Post updated on January 29th, 2017

Ill conceived, since according to Translink [1], The proposed Surrey L line (Guilford, Surrey central newton, titled LRT 4 in the transit study), was among the poorest options Translink has studied for Surrey. An option which will saddle translink with increased operation cost without matching revenue to sustain it, for generation to come [1]. and an option which provide a deeply negative return on investment:

Even  a multiple account  evaluation (taking account social benefit at large), The return on investment is simply not there!

Even a multiple account evaluation (taking account social benefit at large), The return on investment is simply not there! (figure from [1])

Ill conceived because the Surrey LRT approach is in essence local and ignore the regional demand.

Missed opportunity because it will hinder the region to do the right thing to develop alternatives allowing the south Fraser area to become a less car dependent place before it is too late. At the root of this poor decision making is an original sin: A Vancouver centered optic where Surrey is seen as a fringe area in need to be connected to the Expo line; and a ideological bias from the Surrey City council making the streetcar the only answer whatever the question is. This optic ignore the development occurring in the Fraser valley, in Langley and beyond, more noticeably Abbotsford and Chilliwack, and the subsequent regional transportation demand; something we have touched in 2012:

Context and opportunities

A first draft of Regional transportation in the Valley

A draft Regional transportation demand in the Fraser Valley

The region becoming more vast than Metro-Vancouver, people travel longer distance, with more dispersed destinations, the challenge is then to provide an appealing transit alternative for people in the Valley and the south Fraser area: that means, fast comfortable, and as few as possible transfer toward meaningful destinations.

A LRT running not faster than a bus is not a compelling solution on which to build a regional transportation backbone, but a transportation mode such as the skytrain is not suitable for long distance travel; Also the skytrain technology, designed for very frequent service, become too expensive to maintain as soon as less frequent service is needed [9], so extending the skytrain forever is not a solution able to address the need beyond Langley.

The Interurban vision

It is time for the Vancouver region to explore new paradigms, and reconsider the regional train with an European eye. That is to not entertain solution such as the West Coast Express, but to consider light passenger trains able to achieve a commercial speed in excess of 70km/h (typically means max speed in excess of 140km/h)[13], with comfortable seating: the bombardier Talent, once used for the Ottawa’s O train, is a good starting point to entertain the discussion. below is the kind of rolling stock we have in mind:

Bomabrdier Talent 2, able to run at up to 160km/h and a Alstom Regiolis tram-train, able to run at 100km/h on mainline, and still able to run as a tram on the street (credit wikipedia)

Thought the Fraser valley has the former interurban line, the BCER, this line is not suitable for most of its length: it presents a too meandering horizontal alignment. It is also already heavily used by freight trains in some sections[3], while in other, the tracks need to be completely renewed in order to accommodate off the shelve European train set [17], so there is no clear value at constraining the option on the sole BCER corridor. Below is an example addressing the challenge, with a 70km long rail line (in blue) from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford (connecting with the former BCER for potential extension to Chilliwack) using mainly BC Hydro corridor (and rail rail fo way in Richmond).Part of the line reflects also a vision once expressed by the White Rock Transportation and safety committee [12]

Interurban line, from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford; using  BC Hydro corridors on most of its length

Interurban line, from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford; using BC Hydro corridors on most of its length (the map highlight the BC hydro as well as existing rail corridors)

The advantage of this line is that

  • it provides a fairly straight line without too short curvatures [4] and an adequate vertical profile [5]
  • it requires virtually no private land acquisition
  • It is completely separated from freight trains; a Transport Canada requirement to allow train built on European standard to operate on the line

The expo line then needs to be extended 3km along King George to provide a seamless transfer with the regional train[6].

Fraser crossing in the vicinity of MacAdam creek, in Delta, where the alignment takes advantage of the bluff on the south side, to reduce the approach to a bridge which clearance should be at least as high as the Alex Fraser bridge – new Panamax ship class allows an air draft of up to 58m

To preserve the future, The regional line should be built for European style standard train EMU (such as the Bombardier talent-2). That supposes to build the line to UIC standards allowing speed in excess of 160km/h, ideally 200km/h: that means in particular:

  • double track platform width of ~13m
  • no level crossing

Estimated travel time (in mn) between key stations with an express train calling only at the below mentioned station [19]

Abbotsford Langley Surrey Queensborough Richmond
Abbotsford 15 24 31 42
Langley 15 9 16 27
Surrey 24 9 7 18
Queensborough 31 16 7 11
Richmond 42 27 18 11

cross section of the track platform for the Lyon-Marseille High speed line ( 350km/h max speed) - source (2); 500kv double circuit tubular tower able to to replace a lattice tower if the tower foot print is an issue - source (15)

Numbers suggest such a line could be built at cad$35M/km [7] putting the total cost of the regional line at $2.5Billions (remember that the Brunette interchange alone costs $0.5B). However, the line doesn’t need to be built in one shot, and can be phased, a first phase consisting of the 12km Langley-Surrey section, estimated then at ~$500M.

For this short first section, a tram-train, able to reach 100km/h and to ride the Langley streets could be considered at first [8]. Since it could benefit of a totally segregated infrastructure (in trench) between Langley and Surrey, a 12 mn travel time could be easily reach. (A Translink study [1] suggests such travel time could attract up to 6,000 pphpd in 2041, what is the relevance zone for such a transportation mode)

Cost and benefit

The skytrain extension has been costed at $85M/km (2010)[1] in viaduct and $140/km (2010)underground [11] (all including stations), so that the total cost of the project in its first phase could be keep in the $1B envelope, and still include a BRT lines Surrey 88th-Whiterock, as well as some B line connecting Guilford not only to Surrey central but also to the interurban and Coquitlam.

The closest studied option by Translink was the option titled RRT 1A (skytrain extended to Langley and BRT on KGH and 104th)[1]: our proposed option in its first phase is slightly less appealing on the Langley Surrey section (doens’t go directly to Surrey center, and doesn’t eliminate the skytrain transfer). On the other hand, it still provides similar travel time, between the 2 cities (and Vancouver), and a tram-train option allow a finer coverage of Langley downtown. Subsequent extensions make our proposal of better value.

A Skytrain to Langley , means, the train could run well below capacity (or at very spare frequency, what is not without issues). an extension collecting both the traffic flow coming from the King George corridor, and Langley could make better use of the skytrain capacity

Our proposal makes also a better use of the skytrain capacity (the extension collect ridership from both the Langley Regional train and the KGH BRT). Our proposal offers a shorter BRT route on the KGH branch (due to the skytrain expansion here), and equal on the 104th branch: We can consider our proposal carries all the benefit of the RRT 1A option, at half of the price tag. In any case, it is a much better solution than the one currently imposed by the Mayors’council, which will not benefit to Langley and will be detrimental to White Rock by introducing an additional transfer with no travel time benefit, and which cost has already escalated to a whopping $100M/km

[1] Surrey Rapid transit Alternatives Analysis – Phase 2 Evaluation, Translink, 2012.

[2] V. Profillidis, Railway Management and Engineering: Fourth Edition, Routeledge 2016

[3] In addition to the operating constraint imposed by the freight trains, Transport canada requirement for passenger train mixing with freight train make such solution a non starter beside commuter train such as the West coast express)

[4] The curvature suggests speed limit of 160 to 200km/h speed between Langley and Surrey, 160km/h around the Nordel Mac Adam Creek section (thought requiring some expropriation), 120-140Km/h, in the approach south of Langley…that is assuming a typically a minimum curve of 1250m for 160km/h; some figure also roughly and intrinsically adopted for the californian HST [10]

[5] French high speed rail tracks have gradient of up to 35/100, and 40/1000 on the german Koln Rhein [2].

[6] In the proposed scheme, the track along King George Highway could be branched before the eponymous station. The later could be retired, and
a new one built.

[7] French high speed line, built on higher standard, are typically build at a cost of cad$35M/km or €22M/km (10% for land acquisition, 65% for civil engineering, and 25% for rail, power and signalling)[16]. However the Fraser crossing could require a specific estimate

[8] Such choice, should not hinder the capacity of the line to run faster train. If electric, the tram-train should then be dual voltage, the main line, equipped with standard 25kv AC60Hz, the street extension in 750V. Similarly the stations should be designed to allow a layered service with tram train calling at local stations, while faster train could call only at main stations.

[9] The skytrain vehicles (and consists) are designed to maximize the throughout of the line, so seating is minimized, and comfort of it is not a priority. The driverless technology allow very high frequency at marginal cost, but it imposes also high “minimal operation” cost, to both maintain and operate the line, making this technology not a prime choice in the current condition.

[10] California High-Speed Train Project : Technical Memorandum, Alignment Design Standards for High-Speed Train Operation TM 2.1.2; California High-Speed Rail Authority, 2009

[11] UBC Line rapid transit study: Phase 2 Evaluation report Steer Davies Gleave, August 2012

[12] South Fraser Strategic area transit plan, Transportation and safety committee, City of White Rock, August 22, 2006

[13] This tends to be a typical requirement for new regional transit lines in european conurbation. As an example the new subway line planned in Paris area are targetted to have a commercial speed of 55 to 65km/h.

[14] It is interesting to notice that the LRT line in Surrey is costed higher than a french High speed line, the later arguably incurring more extended civil engineering work: it is possibly due to the fact that Surrey LRT construction cost include the relocation of the underground utilities, and the construction method must include important traffic mitigation.

[15] Proponent’s environmental Assessment: Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, Southern California Edison, 2009, Figure 3.2.4.

[16] La grande vitesse ferroviaire : un modèle porté au-delà de sa pertinence, Cour Des Comptes, Republique francaise, 2014

[17] the track renewal cost can be estimated at Cad$5M/km, including electrification, for a single track, and work progress can be as fast as 600m of track renewal/day, this from a similr work done to establish a tram-train in the vicinity of Nantes. This number is in line with the provided by a Leewood report[20] for the Rail for the Valley organization

[18] Camille Saïsset, Tram-train Nantes-Châteaubriant, une liaison efficace pour la réouverture de voies, Actu-Environnement, July 27, 2012.

[19] the numbers assume a average speed line of 140km/h, an average acceleration of 1m/s/s, and a dwelling time of 2.5mn. The 24 mn travel time between Surrey and ABbotsford, can be compared to the 44mn travel time given by [20] between Abbotsford and Surrey Newton using the BCER or the Google estimated 35mn road travel time between Abbotsford (Highway 1#11) and Surrey Central (with clear traffic)

[20] Lower Fraser Valley British Columbia, Chilliwack to Surrey Interurban, proposal fro rail for the Valley, David Cockle, Leewood Project, 2010.


The port Mann bridge/Highway 1 was promised to be costing $1.5Billion, to be financed by toll:

  • Price has skyrocketed at more than $3.3 Billion, while the government has divided per 2 the toll.
  • The project has been initiated with forecast of 150,000 averaged daily trip. The Province has quietly revised its number to 120,000 as of today [2] , which is still greater than the current traffic seen on the bridge which is free!

It looks like the Toll revenue will not be even enough to cover the interest of the debt! [1]

The bike lanes or lack of:

The Province promised this [3]

At King Edward Street, there will be bike lanes on both sides of the road, as well as a multi-user path on the west side of King Edward Street and bike lanes on the new King Edward Street Overpass connecting Lougheed Highway to United Boulevard.

The Province delivered that:

According to the Province, there are bike lanes on both side of this street (King Edward, connecting to the Lougheed ones

In case of the benefit of doubt was buying Indulgence toward the Province. Pass a certain point, to believe a single word of the province require either an heavy dose of naivety or stupidity….and we can’t help on such beatitude toward the Province actions…and still…

The province promised this:

The Province had promised a rapid bus along the Highway one, with a transit hub at Carvolth, and another one in the vicinity of 160st

For the Surrey transit Hub, the Province delivered that:

The province delivered this in the Surrey backyard – Apparently, some people there believe it is suitable for a transit hub (???)

Thought that was happening in the Surrey backyard, Surrey transit advocates seem to have been surprised by the fact that Translink considers this HOV exit nearly useless [5]:

  • Passenger can’t safely wait on those ramps, which have no sidewalks, and no room to stop a bus without blocking the traffic
  • There is basically no decent connection with the rest of the network, no park&ride, no decent pedestrian access,…nothing

The Surrey Mayor, Diane Watts fainted to discover the problem (?) and was quick to put the onus of it on Translink. But Surrey just pay for its beatitude toward the Provincial government. Jeff Nagel has published a email from the BC transportation ministry [4]:

Q: Who decided not to build the park and ride/transit exchange at 156th Street?

A: TransLink was in discussions with several partners including the provincial government, City of Surrey and private developers on an agreement for commercial and residential development in the 156th Street area; a transit exchange would have been part of this development. No agreement was reached and development plans did not materialize.

The exchange was dependent on TransLink taking the lead position in acquiring necessary municipal and stakeholder approvals. Subsequently, TransLink intended to have the transit exchange as part of a proposed development…
that did not proceed.

Since that time TransLink has consulted extensively with elected officials, stakeholders and the public resulting in revisions to their plan.

The Hwy 1 project provides ramps for transit and HOV vehicles that allows TransLink direct access to the transit/HOV lanes. We anticipate TransLink will continue improve transit services in the region.

Q: How much money was saved by not building the transit exchange?
A: The park and ride facility was never budgeted for, so there is no cost available.

Q: How much did it cost to build the HOV lane at 156th Street – if there are no buses to use it, isn’t it a waste of money?

The on-ramps provide access to HOV lanes for all vehicles that have a minimum of two people in the vehicle.
Motorists at the 152nd Street interchange in Surrey experience extensive delays accessing Highway 1 during peak periods; the new interchange at 156th and the greater capacity of the Port Mann Bridge will ease that congestion.

The 156th intersection cost between $25 and $30 million dollars and was a partnership between Port Mann Highway 1 project and the City of Surrey.
It provides a new connection across the highway to serve this rapidly growing city, and will alleviate congestion at other intersections in the city.

Q. Why does the TICorp website promote transit access via HOV lane if there isn’t going to be any transit?

There will be transit buses using the 156th Street interchange. There will be a bus from Carvoth Park and Ride to the Surrey Central Station that will use the on-and-off HOV ramps at 156th Streets starting December 3. The #509 Walnut Grove and #590 Langley South buses access the 156 ramp.

In short:

    A restaurant sell you a 3 courses menu, but you get only two courses. If you complain about it, the restaurant’s owner wwill direct you to the cook, because himself he never intend to deliver the menu anyway…That is what the Province says

Every aspect of the Port Mann bridge project seems rotten from the root

The concept of HOV lane is in itself backward – it says that a family going to vacation, is more important than timely goods delivery- that is a $3.3 Billion economic non-sense. HOV lanes make sense to optimize an existing road infrastructure, but on new one, it should be at minimum HOT lane, and more ideally a wholly tolled freeway, on the model of the Toronto’s ETR407 (where tolls are set to grant free flow).

In any case:

  • who says HOV lanes, says car pooling.
  • who says car pooling, says car-pool parkings

Where are those car-pool parkings?

May be facilitated by Internet, car pooling has gained serious steam lately in Europe, and when infrastructure is not there- that is basically everywhere-, you will see most of the European freeway interchange approaches, surrounding important cities, looking like below:

Toll freeway/high gas price encourage car pooling, But Car poolers, meeting near freeway interchanges, need room to park their cars ! (top France - left UK (M5 near Bristol), right Germany (A8 near Munich

In fact, anarchic car pool parking has became an endemic European problem, a problem the various level of authorities address, by developing parking solution gathering the car-pooler need:

to address car pooler need, “organized” car pool parking are currently developed about everywhere in Europe.

Needless to say, the Province seems to not have put a single thought on how to develop car-pooling here. There is some good reason to it:

The Province is not interested by measure able to reduce car traffic: it needs to justify a posteriori an over sized road infrastructure:

  • car pooling is discouraged
  • bare lip service is paid to transit

What is delivered is not what has been promised by the Provincial Government…and still cost twice more than announced: Should we be surprised?

I will eventually write a post on the bus #555: As a primer, I think the service is good, frequency seems more than appropriate, so there is little grief toward Translink on it.

[1] see also Port Mann tolls will “pay all costs” of $3.3 billion project, Fraseropolis, Feb 24, 20112

[2] Traffic Forecast Review, Steer Davies Gleave, September 2011

[3] as retrieved on November 25, 2012

[4] No stops in Surrey for Port Mann express buses, Jeff Nagel, Surrey Leader, Nov 21, 2012.

[5] See Civic Surrey and Skytrain for Surrey

Some Addendum on Nov 23, taking finding of [8]

The Clark government has decided that the George Massey tunnel need to be replaced, why?

The tunnel is congested

Of course, but how congested is the tunnel (see our bridge traffic post for more context)?

bridges traffic counts show some congestion, but nothing unreasonable in the tunnel

By reasonable standards, the level of congestion in the tunnel is manageable noticing that there is a significant amount of time where traffic is free flow. Beside the lack of substantiation, the announce, that the Delta port extension will generate an additional 1700 daily truck trips [3], has to be taken with a grain of salt:

  • It represents only 2% of the actual traffic, what the Tunnel used to handle in the past
  • It represents only 1% of the actual Tunnel capacity

The question one should asks, is:

Why we should build a new infrastructure, in the name of keeping the Deltaport truck traffic moving when this traffic could be easily shifted during non congested hour? The rather limited current Deltaport hours of operation is not allowing this today [1], why not change that?

Never mind the present (or the port),

population growth will make the tunnel congested in the future anyway?

The past trend suggests otherwise: the region has already experimented a significant population growth, which has not prevented a declining trend for the traffic into the tunnel:

George Massey average daily traffic years 1996-2011: the trend is slightly decreasing in despite of population growth in the area (number from (4)

But why people see it differently?

The Province has engineered a funnel effect at the tunnel portals, that is feeding the tunnel with more lanes than it can handle, this in the disguise of Transit investment:

A true bus lane, or HOT could certainly make transit faster than car, and reduce the funnel effect (due to lane reduction at the tunnel portal when no reverse lane is in place). (8) believes this measure by itself can allow a doubling of the transit ridership

In light of the above, one must asks: Is the George Massey tunnel replacement the best we can do to improve the lower mainland traffic?

The Clark government seems already have made his mind on it, but where are the studies and analysis supporting the replacement choice?

Is building more road the way to alleviate congestion?

Is it some other solutions?

At least two avenues deserve to be explored: better transit and road pricing, both working better hand in hand

Better transit

Currently, the transit modal share in the tunnel is nothing to cheer about:

Transit modal share Lions gate Bridge George Massey Tunnel
overall (all day all direction) > 20%[6] ~ 11%[7]
AM peak hr To Vancouver direction > 36%[6] ~ 19%[8]
PM peak hr leaving Vancouver direction > 28%[6] ~ 18%[8]

It is not better than the average mode share in the region, way far below than what is witnessed on the Lions gate bridge, and even much lower than the 2020 provincial transit plan’s target, 17% [9]. There is no reason for such dismissal modal share when a level of transit similar to the one witnessed on the Lions gate could remove enough car (~12000 per day, or 1200 peak hour NB, that is almost the capacity of a full lane!) to make the tunnel virtually congestion free. Transit offer could be much better for people coming from south of the tunnel. It doesn’t necessarily require a huge investment (Proper bus lane and queue jumper are among them) and we believe a lot can be done in the current Translink budget, some suggestion below:

A Vancouver network more accessible from the South of Fraser

First, Translink needs to recognize that not all people are heading to downtown and has to provide a larger access to Vancouver from south of the Fraser. A suggestion already made in a previous post is to extend most of the North South Vancouver bus route to either Marine Drive or Knight Bridge.

suggestion for bus route 3,16,8,20 and 100

A slight re-structuration of Vancouver bus route, can improve general access to the city from South of the Fraser

…To have them connected to a network of regional bus routes, as we have suggested before, more noticeabily a Ladner-Metrotown via Knight bridge route (we here call route #630)

A comprehensive network of regional bus line is necessary to attract long distance commuter.

A Richmond network more accessible from the South of Fraser

That is the trail, wet and muddy in winter, dry and dusty in summer, to reach the SB Hwy 99 bus stop at Steveston!

Leverage of the Steveston#99 interchange can seriously improve access to Richmond from the Ladner area

A Proper branding

Lastly, when the service level is objectively good, people need to know it. Branding is important as we have already seen with the suggestion of code sharing to create a B #699 line between Ladner and BridgePort, leveraging the existing #601 and #620 routes.

a well branded bus toward the customer base. a driver following this bus can’t really ignore where it is heading, at what frequency, where it stops and how much it cost.

Road pricing

What is the cost of congestion in the tunnel?

Phenomenal will tell some…some more substantiated studies will tell at which level a toll needs to be set to avoid congestion (That is the real economic cost). In the case of the George Massey tunnel, it is at a level such that the congestion toll need to be in effect not much more than 5hr per day, and could rise only $46 millions [2] as we have already seen in a previous post.

…that barely pay for the interest of a $1Billion debt…

Regarding the George Massey tunnel, the choice the Vancouver region should face is not “do you prefer a tunnel or a bridge as replacement” but do you prefer:

  • Pay an infrastructure toll, at all time, to help to finance a new crossing, knowing the toll will probably not be enough and taxpayer money will be required
  • Pay a congestion toll, that is a toll only at time where congestion could occurs, the toll revenue helping to finance transit alternative reducing the demand pressure for road space (see our congestion charge post for more detail)

The first solution needs 10 years time frame to be implemented and doesn’t resolve transit funding issue. The second solution, which doesn’t preclude the first one in due time [5], can be implemented overnight and resolves the congestion issue now as well as provide transit funding. Which alternative is the best?

We humbly suggest that the best alternative is the one requiring the less tax-payer and user fee money.

Additional consideration
That said, some other parameters need to enter in consideration, like

  • Structure resilience to earthquakes
  • Road safety issue
  • Marine traffic

On the later, some rumors suggest that the presence of the tunnel is limiting the possible amount of marine traffic, due to draft restriction. The Nautical chart of the Fraser river tell another story. In fact the depth along the channel is around 11 meters, 12 meters above the Tunnel.

The nautical chart doesn’t show the tunnel location as being the shallower point of the channel, in fact opening the channel to greater draft ship could require considerable dredging of the whole channel.

Allowing ships with greater draft than allowed now could require considerable dredging of the Fraser channel, from the Stevenson jetty far end to East of the tunnel, as well as significant on going maintenance, due to constant build up of sandspit. That certainly has a non negligible ecological cost as well. The economic rational of this is pretty unclear, and we notice that around the world, ports don’t seem to develop operation inland…beside barging (option here restrained by the railway bridge at New West)… since not all ports can count on a government building road for free to them.

[1] Delta port truck gate hour of operation are 7am-12pm and 12:30pm 4pm Monday to Friday

[2] From Freeway to feeway: Congestion pricing policies for BC’s Fraser River crossing, Peter Wightman, Simon Fraser University, 2008

[3] Christy Clark announces plans to replace George Massey Tunnel, VancouverSun, September 29, 2012

[4] BC MOT

[5] Congestion charge: the case for Vancouver

[6] Lions Gate Bridge / Marine Drive Transit Priority Study: Summary of Technical Study , Translink/IBI. peak hour number are extrapolated of hourly traffic graph

[7] Number are considering all ridership of bus route crossing the tunnel, as provided per Translink (BSPR 2011) and tunnel daily traffic assuming 1.2 person/vehicle, as provided by the BC MOT

[8] Highway 99 corridor assessment, draft v.1.5, Januray 2009, BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (report got thru Notice: thought the transit numbers of this report pre-date the advent of the Canada line, they are based on a bus count (36 in peak hour/direction), which is the same as of November 2012.

[9] The Provincial Transit Plan, 2008

As you probably know, The Translink commission is inviting comments from the public on the proposed fare increase, and particularly on TransLink’s efficiency (The deadline for sending them is February 15, 2012). This post is part of my contribution toward it, and I encourage you to share yours too.

optimize the network by pruning irrelevant, because redundant and lightly used, route segments

Translink has published a Transit plan for Vancouver in 2005 [1]. While many recommendations of it have been implemented, especially the good integration of the bus system with the Canada line, some others aiming at making the system more efficient have not been followed so far:

  • short turning of the route 3 (Main) at Main and hasting
  • short turning of alternate trip of route 20 (Victoria) at Commercial and Powell (instead to go thru Downtown)

The saving can be very dramatic, and in the case of route #3, it could have allowed a 30% reduction of the bus fleet.

One of the reason for that is expressed by the average speed diagram below.

Average operating speed of Transit(2)

Due to relatively low operating speed on the Hasting and Downtown segment, the buses tend to spend a considerable amount of time there. Below is an estimate of it (from 2010 Translink timetable)-and a recent reduction of posted speed on Hasting makes the matter only worse:

route number of runs fleet requirement total service hour hr on hasting/Downtown % of service hr on Hasting/Downtown
3 280 14 197 41 21%
8 317 16 196 34 17%
20 332 20 250 75 30%

This fact makes also for a low reliability route. The additional observation that most customers transfer to/from SkyTrain for downtown access and ridership in downtown and Hasting is pretty light-an observation corroborated by Translink ridership analysis [1]– complete the justification of the short turning of those routes South of Hasting (instead to head toward downtown).

Those route could then operate on a nearly pure grid system- Hasting street being served by route 14,16 and 135 among others on nearby parallel corridors. The lack of direct service to downtown is largely compensated by the Skytrain access: In that matter, those routes could not be treated more differently than the suburban bus routes (which have been short-turned with the advent of the canda line for similar reasons). Furthermore It is also worth to note the route 19 still ensures a direct connection between downtown and Main, north of Broadway.

Since we are talking of frequent route operated by 60 foot trolleybuses, the saving can be massive, not only in operating hours but also in bus fleet requirement, which can be also reduced significantly. Part of it can be redeployed to improve the network connectivity, on a model as below:

Toward a Vancouver network better connected to the South of Fraser one

The main idea, is to connect as much as possible Vancouver N/S bus routes at either Marine Drive or Knight bridge:

suggestion for bus route 3,16,8,20 and 100

suggestion for bus route 3,16,8,20 and 100, orange colored route (10,15,17 and 22) rest unchanged

The knight bridge Hub

This Hub allows connection with the Richmond network -route 405,407 and 430- [3], which legitimates the extension of route 8 and 20 toward it. Since there is no bus loop, and the number of runs on route 8 and 20 are roughly equivalent, the buses of route 8 could continue on route 20 in the same manner as buses operates on route 5/6.

  • Notice that the bus queue jumper on Knight bridge provide a natural advantage to the Richmond’s bus which could be more leveraged by providing a decent scope of connection on the Vancouver side from this Bridge
  • The Harison loop (bus 20), is then retired (and can be sold)

The Marine drive hub

  • All the runs of route 3 go to Marine drive: This is to encourage contra-flow riding, hence lowering the pressure on main flow
  • Observing that very few customers stay on the bus at Marine drive, route 100 is replaced by route 16 West of marine drive. Both route have similar number of runs, so it is roughly equivalent in term of operating cost but
    • It increases the number of destination accessible from Marine Drive
    • It replaces a diesel bus by a trolley can’t be bad!
    • It allows to retire the route 16 bus loop-as well as Marpole loop-which can be sold (what can probably pay all the work required for other operation suggested in this post).


The short turning of the routes at Hasting largely pays for the extension of all the 3,8 and 20 bus runs at either Knight bridge or Marine Drive:

route number of run cur fleet requirement cur total service hour proposed total service hour proposal bus requirement % hr saved
3 280 14 197 161 12 13.5%
8 317 16 196 178 15 9%
20 332 20 250 186 16 25%

While, the proposal improves significantly the connectivity of the network, the average daily operating hour saving-120hrs- could be still around 18% , what is probably worth $5 millions/years (assuming operating cost of $120 per, leaving significant room to improve other part of the system.

It could be interesting to understand why Translink has chosen to not implement its own efficiency recommendation as stated in [1], but it occurs that it could be a good time to proceed forward on it

[1] Vancouver/UBC Area Transit Plan , Translink, July 2005.

[2] Planning of Vancouver’s Transit Network with an
Operations-Based Model
, Ian Fisher (translink), Wolfgang Scherr and Kean Lew (PTV), 2009 ITE Quad Conference, Vancouver, 1 May

[3] See also our suggested Transit plan for Richmond (September 2, 2011).

Here is a map of the Vancouver region

vancouver region is the Lower mainland, and the future of the region will be shaped in the Fraser Valley (click for larger map)

Metro Vancouver, fate is largely depending on which future the Fraser valley will decide. If GVRD used to be distinct of the Lower mainland, nowadays and in the future, both form a single region with a common destiny

It is nice to see this fact recognized by the Metro vancouver director heading out of the regional district to have a retreat in Chilliwack Jan 26 and 27 — the first of the kind according to Frances Bula.

The Fraser valley- offering some of the world best agriculture lands-is a fairly linear and relatively narrow valley surrounded by pristine mountains-and the US border. Its topography is not dissimilar to the one found in Riverside (Inland Empire, in the Los Angeles area) or from some valley found in the Alpes, like in Switzerland.

The region is at an important crossing roads:

  • Continue to follow the Riverside development model (LA region)
  • Or follow a swiss model

The former is largely underway, much to the credit of the Campbell government which has clearly embarked the region on a “car oriented” sprawl road, this knowing the disastrous outcome of such a policy.

The risk, is not only to have the valley to become a Riverside North, but to have also Vancouver becoming a Santa Monica North, or a Venice in the middle of Phoenix:

  • At Some point the Fraser Valley development model will acquire a critical Mass, which will cannibalize the Vancouver one, unless the later one retreat in splendid isolation, making it just a resort for tourist – “sun or historic heritage” not included.
  • And as we can already see with Surrey, satisfying the mobility needs of a car oriented model will always require more road investment, while the attempt to provide public transit will prove a very costly, and largely inefficient proposition

Thought already lot of damages has been done by the development road taken in the Valley, some can be contained if not reversed, and it is not too late to take another direction:

The Swiss model.

  • the freeways are generally tolled (via a once a time payment), but more importantly the Swisses have adopted, as soon as 1985, rail 2000, a very ambitious project indicative of a change of priority from the car oriented development to the revitalization of the public transit at first- but to also increase the competitiveness of the rail over the road for goods transportation.

Transportation choice is at the heart of this model, and it is grounded on an attractive public transit network, not only at local, but also at regional level. It is mostly achieved by train, but it is not a pre-requisite.


There is no such thing as attractive public transportation in the Fraser valley. Example:

  • Abbotsford-Vancouver : 70km, usually 1:50 hrs by Greyhound bus

…A non starter

Though some groups are advocating for the reopening of the Interurban between Surrey and Chilliwack and some other people are advocating for the extension of the Skytrain in the valley, there is not really an holistic vision of public transportation in the valley and how it integrates in the development model. Below is how such vision could starts from:

A first draft of Regional people transportation in the Valley

That is an important step, because, once agreed on the vision, which include the type of service, more noticeably speed and frequency level- the corridors can be identified, and then the development driven accordingly.

the future of the Region pass in Surrey

New Westminster has been the regional transportation node of the 19th century, but with the Fraser valley emergence, Surrey is called to be the one of the on-going century.

A wrong approach
Today the approach of transit in Surrey is a bottom-up one, basically involving 3 kind of players:

  • The lobbyist groups wanting to put some train on the interurban track, which have good ear in City Hall (noticeabily with Marvin Hunt)
  • The city wanting to see some streetcar to “foster” development
  • Translink acting in the context of its mandate, which is to service its juridiction…

Thought only the Translink approach seems to care of the transit users, Translink is still facing the task to prioritize different corridor into Surrey, Guilford, King George and Fraser Highway. It doesn’t help to see this task from a local prism.

A Better approach
Once the Region, including the Fraser Valley, agreed on a regional network,
it becomes a corollary to connect it with the Rapid Transit network of Metro-Vancouver, and clearly at this moment one of the several option pursued by Translink in Surrey will take obvious precedence on others.

Some Challenges ahead
One of the main challenge is one of a governance one:

  • How we can avoid that a city transportation plan, look likes the Surrey one [1]: an alignment of banality with not a single plan identifying future node or corridor, but with this sentence:
      advocate for good transit access to all economic lands, both existing and planned

    expressing the complete disconnection between land development and transit planning we have seen at play in this part of the region.

  • How we can avoid that a jurisdiction, like the tsawwassen first nation develop its land with a massive mall, not accessible otherwise by car, in contradiction will all the aspiration of the region?
  • More generally how we can avoid that parochialism take precedence on the general interest, and have a governance model driving vision going beyond municipalities boundary?

lot of good can be done by integrating Translink under the helm of Metro-Vancouver, but it is probably not good enough. Another part of the challenge is to integrate the Fraser Valley and metro Vancouver toward a common thinking for the future of the region.

We hope, all that will be discussed by the Metro vancouver in Chilliwack.

Transportation strategic plan, Surrey 2008

Richmond local transit routes have seen little change with the advent of he canada Line. The network is essentialy geared toward the commuter traffic from Richmond to Vancouver. Richmond is not thought as a destination in itself in despite of its high level of jobs. As an incidence:

  • the Business parks along Knight Street remain generally inaccessible by people arriving from the South Fraser community (be by buses 351, 301, 601…)
  • For a Richomnite, it can be a challenge to get to the airport, involving in most of the case not less than 2 transfers (typically one at Brighouse and one at Bridgeport).

The network could also take a more decisive advantage of the choke points surrounding Lulu Island. The proposition hereafter aims at correcting those issues, and we examine in this post the regional view first.

In addition of the existing service, 301 and 351 (which are slightly altered to take the shortest route), the map below introduces the bus service already discussed in this blog

  • route 699B which has been previously discussed
  • route 411 which as also been previously discussed

and a new one,

The route 630: Ladner Exchange-Metrotown

  • This route replace the route 430 (Richmond Brighouse-Metrotown)

The rational for it, is that since the advent of the Canada line, it is always faster to board on the Canada line and transfer along the way toward Metrotown, than to use the 430 from Brighouse. So it is reasonable to retire an “express route” which has been made obsolete by recent transit improvement (which is eventually illustrated by a relatively poor ridership). Nevertheless, if the route originate from Ladner, (or Riverside), it can offer a definitive advantage for rider travelling toward Metrotown or Knight street area:

route option Ladner Exchange -> Metrotown travel time
601+430 20+30mn
630 est. 40mn

The retiring of the 430 pay for the introduction of the 630, and a similar number of run per day can be proposed since, in despite of a longer route, the bus travel at a higher speed

  • The 630, starts at Ladner park and ride exchange, to connect with local shuttle route here, and proposes the service as an alternative to alleviate traffic queuing at the George massey Tunnel.
  • The 630 stops at Riverside (Hwy99 at Steveston Hwy), providing a good connection with the South East richmond network (401, 403, 404, 405 and C93), and also at Crestwood, where it offers potential connection with regional route 301 and 411 as well as local route 410, and C96, opening new access for people coming from south of the tunnel.
  • In Vancouver the route is identic to the one currently followed by the 430

One would like to see the 630 service provided by highway coaches, since the patrons boarding this service are still aiming at a relative long journey.

Proposed and existing regional Express Bus line (solid thin line) and existing and potential B line (in red dashed lines). Skytrain network in thick yellow line

To summarize the service level on selected route segment

route frequency Travel time
699B Ladner-Bridgeport 15mn 20mn
301 Newton-Brighouse 20mn 45mn
411 22nd Station-Brighouse 20mn 30mn
630 Ladner-Metrotown 20mn 40mn

One will also notice that the combination of route 301 and 411 can provide an express service between Queensborough (Fraserwood) and Richmond every 10mn.

Last week, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang, president of the Korea Transport Institute, was in town for two enlightening presentations [5].

the dismantling of a downtown freeway to restore the Cheonggye Stream,

SightLineDaily has a good report of this lecture [6]. As noticed in the report, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang, has insisted on the historically cultural and spiritual (Feng shui) importance of the stream in the Seoul context.

Thought that the dismantling of the freeway was a campaign promise of the then mayoral candidate Lee Myung-bak, it is not clear how central this promise was in the campaign, since Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang himself admitted he was not expecting to see this promise fulfilled.

It is not clear too how much of the Seoul electorate was using the freeway versus the suburbanite not participating in the vote. In that instance, Seoulites heavily relying on public transit could have got a different opinion of its suburbanite neighbors, like did the Londoner or Stockholm people on congestion charge, or Parisian on the Delanoë program to close the freeway on the Seine river banks (at least during summer month) and introduce bike and bus lanes in the city.

Nevertheless, the point to retain, is that in Seoul; like in Paris with Delanoë or London with Livingstone;

  • once invested in a mandate legitimated by recent election, civic leaders have to act fast to ensure that the their constituents are able to measure the positive effect of the controversial shift, that in the time of a mandate.

That is what has been achieved by the very controversial congestion charge in London, that s what has been achieved by the bus lanes and other initiatives from Delanoë in Paris, and that is what has been achieved by the restoration of the Cheonggye Stream in Seoul.

Cheonggye Stream before and after the restoration project: freeway has disappeared, and new space is enjoyed by people. credit photos (3)

Another important thing to retain and key to the success of the Cheonggye Stream restoration is that in Seoul, like in New York with pedestrianization of Time square, that has eased the congestion.

  • the reduction of road space has not to be done at the expense of the mobility in the city

More, the freeway dismantling was part of a package on refocusing transportation on public transit, object of the second lecture presented at Surrey SFU.

The improving of Seoul’s bus service by reforming operating practice

you will find some materials similar to the one presented in [1] and [2].

Considering the Vancouver political context, you could have think sensible from the part of SFU to schedule this second lecture in Surrey, since South of the Fraser is well known for not lacking of full time whiner when come to talk of bus service in Surrey and other low density suburbs of the valley.

After waiting 30mn at this bus stop on Garden City at Richmond, if you believe this bus gonna be yours: you are heading for disappointment! Only one route among 3 servicing Garden city stop here. How to know which one? neither the bus stop, the bus livery or transit map will tell you...there is certainly room for improvement of bus service in Vancouver area too

If I have spotted Jonathan Cote, from New Westminster council, I have failed to see any of those SoF “full time” whiners, including their civic leaders in the very scarce attendance. They seems in fact to show little appetite at listening ideas on how to improve transit in their jurisdiction…may be because they follow a different agenda which is more driven by the promotion of a pet project than anything else.

However in this lecture, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwan has put himself more or less in the shoes of the typical SoF bus rider:

  • Low bus frequency with pass-up at that
  • Low reliability with lack of information
  • slow and circuitous routes
  • lack of readability of system
  • no fare integration

In brief, the bus system was built to serve a “captive” market, with little regard for its patrons, and in numerous regard was falling behind the rest of the world standard in many aspect.

In the 80’s, Seoul has aggressively developed his subway network- it is one of the busiest in the world- eventually at the expense of its bus system… and global impact on the overall transit modeshare was tiny.

It was becoming clearly evident that an “all subway” policy -limited by funding- couldn’t be good enough to address the mobility needs of Seoul.

Numerous actions have been taken to change it, the first one being the governance of the public transit system. In that instance, the system was apparently one looking like a “leasehold” bus route offering little flexibility for adjustment in the public interest, and has been changed to one of public service concession of 3 years in length. Notice that the later model has became the modus operandi of most of the public transit agencies in Europe and Australia.

This change done, the route network has been rationalized according to the served market, trunk route, feeder route,… straight route preferred to circuitous route… beside it the main change could be considered as marketing ones

  • bus route numbering representing origin destination
  • bus colored according to the served market
  • Real time information of patrons
  • All buses running on CNG

The list couldn’t have been complete without the introduction of the smart-card, which address the problem of fare integration (transfer). Some of the most visible change have already been discussed in Regarding Place.

It could be some case (right picture), where a more complex livery like the one adopted by the operator of route X5 in London northern suburbs, could provide more useful information to the not yet transit rider -the bus advise route, price, frequency (notice that the advised frequency is 30mn...) -than a simpler color code understood mainly by already transit rider (left picture)

Lot of expectation was carried with those changes, and aggressive targets was set. the conclusions of the exercise are more dim.

While the reform of the bus system has lead to a dramatically improved service on several metrics like bus speed or bus punctuality…in despite of a significant increase in ridership, it has failed to reach the very aggressive goal originally set in that aspect, and eventually has translated in concerns over the subsidiary level of the bus system which is greater than expected. A noticed problem is that the route concession is paid on a mileage bus service basis disregarding the ridership, hence providing no incentive for the bus operator to increase it.

But the main lesson is that an extensive subway network shouldered by a massive bus network will never replace the -at least perceived- convenience of car. and at some point you have also to take action to control the usage of it to avoid road congestion, and that is road pricing.

The idea seems to have been introduced in Seoul in the 90’s [4], but the currency crisis in 97 will have stopped the implementation of it (it is not clear why it has no been resumed later on). The Chair of the lecture, will conclude it by the very relevant question:

What level of public transit is good enough to reach before introducing congestion pricing?

The answer of the speaker will be not less interesting, and was understood like it:

If you listen the naysayers, it will never be good enough transit

[1] Seoul Bus System Reform Project, D. Kim and S. Gaham, fall 2009

[2] Environmentally Sustainable
Transport Policies in Korea
, S. Lee, 2009


[4] Four year old Namsan Tunnel Congestion Pricing scheme in Seoul: success or failure?. B. Son, and K. Y Hwang, Int Assoc Traffic Saf Sci journal, vol. 26, no 1, pp28-36, 2002

[5] You will aslo find an interview at the Translink’s Buzzer blog

[6] VPSN has also blogged on this lecture. Geoff meggs has also written on the topic.