a streetcar on King Georges. Overall the contribution to  King Gorge Blvd could be improved
  • Retail street location are hardly identifiable on this design (“Main street”)?, and it looks they could be hardly noticeable from outside the block.

In despite of still significant major flaws in term of space utilization, It  seems pretty clear that the proposal 77 is dominating the competition.  Thought it brings some improvement to the urban space organization  compared to the concept brought to public consideration by the city of Surrey, it doesn’t bring any major breakthrough thinkings.

whether the transit centre had been replaced by a dump field, other contestant’s proposal couldn’t have been different , but there is  some interesting idea to pick up here and there to improve the current concept of the Surrey department planning which is far to be free of flaw itself in term of space organization, since it also tend to ignore the block contribution to King Georges, and “sterilize” ex -nihilo purposeless public plaza.

[1] A good urban plan should make the pedestrian feel safe, and at night car traffic provide this feeling… the contestant proposes here the “walk in a park at night” experience for their pedestrian experience… the master planned city Cergy Pontoise in France was offering it, that has proven to be a dramatic failure.

What is wrong with Delta?

February 1, 2010

Illustration of the WhiteCaps training center project (credit: VancouverSun)

Saturday January 16th, 2010, the South Fraser Action Network was organizing a Town Hall meeting on “The True Costs of the South Fraser Perimeter Road” [1] in Delta, BC. A crowd in excess of well above 100 came, if not to get answers, to have at least an understanding at it…Thought invited, the Delta Council as a whole, ostensibly refused to listen the concern of their constituents…

When it happens to bring support to unsustainable development, the Delta council is always present.

Again recently, it was supporting the development of an also called “National soccer training centre” proposed by the Vancouver WhiteCaps club. To be sure, there is nothing against supporting the development of sport facilities, but there is something wrong to support such development in an area

Illustration of the Delta council insanity: Extract of the Translink map with the ALR zone in overlay with the training center project location highlighted

It is even more wrong to use the taxpayer money to finance [3] development occurring into the ALR zone, and which will involve further taxpayer money spending in public amenities like transportation infrastructure or service in order to serve the development.

Eventually interesting project, but wrong place

Fortunately, the economic climax got reason of the council patience, since it gave up on the project [4] also saving $17.5 million of taxpayer money [3]

So there is a reason to cheer, but there is little reason of pride in Delta.

[1] One can refers to the south fraser perimeter Road blog posts of the Livable region coalition or the bad freeway blog

[2] the nearby route 10 is serviced by a rush hour bus only, 311, and a low frequency community shuttle, C76. see Translink for further detail.

[3] In a failed attempt to gain a MLA seat for Wally Oppal at the last provincial election, the liberal government has tried to buy votes by promising to subsidize this training center, (“Liberals promise $17.5-million soccer centre in Delta”, VancouverSun, May 2, 2009). For the record, the seat has been won by the independent MLA Vicki Huntington whose was present at the Saturday January 16th, 2010 meeting on the South Fraser perimeter road (as long as the MLA Guy Gentner)

[4] “Plug pulled on Whitecaps $31-million Delta training centre plans”, Vancouver Sun, January 2010

route 699B in codeshare

October 20, 2009

a look at what could be the 699 (click on the picture for full view)

Web Master - SEP_2009

Using Public transit from Ladner Exchange in Delta to Bridgeport in Richmond should be an appealing proposition. The avoiding of the congestion at the Georges Massey tunnel, coupled to the connection to the Canada line should be in essence sufficient for commuter to pay a look at it.

Unfortunately the user will certainly be puzzled by the lack of visibility on the level of service in this corridor, used by numerous routes giving only partial view of overall level of service. Furthermore, he will notice that the multiple buses along the corridor are not geared toward an high frequency oservice in the common trunk as illustrated below:

extract of translink timetable posted on September 7, 2009, from Bridgeport weekdays

601 620
1:56p 1:57p
2:55p 2:57p

One can easily imagine the potential for a decent frequency route, if the timetable of the 601 and 620 were better interlined…Nevertheless, this could be not sufficient to attract high ridership due to the lack of visibility of the effective frequency on the route, requiring the user to combine several timetable by himself [1]

the code shared 699 route

One solution is to introduce a new bus route, let’s call it the 699B Bridgeport-Ladner (which capitalize on the B-line branding), in code share with the 601 and 620:
code share meaning that a bus could in fact serve tow route at the same time 601 and 699 (or 620 and 699)

The advantage of the solution is to enhance the high frequency visibility able to attract new customer on the 99Hwy corridor without necessarily introducing a new bus per sei, but just a new route branding!

Suggested modified schedule to introduce a high frequency service on the Highway 99 corridor between Ladner Exchange and Bridgeport station

699 601 620
1:27p 1:27p
1:41 1:41p
1:56 1:56p
2:26 2:26p
2:41 2:41p
2:55p 2:55p

A problem could be still need to be addressed which is the bay usage at bus exchanges since the current 2 routes 601 and 620 could use different bays. For user comfort, they should either use the same bay, or an electronic sign should indicate at which bay the next #699 is departing, whether the boarding operation prevent to have the 2 routes sharing the same bay.

In order to commit to the Translink high quality service charter, the #699 needs to offer a service better than a 15mn frequency, so an additional service need to be added in off-peak hour.
It could be an addition justified by the ridership, but one will note it doesn’t involve the extension of the bus fleet since the new service could be required only off peak hour.

  • the new service could need to be introduced only when the 601 is running not better than every half hour, that translates in around 18 slots per direction between 6am and 10:30pm weekday. Assuming a 23mn route length, it translates in the addition of 838 mn of service.

Introduction at non additional Operating cost

To not introduce new operating cost in this part of the region which feature relatively low fare recovery rate, we consider the discontinuing of the bus route 404 south of Stevenson Hwy, this could result in a 940mn operating service saving. We axe the 404 extension, because

  • this route is mainly redundant with the 403 and 401 in Richmond City.
  • One raison d’etre of the route was to divert from Vancouver route people at destination of Richmond in order to maximize the seat occupancy on the maximum length of the routes 601, 620,…
    Those later routes connecting in Richmond at Bridgeport, make the raison d’etre of the 404 extension not valid anymore
  • the containment of the route 404 into Richmond could provide simpler fare control on this route (one fare zone only route)

Some riders could loose a direct route between Ladner and South Richmond, but one could consider that the effect could be mitigated

  • by the high frequency of the #699 all day long
  • All day long connection of the 401 with the 699 at Stevenson in addition of the 403. This apriori could translate in negligible operating service change, and negligible lost of service for user of the terminus at Horseshoe Way and N5 road (~150m walk from Stevenson Hwy)[2]

Rolling stock issue

In order to have a consistent service, user could expect same level of service whatever the ride on the 699. Currently the route 620 is mostly insured by urban buses D40LF or D60LF from New flyer while the route 601 is insured by Orion’s interurban bus, offering a superior ride comfort justified by the average length of the route. This discrepancy in service is not a strong impediment, since the branding of the 699 is more on the frequency, speed that on the ride experience.

[1] On the topic of service visibility and clarity, one will read the following post: paris rapid transit: the four levels of nomenclature

One issue left to be addressed: The lack of bus loop on Stevenson at highway 99 could request an extension of the route to Riverport what translate in 5mn one way, what could add a total of 700mn of operating service per day. Because it is probably the reason why the route 403 as well C93 are extended to Riverport, an alternative solution could be to implement a bus loop at the Stevenson and Highway 99 interchange, which could significantly improve the connection.

As recently as September 24th, we were reading in the Straigth that a European tram type system could be built for less than $16 million per km. A number whose has been touted around for quite a while by as credible people as academic Patrick Condon, professor at UBC, as shown in a special post on Stephen Ress’s blog.

On could ask the questions:

  • Why Toronto is pricing a 15km LRT line on Sheppard Avenue for
    $950 million?
  • Why Seattle built its central link at a whopping cost of more than US$100 million per km[1]?
  • And obviously why an LRT for the evergreen line has been priced at $1 Billion if not more?

So, it is interesting to understand where come from this magic number of CAN$16 million per km, to justify to crisscrossing the city with an extensive streetcar network, and we could have a begining of answer with the latest series of post of zweisystem listing some features of the tram line of Paris area, T1, T2 in one post and T3 in a second one, and noticeabily claiming construction price as low as €10millions / km, what effectively roughly convert into CAN$16 millions. This deserves some complement of information and this post focuses mostly on the Parisian Tram


Though Paris has seriously invested in its tram [2] network, one should note it has not been exclusive of other investment in new subway line (line 14) and other underground express train (line E), as well as extension of existing subway network lines (line 13) in the meantimes. The Paris’s Tram network can be considered complementary of a backbone rapid transit network, and not an alternative to it as we gonna see it.

Line T1

The line T1 has been estimated effectively at €10millions / km, but in… 1985 [3]. Furthermore, this initial line has been built with a railtrack too weak for the kind of ridership it is today supporting (in excess of 100,000 pax when the line has been built for 55,000pax [9]), so less than 15 years after the inspection of the line, all the railtracks are being renewed on a 5 years period involving complete shutdown of the line for a period of around 6 weeks every years since 2006.

An extension of 4.9km is currently estimated at €150 million by its parent authority [10]

Line T2

The line is reusing a formerly existing railtrack of the french national railway network, still in service up to 1993, when the requalification of the line in LRT is decided in such sort that the €10millions / km relates to the necessary investment related to the LRT requalification by 1997.

One will note that its full segregated right of way original segment allows an average speed of 32km/h with an inter station of 950 meters[4]. A 4.2km extension is currently under construction at an estimated cost of €276 million as posted by its parent authority [11] (average speed on the extension in urban area will be of 20km/h[11]).

Line T3

The line is implemented on the so called “boulevard des Marechaux”, an inner ring urban boulevard offering a minimum of 40m right of way and displaying probably the closest typology to Broadway (Though Broadway right of way vries between 26m to 30m maximum between Commercial and Alma), so if in the context of the Briadway line, some benchmarking with Paris need to be done, it is probably with this line

This line has opened in 2006 at a of CAN$62 million per km [5] and has an average speed of 19km/h[6]. A 14Km extension is considered at an currently estimated cost of €775million by its parent authority [7].

Line T4

The last line came into service in 2006 and is factually a so called “tram-train” line of 8km length, it reuses an existing platform, of the French national railway. It can be a relevant benchmark toward the introduction of a similar service in the Fraser Valley using the BCER right of way or the downtown streetcar in South False creek. Cost to open this line has been estimated at €120 millions by its parent authority [8] for an average service speed of 25km/h [8].

In conclusion, from Paris examples, it looks that in a very favorable configuration where the right of way railway is already existing, the most recent benchmark indicate us a bottom price of $25 million per km, which become order of magnitude more according the line typology. But one could reply that Paris is a whole different world, let’s look closer to home: Portland and its famous streetcar.

Portland streetcar
Portland’ streetcar original loop of 5.7km single track has been opened in three phases between 2001 and 2006 at a cost of only US$88 million, including rolling stock [13], so below the famous US$16 million dollar per km (note it is US$ here)

  • The line carries less than 10,000pax per day and eventually the railbed has been designed for such low ridership
  • A 5.3km extension of the streetcar is now estimated at US$147 million [12]

Back to the streetcar reality
It looks like that the original cost pattern of the streetcar can’t be reproduce, far from it, and again we are talking of a cost of US$30 million/km in a favorable case of very light rail system designed to handle a very low ridership. Nevertheless, the Portland’s streetcar give a a good benchmark for a downtown streetcar, which could be undoubtfully successful, if we subjectively judge by the ridership of adjacent bus routes along Main between DownTown and Main/Science world station

In any case, it looks that the magic number of $16 million per km is

  • Specific to very few system and ample evidence show it can’t be generalized
  • Outdated estimation not anymore achievable even in a very favorable context

Streetcar enthusiasts, in their passion will have forgot the points above. For purpose of illustration, actualized number from some selected systems (as discussed above) can be found in the figure below


[1] Audit of the Seattle Central link Rail project’s initial segment, July 2003. The refered memorandum of the Office of the inspector general of the DOT mention a US$2.4 billion by 2009, including a US$209 million in debt interest incurred by the project completion but not including US$657 million long term debt interest payable between 2009 and 2025, for a 14 miles long line.

[2] By Tram, we refer to a rail system intermediate between the typical American LRT such Portland’s Max and streetcar like in Portland’s Streecar which is popular in Europe and Australia

[4] From Le prolongement du tramway d’Issy-Val de Seine a Paris-Porte de versailles[Fr]. For matter of comparison, average speed on the Canada Line is of 36km/h for an inter-station of 1000 meters (computed from a total posted travel time of 25mn from Richmond Brighouse to Vancouver Waterfront by Translink).

[5] Article Paris T3 Light Rail Development and Extension, France, from qu,otes €311 million for 8km. Number itself coherent with the study of Patrick Condon and al. dated of May 2008 The Case for the Tram: Learning from Portland

[6] As posted on [Fr]. For illustration, the posted average speed of the bus #9 Westbound around 9am weekday is of 14.5km/h while the one of the #99 is of 21.5km/h (from translink timetable)

[7] [Fr] provides a breakdown of the financing.

[8] T4 – Ligne des Coquetiers “Aulnay – Bondy” [Fr] provides a breakdown of the financing in 2003 €.

[9]As stated by wikipedia [Fr]

Below, a little breakdown of the provincial transportation infrastructure investment in the Greater Vancouver area (Translink jurisdiction) under Gordon’s Campbell reign so far (note that we discount most of the road infrastructure project to retain only the Gateway related and currently engaged one)

Project Current cost (in Billion)[1] Estimated original cost (in Billion)[2] Over budget share of the Province[12]
Port Mann Bridge / Highway 1 $3.3[3] $1.5[4] 114% 100%
South Fraser Perimeter $1.1[5] $0.8[4] 37.5 % 100%
Pitt river bridge $0.108 $0.130[6] -20%[7] 55%
Total road $4.508 $2.43 86% 98%
Canada Line $0.430[8] $0.415[9] 3%[10] 21.5%
Total Public transit 0.430 $0.415 3% 21.5%

Under the Campbell leadership, The BC government is spending on road infrastructures   10 times more than on public transit ones, and still counting…and  that

  • In the Translink area jurisdiction alone
  • Taking account only the “gateway” project!

Is it justified by a transportation mode split reason?

Not really:

Public transit Drive
Commuter Mode split[11] 16.5% 74.4%
Province investment 8.7% 91.3%
$ per commuter $2667 6201$

When come transportation infrastructure, the provincial government spend nearly 3 times more per driving commuter than per transit user

One could note that road are not only for commuter use, but also for goods movement etc…, we have to answer that in Vancouver area, road infrastructure are added to address congestion essentially induced by commuters use since there is no congestion due to good movement on the road enhanced by the province government. The picture below can give an idea of the congestion type:


congestion related to goods movement in UK


traffic on the highway one

Does someone still believe that the BC government is promoting Transit use?

[1] It is the cost effectively paid by the province to the project so far

[2] It is the cost made public at the time of the political decision to go ahead with the project, and committed provincial contribution at this time

[6] The Pitt River bridge and Mary Hill Interchange, has been budgeted as part of the North Fraser Perimeter Road and not individually. North perimeter road extending from New Westminster to Mission is budgeted in total at $0.4 Billion, including the Pitt River and Mary Hill Interchange (see [4])

[7] The overall cost the project is $198 million, so well over what has been budgeted under the Gateway Project at time of political acceptation, but thanks to a contribution of $90 million from the Federal government, the cost for the province has been reduced accordingly (

[10] This is in fact the difference between the number published by the government, and the one reported by an audit agency of Canada Line Rapid Transit Inc.

[12]represents the share of the province in the financing of the overall project


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 41 other followers