The pictures above could not all refers to the same snow fall day, but every snow day convey the same story: A transit meltdown when the city seems to not spare any energy to clear the bikeway network.

The biais has been noticed by several media outlet, and seems encouraged by some which could have some influence on the city hall culture:

albeit, some city staffs seem to want to make sure no tax dollars are spared toward the well being of cyclists:

It is  possible that local advocates misinterpret how the things are done in Copenhagen, where the bike lanes use to be along the city’s arterials:


The city of Vancouver explains it has 14  “priority” route: in fact, it has 14 route, period: one of them looks like:


Only ~50% of this route cover either a truck route or a frequent transit network route. and the crux of the underwhelming Vancouver snow response lies here: there is virtually no route priotization which leads to high inefficienies in the way snow removal equipment are deployed.

~200km of high priority route to clear in the city limits, covering the Frequent Transit Netwrok, major truck routes, main hospital accesses, and the municipal “Disaster response routes

the above map covers the frequent transit network, major truck route, hospital access, and the municipal “Disaster response” routes in the city limits: that represents ~200km of streets: 14 snow plowers can clear this entire network, one lane/direction, in ~1 hour (assuming a ~30km/h snow plow average speed): On friday, February 3rd, the total snow accumulation was ~12cm, falling at a rate of less than ~1cm/hr on average, and still the city let much more than 5cm of snow to accumulate on the main arterials such as Granville where the transit service was halted several time during the day…same on 41st and 49th avenue to speak only of few I have been made aware, not discounting the bus 20 was still not able to make south of 54th on February 8th. A similar transit meltdown occured on Monday 6th, total snow precipitation for the day: 7cm!

another problem could be due to the deployment procedure of the snow plowing equipments: plowing takes place if there is more than 5cm of snow accumulation. The 5cm trigger is the same as in Toronto, however the level of water content in snow tend to be 50% higher on the west coast, so that the same level of snow precipitation leads to significantly more slushy condition in Vancouver than in Toronto [1]…. Also, Toronto deploys snow plowing equipment as soon as 2cm of snow accumulates on its expressway networks.

[1] this is extrapolated from USA data. for more information on the relative level of water content in snow, see Martin Baxter: Snow to liquid ratio, climatology and forecast methodologies, 2005

the debate is framed like it: to be against a blacktop path  is to be against accessibility.

Accessibility for all activities or all abilities?


It is no secret that the debate is mainly  geared by the Vancouver cycling community, and the main local organization, HUB, has made clear its vision; a cycling highway -where one can “bike from the Fraser River to False Creek in  30mn” (that makes an average speed of 20km/h+) [1]. From there,  the conversation regarding accessibility is mainly reduced to wheelchair accessibility concerns, while at the same time accessibility is understood as skate board and roller skate users inclusion.

However, if we understand accessibility as “universal access” for people with impairment of various nature, the conversation take another turn: A trail where a cyclist can  zip at 25km/h  becomes quickly unfriendly to people with a visual impairment [2]. The accessibility problem is multidimensional and can’t be reduced by how comfortable it is for the small wheels.

A cycling corridor or a  greenway Promenade/trail

Emphasis on cycling speed, as  Hub is advocating for, is in full contradiction with the concept of Promenade as inferred by a Greenway designation  [3].  We can consider 2 main family of promenades:

  • Scenic promenades; and
  • Experential promenades

The Vancouver Seawall is a great example of scenic promenade: the emphasis and the purpose of the promenade are the views it can offer. The west Richmond dykes falls also in this category. other trails could not offer too much of a view but  a more experiential aspect: the Stanley park  inner trails fall in this category, as well as the Richmond Shell road trail or the Lynn valley trails (including its suspended bridge).

If the focus of a trail is a  viewpoint, one would like then provide the easiest access to it, if the focus of a trail is experiential, then one would like provide the best compromise comfort/experience. That is the trail itself, and noticeably its surface shouldn’t distract of the experience, which sensorial aspect must not be neglected. A universal accessibility  trail exists in Stanley park, it is Beaver lake trail [6]:


Stanley park: Beaver lake trail entrance

Similar trails exist elsewhere in the region, Fitzsimmons trail in Whistler, the Panorama trail at the top of the Squamish SeatoSky Gondola or the Spirea nature trail in the Golden Ears park are among them. However some other trails, though not designed universally accessible  could in fact be much more wheelchair friendly that the Stanley park’s Beaver trail (which has not keep up with the up to date standards): it is at least the case of most of the Burnaby Central park trails:

The wide and flat enough trails of the Burnaby central park offer good rolling condition, and stay in good condition during raining periods as illustrated in this Google view.

The Stanley park trails accessibility could not be up to the current standards:
What about the state of the art?

In BC, the very recently opened Great West Life trail in Prince George is pretty much the state of art:


The Great West Life Trail of Prince George

A hard packed surface, soft enough for the knees of the elder, and still presenting good rolling capability, as well as other surface treatments, such has woodboards, provide a rich experience [4]. It features wheel-guard where required and slope not greater than 3%. Such a trail design is the result of a cooperation with the Spinal Cord Injury-BC society.

Trail head accessibility?

It is another aspect where the Burnaby central park is hard to beat: it is directly serviced by the Skytrain (Patterson station) as well as 2 frequent transit bus routes (19 and 49). Something Stanley park can’t compete with.

What about the bikes on an universally accessible trail?

The state of the art doesn’t seem to have found a compromise much better than this:


The all ability accessible GWL trail in Prince George is not allowed to bike

The banning of bike from Universal accessible trail, seems to be common [5] for reasons previously touched. Cycling is in theory also not allowed on the “universal accessiblity” trails of Stanley park , but the rule is not well respected.

A preliminary conclusion

Our region is surrounded by trails often offering first class experience, but when time comes to find an accessible trail, the region becomes  a laggard. When it is time to find an “universally accessible trail” reachable by public transit: pretty much nothing exists.

it is where the Arbutus corridor becomes a golden opportunity: it presents many characteristic required for  an “universally accessible trail”, first of them, being the gentle grade, second being the experiential aspect- including the sensorial aspect capitalizing on the meandering among community gardens. third it is easily reachable by many frequent transit routes, allowing to experience it in many different ways.

It is also clear that an  “universally accessible trail” vision capitalizing on the experiential aspect of a greenway is not compatible with the cycle track vision as exposed by Hub, and a compromise will need to be found.

[1] Arbutus Greenway Announced, Hub news, March 14, 2016

[2] Similarly, Accomodating visual impaired people is also the main challenge the designer of shared space has to address

[3] A reason why a cycle track on the Paris Petite Ceinture (a disused rail corridor) has been dismissed, as we have seen in a previous post


[4] It is also  good at maintaining the motor skills  and enhance  the mental health, a reason why such surfacing are often preferred.

[5] It is also  the case for the promenade built on the Paris Petite Ceinture, among others.

[6] The ravine trail is also presented as “universal accessible” by the Vancouver park board, thought it has some questionable access impediment.

This Vancouver rail corridor used to be double tracked, and saw passenger service from 1902 to 1954. The last commercial train has been seen in 2001. The asset has been considered very early for a North South rail transit line: A more direct alignment via Cambie, has been preferred for the Canada line circa 2006. That was closing a chapter…However the track was still there, and the hope of a local tram has always stay alive in some circles: the 2010 Olympic line demonstration was giving reason for hope…and CP rail was wanting to bank on its precious real estate. After a bit of bullying by CP rail, in order to get a fair price, the city agreed to purchase the corridor for $55M in March 2016, openinga ew chapter:

The Arbutus corridor was a defacto Greenway:

The Arbutus corridor circa 2014  (credit photo CityHallWatch)

Like many disused railway corridors, a greenway was a logical option for a corridor presenting some natural qualities. However where usually the authorities capitalize on the specificity of such assets, the city of Vancouver has decided to destroy it: A destruction in 2 steps [3]:

Destroying the memory of the place

The Arbutus corridor circa 2009 (credit photo Stephen Waddell)

It has been vague promises of reusing the corridor for a rail transit by the City, but this quickly vansihed, and instead to see a  preservation of what make this corridor apart and a reminder of its potential alternative uses, it quickly appeared that the city had negociated the removal of  all things related to the railway. That is certainly one of the safest mean to kill any prospect of reactivation of this  corridor as a future rail transit corridor (1), it is also a a first blunt to the soul of the place.

Destroying the feel of the place

Many disused urban railway corridors exhale a specific  atmosphere found nowhere else in a city, which people growth to appreciate and like it. It was also the case  for the Arbutus corridor, something Patrick Condon has worded as “People have gotten quite used to the Arbutus Corridor as kind of a romantic landscape — the kind of unkempt quality of it. it’s level of decay has become something that people kind of like…” [4], what reflects pretty much the position of the current Paris city council, especially as expressed   by Christophe Najdovski, the councilor in charge of transportation and public space of Paris, who want to preserve “the mystery and magic” of  the Petite ceinture, a disused railway in Paris [6].

Beyond Paris, many other cities capitalize on the experiental side of their assets, that is the case for the Shell road trail in Richmond as stated by the city website:

“The Shell Road Trail is long interior trail that runs north/south along the Shell Road corridor from Alderbridge Way to Williams Road. This interior trail has a distinctly rural feel to it with tall trees and shrubs lining both sides of it, making it a unique trail experience in an urban City Centre.”

The Richmond Shell road trail, and the Colombes “voie verte” (greenway) illustrated below:

The Vancouver official development plan for Arbutus was also not far of this vision, since it was designating it as a greenways, including without limitation [2]:


  • (i) pedestrian paths, including without limitation urban walks, environmental demonstration
    trails, heritage walks and nature trails; and
  • (ii) cyclist paths.



The challenge for the designer of such  places is to preserve their specificities and feels, while making them accessible to people of all ages and abilities… In the name of the later, Vancouver has simply destroyed the former:

A 4 meter wide bike path under construction? – credit photo [5]

Under public outrage, the city has potentially recognized the insentivity of its position and halted work…temporarily…

Does other solutions were possible?

Yes and it is not even too late to apply them, but what is almost sure is that the corridor has already lost its cachet: whatever final design will be – and it could be a nice one – it is poised to be more bland and artificial since it will be build of a blank state. The soul of the place is lost and, and it is not something designers are armed to restore. The end result is that the whole city will be poorer in diveristy of experience

The main issue now is the treatment of the surface path: it is the object of another post

[1] It is one of the reason why Paris took the complete opposite step for the Petite Ceinture, as we have seen in a previous post

[2] Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan (Adopted by By-law No. 8249, July 25, 2000), city of Vancouver

[3] The destruction of the greenway is documented on the Stephen Rees blog, here and there

[4] Arbutus’ asphalt greenway not paved with good intentions, critics say, Matt Robinson, VancouverSUn, August 3 2016, Vancouver

[5] City paves way for Arbutus Greenway, Naoibh O’Connor, Vancourier, August 2, 2016, Vancouver

[6] Petite ceinture : faire le tour de Paris à vélo et autres fantasmes, rue89, September 25th, 2013

A couple of thoughs on this rezoning process.

The Rational.

In 2014, the city decided “the neighborood didn’t developed as expected: let’s do something about it”. The city never admitted that the whole process was triggered by Westbank wanting to build a 30+ storey building at 5050 Joyce street [4]. (Instead, it rationalized it on the TransLink’s planned upgrade of the Joyce-Collingwood Skytrain Station [5] , as an opportunity to review its zoning policy)…and still… it was the right think to do (and there is no harm to admit it!)

  • don’t consider the Westbank application for spot rezoning,  but don’t reject it outright either – rather contextualize it in an  community plan.

Considering that the previous Joyce-Collingwood Station Area Plan dated back 1987, and considering that effectively, beside  the Collingwood village, which has became a posterchild for successful Transit Oriented Development [6], no much has happened elsewhere- some update was necessary.

The apriori limited area concerned by the rezoning makes also relatively good sense:

  • In the context of the Westbank application, you don’t necessarily want to have a community plan taking years to take shape
  • The transit station precinct specificity is in fine recognized by the perimeter of the rezoning, and this eventually allows to reach a quicker form of consensus (It is a natural density node) [7].

The city engagement processus.

  • A walk and “round table” was organised in December 2014, from there a diagnostic was “done”, which leaded to a first report
  • A workshop was organized on June 20, 2015 in 2 different sessions ( land use and building form, in one session and transportation in another one)

In this well attented workshop, the participants suggested different building typology for differents areas:

I have attended it, and in my recollection, the exercise turned out to be fairly consensual: the Marine drive development was seen by many as a good way to illustrates the desirable building form (and scale) for the Joyce station immediate vicinity, with transition zone formed by mid-rise and townhouse stitching it with the predominant Single family house area. The Transportation workshop was relatively uneventful. After an “open house” held in  July 2015, where the city staff presented its recollection of the above,  the Vancouver planners  proposed 3 differents zoning options (the difference residing essentially in the heigh of the high rise immediatly adjacent to Joyce Station). on October 20, 2015. Below is an illustration of the most ambitious proposal (highest tower):

Up to October 20, the things was rolling out surpinsigly smoothly. However, on october 20, at the location the city staff was unveiling its rezoning proposals, it was also an unadvertised “open house” hosted by Westbank to present its formal  5050 Joyce street application. That was  unfortunate enough and proven to be a turning point:

Quickly enough, some people “organizing on the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples” launched a curiously worded petition and a new organisation popped-up Jara, with very certainly many well intentioned activists. Beside their concerns on “affordable housing”,  it has always been hard to understand their ultimate motivations (their last post doesn’t help either), leading them to adopt a rather confrontational approach with the city consultation efforts .

It is possible the people at Jara was not aware of the early stage of the consultation process: The city didn’t seem to have put lot of effort at reaching the neighborood [1], something Jara has been kind to correct. Jara has been pretty active at engaging the local citizens, and look to have engaged in some efforts overlapping the city’s organised workshop, and has produced its own report, however it seems to not have helped to dispell some misconceptions such as “rezoning = expropriation

That eventually leaded to another apriori more controversial open house on April 6, 2016:


The tension was quickly diffused by breaking the attendance in small group, preventing a town hall meeting showdow: the attendance turned out to have more questions that recriminations. However, where the attendance seems to agree is on the question of the benefits occuring from rezoning:

The neighborhood has accepted very significant densification. The Wall centre at Central park, has generated ~$12M in CAC + DCC, this in addition of the CNH annex and Mosaic space [2], from which apparently not a single cent has yet been spent in the neighborhood [9]… So it is certainly possible the neighborhood feels short changed on the topic. Explaining that the neigborly community centers, such as Killarney, a 30mn walk away, can serve Joyce Collingwood is probably unsatisfactory. It is not that the question of community amenities is new [2], but the expectation is to have those amenities such as swimming pool or ice rink, or even public libraries coming right in the neighborood accepting very signifcant densification; an almost pre-requisite for “density well done”

The draft plan presentation and the 3d model

3d printing model isualizing the proposed rezoning change for the Joyce COllingwood neighborhood

3d printing model isualizing the proposed rezoning change for the Joyce COllingwood neighborhood

The 3d virtual model previously presented in this post was a private initiative: it is my belief that the city should have shared its 3d model with the public (that to allowing the public to interact with it directly). The city presenting a 3d printing to illustrate the envisioned change is very welcome: It is an important tool to help the conversation…thought the model has arrived a bit late in the rezoning conversation (the city planner mentioned, the 3d model was only ready on Friday May 27, 2016), we just hope the city will make larger use of such tools (3d computer model and 3d printing) in the future.

The evil is in the details

I must admit, a final workshop to discuss the details of the plan (that is not questioning its general thrust, and densification objective which has been the object of previous workshops) could have been welcome: That will be the object of another post presenting the ideas shared with the city

The plan is scheduled to go beyond council on June 14 or 15th, 2016 – In the meantime, properties concerned by the rezoning have started to appear on MLS: the asking price is around 100% above assessed price (vs 20-30% for other properties in the neighborhood), all this “land lift” is something which will not be availbale for CAC (a direct consequence of the opacity of the city’s CAC policy, which is object of backroom deal)

[1] I have been made aware by a local mailing list relaying the Collingwood Neighborood House messages, but the city didn’t seem to have advertised the rezoning in the local flyer, the Renfrew Collingwood community news , neither at the Joyce station or other busy areas.

[2]RC Commty Initiative Sept 2012 draft

[3] this 3d model is freely accessible on the sketchup library site can be dowloaded in Google earth…and printed in 3d too…

[4] Westbank conducted an Open house on February 19, 2014 to gather feedback on its first prosoal. Westbank purchased the land for $9,930,000 in 2014 according to Colliers Canada

[5] Some observer will have noticed that the Joyce cCollingwood get a signficant upgrade in the years 2011-213 to accomodate the Compass card gate: most of it has been recently demolished, see more on the Metrobabel blog

[6] This Transit oriented DEvelopment has been the object of numerous study, as well as having attracted the attention of several blog, such as Fraseropolois.

[7] This is a striking difference with the Grandview woodland rezoning process, where the Commercial-Broadway station precinct is considered as no more than a sub-zone of the Grandview Woodland community. As such this precinct of regional interest (intersection of 2 rapid transit line) has been bogged down by local concerns which are trumping the general interest.

[8] The Jara campaign is also followed by EyeOnNorquay and more generally the rezoning is also follwoed with a critical view by CityHallwatch.

[9] Apparently the city, would like to use the CACs toward the building of a passerelle over boundary Rd: it doesn’t seem to be a request from the community and we don’t think it is a right use of the local CAC $: we will hopefully elaborate on it in a later post

On June 1st, The city of Vancouver released its plan to upgrade the intersection at the North side of the Burrard bridge [3]:

The revamped interestion feature a Bike lane on the East side of the Burrard bridge, granting access to pedestrian on the east side too, and the removal of the accident prone slip lane

Beside the removal of the accident prone slip lanes, and the reopening to pedestrians of the East side of the bridge deck; granted by a new bike lane; there is little improvement for the cyclists and pedestrians: Many connectivity options are still forbidden, either by law or by design:

In red, the prohibited directional change for cyclists (see bottom of the post for the bus stop suggestion)

Notice that the design allows to do a left hook turn from Burard Northbound, or Pacific Westbound since the intersection presents a Dutch interesection characteristic on its North side

  • Same could be possible on the South side, albeit at the price to add a traffic signal cycle, to allow unimpeded bike/pedestrian East-West movement on the South side of Pacific. (but what are the priority of the city?)
  • Alternately, the construction of ramps to allow to use the bridge underpass (lane on the south side of Pacific), could provide a solution if such is possible

Worth also to note that the planters separating the bike lane on Burrard Street would be gone:

  • Such planters are insulating the bike path too much of its environment, what create a safety hazard at interesection
  • That said such a wrong step seems to be taken on Pacific

All in all, due to the non addressing of prohibited turns for active travel mode, the proposal looks more as a missed opportunity to improve connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians than a real improvment: in some sort, the whole exercise seems more guided by the ideological desire to remove a lane of traffic on the Burrrad bridge than anything else.

All that could be not that bad if the proposal was not used as a weapon to attack the city buses once again.

The Transit issue

bike lane in Vancouver are typically built at the expense of anyone not cycling

When the West side bike lane has been built in 2009, the southbound bus stop at Pacific#Burrard has been decommissioned: another bus stop has been implemented at Burnaby#Burrard. Especially due to the steep terrain nature in the vicinity [1], that has defacto put the south side of Pacific street out of reach of the Burrard buses, hence the Frequent Transit network, while he Burnaby bus stop is widely redundant with the Davie bus stop in term of coverage:

400m Catchement area  of  bus stop considering the street grid and terrain elevation change: in green the Davie bus stop coverage. In red, the additional area covered by the Burnaby bus stop. In blue the area not covered any more due to the lost of the Pacific bus stop Southbound.

400m Catchement area of bus stop considering the street grid and terrain elevation change: in green the Davie bus stop coverage. In red, the additional area covered by the Burnaby bus stop. In blue the area not covered any more due to the lost of the Pacific bus stop Southbound.

Far to improve this dire situation, it is suggested to make it worse, by relocating the Burnaby bus stop ever farther away: the new Burnaby bus stop could be a mere 30 meter away of the Davie bus stop!

Why that?

Because the city so far has conceived its bike lane at the expense of Transit. The “legacy” bike lane on most of Burrard looks like below:

The existing bike lane on Burard is sandwiched between general traffic lanes and a bus lane: a less than ideal situation credit photo (2)

An obviously less than ideal pattern, which call for correction: a protected bike lane. That is good, but on the city watch, it is apparently not compatible with a bus stop. Of course it doesn’t need to be…even in Vancouver:

Bus stop on Vancouver Dunsmuir avenue – Credit photo Paul Krueger

Several ways to address the bike+bus interaction exist, as noticed by Jarret Walker. As him, we prefer a “table” or shared space solutions for the bike lane that alert the cyclist to yield to peds in this situation, as we have seen before:

An example of bike + bus stop inetgration

It looks the city is more leaning toward a floating island concept, which is at least considered for the Burrard#Pacific Northbound bus stop: the important is to see the access to transit to be addressed. What is possible for the North bound bus stops, must certainly be too for the South bound bus stops

In the present case, it looks like the removal of the slip lanes allow for ample room at the south-West intersection to implement a floating island concept with a bus bay (to not impediment traffic) as suggested in the second illustration of this post.

In any case, the lack of connectivity improvement for cyclists and more critically, the absence of consideration for transit, make the city proposal a bad one. On a positive note, those shortcomings are relatively easy to address and we are hopeful to see the proposal modified in a postive direction

[1] a rule of thumb is to consider that 10 meters elevation change is equivalent, be in time or energy, to 100 meters distance on flat (e.g. the Grouse Grind hike is 2.8km long but with an elevation change of 853meter: that is equivalent to a hike of 11.43km (2.9km+ 10*0.853km) on a flat terrain.

[2] Girls and

[3] See also the discussion on Pricetags

When it comes to service delivery, the TransLink narrative goes like this:

    Delivered transit service hours have fallen behind the population growth since 2010 reaching levels last in 2008. That is leading to more crowding, more pass-ups and a worsening of the overall transit experience [1][18].

The graph presented to support this thesis is usually a truncated version of the below one:


A problem with this narrative using the total service hours delivered by the TransLink subsidiaries and contractors is that it magnifies the 2010 peak, by including service provided for the Olympic Games. A second issue is that it includes the technical services which could vary greatly without affecting the transit supply. Below is an example of such differences [2]:

route Revenue hour service Total hour service difference in %
All 3,841,860 4,950,000 29%
555 13,500 21,400 60%
96B 42,900 62,400 44%


Revenue service or service supply means service dedicated to move transit passengers (passenger can use the provided service).
Total service is the revenue service + technical service (deadhead run, layover…).
That is matching the APTA definitions. Translink’s reports tend to easily interchange the both terms.

The relatively important difference between the total service and the effective revenue service had already been noticed as an optimization avenue by the 2012 TransLink commissioner’s review [17]. The more fundamental issue is that the service/hour provided is not representative of the Transit supply:

  • The replacement of a 40 foot bus by a 60 foot bus wouldn’t increase the service hours per capita, but it could address overcrowding.
  • Faster bus routes infer less hours of service but are improving the service offer.
  • The replacement of a bus route by a rail one, offering much faster and higher capacity vehicles, can both address crowding while improving the offer, while resulting in a decrease in total service hours.

Seat.Kilometres Supply

The metric; which needs to be understood as (seat+standee).km in the transit world; is a much better way to evaluate the transit supply, and for this reason is widely used in the passenger transportation industry.

As an example: 1 hour of coach service on the express route 555 using the Hwy 1 HOV lane can provide ~3600 when one hour of C23 Shuttle bus in Vancouver’s Yaletown, provides only ~320 Differences in average speed and vehicle capacity drastically affect the offered service which is reflected by the metric:


The effect of the introduction of the Canada line service in late 2009 is clear. Though service hours may have stayed stable since 2011, the supply has slightly increased thanks to a greater use of articulated buses. The advent of routes 96B and 555, having higher speed than average, also provides more at constant service hours. Is this enough to keep pace with the population growth?


The point is moot. If a downtrend can be observed since 2011, we are nowhere near the 2008 level. The introduction of rapid transit lines tends to exhibit a positive long term trend.

Canadian and International Comparisons

To provide a larger perspective, the Vancouver transit supply is compared to other Canadian metropolitan areas, using numbers as provided by the Transportation Association of Canada [4]. The Vancouver numbers have been normalized to correlate with those provided by the association [5] . Vancouver tends to exhibit favorable trends when compared to its Canadian peers:


Vancouver pales when compared to Megalopolises such as Paris, London or Hong Kong [6], but its Transit supply is much greater than in Portland and comparable to the ones of European metropolises of population size closer to Metro Vancouver, such as Lille or Lyon [7]. Nevertheless, this comes with one caveat: both Lille and Lyon are fed by an important suburban train network which has not been accounted for in the following figure:


The above international comparison is assuming 4 standees per m2 to estimate the vehicle capacity [9]:

system bus LRT Metro RER/MTR/Skytrain
Vancouver 76 386
Hong Kong 105 146 [10] 200 [10]
London [11] 79 252[12] 728 509
Paris [11] 83 230 586 1772
Portland 76 166 [13]

The Occupancy rate
Is the Transit supply good enough or not?

The occupancy rate [14] can be a good proxy to assess the relevance of the supply: the higher the occupancy rate is, the more likely crowding issues will arise. On the other hand, a low occupancy rate could suggest an excess of capacity.

Crowding experienced locally with a low occupancy rate could suggest that the transit supply deployment is not optimal, but some other issues could arise: A directional demand unbalance makes crowding difficult to address without deploying excess capacity on the underused direction.


Possibly a transit world specific: even the busiest systems don’t achieve an occupancy rate greater than 30%. In that light, the TransLink system appears to be a heavily used one.

It is worthwhile to note that TransLink estimates the average transit trip length at ~8km [15] when TfL estimates the average bus trip length at 3.5km and the Underground trip length at 8km [16]. Similarly the average bus or tram trip length is 3.3km and the subway trip length 5km in Paris. The reliability of trip length data could be an issue but a consequence of longer trips in Vancouver is that TransLink needs to provide more per trip than London or Paris.

(*) This article has been first published in the December 2014 newsletter from Transport Action BC.

[1] Mayors’ council on regional transportation Regional Transportation Investments: a Vision for Metro Vancouver – June 12,2014

[2] Difference between the GTFS data (revenue hr) and the Translink 2013 Annual report (Total service hr). see more in this post

[3] Supply is computed on the first Friday following Labour Day (usually one of the busiest Transit days of the year) of each year from GTFS schedule and fleet deployment observations. The vehicles’ capacity used are the maximum as displayed on the concerned vehicles. see more in this post

[4] Transportation Association of Canada. Urban Transportation Indicators, Fourth Survey. Ottawa :2010

[5] Numbers otherwise differ, possibly due to different assumptions, such as on the vehicles’ capacity. The urban areas, used by the association [4], don’t match either the area covered by the transport agencies, so numbers are subject to caution.

[6] Numbers for Paris come from the Observatoire de la mobilité en Ile-de-France, London numbers from TfL [16] and Hong-Kong numbers from the 2013 MTR Annual report.

[7] Number for Portland, including population, comes from the APTA, and includes the scheduled services provided by Trimet, C-Tran, SMART and Portland city.

[8] Numbers from the Certu (“Annuaire statistique Transports Collectifs Urbains”, 2014) with bus capacity normalized at 83.

[9] Agencies could have different standards (e.g. 6 persons per sqm in Hong Kong). The vehicle capacity is per bus or consist (train) unless otherwise specified. When different vehicle types are used, a vehicle weighted average is used.

[10] The capacity is per car. Hong Kong Tram capacity is 125, and Hong Kong Airport train capacity is 120 per car.

[11] Vehicle Capacity number from Report on mobility an transport #1 – Institut D’aménagement et d’urbanisme- November 2014”.

[12] Weighted average of a DLR train capacity (280) and a Tramlink train (200).

[13] The capacity is per vehicle, the Portland streetcar capacity is 200.

[14] Also called Load factor.

[15] Translink: 2014 Business Plan, Operating and Capital – Budget. New Westminster 2014.

[16] Transport for London. Travel in London: report 7. London 2014.

[17] Shirocca consulting Translink Efficiency review. 2012,

[18] A narrative largely echoed by Lower Mainland translink advocates as illustrated here.

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.


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


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].


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.