In a previous post, we have examined the general financing of the plan, and noticed that half of the Congestion improvement tax could go toward operating the system. In this post we focuse deeper on the Capital plan

Capital cost and Translink contribution to the plan

When looking at the plan, it is important to make a difference between the capital cost of a project with the effective contribution paid by Translink:

    If the Millenium line extension (Broadway subway) represents 30% of the capital investment over the first 10 yeras, it is expected to represents only 14% of the Translink financial contribution to the capital plan [1]. 77% of The broadway subway is expected to be financed by senior and municipal contributions.

CapitalInvestment

The inner “cheese” represents the partition of the $7.5B capital investments of the plan.
The outer “cheese” represents the partition of the $3.5B of Translink contributionto the plan (difference come from senior government contribution)
(*) Surrey LRT is only partially financed by the current 10 years mayors’ plan: the capital cost is $2.5 billion, from which the current plan finance $1.9 Billions

Congestion Improvement tax allocation

The above represents only the capital cost, so not all the new CIT tax revenues will go toward it, but only the portion not used to fund the Translink expanded service operations. The allocation of the CIT tax to finance the plan will look like it:

CIT revenue allocation per project: half of it will be allocated to the new expanded transit operation. the TRanslink contribution to the Pattullo bridge is expected to be fully financed by tolls, and so is not financed by the CIT

the broadway subway end up to be only 10% of the total Translink plan extension cost to the tax payer. At the difference of other Transit investment, it doesn’t cost taxpayer money to operate, and could be able to generate revenue [1]. More tax $ will fund the roads network (and that doesn’t include the Pattullo bridge) than the broadway subway.

Capital cash flow and project timing

A bit of “reverse accounting” suggests the following [4]:

(*) the Surrey LRT line 2, is only partially accounted in the 10 years plan, an additional $600 million will ne needed in 2025 and 2026

Debt

The CIT generating more revenues in the first 10 years than considered in the original Mayors’ plan, the debt in 2024 could be around ~4Billion instead of $6Billion as published in June 2014 [2].

debt

borrowing and debt repayment (assume a 4.5% interest rate)

As we have seen before, the transit operating costs are expected to increase at a much higher rate than the revenue sources (taxes + farebox revenues), revenues allocated to service the debt will be depleting over the years. ~2023, Translink will be unable to service its debt, it will be missing ~$50 Million to be able to service the debt interest only.

    In fact that was considered in the original plan, expecting ~$390 Million of new revenue by 2026: the current CIT will be actually $50 Million short of it.

At this time, it is unclear how the $50 Million gap will be closed [5][6], but it is fair to say that the plan or at least part of it- that is certainly the Fraser Hwy LRT (Surrey to Langley)- is not financed. Unless the financial forecast is significantly erring on the conservative side:

    The Fraser Hwy LRT would only go ahead if a new source of financing is agreed by 2022.

By this time, the technology choice could need to be reviewed, so one should not worry too much on this line [3]

Removing the Fraser Hwy LRT from the plan could not be enough to keep the Translink financial sheet on sound basis by 2024: scale back of some bus operations could be required. Though that a more cautious ramp up of bus services could be preferred, that is a normal and reasonnable risk. Otherwise, significant saving could be found in the Expo line upgrade program as we have suggested before.

As for the previous post on the Mayor’s plan financial, one will find my “sandbox” worksheet in Google doc


[1] Ideally one would like to consider the full life cycle cost of a project: the Operating cost of the Broadway subway is expected to be more than recovered by fare revenues, and it will allow saving on bus operations too. It is the only Transit project of the plan able to do so. Other transit projects are expected to have a fare recovery ratio of ~17%, involving reccuring costs for taxpayer. Concentrating on the sole cpaital cost is more often than not, misleading

[2] In 2014, the Translink assumption (Translink 2014 baseplan and outlook), was 6.8% interest rate for long term debt, and 5% for the short term debt. Translink has lately emitted bond at 4.5%: we use this last number accross the board but our number could be too optimistic

[3] It seems a bit silly to commit on a technology for a project not expecting to hit the ground in the next 8 years.

[4] Surrey LRT line 1 and line 2 are considered to have the same price per km. the ful cost of the LRT is $2.5Billions. The 10 years plan finance $1.9 Billions of it, ~$600 Million need to be provided in years 2025 and 2026. cash flow model come from the Surrey raid transit phase 2.

[5] The Mayors’ plan implictly suggests a mobility pricing tool to generate additional revenues.

[6] We didn’t have accounted an apparently “exceptional” “partnership” funding toward operation ($50M in 2023 and $35M in 2024) which could slightly delay the time when Translink could not generate enough revenue to service its debt.

Jordan Bateman, from The canadian tax payer federation has released an alternative funding plan to fund the Mayor’s plan, let’s have a look at it:

The CTF funding plan

The CTF notes that the aggregated local revenues (all municipalities and the regional district) growth at an average rate of 5.7% annually. It is well above the ~2.5% combined inflation and population growth rate in Metro Vancouver, and also significantly above the GDP growth rate (~3%). So, the CTF suggests that future local spending could be certainly restrained, to earnmark 0.5% of them toward Translink.

Below is the projected local revenues according different hypothesis.

historical and projected aggregated GVRD revenues. The CTF’s plan suggests to earnmark 0.5% of the revenues growth to Translink. if the growth is 4.7%, it could be enough to fund the 10 years Mayors’ plan.

The CTF report [5] assumes an aggregate regional revenues growth of 4.7% which seems reasonable and below the 5.7% historical trend. Given this assumption, earnmarking 0.5% of these revenues growth to Translink could generate $2Billion on the next 10 years. That is enough to finance the mayors’ plan [7].

What is kind of baffling, is that the mayors, especially the tax addicted ones, have not only implicitly endorsed the out of control taxation growth, but becomes apoplectic at the mere suggestion to put rein on it. The narrative is worded by Bill Tieleman like it:

    “To suggest that you can make savings out of growth when you need more schools, when you need more roads, when you need more sewer lines, when you need more garbage trucks — that doesn’t make any sense”

It is time to introduce Charles Marohn:

“No More Road”
“no more sewer line, and no more garbage truck…keep the school thought!”

A rarity in the field, Charles Marohn believes in fiscally responsible urban planning. The main theory developed in his blog is that municipalities are generally engaged in a Ponzi scheme:

  • Cities invest in new infrastructure disregarding of the return on investment, which generally tend to be bad: Capital cost can be paid by Development charge, but the generated property taxes are not enough to cover the maintenance cost of it.
  • Cities then invest in more new infrastructure, to increase their tax base. The new constituents’ taxes pay to maintain the older infrastructure in the city, but then again there is no revenue to maintain the newly built infrastructure…

Thought things here could not be as bad as in US, we still have a financially unsustainable development model as illustrates the graph above.

Charles Marohn solutions

  • A full accounting of all short and long-term financial obligations local governments have assumed for maintaining infrastructure.
  • A stop to infrastructure projects that expand a community’s long-term maintenance obligations.
  • The adoption of strategies to improve the public’s return on investment and improve the use of existing infrastructure.

Charles Marohn often reminds us: More ≠ Better :
Bus 430 lining up at Knight Bridge: more buses will not make the bus any faster than the bike

How much room we have to make better use of our existing infrastructures?

Most city’s “liabilities” can be correlated to its street network length:

  • basic road maintenance, including snow plowing and cleaning
  • lampposts and other urban furnitures
  • police presence, number of fire stations,…
  • sewer and water mains underneath
  • garbage truck running on it

The list obviously includes transit. The shorter the road network is, the more efficiently a city can be ran. The meters of road per capita is a good proxy to estimate how efficiently a city can be ran or not. Below some comparisons

meters of road per capita
transit rich cities are not road rich

As suggests the graph above: We have already more than enough roads! Growth without no new roads, and all the service liabilities they implies, is not only a very reasonnable proposition, but should even be a requirement.

How make that happens?

As witnessed by the cold reception of the CTF plan, many municipalities show no intention to take a more fiscally responsible route for future development. However, using the municipal revenue sources to finance Transit creates an impetuous to control spending (“there is so much water a faucet can deliver”).

Notice that financing transit by municipal revenue sources is also of nature to encourage municipalities to adopt development pattern enabling efficient transit, to effectively maximize revenue sources room for other municipal services [6].

For those reasons, the CTF plan has significant merits.

How good is the CTF plan?

Some have criticized the form of the message, Many other have critized the messenger [4]. some are eventually trying to spin misinformation, but we still have to see an argumented rebuttal of the plan content. It is that good!

However, it is not what we are asked to plebiscite or not. What we are asked to vote for is a tax, which contours are still not specified. This to finance a plan which so far has not been audited, and has still to allocate $700M of tax revenue [7]. Without Bill of law insight to clarify all that, it effectively sounds like we are asked a blank check. Strangely enough the proponents of the plan don’t seem much concerned about that… That is concerning.

What come somewhat as a surprise: The CTF plan doesn’t question the mayors’ plan, and accept all of it, so they are not framing the debate as a “yes or no to Transit” as “yes” advocate try to do. Do they will be succesfull ? time will tell.


[1] CTF unveils alternative to Metro Vancouver transit sales tax, Jen St. Denis, Business in Vancouver, Jan 15th 2014.

[2] Cities, TransLink should scrimp to avoid new transit tax: No campaigner, Jeff Nagel , Surrey North Delta Leader, Jan 15th 2014.

[3] Number for Hong Kong from “Hong Kong: The facts”, for Vancouver, from 2014 Capital and operating budget, from “Transportation Inventory” for surrey, from Bureau of street service for LA, Greater London authority for London and from wikipedia for Paris

[4] Jordan Bateman could have many defaults, but it is not an election to put Mr Bateman in an office. In a referendum, at the difference of an office election, the message trumps the messenger whoever he can be. We will have opportunity to explain more about that point in another post

[5] No Translink Tax: A better plan http://www.notranslinktax.ca, January 15th 2015.

[6] In that regard the current translink levy on property is a good thing, but because it is not directly correlated to the cost to serve a city, it is not good enough to encourage policies optimizing Transit efficiency: A more direct contribution from the city coffers tied to the Transit subsidies in it, could be an improvment.

[7] The mayor plan is originally based on $2B revenues of a “new tax” over 10 years, while the “Congestion Improvement tax” will bring ~$2.7B in the Translink coffers. See our December 22nd post for more detail. The hereby discussed CTF plan conclude basically the same.

Je suis Charlie

January 9, 2015

In reaction to the January 7th terrorist attack on CharlieHebdo in Paris, Transit electronic signs displayed their support


transit sign in a British train, Paris' velib (with a screen displaying a CharlieHebdo cartoon involving a bike), bus a Lyon Tram, a French commuter train, and a tram stop in Grenoble

Other less urban mode was also using their screen to pay tribute to the victims:

Nice airport

motorway and train station in Thionville


To better understand what bring the Mayors council plan (called “expansion plan” below), we ignore the spin and prefer to compare it with the Translink 2014 base plan (what is ensured to happen disregarding of the “plebisicite” result)

Congestion and gas tax

Fiat striking point: both plans estimate exactly same revenue for both the gas tax and parking tax. That is an implicit recognition that the Expansion plan will have no traffic impact, and per extension congestion impact (or if it does, it is mainly by the introduction of the Pattullo bridge toll): something we have already mentioned before.

Capital investment: $7 Billion above the $3Billion already included in the base plan

The $10 billion Capital funding is expected to be financed as below:

capitalfund

(*) The Pattulo bridge revenue is estimated from the 2024 operating budget ($50M/year) [3].
Notice that the figure doesn’t include debt service:

The “Congestion Improvement Tax” (CIT) finances ~22% of the capital funds needed.

Funded Operation (including debt servicing)

Revenue stream

FundedOperation20142024

Base numbers (e.g. “Transit revenue”) are presented for the the base plan, and increment numbers (e.g. “Inc. Transit revenue”) represent the additional revenu provided by the Expansion plan. the bump in 2017 is due to the sale of the Oakridge transit Center (planned in the base plan…but forgotten in the Expansion plan)

The original Expansion plan was targeting to raise $2 Billions over the next 10 years from a new tax to be triggered in several stage. The mayor having elected a 0.5% PST, will allow to raise ~2.7 Billions [1] over the next 10 years, creating lot of room for a more aggressive implementation that originally envisioned.

That said, at the end of the 10 years period, it looks like the PST revenue align with the original plan forecast.

Transit operation: $1.5B added on 10 years

In the next 10 years, the plan is apparently to put 400 more buses on the road, that is increasing the bus fleet size (actually ~1400) by ~30%…to increase service by 25% -it could be an issue here we will certainly revisit.

This, and other rail expansion services, will translate into an additional $1.5B of operating cost (including Transit police and Translink corporate overhead), generating $237M of additional transit revenue [2] as computed on 10 years : The new CIT tax, and additional senior government contribution (UPass) is expected to cover the $1.3B shortfall

Expanded Transit operation represents a relatively marginal increment on the base plan, but mainly funded by tax

Expanded Transit operation represents a relatively marginal increment on the base plan, but mainly funded by tax

The farebox recovery ratio of the added service is anemic [2]:

fare box recovery is expected to go up to 62% in the base plan. it will be 53% in the Expansion plan, thanks to an anemic 17% farebox recovery on the added transit services

Operation vs Capital Investment
In the first 10 years, nearly 50% of the expected CIT revenue will be devoted to operation (it could have been much more in the original plan). The partition look like below

nearly half of the CIT will be dedicated to operate the added service

In 2024, more than 70% of the CIT will be devoted to operate the added transit services, which will have a disastrous 17% fare-box recovery in 2024. That could even compromise the ability of Translink to pay back its debt, according too the CIT variation (inherently very sensitive to the economic climate).

It is possible that, some expanded service could pick-up steam in the years following 2024. If not, it looks those expanded transit are not sustainable in the long term, and will keep Translink on a train wreck course

That said, it is possible that our assumption on the PST growth rate is too conservative (the growth rate of the Metro Vancouver PST tax base is probably greater than 4%, but we have no solid number at this time)


[1] we assume a growth rate of 4% for the PST revenue. That is a conservative estimate, the PST growth rate province wide has been ~5% since 2008.

[2] we haven’t included the provincial contribution to the Students pass program

[3] the $1 billion figure represents the amount of debt which can be reasonably reliably financed by the Pattullo bridge toll. The Pattullo toll revenue forecasts are much more reliable than in the Golden Ears bridge, since it is an infrastructure upgrade

The mayor issued a referendum question draft on December 11th, 2014, and one will find an account of it on the Stephen Rees’s blog. On December 18th 2014, the Province issued its “tweaked version“, to be mailed on March 16th 2015.

left: Ballot proposed by the Mayors council - right: version "amended" by the Province

left: Ballot proposed by the Mayors council – right: version “amended” by the Province

It appears that skeptic people on the outcome of the said referendum could be right: The Province reworded the referendum:

  • Out is the PST, in is a new whole tax which could be as different to the PST as the PST is to the GST. The exact wording is
    A new Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax would be applied
    as a 0.5% sales tax on the majority of goods and services that are subject to the Provincial Sales Tax and are sold or delivered in the region

It is not hard to fathom that the car dealer will escape to the “Congestion Improvement Tax”, the gas station probably too…

Anyway, it looks to open a whole new can of worm generating ever more red tape (and damaging the main argument in favor of the sale tax: equal on a broad tax base)…That is not good!

The name of the tax: “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax”

Do transit investments “improve” congestion?

That is a meme repeated ad nausea: I am not sure people sitting in their cars on Oak bridge share this view.

Let’s dispel the myth: Transit investments never “improved” congestion, and will not magically start to do it tomorrow. they improve mobility choice, and people movement (allowing the economy to continue to growth): that is already a lot, but cars and trucks will still sit in traffic as they do right now.

The tax is certainly misnamed: the only known way to reduce congestion is road pricing.

LRT vs Skytrain?

With the referendum, we could have thought the very nasty debate on technology choice as behind us: Not at all! The Province clearly re opened it:

I had previously noticed many cautious words from the Province such as “The Province will contribute on transit project on a case by case basis, provided a strong business case exists”. When comes transit in Surrey, a recent joint study MOTI/Translink reads:

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

Today the Province changed not only the tax but the wording of the suggested investments:

  • Out is the Surrey LRT. In is an unspecified “Rapid Transit” link,
  • For good measure, same apply to Vancouver (but here there is a strong business case for a subway)
  • …Number of B lines becomes unspecified too..

Suddenly, lot of clarity, on what we gonna pay and what we gonna get for the money, has disappeared…that doesn’t bode well either.

Referendum vs Plebiscite?

Curiously enough, the referendum is replaced by a plebiscite: the words could be interchangeable..or not. An apparently accepted definition (pretty much as worded by Prime Minister Mc Kenzie in 1942) is:

    “The plebiscite is an expression of opinion by the people on a general course of action proposed by the government. The vote is not legally binding on the government, although there may be a political and a moral obligation to respect the result.”

It doesn’t matter the viewpoint, you see only vagueness on every aspect of the renamed “Transit plebiscite”: That is not necessarily the good recipe to get the “Yes” vote “out”.

On another hand, the Mayors council doesn’t need a referendum/plebiscite to increase the Translink property tax, so it is not like if it was no “plan B” to finance Transit in the region.


(*) I had in fact first posted them as a comment on the Price tag and Frances Bula’s blog

It could be odd to compare a supra national organization to a local transit agency, but have a close look

The European Union organization
We just synthesize below the bodies and mechanisms to generate European laws:

EuropeanGovernance

European Union laws are proposed only by the commission, which is appointed by the European governments. (*) since 2014 the European parliament needs to approve the appointment of the Commission president.

The Commission is the main executive European body, but it is also the body drafting laws. A specificity of the EU legislative bodies (The “Council” and the European Parliament), is that they don’t have legislative initiative right: they can only approve/disapprove bill of law proposed by the commission.

The reason

The European Union framers idea was to avoid a too political European Union, and to have a more technical one to go above the different parochial (nationalist) interests toward the greater good. One has too remember that this structure has been built on the ruins of an Europe devastated by 2 world wars, and include countries of very different size (from Luxembourg to France).

The drawback

It is on of the reason why the Commission is often presented by the medias and local European governments, as a undemocratic/unelected body vested with too much power and not enough control. It is an easy scapegoat for all the local angst,and local governments make very good use of it. The areas of competence of the European Union vs the states are not well defined either (many are shared), so it also helps to fuel confusion.

The Commission has a relative small budget, and by the nature of the Europe itself, language barriers…, has little way to defend itself.

The Practice
Obviously, in practice, the thing work much differently:

The state governments jealous to preserve their influence, tend to appoint relatively transparent commissioners

The Commission will not put forward bill of law without having insurance to have approval of the council, since it is not in its interest to work for nothing, and obviously all laws are approved by representative bodies, and need to get “super majority” at the council (council of state government representatives)

The Translink organization

It looks like it:

The Translink governance: the mayors council appoints the Translink board of directors, and basically need to approve all the Translink management choice, including executive remunerations

Beside the bicameralism, Not too much difference with the European Union in term of responsability and accountability…

The reason

There are not much different of the ones presiding to the EU governance structure: a too parochial and politic Mayors Council. Local interests were taking precedence over the greater good and was putting the regional transit on a wrecking course. The wreckage occurred with the Canada line which the council of Mayors initially refused to approve, (and then later made sure it was built to a cost vs meet objective)

The Province needed to step in, what it did, and reorganized Translink, to strip down the Mayors of political nuisance power on Transit matter. The framer idea, was to have an apolitical body able to submit plan, conceived for the greater good, with all choice technically motivated rather than satisfying political expedient

Elected representatives (The mayors council) of course still need to approve the major decisions, especially Transit fare increase, tax increase, major investment, budget increase…in short: Translink is still fully accountable to the Mayors council

In Practice

The Mayors council never really accepted this type of organization, and quickly painted Translink as a undemocratic/unelected body vested with too much power. The board of directors, they themselves appoint, doesn’t escape to the finger pointing: A pure exercise at deflecting popular angst has been unfolding since 2004

Translink which has not the popular legitimacy to defend itself is put in a weak position: Strong voices usually disappear quickly (Michael Shiffer, Thomas Pendergraast… all left, after a brief but remarked interlude at Translink).

The appointed directors, as competent as they could be, seem to be chosen essentially for their ability at sitting passively in meeting and avoiding the medias. So it really looks like the council of Mayors has spent many effort to transform Translink as a puppet of their own, they can deflect angst on it.

However, virtually all Translink management choices, including its CEO compensation,are approved by the Mayors council. Plan and choice presented by Translink are obviously drafted to get the mayors council adhesion:

  • The Mayors express displeasure at the Burnaby Gondola: Translink put it on the shelve in despite of a positive business case which could have improved the Translink financial sheet
  • The Mayors want to reduce the property tax, without warning: Translink comply with it and put an alternative plan (remember, it is normally up to Translink to put forward such proposal, potentially devastating for its operation, not the Mayors!)

The June 2014 Translink restructuring

In despite of the above, and recognition that the Translink governance is a good model working better than its Canadian peers, the Regional Mayors ares still discontent of lacking some power: A slight restructuring has happened last June, providing more power and money to the mayors. They essentially inherited of all the competency the Translink commissioner used to enjoy (including a specific budget to exercise it).
They can also sit on the Board of directors, what does Richard Walton. A controversed step because as said the Burnaby Mayor Corrigan, the fear is that “What’s going to happen is the mayors’ council is going to be blamed for each and every thing that happens at TransLink.”!…and a reason why they had declined previous similar offers

However, the new legislation, explicitly mentions the need for Translink to consult the Mayors council to draft its plan (what was obviously a common practice required to work toward its endorsement before). The Province seems to have stood firm, to keep Translink as the body putting plan forward.

The referendum could have detracted a bit that, since the Mayors council has made sure to use their new gained authority to inprint its exclusive leadership on the 10 years plan: some implementation choice are more politically grounded that technically justified… However the very principle of the referendum is politicizing the issue, so the mayors can’t be blamed too much for that, since they have to sell the plan directly to the public in a very short time frame

“Why do we trash TransLink?” asked Gordon Price: A great part of the answer probably lie above, but another part of the answer is in the lack of clearly defined Translink responsibilities which pervade as a lack of accountability too:

Transportation responsibilities

The Transportation responsibilities can be described in 3 military terms; Strategy, tactic and operation; which can be illustrated as it:

The different layer of responsabilities

The different layer of responsabilities

  • The Strategy essentially defines the political goals to achieve. Transportation model, land use model, all contribute to this goal.
  • The Tactic essentially defines the mean used to achieve the strategic goal- It is at this stage line on the map are transformed in technical choices – It is essentially an implementation responsibility and that should also include the fare choice (level of subside is a political choice)
  • The Operations design the day to day operations. That is running the buses and trains,and try to run it in an efficient manner.

One of the main issue is that Translink is both an horizontal organization, overseeing transit and roads, but also a vertical one defining the strategy, the implementation, and running most of the operations, ( thru subsidiaries…but existing largely in name only).

That infers a large corporation, hence expensive to run, and probably create too much exposure for a single body:

  • A trouble on the Canada line will see angst directed at the Canada line management, the very discrete InTransit BC, not Translink
  • An operational problem on the skytrain will see angst directed at Translink and not BCRTC (The skytrain operator)


The public is probably right: the BCRTC president, Doug Kesley, was Translink COO few months ago, similar observation could be made with the CMBC management….lot of permeability between all the Translink subsidiary

A suggestion

There is no much fundamentally wrong with the Translink governance model: It is a good model shielding implementation and other important technical study and choice of political interference and still providing a good level of accountability, and there is no doubt that Translink critics, such as Jordan Bateman, benefit of this good level of accountability and transparency, however:

  • The board of directors relevance could be improved, with direct appointees by the Board of Trade, the Port authority, and other relevant organization recognized to have vested interest in the region transportation
  • For this reason, the Province should also be represented to the board of Directors
  • I could also welcome the appointment of some individual, such as Gordon Price or Jarret Walker

Translink responsabilities need to be redefined

It is clear enough that the “strategy” level is a political one: it shouldn’t be the role of Translink to define the Regional Transportation strategy: this thing needs to be defined by a body also overseeing other regional aspect, and mainly land use planing: Metro Vancouver is the natural forum for this

That said, it is clear also that implementing a Transportation strategy, which infer the choice of transportation mode and other technical matter, as well as overseeing operation, is a complex matter which need a sui generis body: That should be the main role of Translink. Because its role is to implement a strategy defined by Metro Vancouver, it is only natural to have Translink reporting to the Metro Vancouver board. a dedicated Mayors’ council on regional transportation is just a distraction, and an impediment to the good march of Transit and more generally transportation in the region

Operations should be clearly separated of Translink: Translink still should oversee its network operations, but not be directly involved in them: Each subsidiaries and contractors should provide an operational plan on a ~5 years term, meeting performance and objective defined by Translink. Translink then should audit its different operators.

Eventually, tendering part of the network operation, or some route on the model of the Shuttle buses, could be considered too.

Added on December 22, 2014
Interlude

Below is a video illustrating how the CEO of the Hong Kong Transit agency, MTRC, functioning as a corporation (including listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange) is treated by the Legislative Commission:

The Metro Vancouver mayors council plan, proposed to a 2015 referendum, calls for $765 millions of expenditure on the Expo an Millennium line over the next 10 years. This could result in an increase of 50% of the vehicle fleet and skytrain operating cost: Are those investments justified or just an extravaganza?

As of today, the Skytrain comfortably copes with the demand, thanks to the recently added vehicles in the years leading to the 2010 Olympic games, and should be able to serve the Evergreen line without hiccups, considering the expected addition of 28 cars. In fact the vehicle productivity (measured as rider/vehicle) is 20% lower from its 2008 peak. When the average increase in vehicle capacity is considered (83 passengers, before 1999, to 108 passengers in 2014), Skytrain vehicles productivity is at a 20+ years low (see our spreadsheet for detail).

To define the fleet requirement, Let’s see what the future ridership is planned to be:

Ridership prediction [1]
without a Broadway subway

2041 AM peak hour transit flow (without a Broadway subway)

2041 AM peak hour transit flow (without a Broadway subway)

..and with a Broadway subway

2041 peak hour transit flow with a Broadway subway up to Arbutus

2041 peak hour transit flow with a Broadway subway up to Arbutus

[1] doesn’t give explicit peak hour numbers for year 2021, but we can still infer them from [1] and [5] for the year 2021:

Maximum passenger per hour per direction (pphd).

without Broadway extension 2021 2041
Millenium Line 8400 10000
Expo Line 16000 23100
with a Broadway extension 2021 2041
Millenium Line 10400 12600
Expo Line 16000 19000

Thought the above projections could not have factored other transit investments such as the Surrey LRT or B lines, as contained in the Mayors council plan [3], they are not expected to significantly affect the peak pphpd requirement on either the Expo or Millennium lines.

The actual skytrain fleet is composed of

  • 150 MK1 cars.
    The 114 oldest car are currently refurbished, for an estimated amount of $38million [2], providing them an additional 15 years life span, so they are good to go up to ~2027
  • 108 MKII cars + 28 cars to be delivered in 2016 (Evergreen line).

The below table illustrates the usually used consists and associated train capacity:

4 car MKI train 4MK1cars-consist
332 passengers/train
6 car MKI train 6MK1cars-consist
498 passengers/train
2 car MKII train 2MKIIcars-consist
256 or 264 passengers/train
4 car MKII train 4MKIIcars-consist
512 or 528 passengers/train

We place ourselves in a scenario post Evergreen line:

  • The Expo line operates from WaterFront to King George (one branch),and to Lougheed (other branch): that is also called split-tail service by [2]
  • The Millennium line operates from VCC to Douglas college
The 3 skytrain lines, after integration of the Evergreen line spur

The 3 skytrain lines, after integration of the Evergreen line spur

Thought we are aware that Translink is considering to extend the Expo branch from Lougheed to Production Way, we are not considering it for the below reasons:

  • It doesn’t make good use of the skytrain capacity due to the poor expected ridership on the considered section
  • It creates operational and reliability challenge, due to the meddling of the Expo and Millennium operation
  • It significantly limit the capacity of the Millennium line: this one could be not required in the short-term, but discontinuing a service people get use to consider as granted, could prove to be troublesome in the future

2021 Rolling stock requirement

  • As per [2], we assume a minimum 93s headway and a 87mn round trip on the expo line and 78mn return trip on the Millenium line. Due to the ill designed Lougheed station, headway below 108s on the Millennium line could be challenging.
  • The extension of the Millenium line up to Arbutus increases its round trip by 15mn [1], and increases the pphpd requirement to meet by 2021, from 8000 to 10400.
  • We don’t consider short trains such as Commercial (or Metrotown)-WaterFront. They could still be used to reduce the fleet requirement or increase the spare ratio. Such strategy is not without issues [6].

No ext Broad. ext
Expo line Desirable (2021)
headway 93s 114s 114s 120s
train requirement 56
31 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKI cars
46
21 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKIcars
46

9 5xMKIII cars
12 4xMKII cars
25 6xMKI cars
44

15 4xMKIII cars
26 4xMKII cars
1 6xMKI cars
capacity (pphpd) 19,900 16000 16000 16000
Millennium line Desirable (2021)
headway 150s 120s 108s
train requirement 32
32 2xMKII cars
40
40 2xMKII cars
52
36 4xMKI cars
16 2xMKII cars
capacity (pphpd) 3,000 6,000 8,000 10,600
Total Desirable (2021)
train requirement 150 MKI cars
136MKII cars
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
9 5xMKIII cars
150 MKI cars
136 MKII cars
15 4xMKIII cars
~10% spare ratio 6 5xMKIII cars 8 4xMKIII cars

The Broadway subway extension will involve at least the command of 7 new train consists (6 train consists to operate the segment + one spare)[1] which will be accounted as part of this project. So the extra rolling stock required to continue to meet the demand on the Expo and Millennium line in the next 10 years is:

Without Broadway ext. With Broadway extension
15 5xMKIII cars 16 4xMKIII cars
$262.5 millions $224 millions

the refurbishing of the remaining 36 MKI cars, estimated at $10 millions from [2] need to be added.

In the case of the Broadway extension, all other Expo line upgrades are already financed (federal gas tax subsidiary) and continue to carry on on schedule, so that the non yet financed cost is ~$240 millions (some minor egress improvement could be required here and there, especially on the Millennium line))

Potential additional storage requirement should be seen in the context of the Broadway extension project: The Coquitlam vehicle storage facility should apriori be expanded to accommodate, with the Burnaby OMC, the fleet up to 2031 [7].

Regarding the 5 and 4 cars consists

  • If the Broadway extension is not built, the expo line will require 5 cars train consist before 2041, so it eventually makes sense to consider to start to add such trains on the rolling stock from now, but that supposes also ancillary cost to adapt the line and the OMC, to longer trains it could also require upgrade of Waterfront and Stadium station, which are not yet funded. It requires also an upgrade (stage 3) of the propulsion power to enable the delivering of 25,000pphpd [6].
  • If the Broadway extension is built, there is no need for 5 cars train in the next ~30 years or the usual lifespan of a train: 4 car trains (MKII and MKIII generation) will be able to absorb the 2041 demand, and the line is already prepped out (or upgrade funded).

In any case, what should be ordered are trains able to maximize the capacity at a given length: The idea to order 3 cars train is a flawed one, since it doesn’t allow to realize the maximum train capacity, but more importantly prevent platform door installation (due to train assymetry making train doors location not always the same):

It is more than time to order rolling stock which will:

  • enable future platform screen, since such installation allow much greater system reliability than the current passive track intrusion detection model.
  • minimize dwelling time

That should imposes constraint on the train door location for any future procurement.

4 car MKII train 4MKIIcars-consist
512 or 528 passengers/train
4 car MKIII train 4carsMKIIconsist~540 passengers/train
3+2 car MKIII train 3and2MKIIcars-consist
~670 passengers/train
5 car MKIII train 5MKIIcars-consist
~680 passengers/train

~2030 Rolling stock requirement

Circa 2030, the original 114 MKI car will reach their end of life, as well as the 60 MKII (ordered for the opening of the Millennium line). we place ourselves in a scenario where those cars are still in service, and before a decision is done regarding their eventual life extension or replacement

By that time, the Expo line should be able to carry ~18,000pphpd and the Millennium line, ~12,000pphpd (number inferred of both the 2021 and 2041 projection). The rolling stock could be assigned as below:

Expo line (2030) Millenium line (2030)
headway 108 150
train requirement 48
26 4xcars MKIII consist + 22 4xMKII cars
37
25 6xMKI cars + 12 4xMKII cars
capacity (pphpd) 18,000 12,000

Considering a ~10% spare ratio, 36 new 4 cars train should be ordered by 2030. More likely 30 in the next 10 years with an option to order 6 more circa 2025. That includes the 7 train part of the Broadway extension project, so the effective requirement could be 29 4 cars train – or 23 train in the next 10 years period, that is ~$320M (with a 6 additional 4 cars-train option to exercise ~2025)

Furthermore,

  • the possible availability of second hand MKI car (from the Scarborough RT or the Detroit People Mover), and potential acquisition for refurbishing should be considered
  • the decision to go with 4 or 5 car consist order should be reexamined in the next 10 years, in light of the ridership evolution

The Mayor council plan

In brief the Mayor council plan[4] calls for the below

cost (in $M) % increase
additional operation cost 53.5 50%
additional capital cost 765
145 new vehicles 500 50%

The above doesn’t account for 27 trains to be procured between 2025 an 2029

In the light of the previous sections, this seems to be an inconsiderate expense to

  • address purposeless goals; such as doubling the capacity of the Expo line by 2020 (the main reason for the mayors plan extravaganza)
  • and still failing to address basic requirement, such as the 10,000 pphpd ridership on the Millennium line in the case of the Broadway line (the Mayors council’s plan consider only 8,000).

The Mayors council’s plan implicitly assumes 3 cars train: This is a bad idea as we have seen before

A fundamental reason to put the Broadway subway as the top priority transit investment is to spare the considerable expense to upgrade the Expo line to meet the ~23,000pphpd 2041 demand; which could happen only on the very short section Commercial-Stadium:

A Broadway subway will reduce the Expo line demand at ~19,000pphpd: something achievable as of today, and could save ~$300 million of investment on the Expo line, according to the council mayors numbers [8], and associated operating cost, otherwise necessary.

The fact that the passenger load is much more balanced along the Expo line, in the case of a Broadway extension, make a much better use of the line capacity.It is still possible to operate short train in the other case, between Commercial (or Metrotown) and Waterfront, but it doesn’t come without issues ([6]), such as passenger bunching or platform crowding (due to passenger waiting for the expected less crowded short train)

It is unfortunate the Council of Mayors missed this important point.


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

[2] Translink 2013 Business Plan Operating and Capital Budget Summary

[3] Regional Transportation Investment: A vision for Vancouver – Appendices, Mayors council, June 12 2014

[4] Regional Transportation Investment: A vision for Vancouver – Appendices, Mayors council, June 12 2014

[5] TransLink’s Rapid & Regional Transit Model , PTV America Inc. and Translink, Vancouver and Wilmington, DE, February 2007 and December 2008

[6] Expo Line Upgrade Strategy, SNC Lavallin and Steer Davies Gleave, Sept 21, 2010

[7] We estimate the current storage capacity at 114 MKI + 126 MKII at the Edmonds OMC, 36 MK1 and 34 MKII on the main line an the Coquitlam Facilities storage center. See the Translink Finance Audit – Specific Project Approval. Subject: SkyTrain OMC Expansion – Phase 2. October 19, 2007 and an ensuing discusssion on the skytrainforsurrey blog

[8] That is the difference between the Mayors council plan, $765M and our ball pack numbers, $320 for rolling stock expansion/upgrade and ~$150M for infrastructure upgrade, including storage/OMC expansion: Those numbers are in fact consistent with [6]

Some numbers extracted from the Translink GTFS feed [4] (for the day of Sept 5th, 2014), for the 2km segment between Hasting and Broadway. The current average speed is ~11.5km/h, could be increased to ~15km/h with a bus lane…or reduced to ~9km/h according to the tradeoff done to implement bike paths

  • number of #20 runs: 304 (but I counted only 276 between Broadway and Hasting) requiring a minimum of 19 vehicles in revenue service [3]
  • time and speed between Broadway and Hasting [6]:
  • Min time Average time Max time
    10.3mn 5.3mn 12.4mn
    Max speed Average speed Min speed
    22.6km/h 11.65km/h 9.65km/h
  • ~15,700 annual operating hours meaning $1.57 millions in annual operating cost (at $100/hr, in line with [5])

bus lane Impact on Commercial Drive
We are considering the previously presented Commercial Drive proposal as illustrated below

4.5meters wide bike+bus lanes, with bus keeping in its lane at bus stop. It features transit signal priority and right turn specific signal to protect both transit and cyclists – Transit average speed is estimated at 15km/h

  • This bus lane, featuring clearly marked corridors (protected in one direction) and transit priority signal, suggests that average speed typical of BRT or urban LRT could be achieved: that is ~20km/h.
  • That said, noticeabily because the stop are closely spaced, an average speed of 15km/h could be more realisticaly and conservatively achieved:
    • That is roughly the average speed of the bus 20 outside the Commercial Drive segment.

Annual operating cost

average speed Average time Annual operating cost
9km/h 13.3mn $1.9M
11.5km/h 10.5mn $1.5M
15km/h 8mn $1.2M
20km/h 6mn $0.9M

The potential operating cost saving is in the tune of of $300,000 to $600,000/year.

On the opposite, a configuration of Commercial Drive with a single lane of traffic per direction to preserve parking [2], negatively impacts the speed of the bus, as we have seen before:

Commercial street redesigned as per StreetForeveryone group

Commercial street redesigned as per StreetForeveryone group – Transit average speed is estimated at 9km/h

Similar configurations, be on Davie or Robson, suggest a reduction of the average speed to ~9km/h; That could increase the route 20 operating cost by $400,000/year:

    the bus+bike lanes proposal is conductive of $1 Million in operating cost saving versus a proposal favoring street parking over transit.

A bus lane + traffic signal priority, allows an increase in the bus schedule reliability: lay over can be reduced accordingly, increasing the operating saving

Operating cost is only part of the picture:

Capital cost

the slower a bus route is, the more buses are required at same frequency/seat capacity:

The steeper the slope of a line, the faster the travel, and the sooner a vehicle return to its orgin, ready to do another run. the number of starting lines in between represent the required number of vehicle – credit Melbourne on Transit

The bus requirement is compounded by two conflating issues:

  • Demand is at its greatest at peak hour, but
  • transit speed is also at its slowest at peak hour
  • .

    On the route 20, afternoon peak hour traffic cost ~4 buses:

    number of vehicle in service on route 20 according to the time of the day (graph for friday Sept 5th, 2014)

    A bus lane, making transit more immune to traffic congestion, allows to reduce drastically the peak hour buses requirement (in our example, the average speed maintained at ~15km/h, vs 9.5km/h currently in peak hour)

    Adding a peak hour bus is a very expensive proposition: it means (to preserve spare ratio, and other contingency)

    • the Purchase of an additional bus
    • Adding storage capacity for this bus (even if in use 20mn a day)
    • Adding maintenance cost
    • adding a driver on payroll and all ancilliairy cost (training, administration)

    According to a conversation with a former Toronto Transit Commission employee, the TTC is costing an additional peak hour bus at $100,000 a year (that is for a 40footer, typically sold a ~$300,000)

    It is worth to note that Translink is in very short supply of articulated trolleybus, estimated each at $1M

    Revenue

    It is no secret that the faster a transit service is, the more ridership it will attract. That has been again recently verified in Seattle, with a quasi linear relationship:

    • an increase of 20% in speed is conductive of a similar increase in the ridership, which de facto increase the bus operator revenue[1]

    This coumpounded to lower operating cost makes Transit much more financially sustainable.

    Conclusion

    When all the effects are combined, it is relatively conservative to estimate that a bike lane, done at the expense of transit on Commerical, could end up to cost more than $1 million/year to Translink, when compared to a solution improving both

    …and here we have analyzed only the direct cost for Translink…


    [1] New markings aim to keep drivers out of Battery Street bus lane, Aubrey Cohen, SeattlePi- Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

    [2] We refers here to the “Street for Everyone” proposal we have previouslly discussed, which has also been discussed on the pricetag blog.

    [3] That makes the route 20 the 4th most frequent bus route of the network, behind route 99,9 and 41.

    [4] See our reference spreadsheet (which has been updated with the 2014 data) for further detail.

    [5] We use here the hourly operating cost as stated in the 2013 Bus Service Performance Review (see Annex A): it is worth to note that this hourly operating cost doesn’t include neither bus lay over and dead end trips. It doesn’t differentiate artics buses from standard ones too: the $100 mark is a very significant under estimate of the real operating cost of a route. A $180 per customer hour service could be closer to reality as we have seen before.

    [6] It seems that the average speed of the route 20 is decreasing year over year, almost 10% reduction in the last 7 years according to our spreadsheet [4] (which also depends of the Translink data quality): A probable consequence of the city council inaction on Transit front

    Adam Fitch wants to share this pdf with us:

    Tunnel Vision vs Green Vision

    See also, UBC line: The Adam Fitch proposal

    Skytrain fizzle again

    October 2, 2014

    A recurring and cherished headline at RailForTheValley : Tought time to be either a Translink or skytrain cheerleader those days, isn’it?

    Let’s ignore the disastrous Translink crisis communication and let’s go to the facts:

    The facts

    The system control lost communication with a group of 10 switches (the one in red in the map below), defacto neutralizing Metrotown, the 2nd busiest station on the network [1], and Patterson:

    skytrain-diagram-default-switch

    The cause

    Some people claim it is due to lack of funding for proper maintenance of the Skytrain system. Either they are right:

      That could mean the reinsurances by both Translink and BCRT officials that they are able to keep the skytrain system in a state of good repair, were lies…proper action should be hence taken to sanction such misbehavior.

    …or they are wrong: The cause is not due to a lack of funding.

    Some also call for redundancy for each piece and bit of the system they see failing: If we follow this logic we could end up to have a full redundant Expo line 2!

    …In fact here we don’t have enough information to dissert on the cause of the failure but we have nevertheless some questions regarding the below items:

    • The time to restore the system
    • The problem switches which don’t need to move in normal operation, but still neutralize the system on a communication failure with them (which apparently can’t be manually overriden).
    • The switches at both end of Metrotown monitored by the same communication device.
      • A different switches partition control, (Switch group East of Metrotown under a card, group west of Metrotown under another one) could have left the 2nde busiest station still open, whether a single communication control card fail.

    …But here we touch to the Skytrain system design itself, for which we have already expressed concerns.

    The Contingency plan

    Skytrain operation

    At first they have operated the Expo-Millenium line in 2 different segments Waterrfront-Nanaimo and Edmonds-King George/ VCC Clark with a shuttle train Nanaimo to Joyce (6th busiest station on the system [1]“).

    The way this is operated have system wide consequence:

      Frequency on any section of the system is constrained by the fact only one train is allowed on a single track section, either Commercial-Nanaimo or Edmonds Operating Center-Edmonds Station (…and only one track per station was used, as per my observation).

    It is apparently for this reason, that Royal Oak was closed (too long a single track section between Edmonds and Royal Oak). Keeping Royal Oak open, could have

    • Drastically reduced the bus bridge length.
    • brought metrotown area/ in walkable distance of the skytrain for many patrons providing well needed relief to the bus bridge

    It could be a better operation arrangement that the one in place on “dead end” sections (e.g Edmonds operation center-Edmonds), to enable to preserve or minimize the impact on the overall train frequency on the rest of the system:

    tracks on the left side of the switches are used as 2 single tracks with a drawer to preserve good frequency on the double tracks section (right side of the switches)

    see also here for other single dead end track operation

    Translink/BCRTC should have better Skytrain operation contengency plan, to make the best use of their system, in degraded mode.

    Bus operation

    The bus bridge was working relatively well – at least in the West direction around 7:30pm – but could have been improved:

      Instead to have a single special bus route serving all the closed Skytrain station, what involve many street detours, when most of the rider are just interested to go to the other end, it could have been better to have 2 routes:

    • A non stop route (Joyce-Edmonds)
    • All skytrain station stop route

    In addition, of it, Translink staff should advise existing alternative route – route 106 Edmonds to Metrotown was painfully underused – and beef up some other regular routes – Route 19, the obvious alternative to Skytrain was oversubscribed, but was running as per schedule (no additional buses)

    Information

    Passenger information could have been much better

    • 22nd entrance station had a sign reading “All trains stop at Edmonds station”…what is true every day…
    • Announce of skytrain station closure should be done on buses before alighting at skytrain stations
    • Announce of alternative regular bus route to reach main destinations should be done both on the skytrain and the buses

    We have already noticed the poor reliability of the skytrain, but on the bright side, we are noticing some slight progress in the handling of the recurring skytrain failures.


    [1] http://www.translink.ca/~/media/Documents/customer_info/translink_listens/customer_surveys/transportation_improvements_research/2011%20SkyTrain%20Station%20Counts.ashx