The explanation by Translink of the more than 30% shortfall in traffic on the Golden Ears Bridge (GEB) turns to the pathetic farce [6][7].

Blame the economic downturn

The economic downturn is a usual scape goat for lot of things, including the miserable failing to secure private financing for the Port Mann bridge. A reality check is needed:

The Vehicle mile traveled has decreased by less than 1% in the heavily affected US since their top. source (11)

As indicated by the graph above, Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has decreased by less than 1% in the heavily affected US economy since their top. More important, one should note the halt of the progression in the VMT dates back to 2004-2005. In fact the steep increase in oil price, consequence of global growth has affected the travel pattern before the economic down turn.

One could argue that things could be different on toll roads and in Canada; but an examination of the Toronto’s toll road 407ETR recent results [5] confirms that the economic downturn has got little effect on the traffic, which didn’t prevent the 407ETR revenue to constantly grow up to now (2.5% in 2009).

traffic on the Toronto ETR has decreased only marginally. source (5)

One could argue that the truck traffic could be more affected by the economic downturn. That is fair, but from its own study [3] , Translink was not expecting more than 5% of truck traffic (what say a lot on the argument justifying such investment on the need to move goods).

Blame the lack of sprawl and transit usage

It could be a farce, but unafraid of the ridicule, it is what said the Translink spokesman, Ken Hardie, to the VancouverSun and other media outlet [6] [7] . That is clearly a shame for an agency supposed to be committed to creating a transportation system for a sustainable region and that is probably the bigger problem raised by this incestuous affair of Translink with the roads:

Translink is saddled with a money loosing investment, and in deep conflict of interest:

  • transit development in the area can’t do any good to the GEB financial sheet.

One should note that this pathetic deviation to the shaping of a “sustainable region” was already read in the translink GEB frequentation forecast study happily considering a linear infinite progression of car ownership and traffic in the region [3] , hitherto giving up on any transportation mode shift in the area.

Obviously those are not the real reasons, for the failure of the GEB to meet its traffic and revenue forecast. The real reason is the structure of the project itself:

The Pork Barrel theory

THE GEB case is not isolated, and example like the Clem7 in Brisbane, or the A14 [10] in Paris show that there is worse elsewhere. In fact a Standard&Poor study has shown that most of similar projects see their actual traffic as only 76% of the predicted one [1]. Lame excuses as worded by Translink has been advanced for such poor return on investment [4]… But a study sponsored by the European Investment Bank, has tried to understand why most of the P3 contracts are awarded on very optimistic forecast bias [2]. The conclusion – notice we don’t refer to the first populist rant found in your favorite tabloid– is that those P3 are often crafted to be a Pork barrel where lot of actors have a vested interest while they get exposed to little if any liabilities.

The GEB P3 doesn’t make exception

The Private sector obviously hasn’t put a penny on the phony forecast: It is no accident that Translink supports all the risks tied to the revenue side. In the meantimes the initial private parties have constituted some more or less shady adhoc companies to manage the GEB, companies with which they could easily severe ties whether liabilities could become a concern.

GEB revenue forecast (in 2003$). In yellow is the induced traffic by the bridge, in red is the traffic generated by sprawl. source Steer Davis for Translink (3)

A “phony” forecast can be achieved by means of “strategic error[2]. In the GEB example, we have already noticed the, not only undesirable from a sustainability viewpoint, but also unrealistic linear and infinite, growth in car ownership and vehicular traffic. More, the GEB forecast [3] takes account all the contributive investment inducing more traffic, like road widening, but carefully ignores the competitive ones, especially the then already under planned twinning of the Port Mann bridge [8]

Ironically, the Port Mann bridge twinning and all the Gateway projects in Lower Mainland rational are grounded on the same flawed studies, sometimes provided by the same consultant [9], which have proved widly inaccurate…That doesn’t prevent the province to proceed full steam ahead…

[1]Traffic Forecasting Risk Study Update 2005, Robert Bain and Lidia Polakovic, October 2005

[2]Why traffic forecasts in PPP contracts are often overestimated?, EIB University Research Sponsorship Programme, December 2007

[3] New Fraser River Crossing: Traffic and Revenue Forecasts, Steer Davies Gleave for GVTA, May 2004

[4] Error and optimism bias in toll road traffic forecasts Transportation, Netherlands, February 2009

[5] On The Right Track: Continuous Improvement In P3 Delivery, By ETR407 presented at BMO Capital Markets Infrastructure & Utilities Conference, Feb 18, 2010.

[6] noticeably it is said that “TransLink blames the poor economy, worse-than-expected development around the bridge and a jump in transit ridership on the buses and the West Coast express” by NEWS1130, June 3rd, 2010.

[7] TransLink considers reducing Golden Ears tolls, Kelly Sinoski, VancouverSun, June 3rd, 2010

[8] Opening up
, MOT, 2003

[9] Abstract of Studies – Gateway Program Traffic and Tolling Analysis, MOT, May 2006

[10] Autoroute A 14 Bilan LOTI, CGPC, November 2005 states an observed 2004 traffic at 61% of the forecast, on the A14 toll freeway opened in 1996

[11] Number of the US Federal Highway administration as of March 2010


The 209 annual report released at the Translink‘s AGM contains some interesting statements

The Skytrain

It is claimed that the “Expo and Millennium SkyTrain Lines are the most efficient, lowest-cost operations in North America” with a supporting comparison with some selected American LRT. One will wonder why, the figure doesn’t include the Calgary LRT?


An interesting figure comparing the GHG emission per mode seems to be a direct answer to prof. Patrick Condon claims stated in several of its publications [4]. Unfortunatly, Translink number doesn’t seems to be produced with much more rigor than the professor Patrick Condon’s one.

But the more interesting and worrisome numbers will require further reading of the report to get extracted:

Operating efficiency

year Number of revenue passengers in millions Operating Cost in $Millions Fare Revenue in $Millions Operating cost recovery
2005 160 516 284 56.4%
2006 165 572 300 53.8%
2007 172 621 316 52.5%
2008 179 688 347 52%
2009 188 735 355 49.8%

Like eventually previously mentioned by the Translink commission, the growth strategy pursued by Translink appears non sustainable, in the sense that the ridership increase doesn’t translate in farebox recovery improvement. Worse, it degrades it.

To be sure Translink is not the only agency in this case, as we have seen in the Zurich model, but eventually the region could not spare a debate on the expected level of funding of transit operation (and subsidiary sources).

the Service rationalization initiative

In the immediate, the answer seems to be the service rationalization initiative. Some Observers seems to dismiss it [3] but it is probably a welcome move if done to ensure the sustainability of the ridership growth. Again, the Zurich model demonstrates that service, and consequently ridership, can be greatly improved by other means that piling out hours of transit service. here are some ideas we can provide:

  • Bus Stops consolidation
  • Consolidate bus stop! Too often, bus stops are not very far apart. The picture below is the one along the 410 route between Aberdeen Station and Garden city road:

    • East bound, the bus will stop every 200m on average!
    • west bound, at Garden city intersection, 2 stops are spaced by no more than 50m, with no reasonable explanation for it

    Those stops could be not such a draw on operation in off peak, but it will still involve a slowdown of the bus at stop without patron. At peak hour, it slowdown considerably the bus for marginal convenience (if any).

    The consolidation of bus stops could not save too much time on one run, but in the case of the 410 route example, there is ~100 runs per direction a day, so the cumulative time can be not negligible.
    In addition of time, the suppression of stops can certainly save other operational cost (less braking, acceleration,…), and can make the bus ride smoother.

    Other strategy, not necessarily very costly to implement, like traffic signal preemption, can also help not only to save time, but to improve the bus operation efficiency and ride smoothness

  • Demand management
  • “peak hour” determine the number of buses which need to be owned and maintained, and so can be expensive to serve, as it can be illustrated by the graph below ilustrating the translink’s bus service surge during peak hours[1]

    number of Translink's bus in service according to time of a regular day

    If Translink were coming with a fare structure favoring journey off peak hour, they could reduce this expensive peak pressure (hence reducing the number of bus to maintain and marginally operate…). An idea could be a discounted pass valid only after 9:30am (hence involving a return trip starting after 5:30pm for regular commute)…[2]

  • Bus schedules
  • provide a “regular timetable” for low frequency route: this is almost the case for route like the 351, but there is lot of room for improvment on the 601.
    On such route the schedule should be so simple that people could not need to have a timetable to know at what time their bus is schedule.

    More elaborated strategies like “code sharing” should be investigated to provide high visibility of level of service.

    Those last suggestions will note necessarily decrease the operating costs but are prone to attract more rider at no extra operational cost, and it is what Translink should explore for the time being, this to break out this vicious circle where, the “more people ride the system, the more subsidy it needs

    [1] the graph has been built by a contributor of the skyscraperpage forum

    [2] The reader will find further discussion on the topic at the human transit blog

    [3] TransLink on ‘life support’, Franck Luba, The province, May 12th. See also Geoff Meggs take on it.

    [4] Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, Patrick Condon, 2010 . The chapter 2 available here is built on a previous publication: A Cost Comparison of Transportation Modes, Patrick Condon and Kari Dow, Foundational research Bulletin, November 2009.

    route 699B in codeshare

    October 20, 2009

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

    Web Master - SEP_2009

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

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

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

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

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

    the code shared 699 route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Introduction at non additional Operating cost

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

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

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

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

    Rolling stock issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Is it justified by a transportation mode split reason?

    Not really:

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

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

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


    congestion related to goods movement in UK


    traffic on the highway one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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