B.C. Announces Major Support for Transit

The government of British Columbia has announced funding for major expansion of transit especially in the Greater Vancouver area. This was covered in yesterday’s Globe & Mail and the full details are available on the government’s site.

There is a glossy brochure (4MB) with maps and other info.

Looking at all this, I am reminded of Move Ontario and similar announcements. They look great on paper, but there are problems in the details. As with so many plans, this one depends on money from various levels of government. The total is $14-billion, but it comes from:

  • $2.9-billion in existing commitments
  • $4.75-billion in new money from the province
  • $3.1-billion from Ottawa
  • $2.75-billion from Translink (the Vancouver equivalent of Metrolinx)
  • $500-million from local governments

The major components of the announcement are:

  • The Canada Line (now under construction) linking the airport and Richmond to downtown.
  • The UBC (University of British Columbia) Line which will serve the heavy crosstown Broadway corridor and run into the UBC campus where there is already a large bus and trolleybus terminal.
  • The Expo Line (the original SkyTrain) will be extended and will receive additional cars to boost capacity.
  • The Evergreen LRT Line will connect Coquitlam Centre to Lougheed Town Centre SkyTrain station
  • A network of rapid bus routes will provide BRT service primarily in outlying areas.
  • 1,500 new “clean buses” of various technologies will green the fleet.

Like the Canada Line, a good chunk of the UBC Line will likely be underground as an elevated down the middle of Broadway would not do wonders for the character of the street with stations posing a particular problem. Unlike existing SkyTrain routes, the UBC Line runs along a main street rather than through back lanes, industrial districts and railway corridors.

The Evergreen line is the odd-man-out in this plan as the only true LRT line. Support and funding for the line has been slow to come, and I would not be surprised to see it fall victim either to funding constraints or to a change of heart in the interest of standardizing rapid transit technology.

The clean bus plan involves hydrogen, hybrid, electric, natural gas and low emmision diesel options. The announcement is rather vague on the actual mix, and one only learns that these technologies are under consideration in the glossy. The hydrogen bus project is a rather sad reminder of the dreams for Ballard fuel cell technology. The company itself has decided to get out of the vehicle market and concentrate on smaller stationary plants such as emergency power supplies, but dreams of large-scale fuel cell applications die hard.

When the 20 hydrogen buses arrive in 2008, BC claims it will have the largest fleet of such vehicles in the world. At a cost of $89-million, that’s an expensive demonstration.

Notable as part of a rapid transit announcement are plans to improve bus services. This is a welcome change from the capital rich, capacity poor, transit announcements so popular in Toronto for decades.

As for fare collection, BC will move completely to Smart Cards which will include on-the-spot fines for scofflaws.

Probably the saddest part of this announcement is a chart showing the hoped-for market share by transit (page 5 in the brochure). By 2020, Vancouver will move up from 12% to 17%, and then to 22% by 2030. Percentages are lower in other parts of the province. I can’t help wondering what that other 78% of the trips will be, and why they won’t be on transit.

All-in-all, there may be good times for transit planners, builders and riders on the west coast. Tactically, an important role for such announcements (like Transit City) is to have something on the table. Someday, someone may want to get elected, and they may want to spread some money around. We hear that times are tight in Ottawa, but strange things happen in elections.

If there are enough plans from enough cities looking for funding, this may scare off the Feds, but alternately it makes the basis for a truly national transit investment program. We can dream.